Leicester City’s fairytale victory in this year’s Premier League is almost without precedent in modern sport, as is their rise in worldwide social media following. By investing time and resources into its digital channels, Leicester City now have the opportunity to turn this new found attention, into a loyal international fan base.
For five months of last season, the Foxes were propping up the rest of the Premier League but since winning their last 9 games to stay up, they haven’t stopped winning, on the pitch, commercially and digitally. Since we started working with Leicester City in the early part of this season we’ve watched their remarkable winning streak propel them to the top of the world’s most watched league, one that is broadcast in 212 countries via 80 different broadcasters, giving their digital metrics a steroid injection as a result. In August the club were in the relegation zone of our Premier League ranked by social following (taking into account total followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).
Premier League Club Total Followers August 2015
In the intervening 8 months Leicester have moved up 11 places just below the ‘big six’ increasing their total social media audience by 518% from 736,554 to 4,556,411 – this jump is completely unparalleled.
Premier League Club Total Followers April 2016
The only other club to leapfrog another side this season is West Brom, who moved one place to go above Norwich City – LCFC have moved 11 places.
Admittedly from a much lower base, Leicester’s growth rate has been off the chart compared to the traditional ‘big six’ clubs.
Premier League 'Top Seven' Social Media Growth Percentages
Part of what has made this possible is the comparatively more equitable division of riches that occurs between Premier League clubs which has made the League as a whole more competitive. Note Arsène Wenger’s assertion that: “The Leicester example will happen more and more. Because the English clubs will get £100 million from television next year, they can buy anywhere in the world what they want. So I think the fact that the league will be more level is a necessity.”
But that doesn’t tell the whole truth, because clubs with similar resources aren’t doing nearly as well. Excluding the top 6, Leicester’s social performance is on a different trajectory to the rest of the Premier League Clubs.
Combined social growth trajectories Aug '15 - Apr '16 (excluding Big Six clubs)
Leicester’s audience growth has not come from a great awakening of passion in the East Midlands but from international growth, particularly in markets that have a particular interest in the club.
By performing well on the pitch, they have been featured more on television and in the general Premier League conversation – in effect, winning has given Leicester City the brand a fillip in the ‘attention economy’ we often speak about, a reason to stand out above the noise.
As we don’t publish private client data, we ran some counts on public analytics platform socialbakers which showed that there were roughly 28,000 LCFC Facebook fans in Algeria last August (Algeria is home to star player Riyad Mahrez). The total now stands at 555,689 – that’s growth of 1,884%. Leicester in total had roughly 484,600 fans in August, and now have 3,545,600 fans. That means 18% of Leicester's total growth came from Algeria.
Thailand, home to club owners King Power International and the Srivaddhanaprabha family, has contributed 124,471 new fans in the last 6 months, a growth of 107%. Overall Facebook growth in the period has been 2,885,037 new fans, so Thailand has been responsible for 4% of that growth.
Claudio Ranieri, Leicester’s affable manager has likely played a part in a spike in Leicester’s Italian audience. Fans from Italy have grown by 193,426 fans (2,219%) in the last 6 months. They now make up 6.7% of total Facebook page growth.
These (and deeper) kinds of digital analytics will allow Leicester City’s commercial team to focus their attention on key markets to develop global-local partnerships like Liverpool have done with airline Garuda on the strength of its Indonesian following and with coconut milk brand Chaokoh who are now Liverpool’s ‘official coconut water sponsor’, due in part to the club’s presence in Thailand.
Leicester City can now place themselves against some heritage football brands, including AS Monaco and FC Porto. These figures taken in February show Leicester’s ascent in Europe. Expect this to continue now they’ve secured Champions League status. Leicester now generate more revenue than famous clubs like Napoli, Valencia, Seville, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Lazio, Fiorentina, Marseille, Lyon, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Porto, Benfica and Celtic. Source
Leicester City vs selected European clubs' social media followers (Facebook, Twitter & Instagram)
Of course, you can't predict or control on-pitch performance, but you can make sure that you have the digital foundations in place to capitalise when things go well, and insulate against the bad times.
A club's YouTube channel for example, is a microcosm of this- by creating well-titled evergreen content you are already in position to take advantage of surges in search traffic when a player does something special.
The '5 at 5' series that LCFC started in February does just this; the player-specific compilations all get a boost whenever their subject subsequently hits the headlines for another great goal/ save/ contribution, and the regular weekly publishing schedule helps build and retain the channel's subscriber base.
When you're smiling.... The whole world smiles with you
The real skill in digital lies in converting and retaining all those ‘likes’ into loyal fans and dare we say it, customers. Whatever the numbers, the Leicester City brand is a new one to many people: the club will need to invest in its digital channels to embed its stories in its new fan communities to turn awareness into loyalty.
Only then will Leicester City be able to truly compete with the likes of Liverpool or Manchester United who have more sustained international exposure and a bigger, more loyal audience.
For now, congratulations to Leicester City, and we look forward to supporting their continued digital ascent.