Manchester United rediscover that on-pitch success fuels off-the-field growth

They say a change is as good as a rest.

Manchester United fans were weary of football before Christmas, plodding along under a cloud as their manager Jose Mourinho saw his team serve up the footballing equivalent of thin gruel to the paying masses at Old Trafford who, to their credit, continued to support their team vibrantly from the stands.

Just a few weeks after his sacking, the arrival of a club legend in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has galvanised not just the club’s playing staff but the fans, too. It all feels a bit different now, and the blast-from-the-past chants heard around the stadium in the last few games have only added to the recent improvement.

Success this year still won’t look like league titles and although there are still trophies up for grabs, the Red Devils won’t be favourites for them either. But this week’s digital media news shows the break from gloom and the embrace of hope around the club.

The club’s highest ever concentration of app downloads outside the launch period was recorded between 18th and 31st December 2018; social media followers are up; and the club’s YouTube channel saw 88 years worth of time watched in just two weeks.

“Clearly what happens on the pitch comes first at Manchester United and everyone at the club understands that,” a club spokesperson told SportsPro.

Of course, the off-the-field stuff is important too – certainly to anyone reading this. But the numbers aren’t much of a case study to anyone wondering how to boost their own success on social media or increase app downloads. No club wants to have to sack their manager and no fan wants to have to put up with what went on in the final few months of the Jose Mourinho reign just to savour the brighter day all the more when Solskjaer brought positivity and a few victories.

But it does show two things.

Firstly, the notion that United don’t have to be successful on the pitch to generate interest and revenue was discussed at various points over the last few seasons: that he club was so big, and its support so interested in the ‘soap opera’, that success was incidental. That was based around the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats and that success off the pitch would lead to more money to spend ensuring success on it. That was always over-egging it anyway, but maybe the fact that United fans are tuning into club channels in even greater numbers than before shows that on-pitch success and the feel-good factor are important.

It probably shows how bored many United – and indeed wider football fans – were with Mourinho and the team’s style of play. The Portuguese boss’s demeanour in press conferences and his side’s lack of verve made it difficult to watch towards the end.

But more than anything else, it probably also shows that in football – where one season now seems to run into another seamlessly – fatigue can take hold and fans as well as players and that mixing things up is important.

While Manchester United’s recent social media surge is impressive, it’s all circumstantial – it’s not something that can be replicated and not much can be learned. Yet it does show the extent to which positive attitudes have on a club’s fan base. And for the first time in a while, United’s off-pitch success is being aided by their fans’ positive reaction to the team’s performance on it.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 836 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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