No More TV – Next Generation of Fans is Social

Two-thirds of fans prefer Social Media to TV coverage of football and check Instagram daily for sports content. Fan channels are particularly popular.

The days of gathering in front of a TV to watch football might be over sooner rather than later. Gone are the times, when you had to buy football magazines or the newspapers to finally get the content you crave concerning football teams in other countries or even on other continents. In a digitalised world, reception standards are changing rapidly. Younger fans consume football in another way: they aren’t dependant on TV, check social platforms for the most recent content. To reach them it needs exclusivity but ever more important is to provide news, stories and certainly highlights as soon as possible. The next generations of fans are Digital Natives – and used to nothing but a rich digital experience.

TV as football’s main channel is only hanging on

DAZN, YouTube or Facebook, digital offers from broadcasters: they are the go-to services for a good part of fans, mostly younger ones, these days. As big digital players are overpowering traditional media outlets in terms of income and eventually relevance, football will probably never be experienced like it was in the days before the internet took over. A look at Britain’s society certainly underlines that. The BBC reported last year, that for the first time children aged five to 16 would rather consume programmes and videos on devices such as laptops, smartphones or tablets than on TV, according to the annual Childwise report.

Related to football, a new and extensive study from Media Chain shows how strongly the fans in football’s homeland are tied to digital services. Out of 1.600 fans that have been surveyed, 52 percent said sports news on Social Media is more engaging than traditional TV. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) do prefer Social Media sports coverage over any traditional channel – like TV or newspapers. It shows, when you look at YouTube usage stats. 86 percent check the video platform at least a few times a week for sports content. Especially highlights are of great interest. That’s why DAZN shows game highlights there quickly and club’s and fan channels come up with content like behind-the-scenes material, great goals, talks or press conferences. The Emirates FA Cup does it, too.

49 percent check YouTube even more than once a day. And if you just take people under 24 years of age into account, 72 percent go to the platform at least daily and look for new content.

YouTube is the go-to video channel for fans today, © Media Chain

Interestingly, three-quarters of younger fans (77 percent) follow fan channels on YouTube, such as The Football Republic.

The Football Republic is quite popular amongst football fans on YouTube, screenshot YouTube

But what are the most important other platforms for clubs, players, partners and brands to get to the user’s attention?

Second screen: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter offer a broader experience

Whilst watching football, most fans have their tablet or smartphone at hand. And quite a lot of them are on Social Media during the coverage to get even more information and sports content. 41 percent are on Instagram during games, while 25 percent go to Twitter and 23 percent use Facebook. Notably, fans aged 24 years or younger are 151 percent more likely to be scrolling through stories or their feed on Instagram on a second screen.

Instagram is indeed the new darling amongst the Social Media. 29 percent use it as their main source of football news, and 64 percent check the platform for just that at least once a day. Just 44 percent check Twitter at least once a day for sports news, although the service is much more made for up to the minute highlights and updates. Stories are the most important feature for fans on Social Media these days; 28 percent watch them before even scrolling down their feed.

The Instagram importance cannot be overlooked, © Media Chain

After all, 58 percent of fans go to Facebook everyday as well to consume sports content. And they’d rather watch live football there than on Twitter or Instagram. 90 percent of the younger fan group (up to 24 years) are on Facebook regularly to get some sports content as they are mostly interested in highlights (77 percent), sports news (68 percent) but also in memes or funny content (61 percent).

Popular content types regarding sports on Facebook, © Media Chain

The club’s media teams should be aware of that and provide popular content on these platforms. But they have to supply it rather quickly or the fans will look elsewhere. 57 percent of them prefer to be able to see goals and highlights immediately and not wait for them to appear in broadcast quality later. So promptness even beats quality demands there. If you can offer both, you have a good chance of keeping the fans tied to your channels. And the younger the fans, the more they demand swiftness from media outlets. Apart from that, anything has to be responsive or mobile friendly; apps are a part of the jigsaw as well.

Learning from the study, © Media Chain

Clubs could learn a thing or two from fan channels

Fan channels do have more followers and views than official club channels on YouTube. SPORF, AFTV, Full Time Devils or The Football Republic are very successful on the platform. And clubs are only starting to catch up now. In direct comparison, the top 20 creators from both sections differ strongly in typical month views. Club channels generate 30,3 million, while they have 7,4 million fans. By contrast, the fan channels have 15,8 million followers and generate 91,1 million views in a typical month.

Fan channels have more audience than club channels, for now, © Media Chain

Should the clubs augment their channels, though, and continue to offer a lot of content by the hour nearly, they will surely outpace the fan channels soon as they have the greater appeal eventually. Manchester United have done well there, updating their channel on YouTube very often; and they have assembled 1,4 million followers already. To offer a lot, mainly around matchdays, and provide it quickly is one important factor for keeping the young Social Media-loving audience engaged. But they are always looking for content they can’t get elsewhere. And that’s an important learning for brands and sponsors, too.

How can brands leverage Social Media reception of sports?

For partners and brands Social Media are a great environment to get fans interested. The WWE for example, who own the world’s biggest sports channel on YouTube (39 million followers), are great at partnering with other clubs and gaining exposure on Instagram or Facebook.

The WWE are good at partnering with clubs in Social Media, screenshot Instagram (Arsenal London)

This example from Arsenal’s story could be regarded as content you can’t get elsewhere – or maybe it makes people laugh or at least smile. Fans want just that from any brand. 66 percent expect exlusive content to engage with a brand, while 65 percent want relevant sports offers or benefits.

Interestingly, eight out of ten fans would be open to more sponsorships – and there’s certainly a lot of inventory still to be used in Social Media. But the thought is married to proper offers. Because 44 percent of fans said that brands send them irrelevant offers, 35 percent feel misunderstood and 25 percent think brands are unauthentic. So brands really have to come up with a good performance on Social Media, as fans of the Gen Z and Millenials are 61 percent more likely to share poor experiences with them online.

Brands need to be aware of the challenges on Social Media, © Media Chain

For clubs, this means they should try to integrate partners that fit the club. Hertha BSC from Berlin have had problems with main sponsor TEDI, a discounter without the best image, because people didn’t like the look on the shirt, there were no or relatively few merchandising articles in TEDI stores and the connection seems rather odd.

Finally, the report from Media Chain offers many more statistics concerning fans in the UK. But these habits are surely not too different in other countries like Germany or even the US. The steps brands and clubs should take are also part of the study, which in full might be an interesting read for anyone in the footbal ecosystem. For this ecosystem will have to acknowledge Social Media as the most important environment for its public image. That offers challenges and opportunities alike. And the more the fans can benefit and still their hunger for content, the more the companies – be it a football club or a main sponsor – can capitalise on it.

Watching football on TV is already declining. The next generation(s) of fans are social and definitely demanding.

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