YouTube adds pay channels

Google-owned YouTube has launched its first pay channels, partnering with several producers and distributors to put content behind a paywall from US$0.99 per month.

Subscribers will have access to the numerous premium digital channels that launch around the world. Content producers and distributors such as DHX Media, The Jim Henson Company and National Geographic Kids have partnered with YouTube on a revenue-sharing basis, details of which have not been disclosed.

YouTube has been preparing to roll out subscriptions for some of its on-site channels since the beginning of the year as part its premium content drive.

On the kids side, DHX will host three pay channels – DHX Kids, DHX Junior and DHX Retro – in multiple languages in 10 territories worldwide, including Japan, Brazil, the UK and the US. The channels include content such as Strawberry Shortcake, Mona the Vampire, Sonic the Hedgehog, Inspector Gadget and Care Bears.

Michael Hirsh, executive chariman of DHX, told C21 the ad-free SVoD content will appeal to parents willing to pay US$2.99 per month. “Parents will be prepared to pay for that. It’s for parents who are choosing to live in the streaming world rather than going to cable and satellite,” Hirsh said. DHX CEO Michael Donovan added: “These channels represent another way in which the internet is enabling us to monetise our library of children’s programming.”

Jim Henson Family TV is another pay channel on the platform, featuring ad-free episodes of Henson shows including Sid the Science Kid and Fraggle Rock for US$2.99 per month. For a dollar less, the company is offering the channel in Spanish.

“YouTube is once again redefining how, when and where we enjoy our favourite shows,” said Richard Goldsmith, executive VP of global distribution at The Jim Henson Company. “With the launch of Jim Henson Family TV, audiences can watch our hit shows again and again and introduce their favorite Henson titles to their children in a convenient and affordable way.”

National Geographic Kids has also launched a paid YouTube channel aimed at families. Available for US$3.99 a month, it will offer longform and shortform video aimed at kids between the ages of 6-12.

Other pay channels launched on the site include Cars.TV, Pets.TV, Baby First Plus, ‘best of British’ net Acorn TV, Treehouse Direct and UFC Select. The full list of the 53 pay channels launched on on YouTube can be found here.

YouTube began its 100 premium channels initiative in the US in 2011 with a reported US$100m investment, before introducing the scheme to Europe last October.

ABOUT FIREBALL SEM – an African Sport, Entertainment and Media Company

Fireball SEM is a leading African Soccer, Sport, Entertainment & Media company which owns and develops world class TV and multi-platform properties. Fireball SEM has a dedicated Soccer development business which was established to develop grassroots Soccer, the fan base and future Soccer stars in developing countries by leveraging the popularity of English & European Soccer through it’s highly entertaining TV and multi-platform properties.

CONTACT: Shaun Ascough

SOUTH AFRICA TEL: 071 605 3191

(from outside of South Africa 0027 71 605 3191)

WEBSITE: www.FireballSEM.com

EMAIL: shaun

TAGS: Africa, South Africa, TV, Mobile, Digital, Soccer, Sports, Reality TV, TV Production, Television, Media Company, Marketing, Activation Campaigns, Brand Entertainment, Sponsorship Procurement, Ad funded productions, Soccer Academy, Soccer Development, Youth Soccer, Sports Development, Production Company, sub-Saharan Africa, TV Formats, TV Format Development, TV Format sales, Acquisitions, Cape Town, Johannesburg, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Kenya, Cameroon, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mali, DRC, Tanzania, Mali, Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, Angola, Niger

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Africa hungry for homegrown online content

Things have never been more exciting in Africa than they are now. The continent’s rising economy and burgeoning tech space is all anyone can talk about. At a recent South by Southwest panel, "Africa or Bust! Content, Monetization, Opportunity," it was made clear that mobile and connectivity is also changing the content game.

Reportedly, around 140 million people in Africa have access to the internet, which represents about 13% of the population. That number is set to explode in the next few years. By 2020, internet penetration in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 24.7%.

