How football startup Dugout plans to become the sport’s first social network

As it hits 8.5 million monthly active users and partners with America’s Major League Soccer (MLS), Dugout says it is cementing its position as football’s first social network.

When it launched last November, Dugout turned heads, with high-profile clubs such as Manchester City, Liverpool, Paris Saint-German, Barcelona and AC Milan among its initial investors.

The idea behind Dugout is to bring fans access to the world of football beyond the matches. There are 74 clubs, one football federation, two leagues, 107 players and multiple influencers signed up, with each having their own page that is regularly updated with behind-the-scenes content showing players at the training ground, at their houses and taking part in games such as keepie-uppie challenges. There’s even motivational videos from eccentric French left back Patrice Evra.

Its founder clubs are also shareholders in the business, with Dugout having an in-house production team that works directly at places such as the Nou Camp and Etihad Stadium to produce a regular stream of original content.

Earlier this month, Dugout announced a partnership with Major League Soccer (MLS) – the site and app will have a dedicated page for the US league – and it is hoping the global exposure can help it to grow its 8.5 million monthly active users.

According to Dugout’s president Matthew Baxter, Dugout has gained 69.2 million users since launch and achieved 151.5 million page views. And he believes the brand is finally starting to take off.

He tells Marketing Week: “Obviously we don’t have the rights to show the matches, but it isn’t our aim to challenge Sky Sports or Jeff Stelling. Dugout is for everything outside of a match, it’s a behind the scenes look at players in their houses, at the training grounds, talking nutrition.

“We have people on the inside of Barcelona and Manchester City and that gives us a real point of difference as we can show the human, fun, side of footballers. I guess you could call us a social network for football.”

Dugout has already worked with brands such as Hilton Hotels on a web page takeover and video series called ‘City Files’, where players from clubs such as PSG and Barcelona talking viewers through the best places to visit in their respective cities. It also makes money through offering extensive programmatic advertising – it owns its own programmatic stack – and direct sales.

Baxter says people support, on average, 4.6 football clubs and he believes Dugout can stand out among advertisers as it provides a distraction-less experience for football fans looking to interact with multiple clubs. “If you’re a club or sponsor launching a football-based campaign on Facebook, there’s too many distractions and people won’t see it,” he explains.

“But on Dugout, we’re a pure football destination. If a club like Bristol City joins us, their content will sit next to the Barcelona’s of this world.”

READ MORE: How UEFA plans to build a ‘social movement’ to attract more advertisers to women’s football

It’s fair to say Dugout’s women’s football content doesn’t quite match the level of the men’s. Baxter admits it is talking to more women’s leagues – there are currently only two women’s teams on the platform. He claims women’s football will be “front and center” of the growth agenda in 2018.

He concludes: “Going into other sports such as rugby is also a very interesting thing for us to think about and there’s lots of opportunities next year around the World Cup too.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but I want to sign up as many leagues, federations, clubs and players as possible. I want Dugout to be the place fans go for the 22 hours in a day when a football match isn’t happening.”