Opinion Rights holders Social Media

Member Insights: How rights holders’ use of social media has evolved

February 22, 2023

In this Member Insight article, iSportConnect’s Content Manager Alex Brinton, takes a look at how rights holders’ use of social media platforms is changing. He covers Paul Pogba, Shrek and Warwickshire CCC all in one piece.

Like it or not, social media plays a major role in all our lives – one evening last week I spent four hours on it. 

Rights holders haven’t failed to realise the amount of time members of Generation Z are spending on it, and have changed their digital strategies massively to engage with their fans. 

A great example of this is the way football clubs announce a new signing. We all know the classic image of a star player holding a club shirt or scarf next to the manager, either at the end of a press conference or on the pitch. Rio Ferdinand joining Manchester United, Luis Suǻrez and Andy Carroll signing for Liverpool – every major announcement was marked this way for years. 

The first time this started to change was 2016, when Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United from Juventus for a then-British record fee. United obviously decided that for this marquee signing the scarf and shirt combination wasn’t going to cut it for their fan base. They brought in rapper and Reds fan Stormzy to make a glitzy video with Pogba. Unfortunately for United, this video was probably one of the midfielders best performances in a United shirt.

Now fast forward to January 2023. Burnley’s signing of 22-year-old, Belgian Pro League striker Lyle Foster was unlikely to make major waves in the football community. But Burnley’s reworking of a clip from the film Shrek to announce Foster joining the club pulled in 21.6 million views.


Not content with that, three days later they used a clip from acclaimed comedy Gavin and Stacey to announce the signing of Michael Obafemi , pulling in another 5.8 million views.


You have to respect what Burnley have done by bringing attention to signings that would have otherwise, largely, flown under the radar. Their social media team clearly have a great understanding of what the fans and algorithms want. Unsurprisingly, other social media teams jumped on the bandwagon. Warwickshire County Cricket Club announced their signing of Glenn Maxwell for this year’s edition of the T20 Blast by reworking the sorting hat scene from the first Harry Potter film.


The importance of social media’s algorithms can not be overstated. In a recent interview with iSportConnect, Lamberto Siega, Digital, Media & The Studios Director for AC Milan, said: “Sports clubs don’t choose what is interesting for fans, social trends enhanced by the algorithms, it can be a music, a dance, a behaviour ‘dictates’ how to build content, choosing what works and what follows a specific trend. It is a radical change.” 

It is not just football and cricket teams that are at it, even the official TikTok account for the Paralympics is getting in on the act.

And who can blame them? The job of social media teams is to increase awareness for their sport/team and you can’t say they’re not achieving that.

David Granger who was running the social media channels for Red Bull Racing back in 2009, said: “In 2009, no one really understood what social was  – we still called Twitter a micro-blogging site – and certainly the team principles and half the comms teams either didn’t get its function or were concerned about revealing too much.”

The behind-the-scenes content that has become such a key part of social media for sports teams is what initially engages fans a great deal. Not only do you get to see how your favourite team or driver prepares for a race or a match, you get a real taste of their personality and what life might be like if you were part of the team. 

The England men’s football team are a great example of how, by allowing cameras behind the scenes, they have created a really powerful public image. In days gone by the England team were not popular with the English press and the players weren’t always popular with the public either. Since Gareth Southgate took over as manager, the team have achieved great things on the field and off it. Their social media output at tournaments has changed and at the World Cup in Qatar there were daily interviews with players, challenges and fan Q&A’s – they really became England’s team.

Granger, who now works as Content Director for Cinch, added: “Another key development in recent years is that the age of most social media managers now means they are entirely digitally native, which means they are more likely to understand how conversations between teams and players appeal to a meme culture.”

I have no doubt that in a few years time most of this piece will seem as outdated as Rio Ferdinand wearing a white suit, holding up a Manchester United shirt next to Sir Alex Ferguson. But I am looking forward to seeing where we go next.

Opinion Rights holders Social Media