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Why Top Eleven chose shirt sponsorship with Spencer FC's YouTube team Hashtag United over traditional clubs

Top Eleven will continue to sponsor Spencer FC's YouTube team for the 2017/18 season

While sponsorship deals with traditional football clubs can offer brands huge viewability, YouTube clubs now offer more viable alternatives for some companies, including online football manager game Top Eleven, which has renewed its shirt sponsorship with Hashtag United after being convinced by the levels of engagement and accessibility that the club can offer.

The renewal of the deal, which began last year, will see Top Eleven's logo continue to appear on the football jerseys of YouTube star Spencer Owen’s football club Hashtag United for another year.

In addition to the shirt sponsorship, the brand will also continue to include the YouTube team in its online game which has 160 million players globally on both PC and mobile devices.

The decision to renew ties with the club is part of the brand's efforts to grow its reputation in the UK, a strategy which initially led it to agree a sponsorship deal with José Mourinho back in 2013.

Having a manager of Mourinho’s status as a brand ambassador alongside the growing popularity of Top Eleven led to several clubs approaching its developer Nordeus about potential sponsorship deals. However Daniel O'Kelly, brand manager at Nordeus, said the company’s focus lies elsewhere.

“We’ve been approached by different clubs about sponsorships, but we’ve never really pursued that because right now we like the idea of investing in teams which have a journey ahead of them,” he continued.

This strategy is reflected in the company’s other shirt sponsorship with English non-league Biggleswade United, which has Spanish sports journalist and pundit Guillem Balaguéin as director of football.

“We’re looking to grassroot teams who are approaching football in a way that isn’t the norm.”

Hashtag United is a prime example of this alternative approach to a football club. The team competes in a series of five divisions with the goal of being promoted to division one. Each season has 10 possible matches against teams including staff from West Ham United, Manchester City, Google and other YouTube channels such as Copa90 and Dream Team FC.

The formula has proven hugely popular, Spencer Owen - commonly known as Spencer FC- has over 1.8 million subscribers to his YouTube channel and has the ear of the 18-24-year-old demographic.

With more than 481 million video views collectively, and each piece of content regularly receiving upwards of one million views, Owen’s team can offer brands a level of depth to a shirt sponsorship partnerships he claimed traditional teams cannot. It’s this promise which attracted EE to partner with Spencer FC to create the EE Wembley Cup, which generated viewing figures that surpassed BT Sport’s coverage of the Champions League quarter final between Manchester City and PSG last season.

“I think a lot of football business struggle because they don’t have a big enough community around the club, whereas Hashtag have a massive fanbase through Spencer’s channel," said O'Kelly.

“With some of the YouTube based football teams there are stats that you couldn’t get through other media platforms.”

In addition to the large and engaged audience base, another benefit to working with Hashtag United compared to a traditional team, claimed O'Kelly, is the fact that “there aren’t as many filters down from the content to the viewer, whereas with a big club there’s a lot more rules and restrictions about sponsors gaining access”.

Accessibility with YouTube team’s is another key selling point for brands which can work more closely with the influencers to create engaging content. For Top Eleven, this involves flying Owen and his team over to the company’s headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia to host them in one of their divisional league matches, something which O'Kelly points out would “never be possible if we were sponsoring the likes of a Real Madrid”.

The large and engaged support base which the likes of Hashtag United have coupled with their understanding of millennials’ behaviours and the close working relationship the team works to have with sponsors illustrates the alternative opportunities brands have with sports sponsorships.

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