Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

From Die Hard to Fluid – Now is the fans’ moment

By Kai Sackmann, Director Sports Strategy and Partnerships, video intelligence 

The fans have won. Just as quickly as it was revealed, the plans for the European Super League are crumbling, led by a passionate revolt from fans of all types.

Fan voices are diverse and multifarious, and they have become the battleground in this nascent debate. One thing seems certain: the term “fan” was used broadly in this instance.

But understanding the nuanced ways different fans behave is fundamental to understanding how to reach them.

“Our 12 founding clubs represent billions of fans around the world.” Claimed Andrea Agnelli in the league’s announcement. Yet the European fans’ association, Football Supporters Europe, criticised it, “This closed competition will be the final nail in the coffin of European football, destroying everything that has made it so popular and successful.”

So who exactly are these ‘fans’, and how do they behave?

A study released just this week by video intelligence shows the danger behind generalising media use and fan motivation. There are die-hard fans, and what I term ‘fluid’ fans. And their behaviour is in stark contrast.

In the “Football Consumption Report” study we found out that even in “traditional football countries” such as the UK and Germany, more than one-in-five (23%) of self-proclaimed football fans do not watch a single match live on a match day. The most frequently cited reason for this being that the kick-off time simply does not fit into their daily routine. In addition, more than half (54%) were not watching more than one match on a matchday.

At the same time, almost a quarter (24%) watch more than three games live per match day. 

Simultaneously, the overwhelming majority consume content around the games, both before and after the match, through a diversified media mix of videos and text.

Sure, this is only one study, but it already shows that the term ‘fan’ is used very differently without either of the terms being wrong.

While fan representatives of FSE, and fans who watch more than three live matches per matchday, are definitely called die-hard fans, I would call football fans who only watch very selectively (zero or one live matches) ‘fluid fans’.

The future of football is now uncertain, but it seems the position of fans in the hierarchy will have improved as a result of this debacle.

For media owners there is room to create more opportunities by accepting the diversity of football fans. But with such a scale of footage now available, to such a global audience, technologies like automation will play a huge part in getting the content to the people that will watch it. New forms of monetisation, and new media rights strategies will all come into play.

American sports leagues understood the difference between the consumption of Die Hard Fans and Fluid Fans, as well as a difference between local club supporters, domestic sports enthusiasts and international sport fans. They diversified their media strategies accordingly:

Die-hard fans who want to watch whole games, and all games, watch them live on key media outlets, or owned OTT solutions. But fluid fans who want to watch highlights tuned to their day watch them on multiple, diverse avenues: league websites, social media, independent publishers – wherever they consume sports

European Super League or not, it’s important to understand that the notion of fan is not one-dimensional, and the different ways of consuming media are the start of a funnel that defines the overall size of the revenue pie of professional football available to rights holders and publishers – and the reach advertisers and sponsors can gain.

The industry can continue to try to just distribute the pieces of the pie with the same models, or it can start to define new pies. This does not require new leagues, but a broad understanding of usage scenarios and fans’ motives.

Now is time to think about fan-friendly ways to spread the industry’s reach. This is the moment for fans to have their say in shaping how football looks, and being on-side with this vital group of media consumers is in the interest of advertisers and publishers alike. In a sports industry that is increasingly global, scalable ways of distributing into different usage scenarios must become the norm.