One of the main insufficiencies of the Premier League in it’s early years was that there was little way for fans engage with, discuss and bond over their clubs. Of course match-days still offered this but for many fans who were now watching and following football from their own front rooms, this opportunity wasn’t afforded to them. This all changed in 2004 and 2006 when 2 social media sites broke into the mainstream and became increasingly engrained elements of our society. These 2 sites were of course the still ever present Facebook and Twitter which now both have just shy of a combined 2 billion active monthly users. (Small Business Trends).
Facebook takes the helm
It took a while before these sites really gained traction in the footballing world but once they did it unquestionably changed what it meant to be a fan of a club. By 2007 massive Premier League clubs like Arsenal had joined Facebook and by 2009 Chelsea and Liverpool had followed suit. This gave the already 200 million strong userbase a way of interacting with their clubs like never before. Posts could be commented on, pictures shared and videos watched as Premier League teams began to form a bond with their clubs that would only grow over the coming decade. This relationship grew so much in fact that as of 2018 Arsenal’s Facebook page now 37.8m followers (Business insider).
This also allowed fans of the same club to friend one another, whereby creating an online community for each clubs set of fans. This element of Facebook continued to develop as well, with fans of clubs now creating dedicated pages on which only they and their fellow fans discuss and share opinions on their teams. While Facebook succeed so heavily in elevating the Premier League to new heights by creating this sense of community, Twitter succeeded in giving people access to information.
Twitter begins to dominate
As time progressed, Facebook quickly became just one of many social medias that covered football. The most impactful of these was Twitter, a medium that focused on the written word and encouraged fans to give their opinions, much like Facebook. Where Twitter differed was the ‘viral’ nature of it’s content with so much of what was tweeted being connected by hashtags, a symbol that categorised tweets so that users with opinions on a certain subject could be grouped together. This was important to the Premier League as it meant that certain events or big matches that were set to take place could be made into viral events.
Creating discussion around the League was a great way of keeping fans coming back so when the Premier League account was created in 2011 they were able to utilise this feature to their benefit. Twitter also fast became a far better site for news as many sports related news pages signed up (BBC Sport – 2011, Sky Sports Football – 2011, Telegraph Football – 2013). These pages have now amassed such large followings that Twitter has become the home of Premier League news, both trivial and significant.
The shift to video
The most recent development in this online era for football has been the appeal videos have proven to have. Whether promotional or just for entertainment, videos have captivated audiences and helped further their relationship with the club to an even greater degree. A great example of this is match-day vlogs, a type of video where fans film themselves attending a match and reacting to whats happened. Being able to feel like you’ve been to the match and felt the atmosphere of the crowd is a huge appeal of this type of video, making them massively successful on Youtube.
Clubs have also developed their promotional videos, often including an emotional aspect in order to garner a positive response from their audience. Videos such as Liverpool’s one with Mike Kearney, a blind fan who was invited to meet the squad, have been retweeted tens of thousands of times and improved both Liverpool’s and the Premier League’s brand image, showcasing just how influential clubs videography can be.
Clearly social media, in all it’s forms, has massively impacted the way fans interact and engage with their clubs but is this for the better and what role do fans now play exactly? Are they just a consumer of content that clubs feel the need to keep up a relationship with just to stay profitable, or are they engaging on their own terms and in their own way? Stay tuned for my next blog where I’ll delve into these questions to see what kind of change theres really been.