Star Power and the Modern Superfan

Teams success isn’t always the biggest factor in winning new fans. Players and the stories they create offer clubs a huge opportunity to build their brand.

The Ibrahimović effect

When Zlatan Ibrahimović left MLS side LA Galaxy at the end of the 2019 season, he did so in his own inimitable style. “I came, I saw, I conquered,” said the Swedish striker on Twitter. “Thank you LA Galaxy for making me feel alive again. To the Galaxy fans – you wanted Zlatan, I gave you Zlatan. You are welcome. The story continues…Now go back to watch baseball.”

Now as ex-Manchester United striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez joins the club, LA Galaxy must surely be hoping his star power and background, as well as his skills on the pitch can go some way to filling the gap Ibrahimović left.

There’s a famous saying in soccer that no player is bigger than the club. But that isn’t always the case. LA Galaxy could be poorer without Ibrahimović, who scored 52 goals in 56 appearances and broke the club scoring record. Many fans from all over the world found themselves drawn to LA Galaxy’s games, content and merchandise because of him.

Ibrahimović might have moved on, but by signing Hernandez as its star player for the 2020 season, LA Galaxy will hope to tap into the player’s giant Hispanic support base and attract a whole host of new followers. These fans aren’t drawn to the legacy of the club, it’s the player which will get their attention.

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Attracting new superfans

As, The ‘Modern Football Fan‘ report by Copa90 suggests, there’s a growing number of soccer fans that are “less inclined than previous generations to settle for enjoying just one team, style or dimension of the [soccer] world.” And that idea changes things significantly.

The obvious benefit to this ‘soccer tourism’ is an immediate increase in merchandise sales for clubs. But it also widens their following.  Mexican-Americans make up a significant part of the United States soccer audience but have not fully embraced the American league. In the United States, television ratings for broadcasts of Mexico’s top league, Liga MX, routinely surpass those for MLS. Herndandez signing for LA Galaxy may go some way to changing that.

We can see this in action in the UK with Belgian fans Edgar and Thomas, who travelled to Merseyside to watch Everton vs Manchester City in October 2019. As reported by the BBC, the two fans only followed the blue half of Manchester because of two Belgian players – Kevin de Bruyne and Vincent Kompany – who played for them.

“There is a lot of pride back in Belgium about how well they are doing,” the fans said. “We are a small country and at the moment we have some very good players in the Premier League… We don’t really have a Belgian team that we support as [soccer] at home is not as entertaining.”

Demand for exclusive content

It’s not solely about live game audiences however, ‘non-game’ content is becoming increasingly popular. This can include: behind-the-scenes videos, documentaries, highlights, bloopers and player interviews, and we can expect Hernandez to feature in plenty of these over the coming season.  

Fans increasingly want more of this exclusive content from the clubs and players they follow, and it can prove to be highly lucrative.

For example, in our report: Switched On Superfans, we discovered that MLS fans consume higher levels of ‘non-game’ content than any other US league. They demand value but appreciate high quality content comes at a cost. While some are prepared to spend on content, the majority of those surveyed responded most positively to ad-supported video, as long as it’s easy accessible, good quality and the ads are not overly intrusive.

A content consumption shift

The report also shows how top sportsmen and women are acting as influencers through the content that they, their teams or their sponsors produce. This could be a unique post-game reaction, a glimpse into a player’s personal life, an endorsement or a personal message. Some of the world’s biggest stars – from Christiano Ronaldo to LeBron James – are masters at it.

Good content, efficiently managed and delivered, spurs fans and superfans into action. Our report suggests that 24% of 18-22 year-old fans and 18% 23-38 year-old fans already watch influencer content on social media. But it’s what they do after watching that matters most, more than 50% of the fans we surveyed who watch influencer videos stated that they impact sport-related purchasing decisions.

“It’s up to the leagues, teams and players to keep up with this content consumption shift,” says Charlie Horrell, CEO at Imagen. And they can do this, he adds, using the right video management and delivery platform, to get more content in front of more viewers and turn followers into lifelong superfans.

Discover how viewing habits are changing. Download our exclusive Switched On Superfans report to see how, why and what happens next.

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