Social media is the flavor of the month, the place where the consumer and the provider converge and have direct interactions. Corporates are looking eagerly towards social media in a bid to gain more directed audience with their precious consumers, and football being the business that it has become, it is not far behind. Football clubs are brands now, and like all other brands around, they want a slice of the pie as well.
As a game that invokes intense passion among its followers, football seems to be a perfect match for social media. The online platforms available to the clubs have exploded in the recent years, and have not only allowed for greater interaction with fans but also opened up newer revenue streams. Given the sort of targeted audience that is available on social media platforms, the dialogue has evolved from being generic to a lot more specific, even on an individual basis.
Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter allow the clubs to interact with fans, driving engagement and discussion, and even shaping sentiment at times – funneling social expressions by acting as influencers. Take the example of Arsenal last August when they used the hash-tag #OzilIsAGunner to channel conversation about their marquee signing Mesut Ozil on social media. Ozil then lent the emotion to the phrase by using it in his first press conference, and paving the way for the chatter to go viral, and the club-generated #OzilIsAGunner hash-tag was used over 200,000 times.
Football clubs are brands and football, or the success on the pitch to be more specific, is their product. It is their product that brings in the supporters, the consumers, as success results in increased revenues which leads to signing better players, more success on the pitch and, in turn, increased revenues – it is a virtuous circle. The main revenue source for most clubs is sponsorship and brand association, naming rights on their stadium, shirt and kit sponsorships, and so on, with match-day revenue forming an increasing smaller chunk of the pie.
The clubs use social media to drive consumer-to-consumer conversation and build engagement and positive brand association. Since most fans generally have a very positive association with their brand, football clubs unlike other businesses can assume the loyal nature of their relationship with their fans, their customers, which allows them to focus their efforts on managing or strengthening their relationship.
Take for example Liverpool’s initiative of allowing the fans to interact with current and former players in Twitter Q&A sessions called “’Twitter Tuesday on @LFC”, by channeling the conversations using hash-tags like #AskLuis and #AskSimon. Clubs are not limiting themselves to Facebook and Twitter any more, and Southampton decided to move to Snapchat providing the club’s young, engaged players with an exciting way for them to interact with a fan-base of a similar demographic.
Traffic, driven by the conversation on social media, becomes the key, which makes a club brand more attractive as a commercial partner. It is the engagement that drives the positive association which makes the club a meaningful value proposition for sponsors and commercial partners. Social, through its ability to help shape the image of a brand image via the inclusion of key influencers into the conversation, has become an integral part of the commercial strategy.
There is a lot of debate and confusion about what the role of social media is going to be given its apparently entrenched nature. However, social media is here to stay, and it can be very positive as long as clubs focus on the conversation with the fans for its own sake rather than the commercial windfall, and accept any positive spin-offs from that as a happy adjunct. Clubs would do well to remember that it is their fans, and not the corporate partners, who are the life-blood of any club.
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