James Hughes Mulligan 18 April 2016

The year 2007 was a pretty big one for football in the United Kingdom for a number of reasons; the Premier League TV rights package deal smashed the £1 billion mark, valuing each game at just over £4 million, but more importantly there was a new entrant to the market, Setanta Sports. Setanta had broken Sky Sports’ tight gripped monopoly over the market, as it looked to disrupt, innovate and engage new fans. Among all the surface commotion, there were also three other major players that were unassumingly lurking, who would later dramatically change the way that fans engaged with sport, but on a different level.

Facebook was founded in 2004, YouTube in 2005 and Twitter 2006, all of which resonated with a new audience, who wanted fast, reactive and current content with minimal restrictions on consumption. The introduction of these platforms heralded the arrival of an exciting new chapter  concerning content and sporting social media influencers, which offered the potential to connect brands and fans in a genuine and financially efficient manner.

From the first televised football match on the BBC at the 1936 Olympics, to the first episode of Match of the Day, broadcast in August 1964 and the historic 1992 Sky Sports deal, fans have always wanted to get closer to the action, closer to their teams and closer to the entertainment, but does traditional broadcasting currently offer them all that they crave? Seven channel network, The Football Republic, is an innovator and an authentic network that engages fans and brings them as close to the match day experience as possible. It engages fans and brands daily through influencers on multiple platforms, tapping into passionate debates around the globe, and with more than 15 million views per month it can boast higher-than-average retention & engagement rates. The future of fan engagement and content creation is progressively transferring online.

Brands are already engaging fans across multiple platforms with influencers, but in the current environment of splurging large budgets on signing up global super stars to resonate with young millennials, perhaps they are looking in the wrong place? Football League 2 player, AFC Wimbledon striker Adebayo Akinfenwa has gradually amassed a loyal social media following, with 414,000 Instagram followers and 170,000 Twitter followers; he is constantly in the media spotlight and works with brands including EA Sport’s FIFA video game. Fans are now looking beyond traditional campaigns and the new future of multi-platform influencer led content offers brands these opportunities in abundance.

There are brands doing it well which are noticing the opportunity and maximising it. In the UK, mobile phone provider EE offers a great example of mobilising online influencers, with its hugely successful ten episode, ‘People’s Cup’, which took the UK’s biggest football YouTube stars and put them head to head at Wembley stadium. By working with 28 of the biggest online influencers, EE was able to connect with millennial audiences as they previously were unable to. The content reached the influencers’ combined 25 million subscribers, subsequently positioning the brand as an innovator.

This partnership further demonstrates that brands no longer need official partnerships or broadcasting rights with football properties to make a huge impact and connect with audiences. If brands want to be part of that conversation, one of the best ways is to align themselves with influencers and take part in the discussion. The shift to multiplatform content consumption offers brands a really exciting opportunity to connect with audiences without breaking the bank.  By using influencers, we have begun to see brands effectively and efficiently operating within this space, but this is just the beginning and there is still a long way to go.