Sports fans develop unique and engaging relationships with their favourite teams, both offline and online, but research on sport fan engagement is still limited in relation to social media. 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 undertaken and just released by IMG Consulting.
More than 35 per cent 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 to 29 year olds, with 40 per cent of them using social media to follow their team or sport more closely than before.
Fans in the older spectrum, however, 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 per cent on Facebook and 15 per cent on Twitter. I’m somewhere in the middle being 40 years old and yes, I follow the club accounts and I’m guessing like me, you follow the club accounts and various players as well.
Maybe I’m clinging to my youth by embracing social media, but then in my youth we didn’t have it, you just went to the games, and maybe saw a bit of Grandstand or Match of the Day at the weekend. I personally love Match of the Day, but being able to see goals on your phone moments after they have happened runs the risk of making football highlight shows obsolete.
In the present day, there are growing indicators that club presence on social media remains in no way the one-way street to the promotion it once was. In giving the fans a voice as well, social media permits them to ask uncomfortable questions of the clubs, either by direct means or by calling attention to them in the mainstream media.
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 per cent of fans with social media accounts use them to follow scores and statistics during the game. Even many journalists use Twitter as a main source for information.
Clubs are much less formal on Twitter now – they post off-hand stuff like strange trendy transfer videos. Some big clubs like Real Madrid would probably frown upon it, but here in the UK I think we’re seeing a revolution in the way clubs handle the modern football fan’s virtual and physical football worlds weaving back and forth, influencing one another, while blurring the line that separates them at pace. And this is creating a whole new football landscape for clubs and brands to inhabit.
Modern football fans see football fandom as multidimensional through to the visceral thrill of the grassroots game – and they don’t want to miss out on any of it. Incessantly, they share, curate and – increasingly – create football content on socials and in private chat groups, using memes and gifs as a visual language for football debate and beyond social feeds.
Funny gifs or memes not only allow fans to say a lot in one quick communication, they also enable them to express themselves more openly. Recently media commentators have gone as far as to describe how young males are utilising these visual content styles to express their emotions and mental health issues in ways that they would struggle with in a face-to-face conversation.