Football & Social Media: Why Clubs Need To Change To Stay Relevant

GUEST POST: Oscar Ugaz (@oscarugaz) is consultant on digital business (Real Madrid, SAB Miller, Toyota)  with expertise in Digital Media and online businesses. Over the past 15 years he has worked for major brands in America and Europe. He holds the position of Regional Project Director at Phantasia Wunderman.

In 2007 he was appointed as Digital Business Manager for Spanish Football Club Real Madrid C.F. He has been in charge of the E-commerce business, the commercial strategy of realmadrid.com portals, the online video business and the Social Media strategy of the Club. Oscar is a keynote speaker who often participates at events and conferences on Digital Business Strategy and the impact of Social Media. In the last few years he has spoken at events in Spain, Germany, UK, and Latin America

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Some weeks ago, a well known sports brand reach 5 million fans in Facebook, so they posted on their wall to celebrate the happy event:

“Today is a magical date that we will never forget. Today we are going to reach 5 million fans in our football page. We only can say something to you: 5 MILLION OF THANKS”

They only received nine comments. 8 of them were the usual mumbling. One of them was getting to happy to say what he thought:

“Today is also my birthday and that is more magical. The 5 million fans don’t say anything to me. You guys are getting a little boring”.

In October, Facebook Pages start displaying the new “Talking about this” metric alongside with the total number of fans. The metric measures the number of unique people who have created a story (comment, like, share) about a specific page in the last week. From this data derives another interesting one: the engagement ratio (ER) a percentage that measures how many fans really interacts with the page.  

Over the last three week the average ER for the major European football clubs on Facebook (Real Madrid, FC, Barcelona and Manchester United) was 3.5 % of an average fan base of more than 20 million each.

I remember many meetings talking about numbers of fans and some people saying: “but Club A has more fans than us. We must do something”. A second point of view was: “What is important is not the size but what we do with those fans” The later way of thinking is the one that produces great content and entertainment.

Unfortunately, the alpha male attitude seems to prevail and everyone is in the rat race of collecting more fans and boast about it. Every day a new ranking appears and every day people run to look at it and get very happy or very frustrated.

But time has given reason to the second point of view: if football is one of the most passionate events, and we are talking about some of the most representative brands in the sector, a 3,5% of ER is something not to be so proud about.

The fact is that most of us are managing these new social media assets as we used to do with old media. We have a lot of fans and reach? Great! Let´s push messages like crazy. And let´s boast about our supposed reach. Elements like, ER (Edge Rank) and the structure of the new Facebook Wall has put us back in place. It doesn’t matter how many fans we have, we are not going to reach any of them if we are not relevant.

The point is that we are missing the opportunity to use the new technical possibilities of engagement as well as the data and insights behind it. Now we know who the fans are, their sex, age, language, country and city; we even know to what kind of messages they responded in the past and what do they do after that.  We can use all this data to profile remarkable content in the way of customized messages, engaging apps, demanding polls, video that shows the bowels of the club, etc.

However most of us limit to the average post with a link.

Sponsors and licensors must also take a more deep involvement. Close deals or enhance old ones based on a number of followers is not going to be relevant at all. A due diligence of the sponsee ´s social media assets must include a deep look at the insights of the fan base, to what kind of stimulus they react and a deep thinking about how products or services can engage with the right holder´s brand in a deep and meaningful way.

Nowadays most deals are based on number of posts, tweets or video displays without any deep analysis. A vicious circle occurs where poor results arrive because of irrelevant content and more messages are pushed to obtain results. This creates a negative attitude or worst than that: audience will start to ignore us (remember the low engagement rates?). In the process we also run the risk of killing our social media assets.

The responsibility is not small. Its not only that we can diminish the value of our own gained/owned media. If brands like football clubs, that are supposed to create some of the most deep and engaging relationships do not produce real value this can give support to those that suggest that social media is a fad and a waste of time. And this have the familiar sound of a bubble burst with all the negative effects towards digital media.

Strategic movements like new public ER as well as insights data and new monetization and advertising solutions are efforts for platforms like Facebook and Twitter to provide brands with tools to create more relevant content and increase not only their own value but the whole platform itself. Being part of an industry like sports, with such a big passion component requires managing the digital strategy of “love brands” taking full accountability towards more professional, technical and meaningful content.

If we work this way, maybe the next time we post something we will receive the feedback we expect instead of the usual blathering. Or, in the worst case, the echo of an empty space.