Football and Social Media

MEI’s João Frigerio discusses the role of social media in football today and explains how clubs can use the platform to monetise their assets effectively.

On 5 December 2012 I was a guest speaker at Footecon – an international football forum organised by Brazil’s FIFA World Cup Winner coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira -, where I talked about football in the era of social media.

When we talk about social media, we think of two concepts: community and interactivity.

Community in this sense is being part of a group of people that has something (a particular interest) in common. It could be a place, a hobby, a favourite rock band or, for instance, a favourite football club.

Interactivity, in this case, is a result of the evolution of the internet in the past years. We are talking about the capability of users not only to read, but to ‘engage’ with content published on websites and other platforms. Not to say about the capability of users to create their own content and interact with others.

Setting the Scene

I started the presentation discussing about whether there is a co-relation between the football clubs’ economic power and their popularity on the web.

At first, the 20 highest earning clubs in the world were used as a sample.

We noticed that if we take the top 10 clubs that made most money on the 2010-11 season, eight of them also feature as the most followed official pages on Facebook. That certainly suggests a co-relation between economic power and popularity on the web.

However, from the 11th highest earning club to the 20th, only four clubs appear in the list of most popular on Facebook. That trend seems to start to dissipate.

Overall, if we take the 20 clubs that earned more money in the past season, 12 appear on the list of top 20 most followed on Facebook.

When we analyse the Brazilian clubs, we will find that among the six highest earners, five top the Facebook popularity rankings.

However, those numbers must be put into perspective. For this analysis, we only considered the clubs’ official pages on social media networks. Sometimes that does not reflect exactly how popular that club is on the web, but only how popular their official page is.

That shows us situations where a club like Gremio has only 150,000 fans on their official Facebook page, while other non-official Gremio pages may have as many as 650,000 fans.

Clubs should know that a conversation with Facebook might allow them to close those ‘unofficial pages’, and more importantly, to ‘inherit’ all those fans.

UEFA did exactly that before launching its Champions League official page on Facebook. The governing body entered an agreement where all the other unofficial pages would be closed and the fans would be ‘transferred’ to the official page. That means that the official Champions League page had nearly a million fans… on the first day!

Other platforms

But social media is not only about Facebook… Brazilian and European clubs use several other platforms, although Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the most popular ones.

Worldwide, the Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate in all three platforms.

In Brazil, the top 5 clubs on Facebook and Twitter are the same: Corinthians, Flamengo, Sao Paulo, Palmeiras and Santos.

On YouTube, however, Santos FC excels. The Brazilian club is one of the five most popular in the world on the video-sharing site. Apart from match highlights and behind the scenes, some pure entertainment clips are among the most popular ones. The club’s most watched video features the club’s players and staff dubbing and dancing the hit ‘Call me Maybe’, with nearly 800,000 views. Certainly a lot of those views came from other clubs’ supporters.

Monetising the social media presence

So, how could clubs and players make money with social media? First of all, social media is an obvious way for clubs to boost their e-commerce/online shops.

Apart from that, there are initiatives like the one promoted by former Dutch star Ruud Gullit – a new site called Cloozup – in an effort to create a hub of soccer stars (and with that, to attract relevant sums of advertising/ sponsorship to be shared by them).

Also, some players earn money with sponsored Twitter accounts. Some famous players have their official accounts linked to a sponsor. Examples: Ronaldo (Brazil’s former star) and Claro (mobile phone operator); Paulo Henrique Ganso (Sao Paulo FC player) and Samsung.

Social media sites have also become a new activation platform for sponsors. They, in turn, pay a premium in order to exploit those rights.

A company such as Ambev, which sponsors several clubs without featuring any of its brands on their shirts, uses Facebook to activate its relationship with these clubs.

Ticketing solutions are also an important revenue stream. Instead of simply selling tickets online, clubs can integrate their e-commerce with a social media platform and use them as a major marketing tool.

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