Away from the core offering of TV rights on channels like Sky and BT, football clubs are striving to diversify their media offering, therefore exploiting their huge brand potential. Last week Manchester City Football Club released a £10m documentary series produced by global streaming service Amazon Prime, titled All or Nothing: Manchester City.
Richard Gillis, managing partner of Cake, Havas’ sport and entertainment agency, says: "This documentary is part of a broader shift in the way the club thinks of itself, from football team to media and entertainment property". Clubs around the world have always tried to extend their reach to attract new fans and new sources of revenue, but now they are arguably becoming content factories in their own right.
Devotion to a club is more complicated than it used to be, with so much content on so many platforms vying for the eyes and attention of young football fans all around the globe. Clubs are therefore capitalising on their capabilities as brands, presenting content in tailored and sophisticated ways.
"Like any good brand, clubs need a strong content strategy, that delivers quality, locally relevant content on subjects and personalities fans care about", Will Pyne Chief Creative Officer of BraveBison, the social video company, explains.
In 2017, Manchester City became the first Premier League club to hit one million YouTube subscribers, and is now releasing a vast array of in-house content on a daily basis. In early 2018 their closest rivals Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world, decided to follow suit and launch an official YouTube channel.
Despite boasting a strong pay-for TV offering, MUTV, that had lived on Sky and online, it seems absurd that a global brand like Manchester United would have neglected the possibilities of YouTube for so long.
Nevertheless, this late investment in the platform represents a new thinking for football clubs, as brands that understood their potential as media properties before, now fully realising it on social platforms with guaranteed traffic.
The YouTube model is still relatively young, however, with other Premier League clubs like Newcastle United falling way behind in the game, hosting only 38,000 subscribers.
Historically, like MUTV, a club’s in-house content was only accessible through a paid-for subscription hosted on satellite services or online. Daniel Haddad, group director at Octagon explains that while the benefits of a club owned subscription service are clear by allowing direct monetisation, problems arise as these are naturally "restrictive in that they will never aggregate audiences like the major social media platforms will."
Manchester City’s online ‘Cityzens’ service was originally envisioned as a paid-for platform, but now alongside its YouTube and social media offerings it has evolved into a free-to-use hub, accessed through registration.
Pyne said: "By removing paywalls for content, clubs are expressing their openness and willingness to get to know fans more intimately. Young people are used to getting almost everything they want on social platforms so are unlikely to want to pay for it."
How then do streaming services’ interest in football-related products come into play? Tom Glick, chief commercial officer of City Football Group, says the objective of Man City’s Amazon Prime docu-series "was to bring fans closer to the club". City Football Group believes the future of sports marketing lies in "more engagement, more insight, and more understanding".
The series underlines streaming services' commitment to original football content, with Netflix having released a similar series First Team: Juventus at the beginning of the year. Glick states that the partnership with Amazon represents an opportunity to work with "a global company, with distribution to consumers all around the world", therefore presenting another, albeit glossier, way to increase their already global brand presence.
Haddad said: "Having a partner such as Amazon or Netflix is absolutely critical in the appeal of this to clubs. The marketing support that a partner such as Amazon or Netflix would commit is vast, meaning the audience is one that a club could simply not reach without such a partner, and one that transcends club support and even football fandom."
Football clubs are rethinking their position as entertainment and media properties by creating sophisticated and diverse packages of content, but still to aim on broader engagement around the globe.
Football sponsorship and partnerships seems to know no bounds, and Manchester City’s Amazon series shows a progression into media markets previously neglected.
Instead of continuing to monetise existing platforms, clubs are instead looking to amass as many viewers and subscribers to convert viewers into fans and aim for football brand domination.