For Africans, the internet is not just a way to connect with the rest of the world, or even with friends — it’s a content enabler. It is also a commerce facilitator. The African consumer is on the rise; they are hungry for interaction, hungry for e-commerce purchases and they are hungry for content.

As a society, Africa is learning what it means to spend money on content delivered via a mobile device and computer screens, especially content that is designed for the continent. Large numbers of devices are shipped into the continent from the United States and Asia annually helping grow this new taste for spending.

"Africans want their own content, content that’s by them and for them … There is a lot of cool stuff happening in this space," said Richard Essex, partner in East Africa Capital Partners, quoted in the Financial Times last month.

According to a Nielsen report, mobile video is increasingly popular in emerging market regions such as Africa. That report stated: "Mobile video is particularly prominent in Asia-Pacific and Middle East/African regions, where 74 and 72% of online consumers, respectively, report watching video on mobile phones at least once a month, and almost 40% (38% and 37%, respectively) say they do so at least once a day."

Is Nollywood embracing quality?

Africa’s biggest play into online content consumption to date is iROKO Partners, a platform that provides Nigerians in the diaspora with Nollywood films. Dubbed "Africa’s Netflix," the company is streaming not just movies but also music through its iRoking music-streaming platform.

Secrets of a Nollywood film set

The success of iROKO has given rise to a new breed of consumer. These are people who’ve found that now that content comes to them, they are interested in having access to it.

Currently iROKO delivers Nigerian content to the world but what about the rest of Africa?

Africans in the diaspora aren’t exposed to other content from the continent and somehow it seems that the rest of Africa isn’t producing the same addictive content as the rest of the world.

Southern Africa is catching up and getting ready to begin providing content to Africans in the diaspora. Wabona is a new startup hoping to replicate the success of iROKO by building its own online pay-per-view video streaming service designed to deliver African and international video content to the African Diaspora and Africa as a whole.

Content is everything and technology is its biggest enabler. One of the key factors that have been identified about mobile devices is their role in content creation. Focused on local made-for-mobile content, Bozza is a South Africa-based startup that provides an application that offers artists, filmmakers and entrepreneurs a mobile platform through which to distribute their content.

Partnerships are beginning to emerge between the platforms and the content providers.

According to Bozza, its mission is to connect content and technology in Africa. Its website states that: "Content drives the uptake of technology; yet despite the global increase and focus on the value of content, there continues to be a lack of locally generated, contextually relevant content for the African market."

The African consumer gets it as well. Mobile social networks like Mxit and 2Go understand the importance of content. Partnerships are beginning to emerge between the platforms and the content providers. Mxit has created a movie portal that allows its users to watch feature-length pieces in five to six parts.

According to former Mxit CEO Alan Knott-Craig, Africans are so hungry for content that those of them that have not previously had access to free content online are more willing and likely to pay for it that those with more access and means.

Pushing African content at this moment is a very critical phase in Africa’s rise to join the ongoing tech revolution.

Source: CNN

ABOUT FIREBALL SEM – Sport Entertainment & Media Company
W:
www.FireballSEM.com

Fireball SEM
is an African Sport, Entertainment and Media Company.
Soccer Division : Fireball SEM has a Soccer development business which was established to develop grassroots Soccer, the fan base and future Soccer stars in developing countries by leveraging the popularity of English & European Soccer through multi-platform properties including “Soccer’s Next Pro”.

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Sunderland AFC Names March 30 ‘Nelson Mandela Day’

Sunderland AFC is to celebrate its recent collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation by designating its forthcoming game against Manchester United at the Stadium of Light ‘Nelson Mandela Day’.

The unique partnership between both parties was launched earlier in the month to help promote the former South African President’s legacy, through the global reach of the Barclays Premier League.

Sunderland AFC will be a Legacy Advocate for the Nelson Mandela Foundation which was established in 1999.

