Federico Smanio, head of digital and fan relations at Lega Serie B, explains the organisation's social media strategy, which is hindered by regulations preventing it publishing match videos on social feeds.
Some key points:
- Serie B has been rebranding to Lega B and using social media to establish the new brand
- It has no choice but to have a presence on social media – it’s where fans spend their time
- Social media allows Serie B to talk to fans directly and build sense of community
- Social media is an especially important activity for a second-tier property like Serie B because it does not get major exposure on traditional mainstream media.
The starting point: objectives
Digital and social media are integrated. You can’t talk about a social media strategy which is separate to your overall strategy for digital.
The first objective is to promote the world of Serie B. The second division is an old league, first played in 1929. The current Lega B was founded in 2010. People know a championship exists but not everyone is aware of Lega B. So all our social media accounts – Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube – are branded Lega B. This is to increase the brand awareness of our league.
It is part of a process of rebranding of the league that involves taking the ‘Serie’ off the name. We have our own values and this enabled us to make a new start, to break with the past. In Italy, ‘Serie B’ has a negative connotation and we wanted to move away from the idea of secondary as inferior and create a world where B was just different, with characteristics you can’t compare to anything else.
By contrast, Serie A has outsourced social media activities to their sponsor TIM, so it is all branded Serie A TIM. TIM bought a title sponsorship package, including digital activities and assets. Their mobile application is branded Serie A TIM. Ours is branded Lega B.
We also know that our fans are on social media and we need to be there to talk to them directly, to engage in conversation with them. This improves brand awareness but also the image and reputation of the league and clubs. The idea of being there to answer the questions of the fans, to listen to their complaints, their ideas and comments.
Another objective is to increase the reach of our communications. We cannot rely on traditional media. We know the main headlines are going to be for Serie A and for the Champions League and even other sports, before Serie B. Social gives us a direct line of communication with the fans and enables us to disintermediate from traditional media. It also helps us to acquire new audiences. It promotes the concept of a community around Serie B.
We know that there are lots of places where fans talk about Serie B, such as forums, blogs, websites. Lega B is both made up of its clubs and, as an entity, independent of them. So we think we can be the place where we can gather the fans of all member clubs, and people interested in football. It means creating a space where we can unite everyone interested in Serie B.
Building fan data
• Serie B is using social media data to build its CRM database.
Social media is also a way of understanding who our fans are. We have started a fan relationship management (FRM) database, using technology to aggregate data from fans, both of the league and of the clubs. Together with touch points integrated in our FRM, we can understand who [the fans] are.
The direct touchpoints are mainly our own website and mobile app, through user registration. For those already in our system, it is their surfing and content habits, contests, sponsors' activations (where we co-own the data), email marketing campaigns and newsletter, and corporate sponsor ticketing. Indirect touchpoints are the clubs’ season-ticket campaigns. We acquire fan data through a standard season ticket form sent to the clubs at the beginning of the season.
We did two big fan surveys, one in 2013 and one at the end of 2015. These tell us the characteristics of the fans and what kind of media they consume. We need to integrate this with listening to them via social media.
• The league isn’t selling anything directly yet, but wants to start selling merchandising and tickets, so the fan data will come in use then.
The objective is also to increase the revenues of the league. At the moment, we don’t sell anything. We do not sell tickets directly. We don’t sell merchandise, although we are considering starting an e-commerce project. But social media is very useful for driving traffic to your digital properties. Once they are on our digital properties we can register that on our FRM. This could increase the revenues of the league because sponsors are increasingly looking for ways to create a direct link with fans. Moving fans to your own properties is not a tactic, it’s a necessity for us.
For the online subscribers as a first step we collect name, surname, date of birth, email, favourite team, level of education, residence and, of course, their privacy settings – this informs how we can use the data. When they log in we are able to profile them based on the contents and sections of the website and mobile app they habitually visit. For the clubs’ season-ticket holders, we are able to collect place of birth, phone number, residence address.
The data improves our commercial offer. And when we come to start selling things like tickets or merchandising directly, we will have a database in place.
PICTURE: Serie B's videos are accessible via the website
No premium video content
• Italian legislation prevents Serie B (and other football rights-holders) publishing video coverage on social media. They can only host these videos on their own sites.
