A mixture of behind-the-scenes footage, ad hoc videos jumping on the latest social craze and tie-ups with high profile vloggers have helped Manchester City become the first Premier League football club to hit 1 million YouTube subscribers.
The club’s YouTube channel, which celebrated the milestone in October, has been viewed 350 million times since launching in 2011, with 51 videos passing the 1 million views mark. The club added 250,000 subscribers over the past year alone.
Manchester City chief operating officer, Omar Berrada, sees YouTube as a two-way platform for connecting with the club’s growing fanbase both in the UK and internationally, extending this relationship beyond match day.
“It’s not just about the match because today you can find match highlights very easily on different platforms, it’s more about getting to know the players better and what happens behind the scenes,” he explains.
Rather than glossy match day highlights, the club’s most successful videos have gone viral by capitalising on a hot topic. In 2013, Manchester City was the first Premier League club to challenge its players to do the Harlem Shake on camera, with the resulting video becoming the club’s most watched at more than 9.3 million views.
From a tech perspective we are able to first understand the fans and then interact with them in a way that is very personalised.
Omar Berrada, Manchester City
This spontaneous content sits alongside long form documentaries and other series, including behind-the-scenes videos, interviews with new signings on their first day of training and challenges pitting the Manchester City squad against YouTubers.
“The Harlem Shake video was an example of something that became very trendy, very quickly and our content team were able to react in a very agile way with our players,” says Berrada.
“There were other types of video, such as the ‘Pep Taxi’ concept, which is much more planned. Everyone knew that Pep Guardiola was named as the new manager and as part of the initiative around his unveiling as a manager we surprised some of our fans by meeting him in the back of a black cab. It was about bringing our fans closer to the club and making it as inclusive as possible. It really is a two-way channel.”
Across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the club’s website, Manchester City has clocked up 441 million video views over the past year, up 119% year on year. Some 5.5 million views are for content on its Manchester City website, up 25% on 2015/16, with a further 323 million video views on Facebook, with year-on-year growth of 195%.
The club will also be hoping to grow its video audience through a new tie-up with Amazon Prime on a behind-the-scenes series following the team through the current 2017/18 season. Launching exclusively on Prime Video next year, the series will screen in over 200 countries and territories.
Looking at the wider social media landscape, over the past year Manchester City has grown its following across all platforms, up 60% on Instagram (5 million followers), 33% on Twitter (8.1 million) and 18% on Facebook (25 million).
It may have millions of fans around the world, but these would just be numbers if the Manchester City team didn’t find ways of engaging them through its digital strategy, says Berrada.
Manchester City’s fan focused push has seen the evolution of the club’s ‘Cityzens’ engagement hub. The initial version was a paid-for platform open to season ticket holders to access promotions, discounts and benefits. Cityzens is now a free to use hub, open to any fan of the club worldwide, not just season ticket holders, which is accessed through a simple registration.
The Harlem Shake video was an example of something that became very trendy, very quickly and our content team were able to react in a very agile way with our players.
Omar Berrada, Manchester City
The team has focused on using “smart data” to recognise fan behaviours on the platform in order to move towards a personalised experience that is relevant to their interests, rather than pushing out promotions or discounts. Each club within the City Football Group, which spans Manchester City, New York City FC and Melbourne FC, has its own Cityzens hub.
“From a tech perspective we are able to first understand the fans and then interact with them in a way that is very personalised,” Berrada adds.
“I can’t speak about what other clubs are doing. We are very clear about what it is that we want to achieve by putting fans at the heart of everything we do. We are really about engagement and it’s not just knowing the numbers superficially, it’s about developing that relationship with the fans in a meaningful way.”
Making sponsorship relevant
Choosing its sponsorship relationships carefully has contributed to helping Manchester City achieve record revenues of £473.4m during 2016/2017, up 21% on the previous year. The club’s annual report, released on 8 November, shows this is Manchester City’s third consecutive year of profitability, breaking the £400m revenue mark for the first time in its history.
The club is, however, keen to stress that it puts fans first when negotiating its relationship with sponsors. The latest brand to sign a multi-year deal with the club is sports drinks company Gatorade, which was announced as Manchester City’s official sports nutrition partner on 5 November.
As part of this partnership the club’s sports scientists will work with the Gatorade Sport Science Institute (GSSI) on research to help the players optimise their health and performance through nutrition.
Sponsorship cannot just be a badging exercise, says Berrada, who describes its partnership with software provider SAP as one of the best examples of how the club ensures its these arrangements are integrated right from the start.
SAP generates data insights on the players’ performances during the games and training sessions. This data is then fed into the City Pulse Wall, an interactive digital touch screen located at City Square, a pre-match entertainment area where fans can eat, drink and watch interviews with players and celebrity guests.
“This really is a type of content that younger fans want to consume. The Playstation generation love that type of content contained in a way that is insightful and easy to access,” says Berrada.
“It has to feel like we are putting the fans at the core of the relationship. When the fans see it’s something done for their benefit they’ll connect with it better and engage with that brand in a way that makes more sense.”
Berrada recognises the need to take a bespoke approach to its partnerships, a relationship which works both ways. He advises brands to take a good look at the club they want to work with and make an effort to understand its inherent character. Likewise, the club has to ensure any partner shares the same values.