It’s that time of year when attention turns to the new season – and this one promises to be a campaign different to any other.
In the men’s game, the first midseason FIFA World Cup will trigger a pause to domestic leagues across the globe. In the women’s game, a hugely successful Euros tournament is certain to catalyse more visibility and interest than ever before.
So what do we, as fans and industry experts, expect to see in this unique year ahead?
1) Paid partnership content from athletes will feel more natural
As we continue to move away from traditional, transactional relationships and focus on genuine, believable partnerships, it’s important that content also feels authentic in order to cut through.
This season, we anticipate players will be pushing for branded content to look more like their personal posts. By injecting products into their everyday life, partner content will feel more natural and this, teamed with use of authentic tone of voice, will see a higher quality of content on offer.
It’s simple and logical; content that feels true to the individual and fits seamlessly with their image equates to greater intrigue and better results for all parties.
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2) Refusing to ‘stick to football’
This year, Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign will be moved for the first time to accommodate the World Cup in Qatar – a country with a well-documented history of anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
The impact of this decision is a significant one and it will likely be the players taking part at the tournament who make their voices heard.
As exhibited by the likes of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, players are increasingly eager to make their opinions known on topics important to them. They want to push for change and this will only develop further, with allyship becoming a bigger theme and players becoming more comfortable aligning themselves publicly with causes that reflect their individual viewpoints.
We expect to see players taking further strides in shaping the future they want to see, having a huge impact on not only football, but also wider society in the process.
Two prime examples of this can be found amongst our own client base. On #StopCyberBullyingDay, we worked with charity Cybersmile and six footballers to highlight the real-life impact of words said online and we helped Bruno Fernandes and Victor Lindelof launch their Ukraine Appeal, raising £50,000 for UNICEF.
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3) Harnessing the power of purpose
For decades brands have sought to align themselves with like-minded leagues, teams and players who share their values.
Recently, we’ve seen a number of brands take action around causes that reflect their purpose. A standout example of this includes Beats supporting Marcus Rashford, an athlete who receives an amount of online abuse second only to Lebron James, with a mural in his native Manchester. Adidas also recently launched their ‘Pitch, Please’ campaign, dedicating pitch space for women, girls and non-binary players throughout the Euro 2022 tournament.
Acts of this kind present brands with the perfect opportunity to express a viewpoint on important matters facing football and, due to football’s enormous significance within it, wider culture.
With the upcoming season likely to once again demand a need for football to evolve, the likelihood of brands being using their voice as a vehicle for change will only grow with it.
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4) Branded matchday content will become more effective
When working with clubs on their digital strategies, we often find that their branded matchday content isn’t as effective as it could be.
In many instances, we see club partners’ logos on assets like team-sheets or result graphics – typically the social posts which generate the highest reach and engagement on a matchday. The logical assumption is that the higher the visibility of the asset, the higher the visibility of the brand. However, we believe – and have found from audience research – that this approach is actually failing to drive brand recall.
These assets are high-performing for an obvious reason: they contain information fans desire at a specific moment in time. For the fan, all focus is on the eleven names or the result at full-time so simply adding a brand’s logo to a piece of existing content offers no meaningful connection with the audience given their attention is going elsewhere.
This season, therefore, we hope and expect to see branded matchday content that represents the partner and performs well because of its quality. This, in turn, will benefit not only the partner, but offer more value to both the club and to fans.
5) A shift in TikTok content from clubs
TikTok now boasts a billion monthly active users and it has changed the game when it comes to video strategy.
This season will see clubs take their TikTok offering to the next level. How? By showcasing more personality and ingenuity; continuing to embrace the unique nature of the platform; and making better use of player access.
Of these, player access in particular feels like the important one. Mason Mount’s wisdom teeth videos are a prime example of the effectiveness of unscripted, impromptu content, with the response and numbers speaking volumes. Seeing clubs fully embrace the personalities at their disposal for their own channels will be an interesting pivot.
TikTok’s astronomical growth has made it the platform to be on, but with more eyeballs comes more scrutiny and this may be the year we see clubs “toe the line” a little more. So-called ‘admin culture’ has reached dizzying levels on TikTok and it feels fair to say that some comments and videos from clubs on TikTok wouldn’t be tolerated on other social platforms but have, for now, somehow remained under the radar. This could be the year that changes.
Our hope is that with a clearer focus and strategy as well as more emphasis on creativity, this could be the year that sees club channels on TikTok fulfil their true potential.
@masonmount Wisdom teeth have left the chat… #part1 ♬ original sound – Mason Mount
With football fans, football culture and football content continuously evolving, it’s impossible to predict exactly what we’ll see in the future. What we do know, however, is that whatever happens this season, it will certainly be one to remember.