West Ham United, Javier Hernandez, and the finer points of engaging fans worldwide
This weekend, the new Premier League season gets underway and all eyes will be on the football once again. Indeed, it probably was all over the summer, too: transfer rumours were front and centre in the minds of many fans, whilst the Premier League’s clubs social media accounts were in many ways the stars of the show… for better or for worse.
Aside from world record transfer fees being splashed for one of the world’s most exciting players, and beyond the explosion of transfer announcements, one of the most interesting developments on social media might just be what happened around the Javier Hernandez move from Bayer Leverkusen – West Ham gained a massive amount of new followers from Mexico and the United States, whilst Leverkusen seemed to lose a noticeable chunk of their social media likes.
“The numbers would suggest that Leverkusen have lost some fans,” Amar Singh, West Ham United’s head of content told Dan McLaren on today’s Digital Sport Insider podcast. “For me, I’d like to think that he’ll be here for many years and score many goals, West Ham will be embedded into the hearts of all these Mexican fans and I think it’s up to us to engage with them now we’ve got that interest and seen that interest.”
That’s the challenge for West Ham now. On the pitch, clearly the club spent money on the striker for one reason and one reason alone: to score goals. Off it, channeling the interest around Mexico’s most recognisable talent is important for the club from a commercial and marketing point of view. But perhaps it’s keeping that interest when the player finally leaves the club that will prove to be the trickiest part.
Perhaps it’s the changing nature of football as a whole that will change how that approach is carried out, though. It is a younger generation of football fans are the ones who are following clubs and players around on social media, after all. Singh has his own ideas of how the nature of football fandom is changing. “My son is eight years old,” he says, “and he’s my barometer for young football fans. He’s a Liverpool fan but he could tell you who the Borussia Dortmund back four is. Fans are becoming a little less tribal now, and more passionate and more knowledgeable about clubs too.”
“West Ham have a hugely passionate fan base, and that’s not going to change. But if we can make these Mexican and US Latino fans more West Ham savvy, that’s not going to do us any harm at all.”
When it comes to creating content, football clubs are arguably in the most difficult position of anyone, having to engage fans of all generations, and of all interests. It’s hard to unite that, especially if you’re attempting to persuade passionate fans who have followed the club all their lives as well as more casual fans who are following the club’s fortunes simply because Javier Hernandez plays for their team.
That means understanding that whilst providing fans with content is important, it’s not necessarily the content team’s main job.
“We want to embed our content into the daily and weekly habits of our fans,” says Singh. “But it’s very important that we serve them and inform them, and one of the things I’ve learned since I’ve been here is that the core role of content in a club environment is to inform your fans.”
“Sometimes what might seem like a fairly dreary story will be the most read, because fans will come to you for information first and foremost. Everything else presents a great opportunity for a great story or engagement, but first and foremost, you have to get the information right.”
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