Online Video: Evolving all football clubs into global communicative brands.

If the past 10 years have taught us anything about digital media in football, it’s that a club’s professional success and finances have no direct correlation to the value of online engagement with its fans or the success of its online media strategy. The question remains whether clubs work as hard to become transparent with fans as they do focussing on commercial rewards, but luckily now is the time for big football businesses to offer both, by offering technological plurality for fans that also aims to improve revenue augmentation.

Liverpool Fans in Asia

Fan engagement was a phrase used by football clubs to describe the opportunities they have in place for their followers to access more content and interact with the club on different platforms. This definition has now evolved into something quite different as clubs began to develop their own platforms that enable fan interaction by creating a community in which fans can communicate and share content with each other.

So football clubs, like big brands, should be keeping their fans busy by giving them fresh and exciting media to distribute and share, whilst the club relies on social media to maintain its online fan community – simultaneously strengthening the brand online.

Manchester United made a bold PR move this year by announcing that its internal research suggests 1/10th of the entire global population support the club. You would be forgiven for thinking that although United lost out on the title last year they are still number one worldwide, as a recent Facebook study shows that approximately 170,000 United FB fans live in Manchester which totals 17.5% of fans in the UK. However, the UK total only amounts to 1.7% of United fans globally, so how important is it for a club that claims to be the most popular worldwide to offer the best digital platforms?

Well it transpires to be increasingly important, especially as Manchester United claim to hold 325 million fans in Asia and 173 million in the Middle East, where communicating the clubs activity and news through video has become an integral in playing a part in hundreds of millions of people’s lives throughout the globe, becoming much less about the local club and far more about the worldwide brand. Even the top English Championship side Cardiff City made major news this year when its Malaysian owners took the decision to change the team colours of 113 years from blue to red. The Bluebirds allegedly looked to benefit £100m from the new kit deal which apparently adds more value to the club amongst Asian football followers.

Supporting links between Asian fans and English clubs have also been a huge commercial venture for sponsorship, as the primary Manchester United kit sponsor, AON’s decision to secure a lucrative £80m deal with the club over four years is largely down to United’s standing in Asia, as its previous sponsor AIG saw huge brand growth throughout the continent from its links with Manchester United.

So how can football clubs translate the same strength of relationship they have with UK fans in Asia?

The truth is that Twitter followers and Facebook ‘likes’ don’t necessarily indicate success in fan interaction and online engagement; they can however work in a clubs favour to enhance its own platforms and develop scale and popularity in other areas quicker. Liverpoolfc.tv revamped in 2011 by the London online media company StreamUK, now claims to be the most successful online video subscription service of any football club in the world. Now with over 90% of top clubs maintaining the majority of supporters overseas, digital media is becoming increasingly important, especially online video.

Share methodology is also becoming an integral component to most online media strategies. The idea of making content easier and quicker to share increases a fans enthusiasm to pass it on to a friend, in a similar way that Twitter users share links and stories online. But it’s not just the speed of sharing that has improved. This year the LFC.tv platform released another function that allows users to share time specific moments within full length video content. Similar to how fans report on goals and official decisions on social media, the function promises to add an extra dimension, giving other users access to immediate content after live content capture sharing.

StreamUK has made improvements to social media integration which will use stats obtained from the Google Analytics plug-in, hoping to not just make sharing video content easier between UK communities, but for football fans demanding more content all over the globe.

StreamUK CEO Duncan Burdbidge says: “The LFC experience shows that online video can be a significant offering for sports clubs. Sport is a driver for online video because clubs own lots of high quality content that people are willing to pay for. It makes it much easier to provide a premium service for owners who can see a ROI on the quality they are serving their customers.”

Given LFC’s huge overseas fanbase, the October 2011 $3 billion acquisition by StreamUK CDN partner Level3 of Global Crossing with its networking services in Asia and Latin America, is a likely contributing factor. Multi-lingual functionality with online video has also enabled a huge variety of non-English speaking football fans to access high quality content from UK clubs in a way that was never possible before.

Burbidge adds, “Sports clubs desire fan engagement but they don’t just want to bombard fans with anything and everything. It’s about carefully selecting the right technology and features so that fans can contribute their expertise. There is a tremendous wealth of expertise among the fan community and if you can bring that to video then you will grow engagement naturally.”

StreamUK is a marketing leading online video and streaming solutions provider. This year the company won the Streaming Media Reader’s Choice award for ‘Best Webcasting Platform’ and is also a current 2012 Football Business Awards Finalist in three categories for its work revamping Liverpool FC’s online video offering.

StreamUK also provides YouTube video solutions for a number of large organisations including the BBC World Service, covering audience generation and engagement, channel management, revenue augmentation and global publishing.