Months of speculations surrounding star footballer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s future at Arsenal was put to bed: on social media.
Unlike most player signings, which are announced either through press releases or through the media, the 31-year-old striker and Arsenal captain announced a new three-year deal with the club through a 13-minute video on the latter’s IG Live presence.
Unlike many of its signings, Arsenal’s contract-renewal talks with Aubameyang had time on its side, said Mark Gonnella, the club’s director of media, communications and community affairs. With no need to rush through discussions, Gonnella approached Aubameyang and his representation about letting the star striker be at the center of any potential announcement.
“He’s such an iconic figure for us as our captain and so loved by the fans,” Gonnella said. “Without getting in the way of negotiations, we wanted to create a fantastic opportunity for us to engage our fans with our captain in a unique way.”
Without any hesitation, Gonnella says that both Aubameyang and his management team understood the importance of letting Arsenal’s leading goalscorer inform the masses about his future with the club. Since leaving Borussia Dortmund in 2018, Aubameyang has netted 72 goals in 111 appearances and helped Arsenal to an FA Cup title in the 2019-2020 campaign.
When the video started playing from Arsenal’s IGTV channel, users were brought inside the locker room. In the center was a piece of paper topped by a notebook and a pen with an hourglass standing next to it. After a “captain” armband and Black Panther mask are slid into the forefront of the recording, someone can be heard in the background saying, “Okay, let’s go,” at the 5:00 mark.
From there, the person walks through the tunnel out onto the pitch at Emirate Stadium, where Arsenal’s FA Cup trophy rests. Minutes later, viewers find out that the person behind the camera is Aubameyang, who confirms that he’s “just signed a ‘ting,’” and will remain at the club for three more years. Aubameyang’s new deal is worth roughly $371,425 a week with further performance-related bonuses added into it, ESPN reported.
The video even drew interest from notable Arsenal players and personalities. Aubameyang’s teammates, ranging from Alex Lacazette to Bukayo Saka, chimed in with comments on the IG Live chat feed. Lacazette and former Arsenal star Ian Wright also joined the live-stream in-person to send their congratulations to Aubameyang. Other influencers like Romeo Beckham — son of former Manchester United and Los Angeles Galaxy icon David Beckham — and English comedian Jack Whitehall were a part of the moment as well.
“I’m so happy to commit my future to Arsenal and it was important for me and the club to share the news with the fans directly, but it was nerve-wracking,” Aubameyang said in a statement. “When I saw more people were watching me live than at Emirates Stadium on a normal matchday, I was quite stressed, but when I saw the comments of support from our fans and from teammates, I soon forgot. We’ve missed the fans so much at our games and it’s important that we keep that special connection alive. It was a team effort and thanks to everyone who made it happen and who joined in. I’m grateful and proud we made so many Arsenal fans happy.”
Aubameyang’s recommitment was not only a massive moment for him, but for Arsenal as well. The club drew a peak live audience of more than 250,000 viewers across Instagram Live, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, the Arsenal app and Arsenal.com. It was also streamed in Arsenal’s flagship store, the Armoury, surprising many of the on-site shoppers.
Since the Aubameyang signing video came out on Sept. 15, more than 3.2 million people have watched it across Arsenal’s live and on-demand platforms. Between Sept. 15 and 17, other Aubameyang-related content increased Arsenal’s average daily engagement on Facebook by 761% and 637% on Instagram relative to average daily engagements on the same platforms last season. Even Arsenal’s retail operations have seen a significant rise in sales with “Aubameyang 14” printed on the back of jerseys.
When he assesses the engagement that Arsenal saw, Kevin Cote, director of sports partnerships, teams and athletes at Facebook, says it’s consistent with a growing trend in sports: fans are expecting to get breaking news directly from the athletes and teams they follow.
Aubameyang’s announcement is the latest example of social media breaking news in pro sports. Jalen Green made headlines when he revealed on Instagram Live that he would be bypassing college to play in the NBA G League. Last summer, Kevin Durant went onto his former show, “The Boardroom,” to say that he would be leaving the Golden State Warriors for his current team, the Brooklyn Nets.
“In this case, with Arsenal being very socially savvy and Pierre also being extremely socially savvy, he is an athlete that has really leaned into the power of Facebook and Instagram,” Cote said. “I think that that combination made for the perfect use case of a player and team coming together to make a big announcement in this way.”
Despite the success of the Aubameyang announcement, Gonnella says that Arsenal have no plans of making this a frequent occurrence with player signings. He attributes the positive response to a genuine connection between Aubameyang and the club that extends beyond the pitch — and cannot be forced.
“You need to be genuine and authentic based on the player that is involved,” Gonnella said. “As well as having a special football talent, we have a big personality who’s very visible on social media and very comfortable in the environment. You need somebody who it is appropriate for, and that would be the case for all sports people or for all our players. I think, for it to really work and connect properly with our fans, it needs to come from an authentic place for the individual athlete.”