Football & Social Media: Why Clubs Need To Change To Stay Relevant

GUEST POST: Oscar Ugaz (@oscarugaz) is consultant on digital business (Real Madrid, SAB Miller, Toyota)  with expertise in Digital Media and online businesses. Over the past 15 years he has worked for major brands in America and Europe. He holds the position of Regional Project Director at Phantasia Wunderman.

In 2007 he was appointed as Digital Business Manager for Spanish Football Club Real Madrid C.F. He has been in charge of the E-commerce business, the commercial strategy of portals, the online video business and the Social Media strategy of the Club. Oscar is a keynote speaker who often participates at events and conferences on Digital Business Strategy and the impact of Social Media. In the last few years he has spoken at events in Spain, Germany, UK, and Latin America


Some weeks ago, a well known sports brand reach 5 million fans in Facebook, so they posted on their wall to celebrate the happy event:

“Today is a magical date that we will never forget. Today we are going to reach 5 million fans in our football page. We only can say something to you: 5 MILLION OF THANKS”

They only received nine comments. 8 of them were the usual mumbling. One of them was getting to happy to say what he thought:

“Today is also my birthday and that is more magical. The 5 million fans don’t say anything to me. You guys are getting a little boring”.

In October, Facebook Pages start displaying the new “Talking about this” metric alongside with the total number of fans. The metric measures the number of unique people who have created a story (comment, like, share) about a specific page in the last week. From this data derives another interesting one: the engagement ratio (ER) a percentage that measures how many fans really interacts with the page.  

Over the last three week the average ER for the major European football clubs on Facebook (Real Madrid, FC, Barcelona and Manchester United) was 3.5 % of an average fan base of more than 20 million each.

I remember many meetings talking about numbers of fans and some people saying: “but Club A has more fans than us. We must do something”. A second point of view was: “What is important is not the size but what we do with those fans” The later way of thinking is the one that produces great content and entertainment.

Unfortunately, the alpha male attitude seems to prevail and everyone is in the rat race of collecting more fans and boast about it. Every day a new ranking appears and every day people run to look at it and get very happy or very frustrated.

But time has given reason to the second point of view: if football is one of the most passionate events, and we are talking about some of the most representative brands in the sector, a 3,5% of ER is something not to be so proud about.

The fact is that most of us are managing these new social media assets as we used to do with old media. We have a lot of fans and reach? Great! Let´s push messages like crazy. And let´s boast about our supposed reach. Elements like, ER (Edge Rank) and the structure of the new Facebook Wall has put us back in place. It doesn’t matter how many fans we have, we are not going to reach any of them if we are not relevant.

The point is that we are missing the opportunity to use the new technical possibilities of engagement as well as the data and insights behind it. Now we know who the fans are, their sex, age, language, country and city; we even know to what kind of messages they responded in the past and what do they do after that.  We can use all this data to profile remarkable content in the way of customized messages, engaging apps, demanding polls, video that shows the bowels of the club, etc.

However most of us limit to the average post with a link.

Sponsors and licensors must also take a more deep involvement. Close deals or enhance old ones based on a number of followers is not going to be relevant at all. A due diligence of the sponsee ´s social media assets must include a deep look at the insights of the fan base, to what kind of stimulus they react and a deep thinking about how products or services can engage with the right holder´s brand in a deep and meaningful way.

Nowadays most deals are based on number of posts, tweets or video displays without any deep analysis. A vicious circle occurs where poor results arrive because of irrelevant content and more messages are pushed to obtain results. This creates a negative attitude or worst than that: audience will start to ignore us (remember the low engagement rates?). In the process we also run the risk of killing our social media assets.

The responsibility is not small. Its not only that we can diminish the value of our own gained/owned media. If brands like football clubs, that are supposed to create some of the most deep and engaging relationships do not produce real value this can give support to those that suggest that social media is a fad and a waste of time. And this have the familiar sound of a bubble burst with all the negative effects towards digital media.

