Since the turn of the century, the Premier League has become increasingly involved with the digital world.Despite this exasperating those who believe in the traditional way football should be watched, there can be no argument involvement in social media and the influence of technology has promoted the game to new heights. The best and most recent example of the digital age ballooning the footballing world is ‘The Ronaldo Effect’, in which the £90million pound transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo to Italian giants Juventus saw the club’s social media channels grow in spectacular fashion. According to Result Sports, the club gained a staggering 3.5 million followers in the month of July alone, whilst only 14 football clubs currently have over 4 million followers amassed overall.
So, with the meteoric rise of social media and football, now harmonising in perfect unison, it must be asked, just how influential has the Digital Age been on the World of Football?
Life before social media
In order to gauge this, there must first be a comparison drawn between how football was consumed prior to the predominance of digital media with how it is consumed now. For a long time, television and social media were feared by football clubs as they saw the influx of fans to these platforms as a threat to the traditional way of watching football – attending matches.
Clubs like Manchester United didn’t want it to become unfashionable to attend match-days as that form of fan interaction was so important to their revenue and status as one of the largest clubs in the world. The Financial Times even suggested in 2014 that Utd were scared of ‘gaffes, scandals and hacker attacks’ on social media so avoided having an online presence right up until 2010. This was not the case for television, which every club hadn’t had control over since the start of the league.
Television changes the game
Ever since Sky performed a ‘smash and grab’ deal in 1992 to make themselves the sole supplier of live Premier League football, fans have had a far simpler and cheaper way to watch their teams play week in week out. For supporters across the country that struggled to make it to match days, this form of consumption offered a more relaxed and communal appeal as families were able to watch and support their teams together. As football on Sky continued to grow and the amount of games aired per season increased, the fandom surrounding the support increased with it. This skyrocketed the value of the Premier League, leading Sky to sign a contract in 1997 that was worth almost £500m more than the one agreed in 1992.
The Premier League now had a massive reach and as averages attendances soared year on year, the mix between fans watching televised games and actually attending them helped the Premier League progress on all fronts. In fact, statistics collected on worldfootball.net show that the overall attendance at Premier matches in a season increased by 3.9million people between the year Sky signed the contract and the turn of the century. Clearly televised football was massively important.
A new era begins
The only negative here was that all these new fans were hungry for a place to discuss their beloved sport but didn’t have one. So when social media started to gain traction, the opportunity to engage all of these new fans with one another presented itself. Sites like Blogger and Myspace had little influence on how football was discussed online but once Facebook and Twitter came to prominence in 2004 and 2006 respectively, there was suddenly a hub which fans could use to discuss their sport.
In the next article I’ll discuss exactly how the mass transition of football fans to this online platform transformed the Premier League into the massive corporation it is today and ask the question: Whats next for the Premier League online?