The Rising Importance of Social Media for Football Clubs

By Chris Hurst and Andreas Plastiras, UK Digital 

As we prepare for the first ball of the 2017-18 Premier League season to be kicked on Friday, off the pitch there has never been greater focus across Europe from leagues, clubs, players and brands on how they can use social media to drive both engagement and value for their corporate partners.

While linear broadcast remains the key platform for driving value for club commercial partners, we are seeing, using Nielsen Sports’ unified media valuation approach, which considers all media platforms where brand and rights owners derive value, social media accounts for anything between 5-20% of total value generated for sponsors.

For example, the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Nou Camp in December 2016, generated $42.5 million in media value for sponsor across platforms, with social media making up 12% of this total, and 41% of overall value for Real Madrid, the away team.

To help our clients capture this value and to benchmark their performance, during the 2016-17 season Nielsen Sports benchmarked the social media performance of 26 of Europe’s leading clubs, considering the value both from exposure and engagement from social posts, using a comparable methodology to that used to measure the values from the likes of TV broadcast, print or websites.

This insight has helped our clients, which include a significant number of those clubs tracked in Social24, consider how they can activate more effectively across their social media channels, and support the significant value they continue to generate through the global power of live broadcast.

Ahead of the new season, these are four things we are excited about watching for in the new season.


1. The key social media platforms to focus on and the Instagram opportunity

During the course of the 2016/17 season, 62% of value was delivered by Facebook.

It will be fascinating to see how clubs continue to evolve their Instagram posting strategy, which strengthened its position as a key platform for sport during the 2016-17 season, delivering significant numbers of interactions per 1000 fans, in comparison to other leading platforms.

For example, Manchester United achieved 26,938 interactions per 1000 Instagram fans in the 2016-17 season according to Socialbakers data, in comparison to 4,229 interactions per 1000 Facebook fans.

2. The rise of branded content

13% of value from Europe’s top 26 club’s owned channels monitored came from branded content, with Facebook delivering the highest value of any social platform.

Stand-out campaigns included Bayern Munich’s Facebook Live in partnership with Allianz Deutschland as part of their #FCBDay1 campaign.

That’s not to say there isn’t a chance to deliver fantastic branded content on other social channels, as showcased by Manchester City’s YouTube series, ‘Inside City’, which is partnered by Nissan, while their team starting line-ups were announced in partnership with Hays Recruitment, a perfect fit for a brand that cares about the selection of the best candidates for a role.


Nielsen Sports believes a football club has over 50 content series that it could associate with a partner – there are not that many examples of clubs who have content series with double figures of partners, so there is a big opportunity to drive value as digital teams begin to work more closely with their commercial partners.

3. The sleeve partner opportunity

In a live sporting environment, it can often be challenging for a social media team to be able to react to every breaking news scenario, but a club can increase the chances of providing exposure for sponsors through pre-preparing templated graphics around big moments like starting line-ups, goals, substitutions and half-time/full-time updates that perfectly balance exposure sponsor with a mobile-friendly experience for the fan. Indeed some Premier League clubs last season created goal graphics with bespoke photography to differentiate their goal moments on a crowded social media newsfeed.

While benchmarking performance on reach and engagement will continue to remain important for different audiences, the depth of Nielsen Sports data is allowing us to provide with clients some insight on how they can generate even greater value for sponsors, by showing what percentage of posts have any form of sponsor exposure in them, helping teams set internal KPI targets, while balancing the need to still achieve strong fan engagement.

The new challenge for content teams this season is how do they balance the exposure for the introduction of sleeve partners into the Premier League for the first time, with ensuring prominent branding for the main front of shirt sponsor and kit supplier, and considering how a player photography can provide exposure for all three partners, rather than just the two front of shirt partners like previous seasons. With five of the 26 European clubs we monitored in Social24 having sleeve partners in the 2016-17 season, we already know that on average a sleeve partner can generate around 10% of the total value for the three sponsors on a team kit, but the challenge for clubs is how can they activate in the most effective way for all three partners.

4. Which brands will activate most effectively?

It will be interesting to see what proportion of media value is generated through branded content during the 2017/18 season and to assess how this figure compares with 2016/17. Last season, the most valuable categories, from a branded content perspective included sportswear, automotive, airlines and insurance.

Adidas generated the highest branded content media value overall during 2016/17 – in-part due to its unique activity around the Paul Pogba to Manchester United transfer – and will no doubt be amongst the valuable once again, along with sportswear brand rival Nike.

As more and more brands seek to generate engagements*, we expect to see the number of branded content posts increase season on season, acting as a value add to that generated through more ‘traditional’ logo exposures on assets including LED Boards and interview backdrops.

It will therefore be interesting to see which existing club partners are upsold new social media assets, and which brands begin to align themselves to specific content themes (e.g. team line-ups, behind the scenes etc) and ‘own’ new series for the first time.

*engagements are defined as likes / reactions / comments / replies / shares / retweets / video views by Nielsen Sports.