The manager for YouTube football personality Spencer FC believes the online star's reach on social media offers sponsors better value for money than what many established Championship clubs can offer, however industry experts argue the claim may not be a true reflection of the massive albeit cult following he commands on the video site.
His claim is emblematic of why many brands have flocked to the influencers and bloggers who have become recognised names but it also spotlights cracks in the foundation of those relationships. Just because a person has an impressive number of followers, doesn’t mean they actually wield any real persuasive power, a point the likes of Spencer FC will need to prove if they are to win round the types of advertisers that are going to improve their own brand rather than solely exploit it.
Spencer FC, aka Spencer Owen, has accumulated a following of over 1.7 million subscribers on his YouTube channel and has the ear of the 18-24-year-old demographic. With more than 427 million video views collectively and each piece of content regularly receiving upwards of one million views, Spencer FC has unsurprisingly caught the attention of big brands, including EE.
The network operator first partnered with Spencer FC two years ago for the inaugural Wembley Cup, a big budget eight-part series featuring an array of popular YouTubers and former players which culminated in the Spencer team facing off against another team (Weller Wanderers) in a final at Wembley stadium.
It appears to have paid off though, EE returned this year with double the budget and saw even greater interest with the second instalment. The final itself was attended by around 20,000 fans live streamed by 400,000 and has subsequently been viewed close to 4 million times.
When compared to BT Sport’s 1.2 million viewers for its coverage of the Champions League quarter final between Man City and PSG last season, the figures take on even greater meaning.
EE reaped the rewards of gaining access to the huge millennial audience. According to Spencer’s manager and brother Seb Carmichael Brown, it was their “most successful brand campaign ever”.
During the tournament, it saw an increase of around 300% in brand searches and an 8% increase in brand consideration, all of which were within its coveted 16-35-year-old target market.
Based upon the stats and success which EE enjoyed, Carmichael Brown believes this proves that Spencer FC is as attractive venture for sponsors than some of England’s biggest clubs.
"Obviously, a Premier League club is a massive entity and we’d never compare ourselves to [one of those] but outside of that value for money if you compare us with say a League One or Championship team [in terms of] sponsoring one of those then we are lucky enough to have a bigger audience than some of them, says Carmichael Brown.
"It’s a different type of audience: they’re not coming to us every game: we don’t sell tickets to games that often but it’s an audience engaging with content in an easy, digestible form online such as our 15-minute highlight videos, which a lot of them get around a million views....We’ve been told that Sky has a drop of as big as 30% in its viewing figures for some games compared to last season so when you look at that and the amount of money necessary to get in on that we offer an alternative.”
Sam Brown, marketing manager for Goal.com points out that Spencer reaches a young demographic that "can feel priced out of football".
"Whether Spencer FC offers better value than sponsoring a Championship club depends on what a brand’s goals are," added Sam.
On the other hand, the sponsorship exposure gained through a Championship club is hard to replicate, particularly given the presence across a number of channels.
In addition to longevity, football clubs can still promise brands access to a wider range of consumers and the nature of football means that audience is likely to have deeper loyalties to their club than Spencer has with his fan base.
“Spencer FC would need to build his profile and content strategy out across more social media platforms beyond his massive cult following on YouTube to truly compete,” said Simon Bibby, co-founder and head of research at social video analytics business Burst Insights.
The social media influencer’s audience goes beyond just audience numbers though, the millennial subscribers to the channel are highly engaged, something which brand strives to achieve when looking to move beyond just growing brand awareness.
Dan French, co-founder of sport and entertainment agency, Clifford French, highlights other benefits too.
“The digital data is highly valuable to brands as it enables them to track the digital consumption habits of their fans which in turn can be used to shape the media laydown of future campaigns.
“Trust is also a key issue for millennials and brands these days, a Hashtag United sponsorship says a lot about the values of the brand and their understanding of millennial behaviours.”
There’s no doubt that the Wembley Cup was a huge success and a massive milestone for the blurring lines between e-sports and real world sports. A slick YouTube strategy that spawned engaging content around the match will no doubt pique the interest of other marketers, but they should be mindful that longevity is a crucial component in gaining the support of consumers.
“Brand advocacy leading to purchase intent is built over time and through becoming part of the club's story over the course of a season,” said Bibby.
Now Spencer is embarking on his next big project, an eight-part series called the Hashtag Academy which will document open trials for one fan to join the team with a 12-month contract. The show will operate on a similar format to the likes of X-Factor with audiences voting for who they want to go through.
They are currently looking for sponsors for the new show and Spencer’s influencer status puts them in a position where they can afford to be choosey about who they partner with.
“We probably turn down around 90% of the opportunities that come in because not all partnerships will allow us to make engaging content for the audience, and that’s the most important thing for us,” says Carmichael Brown.
The Hashtag United team plays games almost every week and regularly amasses around one million views per game which, given the amateur status of the team, is impressive when compared to the lesser audience attention which Championship clubs receive.