Manchester United attributes its success to online fan engagement

Digital engagement en masse is key to Manchester United’s on and off-pitch success, according to the club’s Managing Director.

Speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon this week, Richard Arnold made reference to United’s online followers – a base of 659 million across their social platforms. Some say that their focus on social and digital content and commercial success is taking away from their ability to perform well on the field and their drive to win, but United maintains that one is not possible without the other.

He said, “Commercial success is only possible because of the unparalleled engagement we have with our fans. The end goal is creating a virtuous circle, where more engagement with our fans equals greater opportunities for our partners.

“And that in turn equals greater revenue, and more opportunities for academy investment and world class signings to deliver the performances and success United fans expect and deserve. Expressed simply, for us to win on the pitch, we have to win off it.”

Especially for so-called ‘millennials’ – who account for 77% of their social media followers and 51% of the whole fanbase according to Arnold – online content is essential. It is important for clubs to cater to their main audiences and speak to them in a way that they connect with and understand.

Manchester City, after United, is the Premier League team with the second highest revenue. They follow a similar formula and have no shortage of engagement with their online fan base. From polls on social media to their own video channel, Man City is engaging with fans on social media and creating a lot of digital content.

On the pitch success may be falling short of the club’s high standards, but off the pitch they have never been healthier: with record revenues and having seen their share price on the New York Stock exchange reach its highest ever level the club is thriving off the pitch. Arnold’s comments about United’s digital content strategy seem to show a winning strategy in his domain – the business side – at least.

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Parker Sikes
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Parker Sikes is an American student studying advertising in London. Follow her on Twitter at @sikespar.

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