On March 30, Sunderland’s players will sport one-off t-shirts for the pre-game warm up, bearing the foundation’s logo and a special ‘text to donate’ message in support of the foundation. Both teams will take to the field through a guard of honour of youngsters also sporting Nelson Mandela Foundation t-shirts, along with eleven specially chosen mascots. A flag bearing the foundations’ logo will also be displayed pitchside.

African musicians, the Abatimbo Drummers of Burundi, will entertain fans before the game and again at half-time showcasing the unique musical sound of Africa.

Across the next 18 months, Sunderland AFC will support a number of fundraising initiatives on behalf of the Foundation, including a Gala dinner, planned for later this year.

The players’ shirts, as worn during the game, will be auctioned online via the club’s official website, to kick off the fundraising, with all monies raised going to help the foundation continue its work.

Sunderland AFC hopes to utilise the organisations’ knowledge and expertise to continue to raise greater awareness of social issues, such as inclusion and diversity and support football’s quest to eradicate racism from within the game.

Sunderland AFC’s marketing director Mike Farnan said: “By becoming a Legacy Advocate of the Nelson Mandela Foundation we hope to accomplish even more for a common good.”

Sunderland AFC began its off the field relationship with the African continent in 2011 forging a partnership with the Invest In Africa initiative to promote awareness of the opportunities of doing business in Africa. Linking with Invest in Africa has also helped Sunderland AFC to grow its fanbase and global presence, particularly in Africa, where nearly 1.2 billion people watch Premier League matches.

ABOUT FIREBALL SEM – an African Sport, Entertainment and Media Company

Fireball SEM is a leading African Soccer, Sport, Entertainment & Media company which owns and develops world class TV and multi-platform properties. Fireball SEM has a dedicated Soccer development business which was established to develop grassroots Soccer, the fan base and future Soccer stars in developing countries by leveraging the popularity of English & European Soccer through it’s highly entertaining TV and multi-platform properties.

CONTACT: Shaun Ascough

SOUTH AFRICA TEL: 071 605 3191

(from outside of South Africa 0027 71 605 3191)

WEBSITE: www.FireballSEM.com

EMAIL: shaun

TAGS: Africa, South Africa, TV, Mobile, Digital, Soccer, Sports, Reality TV, TV Production, Television, Media Company, Marketing, Activation Campaigns, Brand Entertainment, Sponsorship Procurement, Ad funded productions, Soccer Academy, Soccer Development, Youth Soccer, Sports Development, Production Company, sub-Saharan Africa, TV Formats, TV Format Development, TV Format sales, Acquisitions, Cape Town, Johannesburg, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Kenya, Cameroon, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mali, DRC, Tanzania, Mali, Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, Angola, Niger

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Playing to America – MLS Soccer TV talent search finding the next Africa pro soccer players

Talent Identification & Brand Building for MLS clubs wanting to help develop their brand, fan-base and talent pipe-line in Africa.

‘Playing to America‘ is an annual TV series that searches for the most talented up and coming African footballers (boys aged 14 – 15 years) who get the opportunity to showcase their talents in America’s MLS with a leading MLS Soccer Club.

Through African open trials, ‘Playing to America‘ provides a unique insight into Africa’s key passion, Soccer, whilst showcasing the continent – country by country and offering genuine life changing opportunities for talented African Soccer players to overcome some of Africa’s most difficult obstacles/life challenges and become professional soccer players in MLS.

The show provides a thoroughly unique and truly engaging proposition with high interest value to America’s viewing audience whilst creating measurable ‘make a difference’ opportunities to Africa’s impoverished youth.

Leading MLS Soccer Clubs are being offered the exclusive rights to ‘Playing to America‘ in Africa and preferably for a 5 year commitment.

We have African based soccer partners with extensive African football networks and footprints that will ensure that we really do look at the very best talent in each country.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This unique concept combines the importance of grass roots Soccer development, with the appeal of sharing the world’s favourite game with children from exotic, far flung African locations.

