23.04.21

ESL social media analysis: Has lasting damage been done to brands?

Categories: Salford Business School

The football world was turned upside down this week with the announcement of a European Super League, featuring twelve mega clubs.

But just two days later the plan fell apart as clubs pulled out, following an unprecedented global reaction. Now a University of Salford academic has analysed fan and corporate reaction on social media to see what role it played in the collapse of the project and whether the club brands have been permanently damaged as a result.

Dr Alex Fenton, of the University of Salford Business School, analysed tweets over the 48-hour period, both of fans and corporations to find out what really happened on social media. His full findings are here.

Dr Fenton said: “Social media gives players and fans a voice and often, that voice is faster, louder and more insightful than the official brand communications. Fan generated content is a critical part of a football club’s brand and is impossible to control which makes it such a good topic to explore. 

“When the ‘European Super League’ concept reared its head again this week, it created an amazing wave of discussion online and offline. By Wednesday, the project was once more metaphorically kicked out of the stadium and into the car park. It gave fans long enough to have some (sometimes) heated debates about the potential impact of this move and what might happen to the respective leagues, grassroots football and the other clubs when these big clubs with their fan bases and cash withdrew.”

According to a YouGov Poll, 79% of fans were against it, saying it would destroy the league. 83% of UK respondents did not support it. In the US, 43% of fans would boycott it and in the rest of the world, 68%. This short lived project created an incredible number of international news stories and hundreds of millions of social media posts.

Dr Fenton added: “Some of the top hashtags and conversational groups highlighted Manchester United and Liverpool in particular as most mentioned.  Virtual crowds gathered on Twitter to actively campaign against the Super League.  

“They are two highly popular and well discussed brands on social media and really stood out from the other 12 clubs involved in the Super League and in this analysis. Manchester United’s Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward also featured heavily in conversations and also news stories on the BBC and Sky News because he stepped down from his position amid these developments.

“Notably, @utdreport (a fan driven account) was also more influential than the official news outlets in this network as they live Tweeted updates about Manchester United and Ed Woodward in particular.

 “The European Super League concept may have been financially driven and accelerated by the Covid-19. Ultimately, it once again proved to be highly controversial and unpopular with fans. It did however create an incredible worldwide wave of debate on social media.

“We wonder what damage has been done to the brands that threatened to break away and indeed, when the next attempt will be and what the impact might be. The English Premier League has propelled some clubs to become global brands, but they wish now to go further and create more experiences which international fans love – more of the big match clashes. It’s a commercial opportunity and threat that isn’t likely to go away and change is eventually inevitable. 

“For some fans though that reject the commercialism of football and the money aspect of the game, there is almost a romanticism to return to the days of a more level playing field where football felt more about the fans in the stadium and not the commercial aspects. For now, it seems to be all over, but only time will tell what the next twist in this tale will be.”

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