Have Social Media Disrupted Football Consumption?

While researching to write a chapter on digital and social media disruptions on the consumption of football for an upcoming book on The Business of FIFA I went about collecting data from a particular social media platform – YouTube – to discuss the possible transformations that the so-called digital revolution has caused on sport. For this chapter I have selected the official FIFA, CONMEBOL, and UEFA YouTube channels as platforms for trying to see if social media have actually disrupted the traditional way of consuming football (eg passively watching on television).

The three official YouTube channels have a combined subscriber audience of over 12 million users for their 14,407 videos, whereas all those videos combined were short of 4 billion views. To put into perspective, just the 2014 FIFA Men’s World Cup final game was watched by 1 billion viewers according to FIFA (2015). In a way, those official social media channels provide spaces for football fans to consume on-demand video content anywhere (eg on the go, at home), anytime, and anyhow (eg phones, tablets, computers) possibly disrupting the very nature of the traditional symbiotic relationship between sport and media that relies heavily on live broadcasting. Moreover, if we look at the average length of those over 14 thousand videos they are around 233s for CONMEBOL, 241s for UEFA, and 339s for FIFA highlighting Millennials and Generation-Z preferences for shorter video formats (see Statista, 2020; Statista, 2021). Nevertheless, when looking for relationship between total views and duration in seconds there were no statistically significant correlation between the two; with only a suggesting factor when seeing a statistically significant negative correlation between duration in seconds and comments (meaning that shorter videos receive more comments).

Following on that, it is commonly said that the digital revolution have disrupted forms of media consumption in sport by allowing audiences to actively engage (eg comments, likes, and dislikes on YouTube) with the content rather than consume it passively as in the TV broadcasting model. Nevertheless, what the data from the three social media channels show is that users tend to watch way more than comment, like or dislike a video on a ratio of 0.013 (FIFA), 0.003 (CONMEBOL), and 0.054 (UEFA). This means that for each hundred views (passive consumption) there is only one active engagement on the official FIFA YouTube channel. The figures are really worse for CONMEBOL channel, but slightly better for the UEFA channel as seen above.

That said, and coming back to the blog post title if social media have actually disrupted the consumption of football probably the answer should be that not as much as proponents of the digital revolution would have declared. The cultural transformations to forms of consumption coming from social media disruptions might take more time to materialise as there is a long historical relationship between passively watching TV and consuming football.

What are your thoughts? Have your consumption habits changed because of social media? Are you watching less live games on TV and relying more on on-demand videos on YouTube or other social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok? Are you engaging more actively with the content, or continue to passively watch them?

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