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  • Writer's pictureArwel Jones

Growth of Digital at the UEFA Champions League Final

Club football does not get bigger than the UEFA Champions League, and this week the eyes of the footballing world and beyond will be on Kiev.

Tonight, Wolfsburg and Lyon kick off proceedings in the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final before the men take centre stage on Saturday as Liverpool and Real Madrid go head to head.

As just one element of Seven League’s long-standing work with UEFA we have been tasked over the last three years with looking at the UCL Final’s digital activations - at the game, in the host city and for fans around the world.

I have been lucky enough to be a part of that work. To have the final in my hometown of Cardiff last year was a special one to attend, and it also marked how far the digital experience to fans had evolved since the 2015 final in Berlin.

Here are a few key trends and developments we’ve picked out which continue to ensure the Champions League Final this weekend will not just be the hottest ticket in town, but also the hottest ticket online.

Facilitating a Fan’s Social Engagement

With the speed of change and development in technology, connectivity and social media since 2015, fan behaviours have changed hugely. Every fan has a high quality camera and video recorder in their pocket and they want to share with the world that they are at UEFA Champions League Final.

Over the years, UEFA have facilitated this by providing a variety of photo opportunities for fans across the city, from player cut outs, huge inflatable trophies to a personalised photo with the real thing. Importantly, these were accompanied with digital signage – telling fans where to share, who to tag and which hashtag to use.

It’s worth remembering that the content you create and publish on your own channels isn’t the only content that gets shared and viewed - facilitating authentic content uploads and ensuring this content is discoverable is just as valuable.

Often a missed opportunity at other events, UEFA have demonstrated the importance of a communication line into the event / city branding teams.

Breeding Ground of Innovation and Sponsorship Activation

The majority of on-site sponsor activations come at the Champions Festival – a feast of UEFA Champions League activities and experiences in the heart of the host city. The festival has also now become the place for innovation and sponsorship activations.

Both UEFA and sponsors have embraced new technologies to offer fans unforgettable experiences. Such examples include UEFA partnering with PlayStation on a dedicated Champions League Final VR experience, allowing fans to feel the emotion of lifting the trophy on pitch or indeed BT Sport’s activation enabling fans to attempt to recreate classic UEFA Champions League goals with the full video production team behind them.

Capturing the hearts and minds of fans in and around the city, we expect the festival to continue pushing the boundaries of on-site sponsorship activations. Finding the sweet spot between the physical and digital worlds can be challenging, but many of UEFA’s partners have embraced this challenge and delivered stunning results for their brands.

Staying on Trend

Embracing these changes and staying on trend has been vital to ensure that UEFA fully maximise the opportunity the reach and engagement with the final – after all, it would be easy for UEFA to rest on their laurels and bask in the successes of past events. Instead, UEFA have been proactive in adjusting to our industry’s most prominent trends.

Instagram has been a prime example of this, between 2015 and 2017 the number of monthly active users more than doubled and became the fastest growing and one of the most engaging social platforms in Sport.

Indeed, as seen in graph below at the end of each season, Instagram has consistently been the leading platform in terms of growth and has already grown by another 50% this season.

From having just half a million followers in 2015, the following Champions League account as of today stands at 22.2 million followers, now higher than that of Twitter.

As these conversations have shifted across platforms, UEFA has adjusted accordingly. But this isn’t just a reactive approach, it’s been part of a clear and focused digital strategy that benefits from identifying changes in user behaviours and consumption patterns early on and iterating strategy.

It means UEFA have been well-placed to take advantage of new and developing features on these social platforms – indeed the use of the stories feature on Instagram around the 2017 final put the Champions League account at the forefront of the fan conversation.

This engagement with Instagram was also reflected in the growth of players’ social channels where it was the dominant source of growth – 71% of Cristiano Ronaldo’s social growth during the final week last year was from Instagram.

Understanding The Audience

Utilising these new outlets and channels has allowed UEFA to deliver content to where their audiences are. There has been a huge uptake in the use of ambassadors and influencers over the years and in the encouragement of them to produce content for social channels.

Syndicating such content, or indeed creating original content with these influencers, has been a smart move and has been shown to help UEFA punch through the ever-changing social algorithms. Even further, it ensures that their content is reaching new and untapped audiences outside of their own channels.

The audience for the final is global, and content output reflects that with more and more localised and targeted content for key markets around the world. Geo-targeted posts to those key markets on Facebook for 2017 had grown 55% on the previous final.

Underpinning all content has been the rise and importance of video and this has been reflected in output, broadcasts, views, minutes watched and retention growing year on year. Video views in the first seven days of June last year (which included the final) were higher than any full month since July 2014. That’s some growth.

The Future

As the digital landscape changes around it, the UEFA Champions League Final continues to be a premier event both on and off the pitch. This year looks set to be bigger and better than ever and we look forward to witnessing this growth with our partners at UEFA.

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