Why the standard of best practice in digital and online video should be followed by all UK clubs.
If the past 10 years have taught us anything about digital media in football, it’s that a club’s professional success and finances have no direct correlation to the value of online engagement with its fans or the success of its online media strategy.
The question remains whether clubs work as hard to become transparent with fans as they do focussing on commercial rewards, but luckily now is the time for big football businesses to offer both, by offering technological plurality for fans that also aim to create additional revenue streams.
Fan engagement was a phrase used by football clubs to describe the opportunities they have in place for their followers to access more content and interact with the club on different platforms. This definition has now evolved into something quite different as clubs began to develop their own platforms that enable fan interaction and aim to create a community in which fans can communicate and share content with each other.
So football clubs, like big brands, are letting the fans do the leg work by distributing content and accumulating subscriptions, whilst the club simply produces fresh content and relies on social media to maintain its online fan community whilst simultaneously strengthening the brand online.
Manchester United made a bold PR move last month by announcing that its internal research suggests 1/10th of the entire global population support the club. You would be forgiven for thinking that although United lost out on the title this year they are still number one worldwide, as a recent Facebook study shows that approximately 170,000 United FB fans live in Manchester which totals 17.5% of fans in the UK. However, the UK total only amounts to 1.7% of United fans globally, so how important is it for a club that claims to be the most popular worldwide to offer the best digital platforms?
Well it transpires to be increasingly important, especially as Manchester United claim to hold 325 million fans in Asia and 173 million in the Middle East, where communicating the clubs activity and news through video has become an integral part of playing a part in hundreds of millions of peoples live throughout the globe, becoming much less about the local club and far more about the worldwide brand. Even the top English Championship side Cardiff City made major news this week when its Malaysian owners took the decision to change the team colours of 113 years from blue to red. The nicknamed ‘Bluebirds’ allegedly look to benefit £100m from the new kit deal which was apparently planned to add more value to the club amongst Asian football followers.
Supporting links between Asian fans and English clubs have also been a huge commercial venture for sponsorship, as the primary Manchester United kit sponsor, AON’s decision to secure a lucrative 80m deal with the club over four years is largely down to United’s standing in Asia, as its previous sponsor AIG saw huge brand growth throughout the continent from its links with Manchester United.
So how can football clubs translate the same strength of relationship they have with UK fans in Asia?
The truth is that Twitter followers and Facebook ‘likes’ don’t necessarily indicate success in fan interaction and online engagement; they can however work in a clubs favour to enhance its own platforms and develop scale and popularity in other areas quicker. Liverpoolfc.tv which is was revamped in 2011 by the London online media company StreamUK, now claims to be the most successful online video subscription service of any football club in the world, and now with over 90% of top clubs maintaining the majority of supporters overseas, digital media is becoming increasingly important, especially online video.
Share methodology is also becoming an integral component to most online media strategies. The idea of making content easier and quicker to share increases a fans enthusiasm to pass it on to a friend, in a similar way that Twitter users share links and stories online. But it’s not just the speed of sharing that has improved, this year the LFC.tv platform released another function that allows users to share time specific moments within full length video content. Similar to how fans report on goals and official decisions on social media, the function promises to add an extra dimension, giving other users access to immediate content after live content capture sharing. StreamUK has made improvements to social media integration for which will use stats obtained from the Google Analytics plug-in. Hoping to not just make sharing video content easier between UK communities, but for football fans demanding more content all over the globe.
StreamUK CEO Duncan Burdbidge says: “The LFC experience shows that online video can be a significant offering for sports clubs. Sport is a driver for online video because clubs own lots of high quality content that people are willing to pay for. It makes it much easier to provide a premium service for owners who can see a ROI on the quality they are serving their customers.”
Given LFC’s huge overseas fanbase, the October 2011 $3 billion acquisition by SteamUK CDN partner Level3 of Global Crossing with its networking services in Asia and Latin America, is a likely contributing factor. Multi-lingual functionality with online video has also enabled a huge variety of non-English speaking football fans to access high quality content from UK clubs in a way that was never possible before.
Burbidge adds, “Sports clubs desire fan engagement but they don’t just want to bombard fans with anything and everything. It’s about carefully selecting the right technology and features so that fans can contribute their expertise. There is a tremendous wealth of expertise among the fan community and if you can bring that to video then you will grow engagement naturally.”
Digital media powerhouse Perform works with a number of English Premier League clubs and powers the online video provision of The Football League which represents the online video interests of 86 clubs in lower divisions, but StreamUK believes its individual brand customisation and ability to integrate video into the client website gives it an edge.
“We are talking with the bigger clubs in Spain and Italy,” reveals Burbidge. “Most European clubs have an immature web video offering compared to the EPL and we can offer them a good return on investment.”