Welcome to Industry Insider by Behind Sport. Our latest guest is Digital Content Manager at FIFA, Steve Feekins!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Steve Feekins and I’m a Digital Content Manager at FIFA, based in Newcastle upon Tyne in the north east of England. I’ve been with FIFA for about eight years, and started off with the organisation as a digital editor focused on the website. I interviewed players and coaches and worked on-site at several tournaments and events, including the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, the 2019 Women’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. My job at FIFA has effectively been my first full time role in sports media, but prior to that I worked briefly at Sunderland AFC in their press office and at BBC Sport Online during the 2012 Olympics.
What do you do in your current role?
One of my primary roles is helping to oversee the content planning for the social media channels which are managed by the Digital Content team in FIFA’s Commercial Division – on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and GIPHY – as well as liaising with the team running our Chinese platforms. This means helping to plan the day-to-day content, but also looking at the long-term view for campaigns and upcoming tournaments and events. Additionally, I help provide analytical insight to the Digital Content team. This fundamentally means: trying to figure out what organic content works and what doesn’t, and provide actionable editorial insights to our creative team to continually improve our output for the fans that follow us.
What does a normal week look like for you?
I’m sure this is a fairly common and clichéd answer, but there’s no such thing as a normal week! The outbreak of COVID pretty much coincided with the Digital Content team being formed in FIFA’s Commercial Division earlier this year, so we’ve been presented with a new and exciting challenge almost every week. From a content planning side, we’re used to having regular beats to hit with tournaments and events – but of course that just hasn’t been the case this year. As a result, we’ve had to be agile and our campaigns have either been a direct reaction to COVID (#WorldCupAtHome) or focused on anniversaries such as our celebrations of Mexico 70, Italy 90 or Pele/Maradona’s birthdays. While during a ‘regular’ working week we’re constantly looking ahead to bigger campaigns, we’ve also created recurring series of content cross-platform, so we have a familiar calendar for our audiences. This feeds into a continuous cycle of analysing and – hopefully! – improving, by taking a close look at the data on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I’ve always had a love of football, but I don’t think I ever seriously saw a career for myself in the game until I was doing my undergraduate degree at Lancaster University. I got involved with the student radio station Bailrigg FM and did regular full match commentaries at the home matches of Lancaster City, the local team. I absolutely loved it, and I think it was then that I basically decided: ‘I want to get paid to watch football’ and try to make a career in sports media. That gave me a really clear, if rather broad, goal.
As for my current role, I actually owe a lot to Lancaster City, and I’m also indebted to a former boss of mine – Martin O’Boyle – who gave me the opportunity to work at FIFA. I met him by chance while I was commentating for Bailrigg FM on a cold, wet night at Lancaster City. That was in 2010, from which point I pretty much continually harassed Martin (politely of course!) and he gave me bits and bobs of work experience on FIFA.com while I was completing my undergraduate degree and studying for my MA in Journalism at the University of Salford. After a brief foray into freelance work at the BBC, and a few months interning at Sunderland, Martin called me at the end of 2012 to offer me a role which had become available. I’ve been with FIFA ever since.
What’s been your favourite moment whilst working in sports?
I was very privileged to be stationed at the Luzhniki Stadium for the 2018 World Cup, so I have a few moments which stand out. Igor Akinfeev’s penalty save in the round of 16 elicited the loudest noise I’ve ever heard in a stadium, I personally enjoyed Kieran Trippier’s free kick in the semi-final (I remained totally impartial throughout, of course) and being in the tunnel after the final whistle of the final was amazing. For the latter, I was incredibly lucky to be behind the scenes for the French celebrations and other moments which the general public aren’t privy to. I know a lot of people would give anything to see those moments in person so I never take the privilege of my position for granted.
What do you think is next for your industry?
With COVID still a part of everyday life and the situation changing seemingly every week, it’s very difficult to predict what’s coming next, but I think the only thing that’s certain is that the pandemic has exponentially accelerated digital adoption, across the board, with the situation creating a new digital landscape. That means sport has to be agile, forward-thinking and – unfortunately for those individuals already experiencing a tough time – leaner and smarter with budget. From the point of view of our team, that means expectations will rise across our three key stakeholders: the fans, sponsors and broadcasters. Primarily, we need to make sure our offering to our audiences is as good as it can be, because everybody expects that in an increasingly digital-first world, while sponsors and broadcasters will be expecting more value from us which we’ll look to provide even more ‘off-tournament’. We’re beginning to adapt our offering to all those stakeholders to bring maximum value, as we lead in to Qatar 2022 and Australia/New Zealand 2023.
Before COVID, football (and sport generally) was already facing plenty of challenges when it came to digital. The next generation of fans are used to an immersive experience, thanks to gaming, and generally they’re not really watching much sport – or at least in the way my generation and older fans used to. They want bitesize action and to be a central part of the experience, so we have to cater for that. Practically, that means ‘gamifying’ the matchday experience and making user generated content a key component of any offering. Fundamentally we have to be audience-focused, so we can give this generation of fans what they want, and really should expect, of FIFA in the digital space.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Chances are incredibly rare, so if you get a foot in the door, be persistent and don’t waste your opportunity.
How to follow Steve Feekins on social media…
You should also follow FIFA World Cup (on Facebook and Instagram) and FIFA Women’s World Cup (also on Facebook & Instagram), as well as subscribing to our YouTube channel and taking a look at our GIPHY account too.
Thanks for reading our Industry Insider feature with the Digital Content Manager at FIFA, Steve Feekins!