Commercially, social media is becoming more important to football. The more ‘fan engagement’ a club can boast, the more leverage it has in negotiation with potential sponsors.
Naturally, this has sparked an arms-race in the online world. Twitter and Facebook accounts really only exist to harvest retweets, followers and likes and that makes their content seem extremely cynical.
Whilst I can’t speak for every club, the average Premier League team generally seems to feed their supporters a diet of this:
It’s fodder. It’s unobjectionable, hastily-created banality which is transparently the product of a series of ‘strategy meetings’ between over-hair-gelled account executives.
The irony of complaining about something that I’ve described as ‘unobjectionable’ is not lost on me, but this type of output gives nothing to fans and it’s designed purely with virality in mind. It’s a symptom of what the true objectives in football now are and, as a result, it’s unpalatable to anyone whose interest in the game predates the internet age.
But it is what it is and there’s little value in raging against it - so how could clubs engage with supporters in a more worthwhile way.
Thirty-second videos of team-life become a staple of most club’s output. Players arriving at an away game, for example, or a first-team visit to a children’s hospital. That’s fine and, ignoring the over-indulgence of celebrity fans, a lot of the content is okay in a forgettable sort of way.
But there should be more and, whilst not advocating further commercialisation, clubs really are missing a trick.
The football public’s thirst for the game is unquenchable and, because of how transparent the sport has become, that interest now extends beyond matchdays. Supporters are no longer satisfied by just winning or losing, they want to analyse the way in which games were played and draw their own conclusions from those matches. They have theories about team-selections and beliefs about certain players’ tactical suitability and, as a general rule, they will digest any information or content that they’re fed.
So why not open-up training a bit?
Obviously, some aspects are veiled for a very good reason and that should always be the case. Supporter intrigue doesn’t trump the need for secrecy, but there’s no obvious harm in taping an entire, ten-minute shooting practice or maybe a Friday afternoon five-a-side. That would be entertaining and, because it would be recorded rather than live, a manager could always veto anything that he didn’t want the outside world to see.
At the moment, a lot of the video produced is very throwaway. There are, very occasionally, some interesting in-house interviews conducted and such like, but nothing which ever feeds the appetite of those supporters who want a better grasp of their club’s everyday mechanics.
A lot of teams are already equipped with YouTube channels and already provide access to ‘club TV’ content on their websites as part of membership packages, so it’s not a stretch to extend that service to include something which would be very watchable.
At the moment, ‘fan-engagement’ feels like a one-way street. A supporter’s love for their club is usually enough to convince them to subscribe to all the right social media channels, but he or she should be getting more in return for doing that. Some teams are better than other, but there’s a general “that’ll do, it’s only the fans” attitude towards this issue across most of the game.
Try harder. Be more imaginative.