It provides leading MLS Soccer clubs with a unique marketing opportunity to roll-out an African development project demonstrating significant commitment to the emerging African continent.

The TV show provides the exposure and marketing value to the whole concept of developing young African talent and an African fan base.

The “Reality TV” element of the show, and the uniquely evocative African setting will attract fans who are not part of the current MLS and leading MLS Soccer club audience.

Compelling Show content will be created for online consumption throughout Africa ¹.

Creating a unique opportunity for a leading MLS Soccer club to become the leading supported Soccer Club throughout Africa.

¹ Internet / mobile internet growth in Africa is higher than any other area in the world (creating opportunities to include online / mobile promotional awareness / fan building in Africa via this concept). See “WHY AFRICA?” page for more compelling reasons.

WHY SOCCER?

Soccer is America’s most played sport, but as the MLS competes for viewership against other European and emerging Global Soccer leagues, innovation and added value are vital.

‘Playing to America’ provides an entirely new and unique concept in soccer entertainment that will be a powerful asset in building the MLS / an MLS Club’s brand and viewership in America, Africa and Globally.

It brings together soccer, the evocative places and people of Africa and the unique appeal of reality TV in a fresh, meaningful way.

Individuals who may never have watched a MLS game will be captivated by the unique appeal of ‘Playing to America’.

In the years to come the young African players they have connected with, will progress into the MLS with a leading MLS club and will take their fan-base with them.

Providing access to & the opportunity to build an untapped fan base in Africa (Africa has a population of 1billion passionate football fans)

Whilst ‘Playing to America’ will be fantastic entertainment, it will primarily be a project with heart and conscience.

Every player who attends trials will enjoy a fantastic training experience and leave encouraged to continue playing the game. Those who make the touring squad will enjoy two months of exceptional coaching, mentorship and a life-changing tour experience.

Every possible support will be given to each of them to pursue any opportunities that may arise from their exposure.

The ultimate winners ¹ will not only have the opportunity to create a wonderful new future; they will also become iconic figures inspiring hope and determination in countless other young players in the communities they come from.

A unique opportunity to build a talent pipeline of African Footballers.

¹ it is envisaged that 2 professional academy contracts with a leading MLS club be offered to the ultimate winners each year.

For further information about partnership opportunities with ‘Playing to America’ please contact Shaun Ascough, CEO of Fireball SEM.

WEBSITE: <a href="http://www.fireballsem.com">www.FireballSEM.com</a>
EMAIL: <a href="mailto:shaun">shaun@SoccersNextPro.com</a>

— End —


ABOUT FIREBALL SEM – Sport Entertainment & Media Company
W:
www.FireballSEM.com
LinkedIn: Shaun Ascough CEO LinkedIn profile

Fireball SEM is an African Sport, Entertainment and Media Company.
Soccer Division : Fireball SEM has a Soccer development business which was established to develop grassroots Soccer, the fan base and future Soccer stars in developing countries by leveraging the popularity of English & European Soccer through multi-platform properties including “Soccer’s Next Pro”.

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David Beckham to become Chinese Football’s first global ambassador

Former England captain David Beckham has agreed a deal with the Chinese Football Association that will see the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder become Chinese football’s first global ambassador.

As part of the new deal, the ex-LA Galaxy and Real Madrid star will visit China throughout the year to promote the sport domestically and globally, as well as popularise the country’s domestic soccer competition, the Chinese Super League.

The acquisition also aims to help the image of the country’s game, after the Chinese Super League was recently hit a match-fixing scandal – which saw China’s former top referee sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail for taking bribes to fix matches – and the highly publicized exits of ex-Chelsea and France strikers Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.

The agreement follows a ten-year partnership between media giant IMG and Chinese state television network CCTV, with the CSL to develop the country’s domestic league commercially.

