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Football media platforms Copa90 and 90min: 'Asia has limitless opportunities'

There has previously been some Western bias, assuming the standard of football is poor in Asia.

There is no shortage of football media platforms for fans to consume their football news, with plenty of options from platforms like Goal, Copa90, 90min and Dugout to choose from.

While the competition is stiff, James Kirkham, head of Copa90 tells The Drum he is not worried about market saturation, as he does not see the others as ‘pure competition’.

Instead, he says the competition he is concerned about is anything competing for the attention of Copa90 audience, like gaming platforms Xbox and shows like Game of Thrones.

“We have Copa90 fans spend 35 minutes per week with our content, so we’re confident we can engage better than most of the ‘me too’ publishers who are going solely for quick hit eyeballs,” he explains.

To maintain engagement with its fans, Kirkham says Copa90 has to continually iterate and evolve, like expanding its fan universe by giving them the opportunity to buy multiple Copa90 merchandise, limited edition World Cup t-shirts, a unique cap collaboration with Talisman, and a craft beer up and down the UK to really celebrate goals.

“Best of all was our Moscow HQ during the World Cup, a physical space where we saw fans from all round the world come together through Copa90, meeting our presenters, on screen talent, buying merchandise before anyone else. This is the start,” he adds.

Giving another example of Copa90’s innovation, Kirkham notes the platform has come a long way since its YouTube channel days and claims the while its format has since been mimicked and copied in places; few can match the level of its video expertise.

“Some of our series like Derby Days get the most incredible traction and feedback from fans. They’re now living on the likes of British Airways and Etihad flights too, genuine quality,” he says.

In contrast, Rich Routman, president of Minute Media, the owners of 90min, asserts to The Drum that retention is the last thing on its minds, given the loyalty of its user base. He claims that 90min had no less than 65m unique users per month on its site every month in 2018, with significant spikes around the Fifa World Cup in Russia.

“For us, it's all about growth and China play a significant part in that endeavor. We believe the differentiation is clear - we're not a soccer/football news agency or a YouTube MCN, we focus on putting the power back in the hands of the real football fans and as a result, those fans are both our most loyal content creators, brand ambassadors and consumers,” explains Routman.

Push into Asia

Both 90min and Copa90 have recently made their entrance into the Asia Pacific through the China market. 90min is working with Sina Sport to provide fan-driven international football content to the Chinese market through attracting and engaging the next generation of football fans.

The partnership will see content on European football leagues by 90min published within a dedicated Sina Sport section on the platform, as well as on a newly-setup official 90min Weibo account.

In addition, 90min has created dedicated community teams that will curates and publishes all content in Chinese. Its product and tech teams will also help enable fan interactions by providing Sina Sport with 90min’s proprietary fan engagement tools.

Copa90 meanwhile, secured a 10% cash investment from Infront Sports, the Dalian Wanda owned marketing group and signed a media partnership with Chinese sports digital consultancy Mailman to leverage the growing football market and distribute content to Chinese audience through platforms like Weibo and Miaopai.

Mailman will also manage the key influencers to drive the Copa90 engagement and original content, which will also be published across Copa90 social media. It is also working with Dugout to localise, customise and distribute Dugout content to Chinese audiences across platforms including Weibo and Douyin.

According to Kirkham, these platforms are entering the region because opportunities feel limitless here. While he acknowledges that there has previously been some Western bias, assuming the standard of football is poor, he is quick to add that this is a common curve, something the English Premier League in the 90s and the Major League Soccer in the United States used to battle with.

“The fact is, it is happening and players are flocking to the league and the standard is increasing by the week. The scale of the region means possibilities are endless, combined with a wonderful vociferous fan based - this makes for a pretty exciting opportunity,” he explains.

Concuring with Kirkham, Routman adds: “As of today, we cover football in Asia in Indonesian Bahasa, Hindi, Vietnamese and Thai and our expansion into China in Mandarin truly rounds out this Asia growth initiative. We are in the process of taking a more detailed look at Japan and Australia.”

