Football has changed. Young fans are loyal to players not just clubs. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema play in the Roshn Pro League. Messi is going to Miami. According to our readers, Wrexham is a big six Premier League club (based on popularity of content on GOAL). The beautiful game is still beautiful but it looks different, and the change is accelerating.
At Footballco, we operate a global network of football publishers producing content, news, and video in 17 languages. This makes us the second largest sports publisher behind only ESPN, and the world leader in football consumption insights. For us, the Middle East is the most exciting and dynamic market for football this year.
The region was a priority before Ronaldo moved to Riyadh and likes of Qatar Sports Investments and the Abu Dhabi United Group were involved. The clue was the surge in fan attention on our Arabic portals and social accounts. Young fans were driving this growth – fans whose values, habits and preferences in football were and still are different.
This opportunity drove our decision to acquire Kooora in 2022. Now, Footballco operates the two most popular digital football media brands in MENA. We reach more than 60m fans each month, have more than 10m social followers and welcome more than 4.3m fans each month to our websites.
We’re not the only ones investing in the region. Since 2017 more than $15bn has been spent on football infrastructure in MENA. Growth in spending is matched by growth in fandom. Football fans in MENA have increased from 392m in 2020 to more than 524m today, according to GWI.
Our insights show fans are less tribal and more individual with tastes shaped by cultures and interests adjacent to football, such as fashion and gaming. More than half of fans now say they follow football for reasons outside of their favourite club.
There’s a growing significance of players and others who are driving the global narrative. Take a look at the surge in social followers for Al Nassr’s Instagram during Ronaldo’s first season (it grew by 13 times). Inter Miami are seeing similar increases.
Modern fans crave entertainment off the pitch as well as on it. Research shows that 41 per cent of fans say they could ‘easily’ substitute football with other forms of entertainment. To us that is a challenge to recruit the next generation of fans into football before they choose other interests.
We believe the secret to winning is to pull out the most human aspects of the sport. We have a global network of talented creators, voices, strategists, and leaders to ensure our content resonates with fans globally as well as across the MENA region.
We launched our Player-led Video (PLV) strategy based on the insight that players are the most important part of football for fans and to disrupt the post-match interview and provide original insights into players as people.
In nine months since launch, our formats, featuring players including Erling Haaland, Emi Martinez and Declan Rice have generated more than 300m views.
Ziad Khammar, COO DMS said: “We are thrilled to team up with Footballco, solidifying DMS’s commitment to exceptional brand experiences. With football standing as the foremost activity in the region, together, we will bring a fresh approach to sports marketing, blending global and local services to reshape the industry like never before.”
On Box to Box, we present players with mystery boxes containing items of interest to them — a childhood jersey, a career photo, their favourite snack. The players have no idea what’s in the boxes making for priceless reactions and original insights.
With Kit Collector, we use football shirt culture as a vehicle to explore a player’s career. They go through great kits, terrible kits, and those from their own career. Part football, part fashion.
Players aren’t the only source of entertainment. We also launched Fan Led Video (FLV) to hero the passion of fans everywhere. Our presenters travel to matches, tournaments, or crowded city centres to ask quick-fire quiz questions, source hot takes, or play ball games with fans.
The authentic moments we capture are perfect for short-form platforms like TikTok and Instagram. These videos were viewed over 500m times last season.
We’re also disrupting pre and post-match coverage. We reimagined studio punditry for the next generation. Our YouTube show YALLA GOAL has quickly become the most popular football show in Arabic.
Mixing studio production with pre-recorded segments, the series has been viewed more than 23m times with sponsored episodes created exclusively for partners like EA Sports.
Part of football’s allure is its unpredictability. One prediction we do feel confident in making is that football is going to grow even bigger in the Middle East. We have a responsibility to be a part of this growth and we’re excited that other stakeholders in this journey are evolving the sport alongside us.
By Footballco’s EVP of Content and Operations, James Lamon