• Current video output of Serie B and its member clubs is also limited by production costs.
At the moment, there are regulations in Italy regarding video content. Under the 2008 Melandri law, we can’t publish live or near-live video content on social networks. We have been advised by our lawyers that that is effectively sublicensing your rights to social networks. So, we have to get fans to our own website, to consume the content.
We can only publish videos on our website at midnight on the day of the game. They would first be uploaded by [host broadcaster] Infront at their media centre and we would need to get those videos, edit them and publish them. But the law prevents us from publishing this on social networks.
We use some videos to let fans vote on the best goal and the best save of the match day. Those videos come from our web video player. We have a humorous strand called ‘Mai Dire Serie B’, with the funniest incidents from the most recent games, which we edit internally. We have a strand called ‘It happened on this day’ to celebrate important anniversaries.
We would like to produce content from the clubs’ own digital departments, content that can tell a story about the players, behind-the-scenes and so on. This would enable us to avoid any problems with video coming from matches. We would also like to work on archive footage of games from last season, but we need authorisation. The rights to the archive games belong to state broadcaster Rai, Infront, and the clubs.
Video is an area we need to work on. Producing and distributing video needs time and resources. It’s a work in progress.
We know what we want to do but we have to wait on some answers from the legal department about what is possible.
As things stand, the advice we have is that uploading video content from matches to social media website, because of the combination of the platforms’ terms and conditions and the specifications of the Italian law, constitutes a breach of the existing law.
Facebook’s terms and conditions say the following:
“You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition: For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”
The Melandri law has a blanket prohibition on companies who acquire rights sublicensing them to third parties. The permission sought by Facebook is not one the league is legally entitled to give.
The social/digital team at Serie B
• Two people directly working on digital and social, with help from two in the press office, plus a supplier, Sportsuite.
I do the strategy and coordination and work with the suppliers. We have one other person working with me. Digital and social is connected to communication, so we have two people in the press office who are also involved.
We also have an agreement with an external company, Sportsuite, for our digital activities. We have agreed a three-year contract with them. They help and support us to manage the social media channels of the league. They create the graphics, which cover things like the managers, player’s birthdays, big developments of the day, press conferences, the tables and so on. This kind of output is real-time and never stops, it carries on over the weekend. So, we need professional help and support.
The roles of Infront and Perform in creating content
• Infront Sports & Media produces match video coverage.
• Perform operates Serie B’s online video player, which is available on the league website and third-party websites, such as newspapers.
Perform is the provider of our e-Player. We have a deal with them for the commercialisation and distribution of this content. They get the content from [host broadcaster] Infront. They commercialise that content on their ePlayer in the Italian territory. It contains match highlights, best saves, best goals, plus original content from the league.
We also do lots of things with the clubs. For example, clubs will spend a day dedicated to their local communities and we get content from that. We can add our original content to championship content uploaded by Perform.
We embed the ePlayer on our website. We have a playlist, in which we have extracted the videos from the player. So, you can access videos without going into the ePlayer.
Digital media commercial model
• Perform pays Serie B a fee for the right to place Serie B content in the ePlayer, and distribute the player to third-party publishers; the two parties split revenue above a certain target.
• Serie B’s title sponsor has its branding on the videos carried by the league website.
• The costs of Serie B digital and social activity currently outweigh direct revenues.
We get a minimum guarantee from Perform, who then distribute the player. There is a revenue share above a certain target.
The revenue we earn from this deal does not enable us to cover the costs of our overall social media distribution strategy.
We also produce revenue from branded content, with ConTe.it. That is the title sponsor of the championship. We have their logo at the introduction to most pieces of video content and on the bottom of the video screen. Serie B ConTe.it appears everywhere our logo is used.
If you take into account all of our internal and external resources, the costs are higher than the direct revenues. We understand that we are investing money without a short-term return on investment. Understanding the ROI from social media is difficult.
Sponsor value remains ‘theoretical’
• Serie B does not think that its fees from central sponsors fully reflect the value the brands are getting from digital media exposure.
• The league started its current digital programme in 2014. It is still in an early phase. It expects to start making profits from it in the next two years.
• Most of its clubs do not invest much in digital due to the cost – they focus on improving sporting performance.
