Opinion | How the Pogba-Stormzy video created a space race in player announcements

The unveiling of a new star opens up a new world of opportunity in the social media age, says Richard Clarke

The new signing at the top table was clear. “This trade is a blessing,” he said. Surrounded by the usual press conference paraphernalia – microphones, product from the team’s drinks partner and logo-splattered backdrop – he went on: “I’m ready to grind, Rip City. I think I can make an immediate impact out on the floor.”

Guard Tim Quarterman had gone to the Houston Rockets to make this particular National Basketball Association (NBA) trade happen, but, according to their official Twitter feed, the Portland Trail Blazers seemed happy with their end of the deal – even if it was the “cash considerations”, aka the money they made out of the trade, that they were most pleased with.

While useful, paying a cheque into the bank is not that sexy for the fans slavering for trading activity during the window, a period that often coincides with season-ticket renewals, of course.

But the Trail Blazers’ social media team had a solution. They mocked up pictures from a fake press conference for a big sack of dollars – mics, drinks, backdrop, the lot. The humour was so on-point that others riffed on it. A basketball stats site made a profile page for the swag bag; another mocked up shirts with “Considerations” on the back.

Football teams have not quite reached that point yet. However, a ‘space race’ has developed over announcing major new signings.

The checklist used to be simple. Photos holding a scarf, shaking the gaffer’s hand and displaying a shirt complete with name and number. That, plus an interview consisting of 50-per-cent platitudes, 50-per-cent optimism, and it was ‘job done’.

However, in the last couple of years the club’s need for that wow factor to herald an announcement has superseded some waning concerns about getting exclusive quotes for their own publications

While the news is always pre-empted by the press, the announcements of big signings remain the most viral social media posts in sport and many key areas of the club have a stake.

The club’s commercial department want to give value to their shirt-front sponsor, ticketing spies the potential for a sales campaign, communications hope for positive PR, the digital team can grow their followership and the board are looking for everyone to get off their case for five… damn… minutes.

But amid the cacophony of social media it is getting harder to create a cut-through, so clubs are getting more creative. The trend probably started last year, when  Stormzy ‘accidentally’ posted a video of him rapping alongside a dancing Paul Pogba. The musician was in a Manchester United kit with the player’s name on his back. It was quickly deleted, but the story was out and, naturally, went viral.

The club officially released the clip the next day and it would receive 6m views on Twitter within 24 hours. By comparison, the video announcements of Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) and John Stones (Manchester City) combined would garner a fifth of that number.

So this year we have seen Liverpool announce Mohamed Salah’s arrival, with the player himself scrolling down tweets imploring the club to complete the transfer. Meanwhile, his former club, Roma, revealed the signing of Lorenzo Pellegrini by posting a video of the player guiding himself to score for the Giallorossi on the Fifa video game.

Other efforts have not quite hit the mark, especially when they have taken a humorous route. In my experience, this always leaves a portion of your fans scratching their heads and can be subject to, sometimes wilful, misinterpretation by the wider media.

Aston Villa’s announcement of John Terry with a staged WhatsApp conversation between manager Steve Bruce and owner Tony Xia fell into this category. Likewise, Crystal Palace revealed the news of the appointment of their new manager via a video of ‘papal’ white smoke over a Caribbean takeaway restaurant. The only proviso here is that neither the tweet nor the smoke announced the actual name of the appointee.

The actual news itself was published more sedately later on, with Frank de Boer and chairman Steve Parish holding shirts in front of branded backdrops.

Of course, outside the Premier League elite, social media teams are still sadly and surprisingly understaffed. Many lack the resources to employ agencies to help to finesse a flashy unveiling. But the strength of an idea can turn a digital David into a Goliath with a global resonance.

Therefore, I tip my hat to Yeovil Town, who announced the free transfer of Jake Gray through the use of Snapchat’s new geolocation tool. They zoomed in to reveal the player avatars at Huish Park before flipping to a video of Gray himself, who said hello from the centre circle.

It was hardly Pogba, Stormzy and adidas, but it was an intelligent, cost-effective use of social media that brought them a disproportionate amount of attention.

And that remains the sweet spot for social media in sport.
Richard Clarke is a digital and social media consultant. He holds the distinction of having run the social media accounts at major football clubs in the Premier League and MLS, having worked for EPL club Arsenal and MLS club the Colorado Rapids. @MrRichardClarke

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