The summer 2017 transfer window will be remembered for Paris Saint Germain's quarter of a billion dollar acquisition of Neymar Jr but this media-dominating circus has also been noteworthy for clubs' experimentation with social video, creating a rich tapestry of storytelling around the comings-and-goings of footballers.
Social video is an increasingly valuable commodity in football, so much so that Manchester City will be leveraging it in sponsorship negotiations going forward. This summer, it has become the most compelling format in which football transfers have been announced.
The reason a slew clubs have embraced social video to embed the comings-and-goings of players in the club-to-fan narrative more than ever before rests in a perfect storm of shark-jumping transfer fees, the proliferation of social media video and the knowledge that nothing could ever be more ridiculous than Manchester United putting Wayne Rooney in a jet for an Independence Day 2 promotion.
Activations have varied greatly. Aston Villa simulated a WhatsApp conversation, Yeovil Town used Snap’s Map feature, Liverpool got meta on Twitter, Manchester United fell back on a Hollywood-style photoshoot, Reading ran a Jaap Stam-appreciation cartoon, Roma embraced Fifa and unexpected goats, Celtic leveraged a heart-wrenching bromance, Southampton won plaudits with an epic, yet, anti-climatic announcement and Oxford City just put pen to paper in a McDonald's.
The Drum touched down with some of the top marketing minds from football to understand this new phenomena.
Richard Kenyon, director of marketing and communications at Everton, says supports have come to expect clubs to play in the social space: "It’s not only the favoured platform for fans, but also allows us to issue shareable creative content quickly and to a wide audience. What’s good about it - when it goes well at least – is that we get instant feedback on what we’ve produced and we can easily analyse and benchmark our performance against other clubs and other relevant organisations."
But in the rough and tumble of the transfer market, things can get a bit hectic, an image best defined by English manager Harry Redknapp's tendency to remain perched at the steering wheel in case he has to shoot off to some corner of the country to secure a last minute deal. As such, football social teams have to be able to turn around their videos quickly, as it's not always the case that they'll get a heads up on new players well in advance.
Kenyon says: "This summer some of our videos have been put together within a couple of hours of the team being told about the possible signing. So developing a concept, gathering the content – often with only a few minutes with the player –and the editing process all has to be completed very quickly."
And while the fixers and negotiators "breathe a big sigh of relief when any deal is completed," the media and engagement teams are equally as thankful when the positive comments start coming in.
This window saw Everton go for a big video push. The return of the club's prodigal son Wayne Rooney from Manchester United after a 13-year absence being the most engaging of all its video content, generating more than more than 4m views and almost 200,000 engagements.
— Everton (@Everton) July 9, 2017
For Kenyon, it was a tricky announcement to pull off: "Getting the right tone for this video was important – we felt we needed to make reference to his formative years with us without becoming overly sentimental."
And when it comes down to it, although social is a unique platform, clubs have to strike a tone still befitting of the club. Kenyon concludes: "Using the right tone is always important in fan communications but crucial in social media and fans will be quick to tell you if you’re off key… so far, we seem to have got it about right in the videos we’ve produced – and we’re looking forward and standing-by for the next one.”
Speaking of tone, Paul Rogers, head of digital and social media at AS Roma, spoke to The Drum earlier today about the unique way in which he is running the club's digital footprint. He is overseeing something of an avant garde operation that's confounding fans and subverting social video. Under his watchful eye, AS Roma is producing some of the weirdest, most-engaged social videos in the space.
— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) August 29, 2017
Rogers says: "Fair play to the clubs that really do push it because every time you do something unconventional you leave yourself wide open to criticism." He adds that the easiest thing for a club to do is put a picture of a player holding a scarf aloft – "you wouldn’t get killed for that" – but believes clubs should embrace a more risk-reward system.
"You open yourselves up because people love or hate this stuff. They think you're trying too hard or you’re not trying hard enough," he says. "Some clubs are already established. You win the league every year and you have millions and millions and millions of fans maybe you don’t have to be as creative. For other clubs, that are trying to be on an upward trajectory, I think they’ll embrace it.
