In this digital age, with the digital generation coming into fruition, we may now be entering into a new digital age of football. Nothing could make this more apparent than the goings on of social media during pre-season, as football clubs around the world try to outdo each other to find new innovative ways of engaging with supporters. What really brought this issue to my mind was Aston Villa’s way of announcing the signing of John Terry by uploading a video on social media of a club Whatsapp conversation. While it is up for debate whether these innovations are positive or negative, it cannot be denied that social media is having a huge impact on the way we watch modern football.
Certainly, social media platforms such as Twitter have become increasingly important for football clubs around the world in garnering a positive reputation and reaching out to fans around the globe. Especially for the bigger clubs in the world, the income brought in from shirt sales and the like in other continents is imperative for to pay for the ever-increasing wages and transfer fees for the modern player. No longer can football clubs simply cater for their own local supporters and sell merchandise solely from their club shop while neglecting potential fans around the world as they cannot afford to sacrifice this income. Instead they must sell their merchandise from their club websites and even open branches around the world to raise revenue.
It’s all well and good having the platforms in place to rake in the revenue from overseas, but clubs still must reach out to gain a following around the world so that they can attract new supporters. The easiest way for teams to branch out to foreign nations and continents is by building up a following on social media sites such as Twitter, and it is no coincidence that some of the richest clubs in the world have the most followers. The three teams with the most followers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter combined are Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Manchester United – all of whom make a vast proportion of their money from selling merchandise overseas, thus allowing them to spend money on the very best players in the world (Marouane Fellaini doesn’t come cheap). This shows that social media has a direct influence on success on the pitch as the money gained from social media exposure can directly lead to clubs being able to afford better, more expensive players.
Advertising is also a huge part of the social media revolution in football at the moment as, rather than pay extortionate sums for TV adverts, companies can pay for the official social media accounts of a football club to endorse them, instantly getting the message out to millions of followers. The perfect example of this was 20th Century Fox’s partnership with Manchester United in 2016 in which they produced a promotional video for X-Men: Apocalypse featuring Wayne Rooney (warning: cringeworthy) which was shared to every one of Manchester United’s 11.6 million Twitter followers. I’m sure the Red Devils will not have parted with their dignity without significant financial reward, and I wonder if the money which was raised by such a partnership contributed to their being able to afford the likes of Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly that summer. In past decades, football clubs normally had one shirt sponsor and maybe a couple of other partners on a smaller scale, but having film franchises queueing up to enter into partnerships with football teams is testament to the scale on which social media is changing the game.
The other way in which social media has started to affect finances in football is by offering fans a new way to follow matches. This greatly reduces the incentive for people to buy subscriptions with television networks to watch football when they can simply watch every goal on social media five minutes after it goes in. And with live updates it is now easy to follow what is happening when people are on the move – again, decreasing the lure of mobile apps such as Sky Go. Despite all the differences between the football world and the wider world, it is interesting to see the comparisons in the media in football and elsewhere. In the same way that social media is retracting from the popularity of mainstream newspapers, it could be said that it is retracting from from the viewership of the main TV sport channels. In the long term this could lead to fewer people watching whole matches, but in the short term it is certainly a positive thing to have as many opportunities as possible to keep up to date with the football world.
In a side of the game which is completely unrelated to finances, social media has led to the development of a new sort of off-the-pitch competition. A regular occurrence of recent months has been the official social media accounts of football clubs trying to get one over on each other, possibly to try and get a psychological edge, possibly to distract from poor performances on the pitch. For example, in March 2017 Bayern Munich responded to their Champions League demolition of Arsenal with a cutting tweet from their official account. This gained them more exposure and also added to the psychological edge they already had over the Gunners. If you had told a manager such as Brian Clough that in a few decades European football would be overshadowed by Twitter disagreements you would not have got a happy answer. It is up for debate whether this new sort of competition is for the good of the game, but it is certainly entertaining.
As the world around it develops, the world of football is also changing and evolving as social media becomes ever more important. Clubs are trying to find the very best way of using social media in order to gain a following and raise revenue for players, as well as assert clubs’ authority over their rivals. Social media is even changing the way we watch football, as it acts as a substitute for the sport channels. Whether or not these changes are considered to be to the benefit of the game, it cannot be denied that, like with most things, the social media revolution has taken football by the scruff of the neck.