City Football Group to factor social video price into future commercial deals as it launches Etihad Airways online series

City Football Group (CFG) could use the value it places on sponsored social media videos to broker future deals with brands in a bid to monetise what has become the biggest thing in sports marketing – shareable content.

It’s part of the Manchester City owner’s response to a climate where a video on Twitter can be seen millions of times more than any live broadcast. As the way people watch sports changes, so must the measurement of sponsorships as sponsors start to pivot their deals to strike exclusive digital tie-ups with top clubs and competitions.

Business are “seeing the power” of sport to connect with people and often “marketing professionals are looking for things that work,” CFG’s commercial boss Tom Glick told The Drum. Consequently, he spots an opportunity to swell the club’s commercial coffers by not always using views and impressions to validate a social video post. Instead, Glick and CFG’s long-term partner Etihad Airways both talk about creating ownable, measurable experiences that reflects how shares and likes – so-called vanity metrics – have become the new currency for fans.

Rupert Pratt, director of Mongoose Sports & Entertainment says: "Clubs are continuously looking for new ways to commercialise their estate and carve up inventory – eg stadia naming rights, geographical and category fragmentation, training kit and ground sponsorships etc – and digital provides them with a new landscape to commercialise. However, while clubs have invested heavily in building substantial social media followings, at the moment they can only indirectly monetise it, as the likes of Facebook, Twitter etc are the ones directly commercialising their efforts by selling the advertising around it. By embedding partners in their content, rights holders can take back ownership to some extent, but the real value will be in creating a new digital inventory more in line with the commercial agenda.

“Social will take a back seat as a channel rather than a destination as more investment takes place in owned websites and content platforms where they can control and monetize fans and content. But with most advertising budget tied up in traditional and TV, rights holders will need to demonstrate not just views and impressions but sales and revenue share, in order to truly compete with social, online publishers and search. Rights holders should be prepared to directly drive traffic and sales for partners if not becoming e-commerce platforms for them.”

It’s a view on the media landscape more likely to be found at the likes of Vice and BuzzFeed than a football club. But like those new-world media companies, Glick is trying to understand the market value of every facet of CFG's media estate as its clubs exist on more platforms than they ever have done. On Instagram alone last season, Manchester City produced 264 videos, according to social analytics firm Burst Insights.

“We’re hopefully delivering proof points of core capabilities that we have to produce great stuff and get widespread reach with something that people are watching and that we can bring to other markets and say, ‘here’s something that’s working’, ‘let’s take the principals of this [approach] and find a way to make it for your brand’,” said Glick.

Sharp-eyed viewers will spot traces of this approach in the group’s latest videos with Etihad Airways, which also features the logo of fellow sponsor Nike emblazoned across some of those people interviewed. For “some partners who are embedded in the things that we do from day-to-day there’s certainly added value,” answered Glick when asked to explain how big a priority affixing a value to social video was to his team when they sometimes have more than one sponsor appearing in each post.

The videos themselves are part of the City 2 City online series from Manchester City and Etihad Airways. Working with Vice, both club and sponsor have captured the stories of aspiring young footballers in some of the airline’s most popular cities: Beijing, New York, Paris and Mumbai.

Former City favourite and Chinese international Sun Jihai appears in the first episode which follows Huang and Ding, two men who set up their own league but now find themselves friends off the pitch but rivals on it. For the Mumbai documentary, England international and Manchester City Women player Jill Scott explores the story of Parvati Pujari, who escaped a life of poverty through football at the Magic Bus Foundation.

“There are very few properties out there like Manchester City that allow us to leverage a diverse talent base whether that’s in their home countries and their following,” said Patrick Pierce, vice president of marketing partnerships at Etihad Airways.

“If you think about the purchasing habits of research and the consideration that goes into who someone should travel with, if you’ve never flown with that airline before or you’ve never flown to that destination then you’re taking a very big risk because for many folks it’s a big investment. That’s what video does for us, it takes the Etihad logo and name on a football kit and is now giving us three dimensions through these stories.”

How that added perspective crystalises into view for both CFG and Etihad Airways will be twofold: “This time we’re also looking to get an impact on behaviours,” said Glick of the campaign. “We’re going to be observing the impact of search that this [campaign] has on folks who view these videos. There’s real performance numbers we’ll be seeking along with Etihad.”

There’s also brand building objectives at play on both parts. As is the du jour for sponsorships these days, both CFG and Etihad are keen to extract more from the deal beyond just a media buy, banking on the brand equity on Manchester City and (to a lesser extent) its sister clubs to deliver more of the value. The rationale being that both parties stand to benefit more from commercial agreements that aren’t as inextricably tied to a club’s performances on the pitch.

Pierce explained: “10 to 15 years ago a lot of sponsorship decisions were based on on-the-pitch performances and while we absolutely want our clubs to be top of the table and for them to win trophies for that brand exposure. The more communications you do in-season and off-season, then the more you’re less prone to just counting eyeballs or how they [the clubs] advance in a tournament and instead you add a little but more control over your brand reach and the perception of your brand among those fans.”

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