Feature: How Has Social Media Changed Football?

In the last ten years social media has completely changed society and sport forever. Everyone involved in football from the highest paid footballers in the world to an ordinary fan like myself has been massively influenced by social media. There has been a positive and a negative impact on football both of which I will discuss in this article.

Football has been very slow to use technology both on and off the pitch. In the modern age, TV broadcasting of matches generates a huge amount of revenue for football clubs but until the 1990s it was seen as a threat. It is a similar story with social media as many clubs saw it as a threat and until just a few years ago football clubs did not use social media at all. Now in 2015, big European clubs such as Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan all have multiple official club Twitter accounts in different languages to connect with fans from all over the world. Manchester United only joined Twitter in April 2012 and since then have amassed over 6 million followers.

With the constantly increasing amount of money in football, clubs and players are often accused of being out of touch with their fans. However, thanks to social media, fans can connect with them in new ways than before. Football clubs and players often engage in competitions and giveaways on social media that often have very simple entry requirements such as people to follow their account and retweet a certain tweet. Something like that helps increase their following but also their exposure when people retweet the tweet to enter the giveaway.

There are often complaints about the cost of replica shirts, however, for some lucky Arsenal fans the jersey that they bought this season was priceless. When asked to pose for a picture some of the Arsenal players photobombed them as a stunt organised by the Arsenal PR team. The video below was posted onto Arsenal’s official YouTube account which received many positive comments, even from opposition fans who claimed that Arsenal were now their second team.

Players can also use social media for good PR. A recent example is Harry Kane who was invited by a child called Oscar for a game of football. The Tottenham striker responded saying that he was playing for England at that time so invited Oscar to Wembley to watch him in action. A gesture like this can show that they footballers are still grounded at times despite their huge salaries and it also shows how fans are closer than ever to their idols thanks to social media. Players can also use social media to send out statements directly to their fans without letting their words be twisted by traditional media and sometimes even change people’s perception of them.

Football clubs can use social media to push merchandise sales where they can directly advertise to their millions of followers. Whenever an Arsenal player scores a goal the official Arsenal Twitter account posts the goal update with a picture of the back of the scorer’s jersey which encourages fans to buy the jersey and pay extra for the printing. Also after signing a new player clubs will try to capitalise on the buzz of the new signing by pushing the sales of the club jersey with the player’s name printed on the back. Within an hour of posting online that Matteo Kovacic had passed his medical at Real Madrid the club had posted a link to the jersey with his name on the back in the club shop.

Footballers can also use social media to push their own merchandise and build a global brand. According to an article by the Financial Times, a few years ago Facebook executives told Polaris Sports, who manage Cristiano Ronaldo’s image rights to start a Facebook page for him. They didn’t believe Facebook when they were told that their client had the potential to get to 10 million followers. Despite the scepticism, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Official Facebook page was created in 2009 and now it has over 100 million likes on Facebook which he uses to his advantage to post advertisements for his sponsors and even his own merchandise.

Football clubs’ social media pages can also give an unrivalled insight into daily life at the club that traditional media can’t compete with. During preseason this year Manchester United posted a video of players heading the ball between them 22 times before heading it into a bin.

However, they have to be very careful about the content that they post. This summer Blackpool FC had to delete an official club Twitter account after getting into an argument with a fan and used the term “a***hole w*****s”. The account, @CommercialBFC, was responsible for updating fans with commercial activities at the club.

I talked to Matt Rushton who is in his second year of his role as the Digital Media Manager for Morecambe FC to talk about his job and to find out what it takes to be in charge of the content that a football club publishes on social media.

Another advantage of social media for fans is that it is much easier to keep up to date with a match if they are away from the stadium or their TV. Virtually every single football club will live tweet updates from their match not just of goals but also every minor update such as missed chances, yellow cards and substitutions. There also designated mobile apps to keep up with sport scores from all over the world. You can use them to send your phone a notification when a goal goes in of any match that you choose as well as providing in-depth stats and text commentary.

Fans can also build up a large following for their own social media accounts. An example is @stokietony who has over 39,000 followers on Twitter by doing shoutouts to fans and following fans back. His one below has gained great coverage due to his large following but also the style of his tweet. Using caps lock, multiple lines and a picture makes his tweet much bigger for people to see. Simple ideas like those mentioned are easy ways to quickly build up a large following on Twitter.

Football has a massive presence on YouTube as not only are highlights of matches posted there are many football YouTubers who have become massive celebrities with the younger generation. They are football fans who have built up their following by filming themselves playing and commentating on playing football video games. An example is KSI who has nearly 11 million subscribers and has capitalised on his fame by releasing a rap song called “Lamborghini” which reached number 30 on the UK charts in April. Football YouTubers also use their fame to release merchandise such as t-shirts, iPhone cases and caps which adds to their revenue. The most revealing fact to show just how popular football YouTubers is the following tweet.

Two of the contributing factors to this is that the YouTube video can be watched repeatedly compared a live event and also none of the Premier League clubs featured in the final. However, the fact that more people watched a group of people who play video games for a living play a football match than professional footballers at the peak of their game is shocking.

Footballers are constantly getting into trouble for the content that they post on social media. Even if a post is up for a few minutes and then deleted it is usually screenshotted by someone and after that it is out of the players’ control. Last season Ian Ayre, Liverpool’s Chief Executive said: “Given the choice we’d love to keep all our players away from social media because it really is a problem.” According to the Guardian, the FA had collected around £350,000 in fines and investigated 121 cases between the 2010/11 season and October 2014 which was when the article was written.

Blackpool FC have had their fair share of embarrassing performances both on and off the pitch. Last season during a spell of bad form for the Seasiders, Jacob Murphy who was playing for Blackpool on loan from Norwich sent a Snapchat with the caption “We are going to lose… Again”. The picture was screenshotted and made its way to national media. His loan was cut short and he was immediately sent back to his parent club.

I spoke to Ciaran Donnelly who is the manager of the Blackpool U-18 team about some of the issues facing young footballers today with social media.

The fact that players and football clubs are so easy to access by just going onto social media is not necessarily a good thing. Players often receive abuse in times of poor form or when undergoing a transfer. This summer Raheem Sterling left Liverpool for Manchester City and was targeted by angry fans who threatened to kidnap his daughter and that he died. Anti-discrimination group Kick It Out, published findings of a study about football related hate crime on social media. The study found Premier League clubs and players have received more than 130,000 abusive posts on social media last season. It also found that 88% of the abuse was on Twitter with 8% on Facebook and the remaining 4% coming from forums and blogs.

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To conclude I think social media has made a positive impact on football and is a wonderful addition to the game as long as it used responsibly. The amount of content I can access as a fan and a sports journalist is simply incredible. Football clubs can also use it to their advantage and in the future I think we will see clubs doing more social media campaigns. Despite the few negatives that I mentioned the only issue that is out of control is trolling. Unfortunately players still get abused in real life by fans in the terraces and online by trolls. It is a shame that players are still subject to abuse like this and hopefully in the future it can be stopped by giving the abusers stricter punishments.

Follow me on Twitter @KaranGadhia

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