Chris Thorpe from AFC Wimbledon on transfer announcements, being a fan of your club, and making the most of international players' profiles

For the first in a new series of interviews, I spoke to Chris at AFC Wimbledon to find out about his career to date and what the club has planned for 2024.

Chris Thorpe from AFC Wimbledon on transfer announcements, being a fan of your club, and making the most of international players' profiles
Chris Thorpe works as a content executive for AFC Wimbledon

How do you separate being a fan from your professional role? What exactly goes into viral transfer announcements? And how do you capitalise on a player's profile when they're away at a mid-season international tournament?

For answers to the above, and more, I spoke to Chris Thorpe who works as a content executive at AFC Wimbledon.

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Chris has supported AFC Wimbledon his whole life. It's very much in the family - his dad is a Wimbledon fan that was there for the club's famous 1988 FA Cup final victory over Liverpool. When Wimbledon was controversially relocated to Milton Keynes and the club was reformed as AFC Wimbledon, Chris and his family stuck with their side.

He started his career as a journalist, working for Football League World before being made redundant during the pandemic. Chris knew Ivor Heller, AFC Wimbledon's commercial director at the time, who then offered him the chance to edit the club's match day programme.

"The reason he gave me that role is because he was aware of my writing," says Chris, "Ivor knew I could produce written content, and from there I started helping the club out with social media.

"At the time they didn't really have much of a social media presence, or any sort of brand. The chance to work as a content executive came up after a while, and I applied. I remember in my interview I gave a presentation about what I would change, how I would go about doing it, and showed them my ideas for the social pages.

"It's only a simple thing, but my ideas even stretched to what our bios should be. It's the first thing people see when they click on your profile, and it should be there to catch peoples' attention.

"So I've been doing the role ever since."

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Despite the club's rise through the levels of English football - they've gone from the ninth tier to the third in their relatively brief history - it hasn't been all smooth sailing; the club were relegated in Chris's first season.

"Results drive everything around the club really, from merchandise, to ticket sales, to hospitality, to sponsorship, to interests from around the world. If you're doing well, you get more.

"It was a good challenge to take on and learn about how to generate positivity when things don't seem positive at all - if that makes sense - but we've got through that now, and this season we're really starting to thrive."

Working for the team you support

One thing I was keen to dive into was what it's like working for the team you support.

In 2020 we covered this subject when Manchester United were looking for a head of social media that The Mirror dubbed a "super fan".

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Chris believes this has helped him understand the club's unique situation in English football.

"I think it has helped. I know what my friends who support the club want to see, and I know what's popular. I've always been passionate about projecting the story of the club to not just a national audience, but also a worldwide audience.

"But you do have to detach the fan side of it and think about it from a football perspective. At first I thought "this is crazy, I can't believe I'm working with these guys", but you soon realise that they're very normal people."

On the subject of people, AFC Wimbledon currently have two players away competing in the AFC Asian Cup; Ali Al-Hamadi and Omar Bugiel with Iraq and Lebanon respectively. Are there any plans to make the most of the tournament's profile and grow the club's own presence off the back of it?

"Just in my head! What I'm doing is reposting content from their national teams. If I see any videos or photos of them, I'll put those out.

"I've made people aware of when they can watch the games, and I'm planning to do a weekly set of round-up articles on the Asian Cup. When Ali scored in front of 60,000 fans for Iraq we managed to get the footage of that goal and it got something like 300,000 views - that's incredible for a club of our size.

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"We've seen a lot growth on Instagram in particular because of the amount of Iraqi fans following us because of Ali's success. Our following has gone up about 20,000 in a month and a half, which is crazy.

"It's great to see that we get people turning up at our games with Iraq flags in the stands now. And while I don't have a specific plan I'm going to be giving it as much coverage as I can alongside everything else."

That 'everything else' referred to the club's game against Wrexham (we spoke in the build-up to the match). When you've got opposition with that type of profile - something we also covered in 2022 - does it change the way you approach the match day cycle?

"No, we're not doing anything too different. We're doing the usual preview. I did an interview with John [Green - American author and club sponsor] which was good as he's been on Welcome To Wrexham and knows Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. They spoke to him before buying Wrexham as they wanted some advice on how English football works based on his involvement with us.

"It was interesting to find out why he thinks they're being successful at Wrexham - basically because they're engrossing themselves in the community, not just the football club. It's a stand alone piece which gives the match preview a different and interesting angle."

How a transfer announcement comes together

Speaking of Green, our conversation came in the same week that he had put extra money into the club to finance the signing of Joe Lewis. The announcement video made reference to the fact that Lewis always hitches his shorts up, hiding Green's sponsorship.

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What kind of notice do the content team get about signings like this, and how quickly do you have to get into action?

"There's constant communication between me and our head of communications, as well as with the head of football operations and the club secretary. The four of us are always talking constantly about whether we're close to signing anyone and, if so, when we can expect them to be available for media commitments.

"Once we get an idea of who they are, and their background, we generate ideas around the announcement - what pictures we need, videos, media, that sort of thing. It comes together quite quickly really.

"As soon as I find out the details of the transfer or the loan I look up the player, do my research, get my questions ready for an interview, maybe even draft an article ready for the announcement. It's all about preparation and communication.

"I think we signed three or four players on deadline day in January 2023, which was crazy. We had to organise getting pictures, doing interviews, and just repeating the process. And at the same time I'd have to write an article about each of them as well as teasing the transfer on social media.

"For teasers I come up with ones that can be used for any player. They're not specific to them or their personalities. I've found that people love the random ones, they really work. I've no idea where I get the ideas from!"

One of Chris's most memorable announcements was the signing of Bugiel.

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It's an example of an opportunistic idea that came together quickly, as Bugiel was around at the same time as the volunteers.

Tracking and measuring

With all this content and the creative ways of announcing signings, I'm always keen to explore how teams are measuring the impact of things.

In last year's State of Football Media, 70% of clubs said they use engagement with their posts as the main judge of success. Chris feels that a post's comments is one of the more reliable ways of seeing what fans have - and haven't - liked.

"I think it's always important to read the comments, negative and positive. It helps me learn what they really want and what they enjoy.

"Look at the feedback you get, and ask for feedback when you can. I did a poll on my own profile asking fans what they wanted to see us publish more of - people said short form video, so we're going to do a bit more of that."

Looking to 2024

As well as producing more short-form video (also on the agenda of 27% of clubs last year), social media growth is high on AFC Wimbledon's list of priorities.

"We've got about 20,000 subscribers on YouTube, but I want to try and get to 50,000. I want X and Instagram to get to 100,000. We're getting there, we're very close.

"And then I want to improve the quality of our video content, the quality of our interviews, as well as the features we do with the players. We want to do more interactive content. We did a feature with one sponsor - a removal company - where we had players kick footballs into the back of a van and each one was worth a certain amount of money for charity. So just more fun stuff like that.

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"Any technological advancements that we can use to enhance our content will be beneficial.

"I just want us to keep growing and hopefully we can continue to pick up good results on the pitch and have a good end to the season."

You can follow Chris on X, and connect with him on LinkedIn.