The ability to seamlessly transition from watching England in the Euros to watching an endless number of the lower level teams showcase their talents has never been easier. With the implementation of smart TVs and growth of video sharing sites such as YouTube and TikTok, any team can truly be an international brand, providing they are willing to put themselves out there.
YouTube and football have been intrinsically linked since the inception of the platform; be it highlights or montages, there has always been a connection between the two. However, in recent years brands have been more active in sponsoring YouTube-specific teams of all sizes and leagues, either instead of or alongside efforts on a professional football scale, creating a multi-levelled opportunity for reach.
Arguably the most prestigious football team to establish themselves on YouTube are Hashtag United, created by FIFA content creator Spencer Owen back in 2016 as an amateur team. They were founded to create content, with influencers Charlie Morley and Theo Baker both playing in the original squad. Since then, Hashtag have blossomed into a footballing empire operating both a woman's team and a men's development team.
From the beginning, the team was a big commercial prospect, with them donning adidas kits for the 2020/21 season and being sponsored by Football Manager. A landmark moment for the organisation came upon announcing a five-year deal with Danish sportswear manufacturer Hummel, showing an incredible amount of intent from both.
Announcing the partnership, Hummel CEO Allan Vad Nielsen said: "Hashtag United is a one-of-a-kind football club and we are extremely proud to have signed an agreement with them. The innovative operation of the club has been at the forefront of how fans engage and interact with a football club and the club has more than most demonstrated how small and local clubs can capture younger fans when choosing what team to support."
When wanting to engage a younger audience, YouTube-based teams offer a much more convenient option for brands. Many of them offer high levels of content engagement across multiple social media profiles while not having the same cost attached as a professional outfit.
According to Socialblade, the average engagement percentage on Instagram across all Premier League clubs is 1.05%, with the highest being Leeds Untied (2.92%) and the lowest being Crystal Palace (0.30%). In comparison, Hashtag United has a score of 2.77%, whereas SE Dons, albeit with a smaller, more specific fanbase, has an engagement rate of 4.99%.
Like working with any influencer, it's important to consider the personalities involved when entering into a partnership as, at this level, it allows the audience to connect with the content creators. SE Dons is a prime example of this.
Playing in the Orpington and Bromley District Sunday League, the Dons are characterised by the tough-talking atmosphere, which is backed up by quality football, all under the umbrella of respect and persistence. Who they are can be characterised by the two mottos of the club: "Anything for the Dons", and "Longest 90". Currently boasting a range of sponsors - everything from CBD oil to Science in Sport - the channel has 205,000 subscribers. Many of these are younger Sunday/semi professional footballers looking to make it to a similar level to that of the Dons.
This growth across football-based content video sharing sites such as YouTube and Twitch is something that is set to continue, even in the post-Covid environment. Not just in the football clubs themselves, but with the coverage of football on a wider scale.
2020 as a year has drastically changed the viewing habits of the British public. YouTube is now being viewed by 96% of the adult population each month, with the average online adult watching 46 minutes per day in the UK. This is during times where online content has to drastically change to accommodate the needs of COVID life, with channels such as AFTV producing online ‘watchalongs’ to act as a make-shift way to appease the atmosphere addicts among us. The rise in this genre of content could be attributed to a range of things.
Channels such as The Kick-Off, run by Brian "True Geordie" Davis and Laurence McKenna, are, in essence, a modern take on Sky's Gillette Soccer Saturday. The Kick-Off, however, is much more versatile, allowing them to swap in pundits depending on the clubs playing. Due to the show being shown live on Twitch questions can come directly from the audience with an immediate answer from the presenters.
Throughout Euro 2020, The Kick-Off has covered 14 games, averaging just over 161,000 views. Naturally the England games managed to attract more viewers, with the England vs Germany stream being viewed more than 305,000 times. Despite these strong figures, large brands are still yet to see the appeal. Host Brian Davis has a range of brand deals behind him, with Gymshark, PokerStars, and Beats all taking an interest in him. However, this hasn’t transferred across to what he refers to as his "media empire".
The Kick-Off is seen by Davis as a direct competitor to the aforementioned Soccer Saturday, which for years has been a stalwart of football-themed viewing. However, the show has come under fire in late 2020, following a reshuffle of the fan-favourite pundits and potential retirement of the iconic Jeff Stelling. As a result, YouTube and Twitch are capitalising heavily.
In this expansion of sports coverage, there is a great opportunity for sponsorship and brand involvement. Channels such as Hashtag United and SE Dons are continuing in their growth, with Hashtag predicted to exceed 100 million views within the next year, alongside reaching 700,000 subscribers in just over that time frame. Both proving that you don’t have to spend excessively to get high engagement and a much more targeted audience for the brand or product.