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Trends & Insights | Blog

How fantasy football and social media formed a winning combination

August 8, 2019


The new Premier League season kicks off this weekend!

Mark Stuart

Senior Associate Director

The new Premier League season kicks off this weekend, which means millions of football fans and games players around the world will be frantically checking their phones to see how their fantasy teams are doing.

What started out as a niche hobby over 20 years ago, has been transformed over the past decade by apps, stats and social media. The official Fantasy Premier League game had more than six million sign-ups last season, and while a large proportion of those are casual players, there is a growing number who take it very seriously.

Why has it become so big? The first reason is perhaps the most obvious – demand. Football is the most popular sport in the world, and its fans and supporters are among some of the most engaged communities in the world, especially on social media. Then there’s the explosion of data in the game, which has made it far more analytical than a decade ago, giving players loads of stats to pore over. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the rise of digital content and the growing number of social media platforms has created a perfect opportunity for growth.

Social game

Over the past decade the rise of fantasy football has grown in tandem with the rise of social media engagement on platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and, more recently, private social networks such as WhatsApp and Slack.

Many football fans created fantasy football content websites to justify their interest in the game. In recent years these fun side projects have escalated into full-blown businesses. Fantasy Football Scout is perhaps the biggest, with more than 103k Twitter followers, 25k YouTube subscribers, and thousands of content subscribers who pay a small charge for an annual pass to stats tables, member articles, community chat and more.

As its community has grown from a few hundred people watching a weekly YouTube hangout, to tens of thousands following and viewing its articles and videos, so has its editorial team. It now features a host of social content writers, presenters, and influencers.

Fantasy Football Hub runs on a similar model: lots of free articles and videos, coupled with premium content for subscribers who want access to stats, planning spreadsheets, and even private WhatsApp and Slack groups.

As fantasy players increasingly turn to private social networks to discuss topics and share content with friends, family and like-minded communities, the fantasy football content creators have seized on the opportunity, pivoting to whatever channel works best and monetising it.

Twitter still remains a key driver though, and a thriving free discussion platform for fantasy football, with people posting their team pics in their timelines, and thousands of dedicated accounts chatting about the game 24/7. Log on to Twitter at 3pm on a Saturday and search ‘FPL’ if you don’t believe me...

The immediacy and real-time nature of Twitter and football has given rise to fantasy football influencers on the platform. People such as @FPLGeneral (66k followers), @BenCrellin (39k followers) and @BenDinnery (104k followers) who would previously have spent time in forums offering their thoughts and opinions, now have people hanging on their every tweet, injury update, and transfer planning tip.

Content creators on YouTube are also growing in popularity. With large dedicated audiences tuning in several times a week to watch live broadcasts, people like Andy (@LetsTalk_FPL), who has more than 27k followers on Twitter and 36k+ subscribers on his YouTube channel, have become stars in their own right. He also has his own Patreon channel for people to support his work.

The Patreon platform has in fact become a key content strategy for many in the fantasy community, with creators offering exclusive content for audiences who pay monthly subs.  

Team tactics

Fantasy football content has flourished because of social, but the creators have done a great job of reacting well to what works well on social, and adding features that are helping to build their business. It’s a modern example of how a small enterprise can spring up from a niche hobby with a perfect content marketing mix.

If you’re a digital-first brand looking to scale up via content marketing and social media, here are a few lessons to be learned from the fantasy football world:

  1. Identify and publish to the right social platforms for your audiences. Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp have become the go-to places for fantasy football chat and content. Don’t fret over ignoring a popular platform that doesn’t work for the topic.
  2. Create regular content. The success of fantasy websites and influencers is down to  the relentless cycle of news, views, vlogs and podcasts. They cater to the audience’s insatiable appetite for content. It also helps to be an active member of the community too – so be sure to engage with audiences directly on social media.
  3. Sometimes the simplest content works best. A quick tweet such as “The first person in your fantasy football team is…” can lead to hundreds of responses. It doesn’t have to be a professionally produced infographic or a polished video piece.
  4. Don’t be afraid to charge for content, especially if the community wants it. A mix of free and paid content drives interest, builds a following, and rewards both dedicated audiences (and your business) by offering the extra bells and whistles that people will gladly pay for!

Whatever your business, getting the right content mix and social media strategy can be the key to unlocking brand engagement, building a community, and helping drive commercial success.