“For us, it's not about being in every market of ever continent, it's about being in the ones that matter to us, our fans and our business partners and we're committed to continuing down this path.”

Promoting and monetising content

The start of 2018 saw Facebook making a shift in emphasis over how its news feed operates by demoting posts by businesses, brands and media to make them less prominent. The aim is to become a more personable service platform that prioritises conversations taking place between friends and family.

The changes affected many publishers negatively, as significantly less current affairs items appeared on users’ news feeds.

Kirkham says he welcomed the changes at the time, as he understood Facebook’s decision to promote time well spent, not just time spent, as it was about content with value and meaning again.

He claims this has always been the Copa90 way, which meant that the platform was not as affected by the change, compared to publishers "who were running a machine, pumping out transient video to gain fleeting traction before being forgotten mere minutes afterwards”.

“Our best work stands up weeks, months, often years afterwards. We believe strongly that this should have value, and worth and meaning and it is a relief to know platforms like Facebook and others are more cherishing this quality,” he says.

“We currently have content on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, - all of which have been monetised in some way at different times. For example, during the world cup our exclusive World Cup story on Snapchat discover gained over a million unique users per episode and was entirely sponsored by Visa. It is a myth that you cannot make money from such platforms, you just need to be smart and work collaboratively.”

Over at 90min, Routman argues that any publisher that says it was not impacted by Facebook's changes is telling ‘a slightly modified version of the truth’. However, he adds that if they did not see that train coming from several miles away, they were being complacent.

“Audience development should never be reliant on a singular partner or relationship and through our partners, both local and global, our traffic is truly stabilized and positioned for growth. Specifically, we work with Yahoo, MSN, Apple News, Flipboard, NewsNow, Sanook in Thailand, Sina in China, Smartnews, News Republic and many more -- each brining their own distinct value proposition to our business,” he says.

Paywall model

As publishers turn to the paywall model to cope with the loss of their ad revenue to Facebook and Google, and understand their readers better, Kirkham says Copa90 will never rule out adopting this model, but will only do it if it is what the fans want, what they need and what the utility is.

“Subscription works terrific for Netflix and Spotify where it is an essential. It is more subjective for the likes of The New York Times, which is nice to have. So the trick for people considering this is what is essential about their offering,” he explains.

For Routman, he declares that this is not in the plans for 90min as football content, outside of the live broadcast window, should be a continuous two-way conversation and the only way to enable that successfully, is to be free to the consumer.

“We do not differentiate video from traditional editorial. They are equally important and they both are needed to tell an impactful story in the right fashion. Contextualizing video, enabling the right kind of video experience for mobile web consumption, finding and exploring new angles around video and continuing to invest in video are at the forefront of our business each day,” he says.

Growth of eSports

With the global audience of eSports set to grow from 385 million people in 2017 to 589 million by 2020, an increase of 53%, both Kirkman and Routman are excited about the opportunities it represents for their respective platforms.

While eSports is not a core to its plan for the coming year, Kirkham says it is something Copa90 is looking at because anyone under the age of 30 has had their education in football via gaming. This means it is an intrinsically linked, closely integrated place where football and gaming crossover and spin off multiple products, talent, shows and more.

“As such, we’re very much closely watching - as well as continuing to push our own gaming content like Fifa and Chill which has carried celebrities from Beckham, Lethal Bizzle and Pogba to Corbyn, Stormzy and Maya Jama,” he explains.

For 90min, Routman says the platform has found value in integrating into the livestreams of eSports events on Twitch, YouTube and several other platforms, and even created a Green Room show that preceded and sat within the live stream of several ESL, DreamHack and FaceIt events.

“Tournaments are geared to provide coverage of what happens on stage, so when there may be down time in between matches, we are a trusted partner to provide behind-the-scenes or player focused content that complements the live coverage,” he notes.

“Whether live, through VOD, influencers, gamers or streamers, simply put - we need to be where the fans are. If we are not present on each of these platforms all the time, we lose opportunities for engagement and what we stand for as an organisation.”