Beckham, pictured above at Beyond Sport, said of the deal: ‘I am honoured to have been asked to play such an important role at this special time in Chinese football history. I’m excited by the prospect of promoting the world’s greatest game to Chinese sports fans as I’ve seen firsthand the growing interest in football there.’

‘This is a wonderful sport that inspires people across the world and brings families together, so I’m relishing the opportunity of introducing more fans to the game.’

Mike Dolan, chairman and chief executive of IMG Worldwide, added: ‘This is the perfect time for an icon like David Beckham to be spearheading the effort to promote football in China. The combination of the ten-year anniversary of the CSL, the 20th anniversary of professional football in China and the global appeal of David Beckham practically ensures that every young person in the country will have a new found interest in the game. We expect that David’s presence in the country will be massively important in popularising the sport.’

Source: Sport business


ABOUT FIREBALL SEM – Sport Entertainment & Media Company
W:
www.FireballSEM.com

Fireball SEM is an African Sport, Entertainment and Media Company.
Soccer Division : Fireball SEM has a Soccer development business which was established to develop grassroots Soccer, the fan base and future Soccer stars in developing countries by leveraging the popularity of English & European Soccer through multi-platform properties including “Soccer’s Next Pro”.

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Sunderland in Nelson Mandela Foundation deal

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has entered into a partnership with English football club Sunderland.

Over the next 18 months, the Premier League side will support fundraising initiatives for the charity set up by the former South African president.

The match against Manchester United on 30 March will kick off the fundraising.

"We want to take his message of reconciliation and social justice as far and as wide as possible," said club vice-chairman David Miliband.

Mr Miliband, a politician and former UK foreign secretary, said the club had been honoured to be chosen.

"It’s a great validation of the community and charitable work we do," he told BBC Swahili TV.

Achmat Dangor, who heads the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said the partnership would help spread the anti-apartheid fighter’s message to young people worldwide through the football club, Sunderland’s own charitable foundation and work in Africa.

"It will give us an outreach we haven’t got yet," he told the BBC.

"We get many offers of partnerships but what Sunderland did was something unique and generous and unconditional, there was nothing like: ‘Can you give us something in return?’" he said.

"They’re going to help raise funds to sustain our organisation – for us to do our work we must maintain our independence and live up to Nelson Mandela’s ethos of inclusivity and reconciliation and social justice."

Last year, Sunderland agreed a deal with not-for-profit group Invest in Africa to become the official shirt sponsor of the Black Cats.

Invest in Africa is a partnership of companies formed to promote African business opportunities.

Source: BBC News

ABOUT FIREBALL SEM – Sport Entertainment & Media Company
W:
www.FireballSEM.com

Fireball SEM is an African Sport, Entertainment and Media Company.
Soccer Division : Fireball SEM has a Soccer development business which was established to develop grassroots Soccer, the fan base and future Soccer stars in developing countries by leveraging the popularity of English & European Soccer through multi-platform properties including “Soccer’s Next Pro”.

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Has the beautiful game dropped the ball?

Football is being shown the red card from fans and pundits for its on and off-pitch performance. Sponsors and clubs must offer more sophisticated engagement opportunities to score positive attention – and help the sport clean up its act.

Overpaid, overindulged and allegedly in some cases racist, football players and their teams – which stand accused of being only after fans’ cash – may have torpedoed the reputation of the beautiful game in the run-up to the Fifa World Cup in Brazil next year.

This season there have been several instances of fans in open revolt against the Premier League’s market forces, from Manchester City supporters returning tickets en masse to Arsenal in protest at the high cost of away seats, to Newcastle United fans expressing concern at the club’s new shirt sponsorship deal with payday loans company Wonga.

Newcastle City council leader Nick Forbes was among those to criticise Wonga’s £24m four-year deal, claiming it would promote “legal loan sharking” to local people facing economic hardship.

