It wasn’t that long ago that Manchester United seemed to fear social media. In January 2010, Manchester United shut down Facebook and Twitter accounts for all of its players and categorically stated that “The club wishes to make it clear that no Manchester United players maintain personal profiles on social networking websites.”
That same month, Manchester United still didn’t have an official Facebook page, while their official Twitter account only had 28,000 followers.
Times have certainly changed for United. They finally embraced social media last season and now have more than 20 million Facebook fans, more than any other Premier League club. Rio Ferdinand alone has more than 1.6 million followers on Twitter. And now Manchester United seem set to take on the next frontier.
The club has appointed a digital agency who will build a social network for Manchester United fans worldwide, according to Marketing Magazine. The platform will be rolled out in stages over the next two years.
“The club has identified a target of more than 500m fans, after research agency TNS estimated a potential global audience of 660m with an allegiance to the club. The Manchester United Facebook page has attracted 20m fans in the year since it launched.
The platform will host multimedia content and offer advertising and sponsorship opportunities for brands. It will also sell items such as club merchandise through an ecommerce function.
The aim is to drive engagement with the club’s fans and tap into Asian markets, where Manchester United has a strong following and smartphone use is growing rapidly.
The club will offer fans exclusive content, such as videos featuring star players, and content from TV channel MUTV.”
This news comes out during the same week when a study revealed that Manchester United attracts half of the Premier League’s global TV audience.
By creating a social network and continuing to improve its own official website, Manchester United are moving to a one-to-one relationship with its supporters worldwide. That is massive in terms of marketing potential of what products the club could try to sell to its supporters (such as maybe eventually TV rights). Plus it could bolster sponsorship packages for interested advertisers who want to target Manchester United supporters online, thus making the club even more money.
This will definitely be a story to keep your eye on especially as Manchester United are finally paving the way for social media after being very slow to adopt it.