Taken together – the Perform deal and the branded content – we are probably producing a value which is higher than what we are spending. But this is theoretical.
A recent study from Repucom told us that we produce substantial media value on social media for our title sponsor. This doesn’t translate into a cash figure. The title sponsor pays for the right to be title sponsor. This is part of the inventory. Probably, at the moment, their level of investment doesn’t reflect the value that we have given them with social media.
In future, we want to be able to make our sponsors understand and pay for this value. The problem is that you do not always speak the same language as the person on the other side of the table. Sponsors have their own commercial logic and strategies and related budgets.
We are doing a lot of things now so that we can show that they bring value to a sponsor, but it is not automatic that they will understand this and will be willing to value these efforts.
But we can’t not be on a platform like Facebook, which is used by most of our fans. And if you want to have an official presence on the main social media channels, you need to do it professionally. Doing it professionally requires resources, in terms of people and time. And that costs money.
We started the current digital programme in the middle of 2014. We knew that it was a development phase, in which we were planting the seeds – and that would require investment. The level of investment is not that high. Our budget for league activities is not big. All the revenues we produce are distributed to the clubs. Each club pays a registration fee to the league which helps finance the operation of the league. The degree of digitalisation at the clubs, and their sensitivity to the need to spend money on this area, is quite low. Their priority is to put out a good team on the field, not building a strong digital team.
Starting from 2014, there had to be an implementation and development phase, and then in two to four years’ time, start making revenues.
• Social media activity is made tricky by seven clubs being either promoted or relegated each year.
Research shows that 10 million Italians are interested in Serie B, of whom 80 per cent – 8 million – say they are ‘very engaged’. The number of those who go to games or watch matches on TV is obviously much lower.
We increased the number of interactions (reactions, comments, shares, clicks on posts) on our social media channels by 57 per cent over the 12 months from April 2015 to April 2016. The number of impressions (the number of times a post/video has been seen) has increased from 7.6 million at the end of 2014 to 21.6 million in April 2016. By April 2016, we had a total reach (the number of fans or unique accounts that have had the chance to see a specific piece of social content) of 2.2 million people across all our platforms.
We have 250,000 followers on Facebook, 50,000 on Instagram and 20,000 on Twitter. We don’t use Google Plus and YouTube actively. We opened them for tactical reasons for certain broadcasts with a news value. But at the moment we prefer not to invest time and money in producing content for them.
Overall, the combined following on Facebook of all 22 Serie B clubs is about 1.1 million. So together with the league, that’s about 1.361 million, to end of October 2016.
The total followers of all clubs and the league across all platforms is 2.386m. However, that does not translate into 2.386 million individuals, as some may be followers on multiple platforms.
The Monthly Unique Users of the websites of the league and all its clubs is 1 million.
We publish an average of 130-140 social posts per week on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, excluding the Twitter live feed of matches and the retweets. We produce eight to 10 videos per week.
The idea is to work closely with the clubs to create a centralised platform and CRM, so that when we go to sponsors we can aggregate the numbers. The idea is to leverage the numbers of all together and present the sponsors a different story. This work is in its early stages.
But every season, seven clubs go up or down – that’s a 33-per-cent turnover. It’s hard to agree long-term plans, especially when you are dealing with innovative long-term projects. It’s easier said than done!
Analytics being upgraded
• Serie B is planning to upgrade its investment in social media analytics, aiming to produce a single customer view.
• One of its plans is to have a single CRM shared with clubs, as there is a lot of crossover between followers of the clubs and league.
We don’t have a tool for analysing social media in an integrated way. This is something we might invest in in the future. Last season, with a new editorial calendar we started to produce much more content on Facebook, which is by far our main channel. Fans from each club tell the story of why they are a fan of that club.
We use the analytics provided by each social media platform. We haven’t yet determined our KPIs about this. We are not able now to have a single overview of the analytics across all platforms.
We need to work on the single identity of the fan. As there is probably a lot of crossover between the followers of club and league, and on the various platforms. Most of the clubs do not have CRMs in place.
We need to work with the clubs on a strategy which enables us to develop a CRM system that can be centralised, which allows each club its own autonomy, and which allows the league to have a broader vision and to use the data with sponsors.