With Football suspended across most of Europe and the US because of Coronavirus, it was not only football fans that now have hours to kill on a Saturday afternoon / evening, and Sunday afternoon, it’s also the social media managers across Football Clubs. As a way to create some buzz on a slightly rainy and grey Saturday afternoon, social media managers started getting creative on Twitter. Maybe there were other reasons behind the ‘Noughts and Crosses’ matches, Football Manager & FIFA20 matches, other than boredom, but it got football fans talking and engagement levels increasing for a number of football clubs who don’t normally see that level of engagement.
SATURDAY 14TH MARCH – ALSO KNOWN AS THE FIRST SATURDAY WITHOUT ANY LIVE SPORT IN THE UK. With no Football, Rugby, F1 qualifications, Tennis etc etc etc, content creators knew they had to start something to get into football fans.
Southampton FC started the ball running (get it? No? okay), after their Premier League fixture was postponed. To stop the boredom of football fans on Twitter, with no 3pm games to follow, Southampton decided to challenge Norwich City FC to a game of Noughts and Crosses. Southampton were supposed to travel to Norfolk, but instead decided they wanted a virtual game instead. With Norwich City deciding to ignore and not take part in the game, as half time came around (45 minutes after the first tweet), Manchester City subbed Norwich from the match, and decided to challenge Southampton. The match ended in a draw, and with some jokes from Match of the Day, with the points being ‘shared’, Southampton concluded their epic twitter game with coronavirus advice.
Southampton’ engagement levels dramatically increased, with the final result tweet accounting for 23k likes and 3.8k RT’s in 21 hours. A tweet about #OnThisDay in 2004 only 16 hours later only reported 319 likes and 18 RT’s in 5 hours, even though the video accounted for a dramatic win in Southampton FC history. Most tweets only receive a couple of hundreds likes, showing the power of an impactful engagement and social media campaign, with a lack of no live football.
With Leyton Orient’s match against Bradford City also postponed, Leyton Orient decided to do ‘game day’ on Football Manager. This meant encouraging fans through Twitter to vote for the players who would form the starting 11, formation and tactics, and help make live decisions as the game took place that afternoon. With twitter polls, images for substitutions, and ‘clips’ from the match. They even included a match report to round the ‘match’ up, with Bradford ‘winning’ 1 – nil.
Leyton Orient’s engagement levels didn’t quite peak at the levels of Southampton, but compared to their normal engagement levels there was significant progress. The first tweet account for 1.6k likes in 24 hours, but the match report only accounted for 83 likes in 20 hours. However, on average 400 people were taking part in their twitter polls. Normally, Leyton Orient’s tweets generate less than 100 likes, showing that their Football Manager social media campaign was somewhat effective.
Watford tried something similar to Leyton Orient just without the ‘fan engagement’ of polls. Watford broadcasted their match with Leicester City on Football Manager as well. Being a Premier League side, engagement was higher (likes and RT’s) than Leyton Orient.
Although Watford only tweeted once about their Football Manager manager, the engagement levels amongst fans on social media was significantly higher than that of Leyton Orient’s. The tweet accounted for 11.3k likes and 1.7k RT’s in 24 hours. However, one could say that is because they have a bigger following on Twitter in comparison to Leyton Orient. This is also a significantly higher number of likes and RT’s than what Watford normally attain.
German side Bayer Leverkusen were up to their usual fan engagement game, this time playing Noughts and Crosses with fans on Twitter. Homemade drawings of a grid, and they were getting all the replies. Other games also include hangman.
Hull City FC were also quick to get on the Connect 4 challenge on Twitter, challenging Bayer Leverkusen to a match. While a Saturday evening is normally consumed by Match of the Day, the most thrilling match of noughts and crosses was occuring on Twitter. Hull City won 4 – 0, and increased levels of engagement with their posts. The ‘Full Time’ tweet generated 26.6k likes and 5k RT’s in 14 hours, while their usual everyday tweets average a couple of hundreds likes at best (however, that could be due to their lack of results on pitch as of late). Hull City starting X1 line up announcements normally generate around 30 likes, thus a game of noughts and crosses with a german Bundesliga team has significantly increased engagement levels on Twitter. This also came from ‘in game’ tweets from the noughts and crosses match. Bayer Leverkusen are already quite a active fan engagement twitter, but their engagement levels were also up from their match with Hull City. Baring in mind that the ‘match’ lasted around two hours on a Saturday evening.
