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UEFA Euro Cup 2012 in the Social Media Era

Euro CupIt’s been a whiplash-inducing ride watching the Euro Cup for the past nine days, and I mean ‘watching’ them on Twitter! Nowadays, it’s not just a simple act of going to your local pub, paying for the pay-per-view fees they charge for admission and relishing your favorite pint while watching a match here and there with other rabid fans.

It’s a far more enhanced experience these days as the growth of soccer support in the US has grown remarkably for the Landon Donovan generation of fans! Thinking back to how I spearheaded 2010 World Cup watch parties in the scientific research building where I worked and how similar setups sparked micro soccer environments around the country to build from grassroots, to seeing how all around me now there is Euro2012 fever, I’m deeply honored to have the opportunity to write this.

Social Media and the Euro Cup 2012

But, back to the social media sector, which is at the crux of my efforts. Imagine the scenario where more and more people are watching games going on simultaneously on multiple sources: TV, internet feeds, live-blogging, tweeting, Facebook posting. That’s really what’s happened this time around. Some of us have been working our way towards this moment for the past two years, to fully master the art of managing viewing and interacting on multiple platforms all for the sake of building the soccer movement.

Let’s discuss the team and player coverage on social media for a moment. Up until Day 1 of the tournament, June 11, England dominated social media markets, leading on Facebook with the largest fan base at 1.45 million, dominating on Twitter with 165,000 followers and even on YouTube with 37.4 million channel subscribers. Check out this infographic detailing each Euro Cup team’s social media efforts:

Euro Cup

It’s All Greek to Me

Meanwhile, Greece landed at #15 on the list of Facebook fans, with a mere 3,071, but startlingly had the highest Facebook engagement rate. Let’s look at the numbers now. After all, both teams had huge wins this weekend: Greece taking favored Russia out of the running and England ending Sweden’s hopes in a hard-fought, heart-pumping match that ended in England’s first win in this tournament. So one would assume, things could change for Greece and England on social media fronts.

Not too stellar for Greece’s Facebook presence barely moved: 3,995 likes. 3,996 now, because of me. Also I’m disappointed by my inability to read Greek – their website is in beta format still, which is enough to paint a picture of their efforts on the media front. However, I feel quite sad for the Greek tragedy that is their football club’s social media sector. I’ll still be watching them as they face off against the titans in Germany. And I finally did find the Hellenic Football Association on Twitter (@epogr). They’re at a somber 924 followers. Probably because it’s impossible for fans to find them.

England Reigns

Euro CupEngland has continued building their fan base up to 1,507,548 likes! Over 109,000 people are “talking” about them right now as I write this. As for the news and Twitter feeds in the English soccer realm, it’s all in sync. Biggest news: Rooney is coming back after a 2-game suspension; Walcott scored the winning goal against Sweden, and seemingly lost his title of  ‘wallflower’ (I’m obviously taking that to task, since Arsenal occupies a special and large space in my heart). Even their cover photo on Facebook speaks volumes to the fans – grit, determination, focus and passion for the game. They’ve got an easy to find link to their Twitter and other media pages too.

Thankful for this, I become a fan out of gratefulness, making myself Twitter follower #178,122. While researching England’s football social media blitz, I came across this article in The Guardian, which describes a bit of the social media content analysis that Meltwater Buzz has been dissecting. According to an analysis of over 80,000 Twitter messages mentioning the England football team, the results are remarkable on two fronts: 1) that’s an incredible # of mentions in just a fortnight, and 2) that they are overwhelmingly positive messages – all before their huge win over Sweden. I can’t wait to see the numbers from this weekend!

Cristiano Ronaldo

Moving along, another of the predicted title contenders, Holland, crashed out Sunday July 17th, as they lost their third straight match of the tournament to Portugal, thanks to a whopping performance by Cristiano Ronaldo. Do I really need to tell you how many Twitter followers he has? Just to end your torture, sure, 10.6 million. And yes, he tweets pics of him and his teammates all the time, on the bus, practicing and having a blast. He celebrates his fans and gives them what they crave, a little attention and Twitter love. All, like a pro.

Great Danes?

And poor Denmark, whose Twitter ban remained intact throughout their showing at the Euro this year, didn’t last past this weekend in the toughest group, with a resilient 2-1 loss to Germany on Sunday. And by the way, Die Nationalmannschaft on Facebook has a stunning 1.42 million fans, with their Twitter following at a less stunning, but respectable 144,708.

Television Coverage and “The Second Screen” effect

Euro CupThe TV coverage by ESPN has also been receiving stellar support, averaging about 1.33 million viewers per game within the first few days. This is over a 210% boost in viewership from the 2008 Championship and pretty impressive given the US is not even competing in this tournament! How has social media aided in boosting these numbers? The mere fact that the players themselves tout upcoming matches and rivalries on Twitter contributes to a lot of the fervor and resulting ratings.

Remember how Spain’s management tried to ban their players from social media right before the tournament so their players could focus on capturing the title?

Well, that lasted all about 3 days until popular tweeting international players like Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata, Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes returned to their starving Twitter followers with eagerness letting us know, cause unknown, that the ban was lifted! “Good news! Finally we are allowed to use social networks so we will be in contact during the Euro Cup! We keep in touch!” (Fabregas, Twitter).

Meanwhile, Spain’s Facebook likes are up a bit since the onset of the tournament, to 320K, not to worry though, their club teams more than make up for this deficit, Barca and Real Madrid both stand at 4-5 million Twitter followers, making the argument that the Spanish National Team really needs to capitalize on the magic of La Liga’s Spanish players followers and fans.

For instance, this weekend, we had the Ireland-Spain mega match in which Spain outperformed all teams in soccer history by completing an unprecedented 860 passes! Twitter exploded with the news of Spain’s epic win and Ireland’s devastating loss. But, looking back to Ireland before their annihilation by Spain, AerTV Sports, their online sports service provider, secured record-breaking viewing figures since it launched in 2011, with over 10,000 people tuning in to the service for the match.

Even more telling is that 1 in 3 of these viewers watched on a mobile device. AerTV stations can be viewed from any device connected to the Internet without the use of a set-top box, satellite dish, cable, or even a TV set. The service is available worldwide, broadcasting 24 hours a day. I imagine, had this service been made available for all the Euro matches here in the US, we’d have a similar percentage on our mobiles sneaking in a game here and there while at work.

Recap

I’d never be the one to tell you to discount the importance of social media tools – fan engagement results in higher viewership and more ticket sales, are among the most obvious reasons any respectable football team would need/want to have their players and teams represented efficiently and passionately. I choose to believe in the power it has to grow my favorite sport, bring it to all of us, regardless of whether we are near a tv or have a computer. After all, few of us have the luxury of having three weeks off to watch the Euros. Lucky for me, my favorite sports writers, bloggers, broadcasters, players and teams all tweet to keep me informed minute-by-minute. Are you one of the lucky ones, or are you disappointed in your team’s social media coverage?

What are your thoughts on the television coverage and social media efforts by teams in the Euro Cup 2012? Leave us your comments below or tweet us!

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