A few weeks ago, I was asked to moderate an interview on one of Nigeria’s leading football WhatsApp groups, Nigeria Football Support Platform (NFSP). The guest was Mario Leo, founder of RESULT Sports, one of the leading digital agencies working in sports. Being a digital researcher in sports myself, I have followed their work over the last two years and it was a great opportunity to converse with Mario about some of the work he is doing and the opportunities for digital in Nigerian and African sport.
Lolade Adewuyi: While I am a keen follower of your work at RESULT Sports, for many people that are just getting to know you, can you please tell us more about what you do at RESULT Sports?
Mario Leo: I founded RESULT Sports in 2008 and the sole focus and purpose of RESULT is to unlock the digital potential for athletes, clubs, leagues and federations. We have our own in-house monitoring system where we follow the digital events on 28 social platforms, the mobile app space and of course the internet of things. We work today with 35 clubs in eight European football leagues, plus Fluminense in Brazil. We build and support the execution of the digital strategy, we measure reach and engagement impact on the local, regional, national and global level. This monitoring enters into a digital asset catalogue and provides clubs, leagues and federations with a new revenue stream. We release twice a year a Global Digital Football Benchmark Report to a global audience. I personally launched now an initiative called “From Africa For Africa”, where I would like to share our knowledge and work with federations, leagues and clubs to bring African football and the huge potential into the global football map.
LA: May I ask, for the person who is hearing about digital and sports for the first time, what is digital? Why is it important for sport?
ML: Digital is anything happening on social networks, especially the big four (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter) and the internet. The Mobile device is huge in Africa, especially in Nigeria. To give you an example – currently, Enyimba leads the digital NPFL ranking with about 100,000 followers on social media. When Victor Moses signed for Chelsea, 2.3 million Nigerians became fans of Chelsea within ten days of his signing. Digital is everything online – and it happens so fast. So it is crucial to get this topic onto the club agenda and have a strategy for it. We want to raise awareness, support initiatives and especially the NPFL, its clubs and the Super Eagles have such an amazing [fan base] so we must unlock the potential.
LA: Looking at the low figures for Enyimba on social media compared with the number of Nigerians that followed Chelsea via Victor Moses, what do you think NPFL clubs and the Super Eagles can do to harness and unlock the potentials in digital?
ML: One challenge is the resources, the current knowledge of the potential and the methods, including content. Digital and all social media channels act as marketing research tools. Why is “Visit Rwanda” on the sleeve of Arsenal jerseys? [It is] because Arsenal can prove to the Rwandan authorities how many people they reach and how many people are willing to come to Rwanda for a holiday. It’s all possible in digital. Current communication by [Nigerian] clubs is mainly or solely on match days, that’s it. But the clubs have so many stories to share -the role they play in their community, the programmes they offer for children and so on. The editorial planning is an important part – they must not offer the same content on all channels.
LA: Do tell, how many people on the average manage the social media channels of the big clubs in Europe? And how can NPFL teams improve in the face of tight resources?
ML: One challenge the European teams have identified and solved is the following: the Media & Communications department has been the only cost centre in a club. Because Marketing earns money with sponsors, Ticketing through selling tickets, Merchandise by selling merchandise. Since all want to sell products and present partners on social media and website, the communications team got a service fee allocation. So it is not a cost centre, but a service department. And it’s not only journalistic – to spread information, but to strategically plan, which content comes to which platform. With this change, true growth was enabled. Manchester City has 55 people in their digital department offering 16 languages and reaching every day millions of people in any language. The eight quarterfinal teams of UEFA Champions League all have more than 20 people allocated to this role. These numbers are high but don’t forget, they have been growing now for 8 years. It’s an evolution. I don’t want Africa and Nigeria to fall behind. The opportunity is out there – we just need to realize the potential, define a clear plan and strategy and execute to become the leading nation in West Africa. But it’s not only European teams – look at Al Ahly, but Zamalek, Raja Casablanca – lots of North African teams also have a huge following already. Newer teams like Pyramids FC or Cape Town City FC are building their brand around the digital opportunity.LA: The Ghanaian clubs are already doing better than NPFL clubs, so we have a lot to catch up on in the West African market. A question now from Andrew Randa: What are the recent trends in digital sports you reckon will be a major factor in the industry in the coming years?
ML: The biggest one is certainly that the mobile device (smartphone) will be the dominant device of the future. The latest content trend goes away from pure information sharing, attendance, goals, results – it’s about entertaining the audience. Each platform in use gets a role:
Facebook = Highlight Channel
Instagram = Entertainment Channel
Twitter = Live News Channel
YouTube = Video Archive
Monetizing digital, sponsors becoming presenting partners for the content or virtual player sponsors – all these are areas of quick growth at the moment
LA: Now let’s talk about monetization, this has been on top of the discussion of digital media for brands. How are the leading European clubs monetizing their huge following and what can we learn locally?
ML: Here are four examples of how AS Roma integrates sponsors on their content formats on digital channels. Each sponsor pays an annual fee, depending on the format and frequency. But in general we talk about for one format, let’s take the team line up for about USD$60k per season, and that’s non-exclusive. So a car manufacturer like Hyundai presents all score update formats. All sponsors do get an image transfer of their brand and product. Their benefit, the emotions and passion of sports. Sport, especially football has a huge societal impact, sponsors are keen.
LA: That is an interesting way to monetize social media for clubs and leagues
ML: Yes, we work since 2014 in this area and we can provide a content catalogue. The benefit we bring additionally: since we monitor we know exactly the average reach and engagement this format gets. So we set the expectations and if we overachieve the anticipated results, we negotiate a bonus.
