Social media use strengthens the bonds between football fans and their teams

When Roy Hodgson named his England squad earlier this week at Griffin House HQ – home of sponsors Vauxhall – the news was instantly relayed across social media where journalists, fans and brands immediately voiced their own opinions. It is the ever increasing importance that social media plays in the daily lifestyle of a football fan that is the key focus of a study released today by IMG Consulting.

More than 35% of UK football supporters on Twitter now follow their team, athletes or media more closely than before they joined a social media network, and feel more closely bonded to that team. This trend is even stronger amongst 16-29 year olds, with 40% of them using social media to follow their team or sport more closely than before.

However, this younger age group are also far more likely to use social media sites to engage with sports brands. 63% were found to have liked a brand on Facebook with 44% following on Twitter, emphasising both the importance of the medium as well as the opportunity for brands to connect with consumers.

Alex Coulson, Director, PR and Social Media at IMG Consulting, said:

“Social media has opened up opportunities for rights-holders and brands to talk directly with fans, but even more so with younger audiences whose engagement with their teams was previously limited, maybe by high ticket prices or access to pay-TV.

“Digital communication with the athletes, teams, brands and journalists breaks down these barriers, especially for supporters at the younger end of the spectrum and the opportunity for brands to facilitate and be part of that connection is huge.”

However, fans in the older spectrum are much less connected, with the IMG study reporting that those aged between 50 and 64 have much lower levels of brand engagement at 34% on Facebook and 15% on Twitter.  This isn’t simply a case of social media being for younger audiences, as older fans consulted in the survey complained that brands in particular, do not look to target an older demographic with their social media and content creation activity. Therefore, there is a clear opportunity for brands to work harder at tailoring their content for each target demographic.

The study also highlighted the importance of social media on match day. UK fans check Twitter more than any other social media network on the day their team is playing, looking at their timeline on average 8.4 times per day for sports related content, whilst more than 40% of fans with social media accounts use them to follow scores and statistics during the game.  So brands need to consider channel usage within their campaigns to ensure they connect with fans through the most appropriate channel.

Yet, despite the constant rise of social media, the study also demonstrated the ongoing importance of ‘traditional’ media, and how the stronger media owners are at the forefront of adapting their content to new platforms for fans of all ages engaging through social channels. 80% of UK sports fans who use social media do so to get information on their team by following individual journalists and feeds from respected and well known newspaper and broadcast outlets. This offers a clear suggestion that integrated media partnerships with ‘traditional’ media outlets remains a very worthwhile platform for brands.

“Social media evolves rapidly so that strategic planning can be challenging, but there are clear trends and nuances and our study aims to identify or confirm some of them. Our clients, both brands and rights-owners, are welcoming the additional insights we can bring in this arena which we are adding to our unparalleled ability to create and produce great content with the resources of IMG Media behind us”,  Rob Mason, Senior Vice President at IMG, commented.

The IMG Consulting Fan Engagement study was the first commissioned in the UK, following its launch in the US in 2010 as an annual insight into the relationship between sports and digital media use.  The study was fielded by REPUCOM and collected data from more than 2,100 fans aged between 16 and 64.

IMG Consulting_Infographic_Final Version



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Daniel McLaren
Daniel McLaren 820 posts

Dan is the Founder & CEO of Digital Sport. Can be found at sports industry events and heard every week on the Digital Sport Insider podcast. @DanielMcLaren

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