Matt Bush, Director of Agencies at Google UK discusses what advertisers need to know about the modern football fan.

It has been a good summer for football fans. As the Premier League returns, the thrills of the World Cup Russia fade into memory, along with the once-inescapable chimes of Baddiel & Skinner’s 1996 anthem ‘Three Lions’. But while our World Cup anthems may not have changed since 1996, the ways in which fans are getting their football fix certainly has.



Technology is changing how audiences are engaging with the beautiful game. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was watched by more than 3.2bn viewers worldwide, with more than one billion tuning in to watch the final between Germany and Argentina. According to FIFA, an estimated further 280m people watched these matches online or on a mobile device, which was described as “a sign that more and more fans are embracing new technology for sports content”.


This trend has continued to grow. At Russia 2018, the BBC announced that England’s game against Tunisia set iPlayer streaming records and ITV reported that 3.3m users watched England beat Colombia on penalties on ITV Player.


Digital technologies play an increasingly fundamental role in connecting fans to their teams off the pitch. A notable development to emerge in the past three years is the partnership between BT Sport and YouTube, which allows fans to watch the Champions League and Europa League finals for free on the platform. Another meaningful move is Amazon securing the rights to stream 20 Premier League games from 2019/20.


Copa90’s recent study on the modern football fan revealed that 76% of all UK football fans watch football highlights online. Furthermore, the study found that 81% of 16-19 year old UK football fans use YouTube to watch a variety of football-related content, from official highlights to freestyle clips. For brands wanting to engage with this traditionally hard-to-reach audience, this represents a ‘tap in’.


Platforms like YouTube command the attention of audiences in a unique manner. Ipsos eye-tracking research found that the majority of TV advertising time (55%) lacks real attention due to multitasking and second screening, while finding YouTube mobile advertising to be 84% more likely to receive attention than TV advertising. Combining the level of attention YouTube naturally commands with engaging football content provides brands the opportunity to converse with audiences that are really listening.


The growth of Copa90 since its debut in 2012 is a testament to the size and receptiveness of the YouTube football audience. Amassing 1.6m subscribers and racking up over 322m views, the fan-fuelled channel has quickly placed itself at the epicentre of the online football community. Following a successful partnership with Hyundai at the 2014 World Cup, Copa90 has attracted sponsorship deals with brands such as Adidas and Nissan.


Sky Media recently launched a weekly, live chat show called ‘The Football Social’, airing on YouTube throughout the Premier League season. The talk show has attracted brands such as Beats, Visa, Carling and a partnership with its sister company, Sky Bet, who are to sponsor The Football Social in the biggest branded content deal in Sky Media’s history. This demonstrates that broadcasters and brands alike are ready to evolve alongside the game and its fans, embracing new digital platforms for football.


YouTube is becoming football’s digital home turf because the platform enables fans to do what they love doing when the football isn’t on – which is, of course, talking about football. Channels like ArsenalFanTV have seen meteoric growth, boasting more than 800,000 subscribers (only 50,000 less than Arsenal’s official account) and securing a season-long sponsorship deal with Ladbrokes – for brands, these rising channels offer a genuine alternative to mainstream sports media, which allows them to engage with fans directly.


Taking football out of the TV studio and into the hands of the fans in the stands allows brands to engage in a never-ending, ever-growing conversation with audiences hungry for content. As technology becomes increasingly intertwined in the football experience of fans and players alike, advertisers should be conscious of the game-changing opportunities this digital transformation presents.


Image: PA Images