LA: So this is negotiated as a package in the original sponsorship deal?
ML: In principle, yes, but it’s a new sponsorship layer, which is often much higher than selling signboards in the stadium because the sponsor knows [not] too many people are at the game. But digital we can measure every click and ensure to reach the 100K. The main sponsor and the kit supplier are exclusive. They are usually granted digital rights, but all other formats are to be sold.
LA: Another question from our audience, Andrew Randa asks: The Nigerian business community needs a lot of convincing to key into the potentials that exist in digital sports marketing. How do you suggest the clubs go about building their numbers that can help attract sponsorship?
ML: That is a very good question by Andrew. The convincing comes, because of the limited digital growth. Often people try quick actions, but we really recommend an overall strategy and plan. Where does the club want to be in six or twelve months? How can the player help to reach performance? How the league? On the pitch, the clubs compete, but in digital they don’t. The league needs to become a competence team, support the clubs – allow the fans to identify with the content and team. Don’t be afraid of frustrating comments, all people, especially fans want to (constantly) win and succeed. I would recommend an overall workshop in the very near future, where the league and clubs come together and we determine the opportunities.
LA: Nigerian singer Davido just clocked 10m followers on Instagram, why do you think Nigerian sports people and clubs are struggling to make an impact?
ML: Because the content is not steady, it’s too much match day driven. And when you lose the game, the fans don’t want to engage. The Nigerian Music Industry is doing very, very well – they are seen so big, so many US artists want to access the Nigerian Market, they use Davido – so it’s becoming a win-win. We need to support the media team with knowledge, ideas and basic toolset. The clubs compete on the pitch. But in digital we can all work together for football to succeed.
LA: Are social media channels reducing the need for club websites?
ML: I wouldn’t agree because club websites are often the point of sale for tickets or merchandise. The website needs to be nicely integrated into the communications and marketing strategy. Social media is where the audience is – they talk about you. So we need to talk to and with them to bring them into our communities. And I believe social media brings a higher chance to reach a bigger audience than the local journalist.
LA: A question from Tunde Akinbinu: Social media can be very rowdy. People can sometimes employ ugly language in exhibiting their passion. That may make the job of social media managers very difficult or could create an often distasteful situation whether on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. It is worse on WhatsApp. How do you recommend that this is best managed?
ML: I agree with Tunde. But as I mentioned just before, if you don’t direct the discussions or communications, have a clear plan, create a framework of how to “be together” a guideline – then you will never succeed. It’s a social living framework, based on respect, tolerance and a democratic opinion – although the club, league or federation dictates the topics in the editorial planning. If you don’t post steady you don’t get it resolved – it requires a clear plan, a wide variety of topics, then you can “calm the complainers” and show them the huge path of improvements
LA: Now we know that digital is a growing part of the sports ecosystem, how can sports media professionals, journalists transform their skills into the new era?
ML: The frequency of change and being able to change to new methods is a foundation, that’s what digital brings along. My vision for Africa is to really be able to show the world the huge talent, the passion of its people and the amazing sports potential. Be curious about new things, be open – don’t jump quickly into a conclusion, but evaluate what could fit, what works and what creates a huge impact.
LA: Another question from Tunde Akinbinu: What is the social media presence of the Nigerian National Senior Male Team, and using it is an example, how might it be best monetized, digitally I mean?
ML: The Super Eagles have the best opportunity at the moment due to the number of fans already following on the individual platforms. Here we would identify the recurring content and value it, create a content catalogue and approach agencies of sponsors or potential sponsors directly. But I am 100% convinced we can get much more than the 1.5million followers now. My goal is to have 10 million by the end of 2019.
LA: When you compare our population with the other countries, even the Super Eagles are under-followed. How do we turn our large population into followers on social media?
ML: I agree – as I mentioned, I see more huge numbers for the Super Eagles. For example when the World Cup shirt was released how quickly the attention of the entire world was focused on Nigeria and the Super Eagles. We have to create those moments for the fans, they need to see the Super Eagles as a digital master class. We need to tell the world about the players, their heritage, the uniqueness – how the name came about, why the players are proud to represent their country. This pride comes back to the people of Nigeria. There is so much more – a workshop collects all these ideas, brings them into a plan and strategy and then we determine our goals for the next six, twelve and eighteen months
LA: Which club impresses you the most with its digital strategy and engagement with fans that can be used as a case study from around the world?
ML: There are a number of clubs and also some of them we work with and are proud to see the outcome – like the AS Roma English Twitter Profile. All football fans around the world look at this profile, even though the majority is not interested in Roma. The Chelsea Instagram channel is quite good – the use of features is fine. But there are also a big amount of other clubs and federations which are doing great. Look at Iceland.
LA: It’s interesting you mentioned Roma, they have won all our hearts even when we don’t care for the team. But that’s the power of social media and having a great strategy.
ML: Agreed! We work with Roma a lot.
LA: As we round up, do leave us a final thought about the future of digital and sports and what impact we can achieve if gotten right?
ML: I personally believe that Nigerian sports and especially football can be the absolute leader in the digital space in Africa and amongst the Top 20 in the world. Look at the entertainment side of Nigeria – they are leading the way. We can catch them and bypass them because football has a lot more opportunity
LA: Thanks for your insight Mario, I’ve really enjoyed having this chat with you. Thanks to everyone that contributed questions. And thank you all for reading through.
ML: Thank you so much for having me, great conversation.
Let’s make the conversation social, follow me on Twitter @Jololade