Why football should bet on social to capture young fans’ attention

Thought Leadership

As sport attempts to reach new audiences across social media and digital platforms, Joe Weston, Head of Sport at We Are Social, explores how tapping into streaming can help capture attention.

Last month we saw one of the most tumultuous weeks in football history. And while it’s fair to say the founders of the short-lived and ill-conceived European Super League got almost everything wrong, there was one area where they were on the money – football does need a shake up to appeal to younger audiences.

Young people are moving their attention to other forms of competitive entertainment, such as gaming and esports. Football fandom is strong but consumption is changing – that is affecting the financial model that the system has been built on. GlobalWebIndex has found online sports viewership is on the up, driven by younger audiences; in APAC for example, it has overtaken broadcast TV. 

We are starting to see some recognition of this shift to digital. Earlier last month, the LaLiga Basque derby between Real Sociedad and Athletic Club streamed live on Twitch. The move follows an announcement earlier this year that LaLiga and Amazon, which owns Twitch, agreed a distribution deal that made LaLiga’s 24/7 English-language channel available on Prime Video Channels in the UK.

While it’s highly regarded, LaLiga doesn’t have quite the same global presence as the Premier League. And this challenger status has driven it to innovate to stay relevant in the ever competitive footballing landscape.

Partnering with Twitch is a savvy move, and one that recognises how sports viewing is evolving. We have moved from broadcast through to multi-layered viewing that is now able to add layered and contextualised experiences. 

For example, in the Basque derby we saw influencer commentary from Ibai Llanos – who was also streaming the game via his channel – alongside presenter Ander Cortes. Fans could utilize the chat box feature, sharing their thoughts with one another in real time, an evolution of second screening on Twitter during matches on TV. The role of the viewer no longer has to be passive – the opportunity is there to be far more active. 

Given the interactive nature of social, there’s potential to take this even further. For example, Twitch Extensions offer additional functionality for streamers, and can be built around engagement, loyalty, game specific overlays or scheduling. This is particularly interesting for sponsors who could build brand-owned Extensions for streamers who are showing live games in the future. 

In another interesting move from a challenger brand, small sided American Football league Fan Controlled Football has taken interactivity to a whole new level. Camera angles controlled by viewers, plays called by fans, even the draft of players controlled by the Twitch audience. An exciting approach to the established world of American sports with fan communities at its heart. This type of innovation is going to be important in order to future proof sport.

It’s not just Twitch that’s been recognised as somewhere with potential for sports fans to be reached. TikTok was recently announced as a global sponsor of UEFA EURO 2020 (running in 2021). This is the first time a social platform has sponsored a major international tournament for UEFA, and represents an exciting way for football fans to engage with the rescheduled tournament as it gets under way.

For younger generations who grew up online and are proven to spend less time outdoors than older audiences – especially in the past year – live sport isn’t cutting it when it comes to community spirit. They’re looking for more active ways to engage with sports and fellow fans online. 

Platforms like Twitch and TikTok are places for participation. Brands looking to speak to the next generation of sport fans should harness platforms like this to invite fans to coalesce and participate on their own terms in digital spaces. 

Three considerations for sports brands when it comes to social viewing: 

Add to the experience, don’t distract from it 
People viewing streams expect to have an elevated viewing experience. But they should be complementary to the experience. That means they shouldn’t detract from the entertainment that people are there to see, and they shouldn’t take advantage of the platform’s community. 

Work with authentic partners – and trust them 
Think about your community before the platform. While these platforms offer brands and broadcasters opportunities, that is only because of the communities that live there. Find suitable partners and trust them in developing a viewing experience that will resonate. 

Great opportunity to drive brand affinity 
Seamlessly showcasing your product through a valuable consumer experience driven by fandom can create long lasting relationships with your consumers – Twitch users are 34% more likely to want brands to run communities.

For more insights into livestreaming, sign up to episode one of Game On, our three-part webinar series, where we’ll looking at livestreaming in the context of digital gaming and how brands can get involved in this new phenomenon.