Wonga, though, says its business practices are responsible and that football sponsors promoting alcohol and gambling have not met with the same opposition. In an attempt to win over sceptical fans, after agreeing the deal last October, one of Wonga’s first acts was to rename the Newcastle stadium St James’ Park after owner Mike Ashley had controversially rebranded the ground the Sports Direct Arena the previous year.

But regardless of gripes among fans, the number of people watching the country’s most-loved sport is continuing to rise. Last season, average attendance across the Premier League was 93 per cent of capacity and figures to date suggest a similarly impressive showing this season. Viewing figures around the world are soaring too, with an estimated 4.7 billion people globally tuning in to the Premier League in 2011-2012.

Capital One, sponsor of last weekend’s League Cup final, shows what can happen when brands get fan engagement right. Having been quiet on the marketing front for several years, the US credit card company relaunched in the UK last year by signing a four-year sponsorship deal for the League Cup. In terms of raising both awareness and affection towards the brand, it has turned out to be a smart move.

According to research by monitoring agency Brandwatch, nearly 7 per cent of all online mentions about domestic cup football this season have featured the Capital One brand. This is significantly higher than mentions of FA Cup sponsor Budweiser, which has less than 0.1 per cent. “Although the FA Cup is talked about more, it seems sponsoring it provokes less discussion of the brand than the less prestigious League Cup,” says Brandwatch lead community manager Joel Windels.

The explanation for this could simply be that Budweiser’s sponsorship does not incorporate the same naming rights, so while the League Cup is referred to as the Capital One Cup, the beer brand only gets a name-check in the official title of the FA Cup with Budweiser, which is shortened in common reference to the FA Cup.

But there are also signs that football is a much greater driver of brand awareness for Capital One than it is for Budweiser – no doubt because it is a lesser-known brand in the UK. Brandwatch reports that 86 per cent of all mentions about Capital One come from talk about football compared with just 17 per cent for Budweiser; a demonstration of the huge effect that the sport has had in boosting Capital One’s profile.

The cup has allowed the credit card group to engage directly with a range of fans across the country, often at a grass-roots level. Through competitions, ticket offers and fans’ forums, the brand ran an intuitive social media campaign that tapped into supporters’ excitement towards the cup, helping it to increase its UK Facebook likes from 10,000 before its sponsorship to around 130,000 by the end of its first season. The brand is now planning an improved engagement strategy for next year.

Chief marketing officer Michael Woodburn says: “What I want to get better at is having all of our marketing channels pushing people to our social media hub so that they can interact further. We need to give them a reason to go there.”

Pitching to fans

Increasingly, football sponsors are waking up to the need for sophisticated fan engagement strategies, especially since the 2012 Olympics held up athletes – rather than footballers – as the new sporting ideal. Gone are the days when sponsors simply slap their name on a shirt – the rapid growth of social media and mobile usage means that brands can now use their association with clubs and tournaments to talk to fans across the world in the terms and formats they want to engage with.

That is why football tie-ups today come with promises of ‘interactive activations’ and ‘richer fan experiences’. Since Chevrolet’s reported £360m shirt sponsorship deal with Manchester United, for example, the brand has focused activity around its #DrivenBy hashtag on Twitter to capitalise on the rising popularity of live tweeting by fans during matches. HTC, meanwhile, is pledging to deliver “new and innovative ways for fans around the world to get closer to the action” as the new phone supplier of the Champions League and Europa League.

Indeed, sponsorship revenue is growing, with the combined shirt sponsorship income of all Premier League clubs up by almost 20 per cent in 2011-12 from £100.5m to £117.5m, according to Sporting Intelligence. At the same time, income-generating opportunities are expanding as clubs use new rights categories and brand touchpoints to engage sponsors in different global regions.

Although its status as the world’s biggest club distorts the picture somewhat, it is noteworthy that Manchester United has nearly 40 sponsors globally including an official wine partner (Casillero del Diablo) and an official noodles partner in Asia, Oceania and the Middle East (Mamee).

