Where are the football fans? Two trends for brands to leverage

Jonny Bateman, Creative Director

Jonny Bateman, Creative Director

Football. The beautiful game. A global sport. A form of entertainment that was once consumed by match day attendance or on television.

Being part of the football conversation can offer brands a rich opportunity to connect with consumers on a deep emotional level, but the narrative is changing.

Here we take a deep dive into two of the biggest trends in football fan consumption and engagement right now, identifying some of the commercial ways that brands can tap into these channels and be part of the conversation in a credible, culturally-relevant way.

The Digital Revolution

Technology’s rapid advancement is only getting faster and stronger, and it is revolutionising entertainment and sport. In the case of football, tech has opened the door to wider club expansion and fan participation, far beyond simply watching the game.

In the past, fan content such as zines were small scale operations with limited local reach. A fan’s voice, opinions and analysis could only go so far. Digital platforms now provide the space and opportunity for fan-made content to fill the voids on either side of match day, and they can do so on a national and international level. Connecting and interacting with likeminded people all over the world brings fans closer to their beloved teams and players, and builds a community that transcends geographical, cultural and economic boundaries.

The Impact of Covid-19

Writing this in 2022, it’s only right that we acknowledge the impact of Covid-19 on football culture, and how this has contributed to the shifts and trends we now see.

Watching live football matches in the stadium or on pay-per-view can be an expensive and often inaccessible experience for the masses. It can even divide fans and teams rather than connecting them closer. When live fixtures were cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions, this was the catalyst many fans needed to find alternative sources of football entertainment and participatory experiences; ones that engaged with the wider world of football in an immediate, expressive and cost-effective way. Ones that are here to stay.

This is the new digital democracy. Everyone and anyone can use free or low-cost tools and platforms such as YouTube, Twitch and TikTok to share their voice and have their own stake in the football conversation. Two of the biggest trends – and biggest opportunities – right now are fan-made watchalongs and Esports.

Trend #1 Fan-Made Watchalongs

No longer do supporters with a desire to voice their opinion publicly need to spend hours creating and selling a fanzine outside the grounds in the freezing rain. Now they simply turn on their webcam and talk through the action as it happens, inviting others to watch along with them.

Once only associated with famous faces on mainstream media channels, these people are reinventing the football commentary narrative. Fans speaking directly to other fans, dissecting the play as it happens in real time, and starting new conversations that are accessible to anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world.

There are also match previews, player ratings, interviews with other fans, and much more. In fact, these people are producing many of the outputs you’d expect to come from a mainstream media outlet. The difference is that they’re done out of a true passion for the game, with less filter, and on a fraction of the budget.

The next generation of football pundits

The real reinvention lies in how these YouTubers and streamers are changing the perception and role of fans in modern football. These people are serious content creators, with the ability to drive debates and discussions on every aspect of the game. They are highly influential and respected by their peers, and their follower numbers can reach into the millions. They are inspiring the next generation of fans to turn their passion into a career, connecting with the rest of the world through a shared love of football.

Trend #2 Esports

With an international audience of over 500 million and a global revenue of $1.08 billion in 2021, Esports events are rapidly gaining traction, with more and more people tuning in to watch gamers compete against one another.

The connection between gaming and football is not a new one. The hugely popular FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer computer games have been entertaining football fans for over 20 years. With the rise of Esports, this reach is expanding further and faster, and the professionals are taking notice.

Esports is becoming the fastest growing extension of the teams we support, our favourite players, and fellow football fans. And it’s not just the clubs that are celebrating this new generation of gaming talent with sponsorship deals and endorsements; big brands such as BMW, Kappa, Monster Energy, TikTok and Redbull are putting their money behind the top Esports players, too.

Live streaming is the key component of these tournaments, with platforms such as Twitch and YouTube hosting a wealth of virtual football tournaments and leagues. Unlike the real-life game, these are available live online 24/7, allowing fans to watch and participate wherever they are in the world, at any time of day or night.

Opportunities for brands

Football has been an integral part of global culture for over 150 years and, just as culture evolves, so have the ways we consume and engage with football.

This latest evolution offers up a rich new landscape of possibilities that reaches far beyond continents or demographic groups, a truly global and accessible opportunity to connect with people. These are the new spaces for brands to play in if they want to be part of the football conversation in a culturally relevant way.

But a word of warning.

Whilst fans are hungry for richer football experiences, they are also brand savvy. Investing in these channels must be done so authentically, and it must be based in real insights.

Brands and their agency partners should immerse themselves in these environments, gaining an in-depth understanding of these new tribes of football fans, and the motivations behind those leading the charge. At Vault49, we call this our Back Alley Insights approach. In turn, this will unlock opportunities for brands to collaborate with the right influential content creators and Esports talents, creating credible and contemporary football and brand experiences together, and connecting directly with fans on a deeper emotional level.

To find out more about how our Back Alley Insights approach can unlock authentic insights to help your brand connect with consumers, get in touch.

Jonny Bateman, Creative Director