Football fans up and down the country will know the feeling. Constantly refreshing your Twitter feed to check if your team has found the final jigsaw puzzle to propel them toward the Premier League title. He finally signs – cue fanfare, interviews with the player, general knowledge articles and all-round hysteria. It demonstrates how in just a matter of years social media has become integral to fanship and football.
The worlds of marketing, PR and social media are now a big part of how football teams operate. But believe it or not there was a time before all this, when the world’s biggest football teams were not paying such close attention to their PR departments.
Manchester United are the biggest football team in England and, debatably, the world. For me they are a huge example of how pivotal PR has become in football. Six years ago they allowed one of their hottest young prospects, Paul Pogba, to move on for free to Juventus in Italy. Fast forward four years and they buy Pogba back, initiating one of the most drawn out transfer sagas in football history that would eventually make him the most expensive footballer in the world (at least for a while).
Fans were literally champing at the bit for confirmation of the transfer, and when it finally came Pogba had already inherited a popstar-esque stature. Social media was sent into overdrive with content and hashtags centred around the French star returning, with Man United running ‘#Pogback’ with even his own emoji.
Then there was a collaboration video featuring Pogba (an Adidas athlete) and Stormzy (a prominent UK rapper, also part of the Adidas roster) rapping and dancing dressed in Manchester United kit (Man U are also sponsored by Adidas).
The whole thing was a PR explosion and for the first time in a while I had started to believe the football world had gone mad. From a business perspective, allowing a player who was on your books to leave for free, only to buy him back four years later for £90 million seems absolutely ludicrous. Surely that’s a shocking investment and a hugely avoidable mishap that would punch a hole through the heart of Manchester United’s financial situation? Right?
Wrong. When you factor in his shirt sales reaching £190 million within three weeks, then the whole PR stunt makes perfect sense. Not only are United getting a player of extreme quality, but also by turning him into an international popstar they are actually getting value for their money at £90 million! How insane is that? And this is before we even mention the benefits for Adidas, the kit manufacturer who sponsor Man U and also Pogba.
In other words, the deal made perfect sense for everyone involved, especially Adidas, who hold Pogba as arguably their most prized asset – someone who they invest most of their marketing and advertising budgets into.
Now, let’s take a look further down the leagues. This year, Bristol City (who play in the English Championship) have implemented a PR stunt that was never before seen in the world of Football. They used their Twitter account to give fans a glimpse of the players, which is nothing groundbreaking, but the way in which they did it has hooked the nation, and has pretty much made them the nation’s favourite second team.
Whenever City score, instead of tweeting an ordinary goal update, their twitter account will tweet a hilarious gif of the goalscorer doing something completely random! Examples include players cracking eggs on their heads, brushing their teeth or even doing the ironing, and this one of midfielder Bobby Reid cracking 2 beer cans over his head!
— Bristol City FC (@bcfctweets) December 30, 2017
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So here we see a Football team using clever content not only to give their fans fun insights into their players, but also to boost their engagement and exposure with general fans of football up and down the country. One would be forgiven for mistaking them for a PR company!
When you consider their strong start to the season which places them firmly in the promotion race and a massive cup win against the aforementioned juggernauts Manchester United, then you have a football team who are massively on the up. All this on pitch success enhances the clubs stature and size, but the clever off-field PR moments have also hooked onto fans and keeps Bristol City at the forefront of their minds.
The world of PR is ever-changing. With the explosion of social media, content has been adapted to be more snappy and hard-hitting than ever, and football has changed to match it. Football teams are paying more attention to their PR then ever, and are reaping the business and exposure benefits because of it.