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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Soccer’s Unmatchable Footprint in the Social Media World

And you thought you were insta-famous.

Champions on the field and on social media (photo via @RealMadrid)

The European soccer season came to a close this past weekend as Real Madrid clinched its 12th Champions League title in a routing of Juventus, the Italian powerhouse.

The UCL final signaled the end of a dramatic few weeks of soccer that saw a slew of trophies raised over the heads of the sport’s greatest stars as clubs across Europe won their respective league and country titles.

This year, more than ever, fans had the opportunity to follow every dramatic, heartbreaking, and thrilling moment on social media. The high stakes of championships ramped up social content production and engagement in soccer’s final weeks — not a simple task for European clubs who already dominate the social media world.

Soccer’s social media presence has an unmatchable footprint in the digital sports landscape. According to a report by Forbes, in 2016, European soccer teams held 11 out of the top 20 spots in the world for combined social media followings, interactions, and “earned media value.”

Soccer’s follower numbers dwarfed those of American teams.

The Los Angeles Lakers, the highest followed non-soccer team, for example, had a combined 29.4 million followers, which was still lagged nearly 20 million behind the team directly above them on the list — FC Bayern Munich.

David Hynds, a Social Media Officer at Southampton Football Club who helped orchestrate the club’s content during the 2016–2017 season talked with Front Office Sports about the social media landscape in European soccer and within his club.

Hynds said that all of Southampton’s content is created with the goal of being creative, emotive, and bringing fans in. This involves thinking of new ways to innovate and create content that breaks the mold of traditional social content.

Another thing Hynds stressed regarding Southampton’s strategy is the need to, “be as creative as possible and do things in a different way.”

Southampton executed this successfully in its emotive and fan-centric #MarchtoWembley campaign during its participation EFL Cup final earlier this year.

Similar to #MarchtoWembley, teams this spring created their own unique content and strategies in their quest for end-of-season league titles and eventual championship celebrations.

FC Bayern Munich was one of those teams. The club, typically witty and playful on social media, gracefully balanced the act of celebrating its Bundesliga title win with honoring the retirement of two of its legendary players, Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso.

Bayern’s social media feed on the weekend of the Bundesliga Title ceremony was the perfect mix of nostalgic and celebratory.

Along with player tributes and retweets from emotional fans were posts of confetti, trophies, and lots and lots of beer.

Photo via @FCBayern

In creative fashion, Bayern attached GoPro cameras to the rims of mugs during the traditional beer showers celebration, which gave fans unprecedented content at unheard of angles across social media channels.

Other ways in which teams celebrated title wins on social media involved changing club names to CHAMPIONS, a trend started by Chelsea FC and adopted by Real Madrid and AS Monaco.

Monaco also shared a championship graphic across all of its social media platforms, integrating it as a mural on Instagram — the only European team to share content in that way.

AS Monaco’s striking Instagram feed (photo via @ASMonaco)

Unique hashtags popped up on feeds such as Chelsea FC’s emoji-bearing #chelseachampions, Juventus’ #LE6ENDS, honoring its sixth straight Serie A title, and Madrid’s #CHAMP12NS, celebrating the club’s 12th Champions League victory.

Photos via @JuventusFC, @RealMadrid, and @ChelseaFC

While social media is constantly evolving, one of the biggest recent changes has been the introduction of Instagram stories, which has many similarities to Snapchat. Teams have had to navigate how to use each platform to share content and determine whether the same information should be shared on both applications.

In Hynds’ opinion, Snapchat is best used in the moment with raw content whereas Instagram stories are best used with more polished graphics and videos.

One of the clubs who makes this distinction well is Chelsea FC. This was particularly clear during the club’s celebration of its Premier League title weeks ago.

The club utilized the dueling Instagram and Snapchat platforms very differently and extremely effectively.

Snapchat took fans into the stadium on game day with a consistent ‘Chelsea FC Premier League CHAMPIONS’ filter on every snap.

Its Instagram story, however, featured entirely different content. The story was composed of a montage of dramatic photos from the season, with a Premier League trophy graphic growing larger as the slideshow progressed, ending with photos of team celebrations.

It was clear that the content was designed to stand out from the noise across Europe as other teams celebrated their title wins the same weekend. The club’s intention was successfully executed as its messaging was strong, simple, consistent, and certainly eye-catching.

The only bad thing about Chelsea’s Instagram story was that it disappeared after 24 hours (photo via @ChelseaFC)

While some teams, like Southampton and Chelsea, are taking differentiated content approach to Snapchat and Instagram stories, other teams have not yet made that distinction.

“One of the things we try to avoid doing is putting content across channels without it fitting,” said Hynds.

Many teams both in soccer and the greater sports world are still navigating how to make this distinction between platforms and finding what fits with each. It will be interesting to see how teams determine content fit between the dueling apps in the coming years.

The biggest thing that Hynds remarked about social content is that it is constantly changing. Teams need to always be learning whether it be through reading, staying up to date with platform updates, or observing social media trends.

European soccer’s stardom on social media is rooted in a global following but its innovative content engages with and grows its fan base constantly.

It is clear when scanning through the social pages of top European clubs with record-breaking followers that they are not settling for mediocre social media posts, rather, they continue to innovate, adapt, and produce new eye-catching content that breaks through the mold.

As regular season play has come to a close, teams have a chance to build their strategies for next year. One can only imagine the ingenuity that is yet to come.

Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

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