But while sponsors continue to pour cash into the global phenomenon that is English football, it is not clear that all brands are making the most of their investment. The huge amount of brand messages aimed at football supporters, combined with the rapid diversification of their media consumption, means that more sponsors are reappraising how best to engage with fans.

Cup campaigns

The sponsorship campaigns behind the FA Cup and League Cup this season provide an interesting insight into the different approaches available to brands. Budweiser’s sponsorship of the FA Cup began last season, giving it a year’s head-start on Capital One to hone its fan engagement strategies through social media and other technology.

For example, Budweiser made broadcasting history by streaming an extra preliminary FA Cup tie between Ascot United and Wembley FC live via Facebook in 2011. The move was designed to drive fan and media engagement for a match that would normally have gone unnoticed nationally, thereby increasing exposure to and interaction with the Budweiser brand.

“Traditionally, the extra preliminary round receives little interest, however this campaign was covered by international media while delivering on all key objectives of our sponsorship strategy,” says Iain Newell, UK marketing director of parent company AB InBev. “Over 30,000 international viewers tuned into watch the game online.”

This year, Budweiser plans to use crowd-sourced assets in its FA Cup marketing by asking fans to contribute photography from any match in the tournament for inclusion in a two-minute advert that will air in the last break before the final on 11 May, as well as on the big screens and perimeter boards at Wembley.

The initiative will run via Twitter and Instagram, with fans uploading photos and tagging them to Budweiser’s #tothedream hashtag. Newell says one of Budweiser’s core concerns is to “bring the cup closer to fans through a strategy that celebrates grass-roots football and showcases the tournament on a global level”.

The brand’s other football-related innovations include the Budweiser Man of the Match app that allows fans to pick the outstanding player from any FA Cup match (a role traditionally performed by TV punditry teams) and a partnership with augmented reality platform Aurasma, where fans can point their smartphone or tablet device at limited edition Budweiser beer cans to see the FA Cup appear in 3D.

Similarly, Capital One has used social media to interact with fans interested in the League Cup, though Woodburn says the brand’s first year as title sponsor has been a learning experience in which it has paid close attention to the online chatter generated by supporters. “People have started coming to our [Facebook] page to talk about the football matches, which is great,” he says. “We just want to be part of that conversation for now rather than pushing brand messages at people.”

The brand has upped its activity on social media during popular matches, such as Arsenal’s dramatic 7-5 victory over Reading in October and Bradford City’s giant-killing run to the final. By listening to fans online, Capital One has also succeeded in identifying a number of PR opportunities that have served to increase goodwill towards the brand.

For example, the company paid for Middlesbrough fans to travel to Swansea last December for their cup match because the team had been drawn away from home 12 consecutive times in the tournament. “It’s that type of engagement that really resonates with fans and it’s something we’ll look to build on during our second season,” comments Woodburn.

Football crowd-sourcing

The ability of sponsors to grow their following through fan engagement is a cause for optimism among the football clubs, many of whom wish to build their own brands as a way of increasing revenues. The Football League is aiming to help its 72 member clubs better understand their fans with its new Changing Room research panel. Launched last month, the initiative encourages fans to participate through postings on all the club websites, right down to the small provincial sides in League Two. The Football League plans to recruit 15,000 fans to the panel, with each club represented.

In addition to engaging members with football content, forums and rewards, the Changing Room will conduct targeted surveys that aim to provide clubs and sponsors with deeper insights into fans’ behaviour. Football League research and insight executive Phil McKee reveals that the Changing Room could also form a testing ground for sponsors, allowing brands to trial the creative in their football-related marketing campaigns before rolling them out.

“The beauty of it is we can survey everyone in the group or we can do more targeted research,” he says. “For example, if Exeter City wanted to ask their fans something quickly, we can just ringfence those people, or if a brand wanted to speak to a certain demographic, we could do that. If we know more about our supporters, we can tailor to their needs better.”

