Manchester City has developed its first children's app in the hopes of cultivating its future fandoms. But it’s doing so at a time of increasing scrutiny over how brands are engaging with kids online.
The City Football Group is quickly becoming one of the world's first truly global brands, but the key to its next phase of growth is securing a generation of fans who some worry are not as interested in football as previous generations.
Speaking to The Drum, City Group’s chief marketing officer Nuria Tarré said the Man City Kids app is its solution to this problem: "We like to be innovative and we must cater for all audiences," she said.
Aimed at kids as young as six years old, the app will host videos, games, and quizzes. And though it was developed in consultation with parents, focus groups and other regulatory bodies focused on how children consume media, there is a lingering concern – heightened in recent weeks by the international headline-making Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal – over how secure people’s data really is.
According to a recent global study, cited in The Times, as many as 57% of the near 6,000 apps listed as child-friendly on the Google Play store may be in violation of children's privacy laws. Campaigners have been vocal in demanding more is done to protect children online and, under increasing pressure, Google this week updated its YouTube Kids app to improve the control over the videos and channels that can be watched by children.
In the face of this, Tarré stressed that Man City's app is not a data gathering exercise.
"We are not launching this to capture data about kids. It is really about finding a way to engage with those kids,” she said “We innovated when we launched our membership product Junior Citizens, this is now the home of that membership."
She underlined that the app is fully COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule) and GDPR compliant but to create an even safer environment for children it has put parental locks are on the app and ensured that there are no in-app purchases or competitions directly accessible through the program.
"We have a duty to put safe tools into the hands of our kids. They spend a lot of time, their main research tool is YouTube – there is already a lot of football content there,” Tarré continued.
Inspiration for the app and the best practises it follows largely came from the BBC, Discovery and Disney's efforts in the space. Man City has put in place a bespoke internal content team, which will have full oversight of anything that appears on the app.
"We have a few people solely dedicated to creating content for kids. They are part of the broader content team ... and we hope to learn from the insight and the usage to further develop the tools,” said Tarré.
"We know digital media has a stronger weight with children and we try to understand those behaviours. Kids are happy content consumers – they want knowledge about their fandoms and we can provide a lot of content, go behind the scenes and give them a bit of social currency for the playground. Some of the content comes from other digital platforms, but we curate it and put it in a language suitable for kids."
One of these efforts is a weekly show, titled the Weekly Xtra Time Video Show. It will grant fans a behind-the-scenes look at the City Football Academy; fans will be provided access to men’s and women’s first team training, the Man City Kids Vloggers and more news about City.
A standout feature on the app in the age of filters and Snapchat is the addition of ‘City Editor’, which will allow users to edit videos and attach stickers or emojis. There will also be quizzes and polls, behind the scenes content and games featuring official mascots, Moonbeam and Moonchester.
The app will also reference other clubs in City Group's stable, an attempt to build bridges between fans and create an engaged global community.
Although the app may one day be rolled out to the full City group (which includes Manchester City, New York City and Melbourne City, with stakes in Yokohama F Marinos, Atletico Torque and Girona FC) Tarré said it is important to "remain authentic" to the identity of each club while leveraging the power of City's platform.
"What matters is the engagement the fans have with each of their clubs. We hope to use the same platform and adapt it to the other clubs in our portfolio in a way that is meaningful. The City platform can be repurposed and used in a different ways if we want to.”
Man City Kids is available from Google Play and the iTunes Store.