FROM THE TERRACES TO THE TABLET: Twitter Replaces the Pub for Scottish Football Fans. Is this a Striking Opportunity for Brands?

Image Credit: Giovanni Gallucci

A chart recently published by Inside the SPFL on Twitter showed that, per capita, the Ladbrokes Premiership in Scotland is the best attended in Western Europe.

The SPFL also reported in June of this year that match attendance during the 2016-17 season across the whole of the SPFL (the Ladbrokes Premiership, Championship, League One and League Two) has soared in comparison to the previous season, increasing by 12% and exceeding the 4 million mark for the first time since 2008/09.

Even in a struggling economy, where people are increasingly time-poor, Scots are still spending their precious spare time and money on attending football matches. Indeed, we over-index over everybody else.

 

REAL WORLD’ SUPPORT – SCOTTISH FOOTBALL ATTENDANCE

 

Average attendance numbers sourced from worldfootball.net and transfermarkt.co.uk

The above chart shows the ground seats and last season’s average attendance for each of the teams in the Premiership for the coming 2017/18 season, which kicked off on 5th August. While the statistic quoted above refers to the previous season, we have examined the teams present in the Scottish Premiership for the 2017/18 season. The promotion of Hibs, given the size of their support, will only strengthen support for Scottish football in the coming year.

Clearly Scottish fans are football daft. But…

Is this Scottish passion for football reflected in conversations and behaviour on social media?

 

ONLINE SUPPORT – EXTRA TIME FOR SCOTTISH FOOTBALL FANS

 

The above chart shows the average attendance at matches for each team alongside their number of Twitter followers. A casual glance shows how the Twitter audience absolutely dwarfs the ‘real world’ audience, particularly for Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen. Given that we know how robust match attendances are in Scotland, this represents a huge and hugely significant social media audience for Scottish football.

But how engaged is this audience? Rather than just crunching the numbers, we wanted to discover insights gained from the content of the conversation on social media.

Does Twitter function as ‘extra time’ for football fans to banter about their team and the sport? Does Twitter provide the space where fans now engage with others about their favourite sport? Has it replaced the pub?

So we turned to Brandwatch

 

THE QUERY

 

We took a sample of out-of-season fan conversation over the month of June to discover whether social media provides the extra time fans need to express and share their passion for Scottish football.

When organisational content was excluded to focus only on posts by individual members of the public we were left with 119,845 mentions, a huge number that clearly reflects a body of fans who are still incredibly engaged with their sport even out of season.

 

PATTERNS OF PATTER

 

The above charts show that the most popular days for football chat in the off-season are Thursdays and Fridays. The mentions by hour of day chart shows that conversation is relatively consistent throughout the day (except for the early hours of the morning), gradually climbing to a peak at 8pm.

Clubs and sponsors should therefore bear in mind that key off-season football conversation happens around 8-9pm on Thursdays and Fridays – just about the time people would have traditionally gone down the pub. Therefore, these are the optimum times to engage with football fans.

 

THE CONVERSATION

 

Given the sheer volume of conversation about Scottish Football, we drew data from one weekend only – 23rd-25th June 2017 – to get a flavour of how fans are talking and what they are talking about.

After cleansing we were left with 15,350 posts for these three days. We then filtered out retweets, resulting in 5000 hand-crafted posts by Scottish football fans. A significant quantity of engaged, organic fan conversation.

 

WHO’S TALKING?

 

We would usually expect to see a few key contributors in a dataset – superfans or commentators who post excessively about one particular subject. For example, such contributors were easily identifiable in recent analysis we conducted on Formula 1 audience behaviours.

Rather, this dataset consisted of an overwhelming number of individual fans engaging in organic conversation about Scottish football.

Most of this content took the form of Twitter threads discussing issues relating to football such as new kits, fixture announcements and recent news stories.

Although official channels such as @spfl or @celticfc were occasionally tagged at the beginning of these threads, the vast majority of this conversation was curated and motivated by the fans themselves and was neither directed nor mediated by clubs or other official voices.

This indicates an extremely high level of natural fan engagement; fans don’t just retweet content, rather they invest a significant amount of time and energy in engaging other fans in conversation.

The high volume and engagement of this organic conversation provides a key opportunity for clubs and sponsors to stimulate and join the conversation, to look beyond their own channels, and fan interactions with them, and look at more indirect conversation referencing them.

 

WHAT ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT?

 

We then analysed the data to determine the volume of conversation which contained terms relating to individual teams.

Unsurprisingly, this was dominated by Rangers (65.7%) and Celtic (24.5%), with a smaller but significant proportion of posts relating to Aberdeen (12.1%).

Although Rangers were the most frequently discussed team, most of these posts focused on the Celtic/Rangers rivalry.

Much fan chat centred on timely events as would be expected such as the announcement of new strips and fixtures lists for the coming season.