SUNDAY 15TH MARCH – DAY 2 OF NO FOOTBALL AS CORONAVIRUS CONTINUES ACROSS THE WORLD; MORE ISOLATIONS, TOTAL OF NUMBER WITH CORONAVIRUS, AND DEATHS DUE TO THE VIRUS, IT WAS DAY 2 OF FOOTBALL CLUBS HAVING TO BE CREATIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA (ESPECIALLY FOR THE PEOPLE WHO ARE SELF ISOLATING AND NEED SOME FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT).
Southampton Twitter match today was an esports match, facing Norwich City FC two #ePremierLeague faced each other off. Southampton lived tweeted the virtual FIFA20 ePremier League. In all fairness, they would have probably had done this anyway with every Premier League club involved in the competition.
Cardiff City FC and Leeds United were also quick to jump on the virtual football match, also played on FIFA20. With Leeds posting ‘in match’ updates, and ‘GOALLL’ tweets throughout the match, as if the match was real, shows how people are very bored already of no football, but also how clubs are going to have to get creative to keep fans and promote their football club. Leeds United Twitter was the one promoting and engaging with fans about the FIFA20 game, whereas Cardiff City didn’t tweet once (an opportunity that they are probably regretting now in terms of engagement rate). Leeds United let FIFA20 decide the result of the match that was supposed to be played today, and their first tweet gathered 2.2k likes and 617 RT’s in 1 hour. Other live tweets throughout the match accounted for around 300 – 600 likes in the first hour, but Leeds fans were also replying directly with Leeds United tweets. Although Leeds United have (and regularly do) have a ‘like rate’ of over 1000, most tweets average in the low 100’s.
And if you thought that was the end of the ‘Connect 4’ matches on Twitter between football clubs, well you are wrong. York City challenged Luton Town to a game, although Luton didn’t reply within the first hour, and York only managed 117 likes, 6 RT’s and 14 replies in the first hour. Admittedly, neither are Premier League clubs with huge social media followings (York City only have 52.5k followers, compared to Southampton who have 1.1m followers on Twitter, so to some extent you can understand why Southampton are getting more likes and RT’s), and unless the right people are liking and RTing it is unlikely that the tweet will go viral and gain the attention like other Football Clubs have gained. Luton Town wasn’t having any of it, but what they did tweet drove a huge audience to their account.
Football teams in the National League weren’t going to miss out on some content creation either – probably after seeing the results and hype of what had happened on Saturday with other clubs. Havant & Waterlooville FC challenged Eastleigh FC to a little quiz, however the social media Twitter engagement award doesn’t go to HWFC as their little tweet impressions and engagement was significant low. The real winners were Eastleigh. With the bluntness of ‘No.’ Eastleigh found their engagement levels sky rocket. Within 4 hours of tweeting ‘No’ back to HWFC, there were 33.7k likes, 2.8k RT’s and 169 replies – not bad for a non-league football club.
AJAX decided not to play matches with other teams on Twitter, and instead decided to promote on Twitter, show on Youtube, but live-tweet on Twitter a #RetroMatchday. The match they showed and live tweeted, was from the 15th May 2011, with Ajax beating FC Twenty. Like the run up to any match day, Ajax tweeted a number of tweets to gain excitement and engagement. Okay, the engagement levels were not huge, especially in the build up, but a buzz was created. With the ‘line up’ being tweeted (again like a normal match day), both Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen both tweeted in response to the retro match. Engagement levels did pick up through the ‘match’, with a ‘GOAL’ tweeted generating 17 replies, 42 RT’s and 472 likes in 1 hour. Ajax also retweeted a number of fans replies as well. Although this didn’t create the buzz of other teams social media content this weekend, it was a nice idea to get Ajax fans involved and relive a pretty special match, as that was the match they became Champions.
Elsewhere, another German Football Club also wanted to challenge an English Championship side to a game of connect four on Sunday afternoon. Okay, Wolfsburg didn’t challenge Nottingham Forest FC till 11:46pm on Saturday evening, with Nottingham Forest evening responding at 5:45pm on Sunday afternoon. However, they did have a decent response… was looking for toilet paper after the majority of Brits have been bulk buying toilet paper as if they don’t have a shower if they run out (fairly unlikely as well). Anyway, NFFC gained more engagement – probably the British humour – than Wolfsburg.
Bristol City FC also got in on the action playing Willem II Tilbury in a Connect 4 match on Twitter. Aston Villa Women’s also challenge ROMA to a match but they declined, and of course Bayer Leverkusen were up for a Sunday evening match.
Clearly every social media manager at football clubs across Europe believe that Noughts & Crosses and Connect 4, is the way forward in terms of creating user engagement. It has been successful for some, and not so for others. Let’s see what new twitter challenge / engagement tactic that football clubs will come up with next weekend.
Also an important reminder to thoroughly wash your hands, and if you have any of the Coronavirus symptoms then to follow Government advice and self isolate.