Strategic movements like new public ER as well as insights data and new monetization and advertising solutions are efforts for platforms like Facebook and Twitter to provide brands with tools to create more relevant content and increase not only their own value but the whole platform itself. Being part of an industry like sports, with such a big passion component requires managing the digital strategy of “love brands” taking full accountability towards more professional, technical and meaningful content.

If we work this way, maybe the next time we post something we will receive the feedback we expect instead of the usual blathering. Or, in the worst case, the echo of an empty space.

About author

Daniel McLaren
Daniel McLaren 633 posts

Dan launched Digital Sport back in 2010 as one of the first social media & sport blogs and is Founder & Managing Director of social video agency CASTdigital. Connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter (@danielmclaren)

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  1. Alam
    May 04, 07:54 Reply
    Football brands have started doing this on Its about time as football is becoming more and more social.
  2. Jakob Mayland
    February 13, 17:10 Reply
    Hi guys, can you tell me who Jacob Nielsen is? I am from Denmark myself always looking for inspiration and networking - in this case possibly a guy to get in contact with. Best from Jakob Mayland
  3. Mike
    December 01, 22:48 Reply
    @PR Smith, yes I think it was Jacob Nielsen who did that.
  4. golfguy
    November 22, 16:40 Reply
    PR Smith, would love to see the video proof. Can you share a link to view?
  5. PR Smith
    November 21, 11:15 Reply
    Excellent article. Was it Jacob Nielsen who introduced the 90:9:1 ratio - 90% lurk/never contribute/engage, 9% contibute a little and 1% contribute a lot? Does this suggest 9% or 10% engagement ratio is very good? <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> only has 112 fans/likes but 36 people talking about it = 32%. In fact it seems like we have much more than 36% engagement as almost every post generates comments, shares & likes, so not sure of the accuracy. But, as you say, the focus is engagement which makes sense. If anyone is interested I have developed the Ladder Of Engagement it explores how to structure levels of engagement - to build a better business. Anyone can download (for another month at least) a chapter I wrote about it from my other facebook page <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> - I hope it is of use. Oh lastly, I have video proof of why most clubs do not know what their fans want, or even why they attend football matches.
  6. chrisholme
    November 12, 11:02 Reply
    Very interesting piece, Oscar. Some clubs engage well with fans via social media and interesting content. Others don't and fans, alienated from current owners or management, organise their own web communities. And they are often far better custodians of the "soul" of a club, creating great content from digital history sources: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>
  7. Sean Callanan
    November 10, 22:13 Reply
    Great article, it's good to see Facebook moving the goal posts so to speak by putting the focus on engagement. We've been tracking likes & comments on all Sports Geek client Facebook pages for a long while now as we've found it the best way to find out what the fans actually "like". One point with the "Talking about this" stats though is that they seem a little buggy, we've seen talking about this numbers that are LOWER than the number of likes a post has received. Nice no person can like a post twice (although they can like, comment & share it) the numbers seem off. Additionally the old & new insights numbers are so far apart, we were using 75%+ as a good monthly active number but now it looks like 20% for a Talking about this number is hard to reach (Manly Sea Eagles recorded 10,000 Talking about this of 50,000 fans after winning the premiership with a highly engaged fan base). Stop by Sports Geek anytime - <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>
  8. Jordi
    November 10, 09:16 Reply
    Nice article. As you said engangement rate is more important than the number of followers. You need to monetize your efforts in any area. Also I agree than an average of 3.5 is nothing for something as passionate as any sport club. At the end, how any business is adding value to their customers with their social media activity? Regards. Jordi
  9. Jimmy
    November 09, 15:38 Reply
    Good article. I think club's that have the luxury of easily attracting vast numbers of fans/followers mistake this number as a measure of their success in terms of engaging fans. Clubs often shout loud about whatever is going on and fail to make any attempt to create social friendly content. After one such 'social media ranking' was published I wrote this <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> - Social media league table - mainly dross.

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