The tone of voice in this dataset is overwhelmingly negative and argumentative, with approximately 80% of posts expressing rivalry and division, particularly (as would be expected) among Rangers and Celtic fans.

 

WHERE ARE THE CLUBS?

 

Image via scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk

The clubs themselves don’t enter into fans’ banter on social media. For example, 2808 posts referred to Rangers, but only 382 of them were directed to the club via the inclusion of the official @Rangersfc handle.

It is, of course, no surprise that intense rivalry is a part of football, and Scottish football in particular has ongoing issues with sectarian divisions. Fans are talking about what’s placed in front of them, which at the moment means potentially divisive news stories.

But arguably, the vacuum of content from clubs and sponsors during the off-season is not helping the situation.

In fact, the official voices being heard in this dataset are being discussed in such a way as to inflame tensions between clubs and create further division.

For example Dave King claimed that Celtic have not actually won “six in a row”, as Rangers were not in the league for four of them. This created an opportunity for Celtic fans to vehemently argue with Rangers fans and vice versa. The divisive nature of these comments was acknowledged by some on Twitter:

It has managed to wind enough celtic fans up however

Why does King insist on giving them motivation…Let’s just do the talking on the park for a change

Even the BBC is not immune to criticism:

I assume you only use the Old Firm tag to wind up Celtic fans?

The attention paid to stories such as these is fuelling argument between fans of different clubs, creating further division and ensuring that the focus of this passionate, engaged audience is concentrated on negativity. But things could be different.

 

“YOU MAY SAY THAT WE’RE DREAMERS, BUT WE’RE NOT THE ONLY ONES”

 

Competition is, and should be, a crucial part of any team sport. But the tone of social media conversation relating to Scottish football is toxic. This is a situation that many fans are unhappy with:

I have many friends on both sides that can only see the wrongs of each other and not themselves

both as bad as each other

a few non-representative idiots let us down

That’s what’s so frustrating about Celtic and Rangers. So many of their fans seem more interested in their rivals than their own team”.

Rangers vs Celtic is 110% hatred. Much bigger than a football game. Unadulterated hatred from start to finish”.

Genuine fan chat is being drowned out by the toxic negativity of the current conversation. So, how can clubs and sponsors foster positive conversation about Scottish football online?

 

LESS STIRRING, MORE BANTER

 

By refocusing the chat on social media away from toxic negativity and towards the enjoyment of the game itself, support for the club, fan banter and fostering positive interactions rather than inflaming negative ones, clubs and sponsors could have a real opportunity to foster a better social media environment for the vast body of Scottish football fans who are interested in engaging passionately – but not entirely negatively – about the sport.

Sponsors and clubs looking for an excellent example of how to do this could learn much from the likes of Renault Sport F1’s team Twitter feed and O2 Sports fan Twitter feed.

Renault Sport F1 are the masters of banter on Twitter. F1 fans frequently praise them for their social media game. With a friendly, funny, engaging tone of voice, they know how to banter with fans, making Formula 1 accessible for newbies and dedicated fans alike. They even extend this to fun and irreverent banter with other teams, especially rival Mercedes AMG F1. As a result, Formula 1 as a whole is portrayed on Twitter as friendly, welcoming and a fantastic community to get stuck into.

O2 Sports’ Twitter feed is another example of how to foster positive communication on Twitter. Their tone of voice is exceptional, ranging from fun to highly topical, but always respectful. It’s perfectly pitched to its audience, stimulating both clever humour and meaningful discussions.

Content posted by their Twitter account includes hyping upcoming games, viewing tips, game reflections and behind the scenes content. They also include the fans by publishing content such as discussions of game watching rituals, fan picture requests, emoji match reports and player comments and retweets.

 

“LOVE THIS CLUB WITH ALL MY HEART”

 

Image via campdavebadges.co.uk

Ultimately, the strongly negative discussions on social media about Scottish football could be due to the absolute dedication of fans to their favourite clubs.

This dedication is, however, a hugely positive opportunity, providing clubs and sponsors with a devoted, passionate and engaged audience with which to communicate.

Rather than leaving fans to the mercy of clickbait-style tweets and headlines designed to rile people up, the key is to communicate with them positively, focusing less on ‘Us vs Them’ and more on supporting ‘Us’, providing positive content with which fans can interact and establishing a fan community focused on banter about the beautiful game.

Scottish football fans are the most actively dedicated in Western Europe. But Scottish football clubs and sponsors are not tapping into the vast expanse of fan conversation taking place online 365 days a year.

It would be interesting to see what the conversation is like during the season. Does more content occupy fans and reduce negativity?

If you are a club or a sponsor and want to find out more about how to get there first and navigate your online fan base successfully, get in touch with us!

Next on our fixture list, we investigate Celtic and the Champions League. What can we learn from the banter of our European cousins?

This research was powered by the nice folks at Brandwatch.

© Disruptive Insight 2015.