Beyond the online world, clubs are also engaging with fans through new technology at their stadia. Derby County has been one of the most innovative clubs in the Football League this season, having undertaken a major upgrade of technology at its Pride Park stadium while also rolling out a new demand-based pricing system for its match tickets (see case study).

Last summer, Derby bought new hardware for the stadium, including LED perimeter advertising, a 77 sq m screen – one of the largest in club football, digital menu boards for the concourses and an improved internal camera system. Although this technology has given Derby greater flexibility in the advertising solutions it can offer to brands and sponsors, it has also increased the club’s ability to engage directly with its supporters on match day.

For example, the upgraded camera system can zoom in on fans in the ground for various engagement segments, with the jumbo screen serving as a giant ‘fan cam’. The club also opens the stadium doors early on match days, allowing fans to watch televised lunchtime matches on the big screen prior to kick-off or exclusive content produced by the club.

Marketing manager Faye Nixon says these engagement efforts are designed to offer fans and their families a day out rather than just a football match. She claims this approach is already bearing fruit this season, with more fans arriving earlier to the stadium and spending more on refreshments.

“Everybody in the leisure industry is vying for people’s disposable income so we’ve got to make it more than just an hour and a half of football, we’ve got to make it an entertainment experience as well,” she says. “That includes the pre-game, half-time and post-game experience.”

Community engagement

Football clubs provide a focal point for communities across the UK, so fan engagement often also means working closely with those communities to improve people’s lives. Sunderland Football Club achieves this through the Foundation of Light, a charity set up in 2001 by former chairman Sir Bob Murray that has become central to the club’s identity.

Sunderland says the foundation is the largest in European football, with 120 staff that help more than 40,000 children in the region. The foundation’s size means that Sunderland can go beyond the grass-roots football work that other clubs might focus on to tackle deep-rooted social problems as well.

Sunderland FC works closely with communities through its Foundation of Light charity set up in 2001

For example, the foundation runs educational programmes from specially designed classrooms within Sunderland’s home ground, the Stadium of Light, for children that have a history of troubled behaviour at school.

In addition to support from the club, the foundation is backed by major local employers such as machinery manufacturer Caterpillar.

Sunderland marketing director Mike Farnan says the foundation has played a pivotal role in forging a close-knit community with the club at its heart. This sense of community translates into strong support for the club: last season, Sunderland had the seventh highest home attendance in the Premier League.

“With 44,000 children and 120 employees, you’re talking about a lot of people depending on it,” says Farnan. “It’s something unique and different, simply because the region needs it. I think the club has been very sensitive to that requirement.”

While the foundation is a philanthropic rather than a commercial operation, its work has attracted the interest of sponsors keen to harness its community ethos. In particular, the foundation was an important element in Sunderland’s shirt sponsorship agreement with Invest in Africa last summer.

The deal, reportedly the most lucrative sponsorship in Sunderland’s history, arose after Tullow Oil founder Aidan Heavey read about the Foundation of Light and believed he could adapt some of its work to Invest in Africa, his not-for-profit development agency on the continent.

Sunderland is now pursuing its own charitable initiatives in Africa through the sponsorship, although the deal has also presented the club with a huge range of sporting and commercial opportunities. This includes forming partnerships with African clubs that are helping Sunderland to build up its fanbase on the continent and forge more brand tie-ups. Farnan says it is likely that “an African consumer-facing brand” will appear on Sunderland’s shirts next season as part of the Invest in Africa deal.

“Sunderland isn’t a Man United or a Liverpool but by aligning itself with this programme it’s galvanised itself in Africa,” says Farnan. “If you look at the interest we’re getting in Africa, right across from federations, football clubs and commerce, it’s just been unbelievable.”

Sunderland is a good example of the popularity of English football globally when clubs get fan engagement right. As more brands look to harness the power of the sport around the world – and football itself works to clean up its image – they must pay attention to how supporters watch and interact with their favourite clubs and tailor their engagement strategies accordingly.

Source: Marketing Week


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