By ‘simple’ I don’t mean football that’s

Author : gabrielknox
Publish Date : 2021-05-16 03:22:38


By ‘simple’ I don’t mean football that’s

Social media has also become crucial. The pre-World Cup campaign this summer for the England women’s team was carefully drip-fed into Twitter to build anticipation and excitement. Celebrities such as Ellie Goulding, David Beckham and Prince William were recruited to announce the team’s squad.

Clubs have even tried their hand at games. An early example was Tottenham Turfies, an online game aimed at seven- to 10-year-olds. Elsewhere, there was Southampton’s #EarnYourStripes Twitter-enabled treasure hunt in 2014 in which people could seek out hidden footballs in order to win a replica shirt.

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Simon Dent, founder and managing director of sports marketing agency Dark Horses, points to the global reach of football, with the mega rights deals with foreign broadcasters acting as the catalyst. Suddenly, Premier League football had to address a global armchair audience that demanded a fan experience without the expectation of actually attending a football match in person.

"The penny finally dropped with clubs that they live in this global village and these countries that have bought into the Premier League over the last 20 years have now started supporting clubs. There’s a huge land grab at the moment, and in the summer, the top clubs tour Asia, India, China or the US trying to establish a foothold. Then when they can’t physically be there, they have to serve content to those countries, and [it’s about] how they serve it, how exciting and engaging it is, is how they build their brands in those territories," he says.

"The same can be said for the domestic market as well – this is especially true for the mid-table clubs which aren’t necessarily going to attract huge crowds, but can still grow their fanbase at home and abroad by creating engaging digital content that fans will share, contributing to the experience. We’ve been given briefs to create digital content that essentially say: ‘Do something that fans of other clubs wish their club had done’ because even if it’s not my club, if something makes me laugh on a boring Monday afternoon, I’m going to share it with my mates."

For Arsenal’s aforementioned campaign with Adidas, things had all started so well, explains Iris managing partner Nico Tuppen. The agency made the ad for the Arsenal/Adidas kit launch, featuring the club’s stars past and present and a cameo by actor Idris Elba in arrestingly mundane situations. Even though Iris did not work on the ill-fated social-media activity, Tuppen recognises the tonal tightrope that football must walk nowadays.

"Dealing with football and football clubs is one hell of a responsibility because all clubs are deeply personal to people. We needed to capture the spirit of the club generating insight through the axis of Arsenal, Adidas and London," Tuppen says.

"Then, because there’s a retro element to the kit, we had to capture the spirit of the club by being respectful to its history but not going on about past glories too much."

Humour was important, too, Tuppen adds, given that comedy plays such an important role in the way that fans talk about football. This is even more apparent for a club like Arsenal, which, on the pitch, has been a relative underperformer in recent years: weary fans are liable to sharp bouts of cynicism when it comes to appraising commercial work against the backdrop of lacklustre performances.

This means sometimes a club’s brand has to be brave enough to make fun of itself, he says. "One way to deal with that was to put humour into it, like [the Gabonese and French players] Aubamayang and Lacazette talking cockney over a fry-up in a Holloway Road ‘caff’. Nobody’s going to criticise it if it’s got some self-deprecating humour in there."

The success of that particular film shines a light on another positive for digital marketing; it was leaked online a week before its planned release and went viral almost immediately.

"We knew we’d got it right when that happened, and it was so positively received by the fanbase, it travelled without any media support in the first 48 hours purely on the basis that fans were sharing it," Tuppen says. "They were doing the work, and it felt like it had come from that community. If you capture the spirit of what the club is all about, you don’t need to promote it at all, the fans will do it."

Meanwhile, being a big club at the time of the internet revolution created a first-mover advantage: England’s most successful teams of the past decade (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United) command the biggest number of social-media followers. So, their particular ability to reach millions of fans directly has made them more powerful when negotiating brand tie-ups. And football clubs are happy for brands to use them in digital marketing, as long as the brands are willing to activitate it themselves (such as the Arsenal and Adidas film, created by Adidas’ agency Iris).

Dent agrees: "There are a number of clubs where, when a commercial partner comes on board, a percentage of that money is held in a pot by the club, 10% is the usual amount. That is then used to activate the partnership – that is, create content."

He adds: "Clubs will always have the final sign-off and be involved from the start, but, essentially, they’re leaving it up to the experts."

But Barrand has an altogether more cynical take on why football clubs rushed to digital marketing: "The reality is football clubs worked out – some much earlier than others – there is a huge value in their fan database and the depth of information that has been provided. Their sponsorship on a global basis is basically selling data. We all sit there and laugh when we hear about a club acquiring an official Taiwanese crisp partner or whatever, thinking ‘That’s crazy!’ But that sponsorship package, other than using the club’s logo in marketing materials for those crisps, doesn’t include any of what I’d call the traditional rights inventory – there are no perimeter boards, there are no logos in the stadium, all the stuff that used to form a traditional sponsorship package.

"The club will provide the crisp manufacturer with information about their fans in Taiwan, their contact details, and [the brand] can go on to use that to sell them crisps. That’s what so much sponsorship is all about in the digital age – IP and data."

This raises a wider question for football clubs and brands: how much of their new relationship is based on marketing their common brand values versus the ability to understand each other’s customers better through data?

For a sneak peek of what’s to come, Tarré reflects on how important analysing fan data has become to Manchester City. "We feel closer to our fans and we can get real-time feedback on anything we do and then adjust our strategy accordingly," she says. "We always feel accountable to do better and try new things to engage with our fans, wherever they are."

A version of this article first appeared on PRWeek sister title Campaign



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