After one of the most entertaining World Cups in recent memory, soccer teams in Europe are preparing for the beginning of the domestic season. Although Real Madrid has won the champions league title for the last three years, their fierce rivalry with Barcelona also carries off the pitch into the digital world too.
On match day, 81,044 people can watch Real Madrid at the Bernabeu stadium, and an incredible 99,354 can squeeze into Nou Camp to watch Barcelona FC in action. However, these numbers are just a fraction of the hundreds of millions of fans located all over the world. As a result, sporting clubs are embracing digital strategies that leverage the online influence of their stars.
For example, Real Madrid reached well over a billion video views last year, and they also celebrated a digital El Clasico win after defeating Barcelona to become the first sporting brand to reach 100 million likes on Facebook. With an increasingly loyal fan base around the world, I wanted to find out more about how digital strategies are transforming relationships between clubs and their fans.
On my daily tech podcast, I spoke with Craig Howe and Rafael de Los Santos about how digital is playing a significant role in securing future revenue for the club.
Neil: The Real Madrid success story reads like a textbook example of how to do the digital transformation right. Can you tell me how you became the first sporting club to reach 100 million fans on Facebook and also achieved 580 million social media impressions?
Rafael: At the time, Barca was a little ahead of us across all of the social networks.
We began working on a digital strategy and building on our connections with the players and celebrity fans to run the campaigns. It was an amazing time, and everything went perfectly, and we overtook Barcelona to become the first brand in the world to hit 100 million fans.
Craig: The victory was made possible by putting together a comprehensive plan that consisted of a geo-targeted organic strategy for content and growth. Not many people realize that 97% of Real Madrid fans Facebook are located outside of Spain.
We took advantage of this by celebrating big moments and acknowledging regional holidays in countries such as India and Africa and Brazil where there was a huge following. By geo-targeting activities around Ronaldo’s birthday, we gained almost 500,000 fans on Facebook in 48 hours through some organic content.
However, the secret sauce was in the months of planning and continuously tweaking along the way. It was a fantastic achievement, but it wasn’t the overnight success.
Neil: You once said, “Ronaldo has more followers on Twitter than countries have inhabitants." How important were the support of celebrities and Real Madrid players of past and present have on making the campaign a success?
Rafael: I remember talking to Ronaldo's agent while others at the club were talking to Rafael Nadal. We were reaching out to so many famous people who were passionate about beating Barca at the very end. The level of exposure that we achieved from household names that were also huge fans such as Kaka, Beckham, Rafael Nadal, Alonso and Enrique Iglesias was just incredible.
Craig: As an outsider, I was amazed at how the entire club came together and embraced the digital El Clásico campaign. I think that’s highlighted the spirit of Real Madrid and desire to fight until the very end.
Neil: Are you noticing if any Premier League clubs in the UK are starting to take digital seriously?
Craig: We’ve have worked with Liverpool for a long time, but I would say that at this point, every club is taking digital seriously and I think with the new premier league broadcast deal, this is one area where all the clubs are really investing.
I don’t think any two clubs in the world are doing digital the same way. They all have different leadership. They all have different staffing. They have different priorities, a different approach and it’s exciting for us to see how every team has a unique strategy based on their perceived strengths and weaknesses.
I think it’s just a mad scramble to figure out what the best digital strategy is for that club. Rafael has been spending many years trying to refine it, you know, and all the clubs in the premier league or are doing the same thing right now.
Neil: Now that you’ve achieved your goal of 100 million fans and 580 million well-earned social media impressions across the globe, how do top an emphatic victory like that?
Rafael: I guess the easy one is to say, w 200 million but one of the things that we see is that a significant shift on the audience that is following the club has a cure in the past five years I would say. So now the majority of the people that are supporting the club, they do, and they do it, and they connect with the clap through, through social media.
What we’re trying to do is, is to build the experience in a way that we are closer to our funds, that we put our funds right in the middle of everything and that we regenerate and we can engage with them as much as possible. I can tell you that that engagement is a big war and it’s also one of the key targets that we have, and this is what we’ve been trying to do.
The reason we want to engage with these people is that we know that this is the way to becoming even more relevant. The more relevant we are, the more money we make, the more money we make, the better players we buy, the better players and we buy, the more we win, which is everything that we want to do in there.
That’s our ultimate goal. naturally, we have some idea, some of them are very various strategic. We’re thinking about doing things that we will see how it works. We’re looking into enhancing the kind of content that we produce and all these things together help us become bigger and better.
Craig: I would add one thing to that, and that’s that every time I walk into the Real Madrid office, there’s a real emphasis on excellence and performance, and I feel like every time you walk in there, you know that Rafael or Begonia is going to come up to you and say, what’s next? How are we doing here? How are we improving, how are we getting better?
I don’t think it matters how many titles you win or how you beat Barca to the Facebook 100. It’s about always what’s next and what’s more and how do we push ourselves to be better, and I think it’s been a really rewarding environment for us to be in as a support for Real Madrid.
There isn't just a story about two of the biggest football clubs in the world chasing 100 million fans. We are living in an age where football stars are also influencers. For example, Cristiano Ronaldo currently has over 138 million followers on Instagram and nearly 74 million followers on Twitter.
Welcome to a brave new digital era where a soccer stars role as an influencer is becoming as important as their role on the pitch. Football fans will have to wait until 28th October for the next El Clásico fixture. But with the digital transformation well underway, we can expect to witness a few being victories secured off the pitch too.