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Gordon Young
Editor-in-chief at The Drum

How a brave and bizarre social strategy put Bristol City FC on the map

A selection of Bristol City's celebrations

Bristol City is a football club that the neutral wants goals from. That's because every time one of The Robins score, an absurd player celebration gif is ejected onto social media.

The club is making a name for itself off the pitch with these surreal gifs allowing players to show their fun side. And the practice came to a head against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup semi final earlier this week when there was a gif showdown between the clubs.

Across the board, football clubs have been increasingly using their social media identities to have a bit of fun. This was most evident in the form of the mind-boggling new signing announcement videos that started landing in the 2017 transfer windows from the likes of Roma, Everton, Besiktas and Yeovil to mention a few. Roma openly basks in being the oddest club on social media.

Enter Bristol City. At the start of this season, the Championship club enlisted its players to record gif goal celebrations to be pushed out on social media when they score. They started in pretty vanilla fashion, with players demonstrating a self high five, a robotic salute, a belly rub or an otherworldly stare. However, as the season progressed and the gifs started to get noticed on social media beyond the club's own fanbase, they've become much more elaborate. The standouts have included players celebrating with fire extinguishers, mimicking the beer-swilling antics of wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin and taking an egg to the forehead.

Adam Baker, head of communications at Bristol City, tells The Drum the trend has been inspired by American sports teams that don’t take themselves too seriously on social media.

Baker says: “In England things seem to be a lot more regimented – until this season. In the summer a lot of clubs were brave with the way they announced signings. From our point of view, being part of the Bristol Sport group means working alongside Bristol Rugby and Bristol Flyers Basketball media teams. The Flyers were very successful using gifs last season and it was discussed that it could work for goals – and it certainly has.”

With such odd content there was no way of knowing how the fans would react until the gifs were out there. Baker is thankful the club netted nine goals in the first week of the season to ingratiate fans with the new tone. “Very quickly the negatives were being drowned out by supporters praising the bold nature of our gifs.”

The players shot the scenes during their summer photocalls, and some were more ambitious than others. Midfielder Bobby Reid, for example, has scored 12 goals this season, necessitating the filming of new celebrations. As the season went on, more and more props were required to differentiate the gifs. Reid even has a narrative, in one gif he is on fire, in another he is swinging a fire extinguisher, no longer engulfed with flames.

It turns out that the players are battling to have the coolest, most viewed gifs. “The players are competitive by their nature, so you’ll have one player coming in to enquire how many page impressions his latest gif has attracted, before offering a new idea to make the next one even better. The good news is that if the gifs are being aired, it means we’re scoring goals.”

Some of the gifs have even attracted sponsors, a clever way to monetise the successful scheme. On the subject of goals, Baker says that one of the difficulties is keeping the content fresh as the team keeps hitting the target.

But the gifs are more than just disposable moments; they help show the unique personality of each player and connect them with fans. “So often these days players get a lot of bad press and negativity surrounding them. I know it sounds like a cliche, but we’ve got a great group of players at the club, fantastic human beings, and the gifs have helped show that to our fanbase.”

Since the season – and the gifs – started, the Bristol City Twitter account has grown by a third to 153,000 followers, and some of these followers are only there for the gifs.

Baker offers advice to any clubs or brands looking to live on the riskier side: “It’s good to see a lighter side to sport. As we’ve found out this season, some of the biggest engagement comes from the different rather than the standard ‘manager says this ahead of game’ content that you find up and down the country.”

Bristol City are currently fourth in the Championship. With a bit of luck, the neutral might get to see this wit light up the Premier League next season.

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