Speaking at a Social Media Week event hosted by sports communications agency Pitch yesterday (23 September) delegates were told the rush from sports clubs to catch-up with consumer-facing companies in the social space has damaged some brands.
Mark Bullock, commercial manager at the trade body for supporters trusts in the UK Supporters Direct, says some rights holders recognise the virtual space is giving fans a “real sense of ownership” but are “struggling” to incorporate consumer content into their official marketing activity.
The situation has led to clubs using social media to amplify traditionally physical experiences such as Q&As with key officials and real-time match-day initiatives in a way that is damaging the brand’s values.
He adds: “In the past clubs have run a lot more physical engagement with their core fans but the emergence of social has meant that these events can be done online targeting a far bigger audience. This can lead to a digital barrier between actual physical engagement with those fans which is dangerous.
“We’re seeing stadiums becoming a lot more social now, where fans can tweet and interact with the match-day experience. There’s a very fine line between engaging fans on a match day and actually detracting away from the atmosphere and that needs to be addressed.”
Richard Clarke, managing editor at the Arsenal Media Group – the North London club’s digital division – says connected venues will be a “gamechanger” for helping to break down digital barriers to fans by allowing rights holders and their partners to inject a “social aspect” into traditional purchase actions such as buying tickets and merchandise. In turn, this could generate positive sentiment that promotes the match-day experience to a broader audience, he adds.
Clarke says: “Social media cannot be used in isolation of your other marketing channels especially when you’re talking to a passionate fan base. It has been used like a large funnel in the past that leads to nothing for fans. It’s now about how clubs talk to their supports as individuals and drive real value from those interactions.”
The sentiment was echoed by Nokia with the brand claiming rights holders need to be “agile” and involve supporters more in shaping content that they want to see to drive more value from their online following.
Craig Hepburn, global director of digital and social media at Nokia, says: “Twitter is not the world and online sentiment does not always mean engagement or sales are going to dip.
“I think from a brand perspective we would love to see clubs and athletes being able to develop a product around [valuing their social media fanbase]. That’s not happening yet and I think if I was sitting in a club I would be investing very quickly around it because that’s the new KPI and money model for the future.”