This research paper examines how football teams make use of social media in today's sports world. It is of very little wonder that football clubs are searching for new ways to utilise social channels as part of their business plans. ‘In 2014, Facebook executive Glenn Miller told the International Football Arena (IFA) conference that of the 1.3 billion-plus people on Facebook, 500 million are hard-core football fans'. After being quite slow in realising what role social media channels could play for them, football clubs quite rapidly implemented this new marketing strategy into their business models. They had proven to be a crucial part for clubs in terms of financial aspects, due to the fact that social media enables clubs to reach areas that traditional advertising such as TV and radio cannot. Naturally, the final purchases will come through websites and stores, but football clubs today should not underestimate how influential social media can be on consumer purchases if promoted effectively.
Football, the sport that is also called ‘The World Game', or just ‘The Beautiful Game', is played by 250 million players in over 200 countries and dependencies worldwide, making it the world's most popular sport ever. For many spectators and consumers, football is not only a sport, but a lifestyle or even an alleged religion. For the teams and investors on the other hand, football has become even more than just a sport filled with passion and excitement. The game played by 22 players, which run around for 90 minutes trying to score more – and concede less goals than the opponent, has become a global business, where the actual sport has shrunk into the background and profit has appeared to take over the primary objective of the people in charge. Many football teams today, such as Manchester United, are being traded on various listed exchanges throughout the world which, by definition, make them a profit-driven company. A lot of factors influence the success of a football team's stock price, such as the amount of merchandise sold and attendance during the fixtures, among others. Due to today's digital age, social media has become a very interesting and important channel for the sport in general. But how effective are the social media schemes implemented by the football clubs really?
In 2013, Manchester United, one of the most prestigious and successful football teams in the world, contacted ‘Market Research Company Kantar', in order to find out how many people around the world actually support their club, because before social media marketing, there was no actual way of knowing exact figures. As it turned out, Manchester United had over 659 million supporters worldwide which undoubtedly, sounds like an enormous amount. The problem the club faced though, was that they had an extensive customer base on the one hand, however they had no concept of reaching them. The implementation of social media has built football teams a bridge towards their supporters with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, enabling them to extend their outreach. Only the introduction of social media has given football clubs the opportunity of turning the fan's love towards the club into money which, undoubtedly is the new business model of the football market.
There are many positive aspects which come from the inclusion of social media in football team's business schemes. Undoubtedly, a high following will increase the popularity of a club, but it is more about constructing an entire customer journey, where social media platforms are only the steppingstone for the greater financial cause. With the use of social media football clubs must find inventive ways in order to advertise their merchandise, tickets and other sellable items. This way, football clubs have a very unaggressive way to promote their products.
How Twitter as a social media platform is used to incorporate supporters
‘Twitter is a service in which users can interact with one another through the use of 140 characters. It shares features with communication mediums people already use, but in a simple and quick way. It has elements much like those of email, instant messaging, RSS, texting, blogging, social networks, and so forth' (O'Reilly & Milstein, 2009, p.170). There are many options for clubs to stay in contact with the supporters, however, ‘the growth of Twitter has been noticed in the sport industry, as it is becoming commonplace to hear about athletes who ‘tweet' or to read an article where the story broke from someone's Twitter account' (Witkemper, C., Choong Hoon, L., & Waldburger, A., 2012).
For football clubs today, it is of great importance to keep ‘followers' engaged, making them feel part of the team. The engagement process starts well before the fixtures and lasts well after match days. In terms of Twitter, that would mean regular updates before, during and after the matches, keeping the supporters in the loop of any live incidents. The majority of the content, which will be delivered to the customers will surround the players and the day to day running of the club. All these aspects are used in order to grasp the attention of the supporter, in order to maintain retention. For the football clubs, Twitter is also very interesting from a financial point of view, when looking at Twitter as a sales platform, showing the range of kits, tickets, promotions and other merchandise. This will then most probably lead the customers towards the website and into the purchasing journey.
Social media – especially Twitter – enables sport clubs to exercise ‘relationship marketing'. ‘This approach to marketing was first introduced in the service marketing field (Berry, 1983) and has grown to become a staple in marketing operations (Williams & Chinn, 2010). Social media applications allow consumers to inter- act on several levels. It permits interactions firom con- sumers to consumers and consumers to the organization. These interactions develop into what becomes tbe consumer\'s experience. Interactions occur on four levels in regard to building relationships (Holmlund, 1997). According to Holmlund (1997) interactions start basic; in social media this could be an invitation to follow the organization. Then interrelated interactions come together to become episodes, episodes form together to become sequences, and finally, the sequences combine to become a relation- ship (Holmlund, 1997). Social media could be seen as the initial interaction with the purpose of transforming into a relationship' (Chad Witkemper, 2012), with Twitter being the perfect example. There are many motivations for sport fan's consumption of social media, but to measure these can be quite difficult. Various researches have been conducted in order to find out what exactly motivates people to use social media in terms of sports. ‘The following determinants of motivation have been found in these researches: entertainment (Gantz, 1981; Sloan, 1989; Zillman, Bryant, & Sapolsky, 1989); a fan\'s sense of affiliation to a team (fanship); the ability to connect with other fans and not have the feeling of estrangement (Branscombe & Wann, 1991, 1994; Guttman, 1986; McPherson, 1975; Sloan 1989; Smith 1988; Wenner & Gantz, 1989). One very important aspect of Twitter for the sports world in terms of the consumers is the ability to express opinions and talk about the favourite teams and players with other fans. Twitter has already become an established medium of interaction between people in the sports community. Many individuals have dreamt of being professional footballers during their early ages, however a very little minority actually make it into the professional leagues. Twitter offers people and non-professional athletes the chance to interact with sports teams on a regular basis, incorporating them into their day to day activities.
When looking at the top three football clubs in terms of Twitter users, one can quickly see a correlation between followers and value of the football teams. The third valuable club in the world is Manchester United, having a value of approximately 3.32 billion dollars and 18 million followers on Twitter. Runners up are FC Barcelona with a net value of 3.55 billion dollars and 16.6 million followers. The most valuable football team is Real Madrid with a value of 3.65 billion dollars and 18 million followers (Matthew Nitch Smith, 2016). One of the reasons why these teams are at the top of the list is presumably the presence of two of the most popular footballers in today's era, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Ronaldo's Twitter followers alone cumulate up to a staggering 47.9 million people.
How Facebook is used to narrow the gap between club and supporters
‘For sport clubs, using Facebook characterizes a way of communication with their fans. For example, Facebook enables sport clubs to connect the fan personally and for fans connecting with a team of Facebook has a strong relationship to team identification (Broughton, 2011). It also provides sport organizations a channel of communication to post news about their programs and create better brand awareness' (Wallace et al., 2011).
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