⚽️ ⚙️ ❓
— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) July 22, 2017
The question is, how do clubs generate exposure in the midst of Neymar's record-breaking move? Rogers admits there are ways to draw attention to less headline-grabbing acquisitions. "I’ve seen non-league clubs do incredible things and get mass exposure. They’ve elevated themselves, just through sheer content and creativity, into the mainstream and caught the attention of a wider football community."
One of the smaller clubs punching above its weight with innovative social content is EFL League Two's Yeovil Town, which has been lighting up the space, at least in the UK. The Drum touched down with Alex O’Loughlin, the club's press officer, to discuss some of its exploits which include teasing signings in the style of the show Countdown, using the game Fifa to unveil a fresh face from Southampton and most impressively tapping into Snapchat's Maps feature in an exciting way.
— Yeovil Town FC (@YTFC) July 4, 2017
— Yeovil Town FC (@YTFC) July 9, 2017
— Yeovil Town FC (@YTFC) June 26, 2017
The club has a modest budget, especially compared to the likes of AS Roma and Everton, and most of its signings in this window are free transfers who still get the traditional scarf above the head treatment. A fancy reveal is not always the answer, says O’Loughlin, because it "may put unnecessary pressure to produce on the pitch to an unknown quantity or youth prospect, so the classic way may be the forward in those instances".
O’Loughlin was alerted to the social video trend starting to emerge with Roma and Everton on Twitter early in the summer. "Twitter has been our most successful platform with our signing announcements reaching close to 1.5m people combined," he says. "Facebook is another popular platform, but Twitter leads the way not just for us but for signing announcements generally."
On advice to any club or brand looking to dabble in the space, O'Loughlin recommends testing the waters and taking it from there. "Our first video announcement used Snapchat and we gauged the response before deciding whether to continue with the trend or not. Our approach has been less consistent than Everton’s for example who’ve used a similar template for all their announcements. We’ve been quite varied to keep things fresh and to target slightly different audiences."
But putting yourself out there on Twitter can be dangerous, O’Loughlin admits, claiming that there has been a mixed reaction on social media. But more importantly, the videos have been widely shared. "Having Yeovil Town talked about and mentioned in the same context as some of the biggest clubs in Europe is the only vindication we need."
Ian Nolan, chief content officer of Dugout, the football platform that partners with top teams like Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris St. Germain, recently created the behind-the-scenes content for Ousmane Dembele's £135.5m move to the Catalan giants, responding to his supposed "keepy-uppy nightmare" that was widely mocked in the press.
Check out Dembélé’s attempt at the @Dugout wall ball challenge
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) August 29, 2017
This is reflective of the work the group does, building upon a news story in real time to give fans that bit more action.
On social video, Nolan, says: "Clubs have woken up to the power of engaging video content to get the message out to fans in the right way. It was only a couple of years ago that transfers were announced with simple press conferences and press releases. Now they are thinking about how to evoke emotion through compelling video." This, Nolan says, helps build relationships between fans and players.
In a short time, the videos have become more varied as clubs have embraced "experimentation and innovation". As Nolan says: "Clubs will try 10 new formats, and sure some of them might be ‘weird’, but if two of them go down really well with fans, then these will be the formats they use for the next transfer."
The reality is that clubs are not just trying to win the best signings anymore – they are also trying to draw attention to these signings which can in itself generate value. "There’s such a huge swell of interest and traffic around transfers, so it makes perfect sense for clubs to tap into this trend and win their fair share of views."
Nolan concludes: "It takes a few brave clubs to move first – with Roma being one of those – in order for the rest to follow. If users don’t like them, clubs are at least learning what their fans like. It’s all about driving conversation too - sparking debate, conversation and communication is what social platforms are all about."
"To achieve that, sometimes you have to be controversial and a bit different in order to stand out from the crowd."