Last week, I watched in amazement as a Manchester United fan passionately cheered and prayed that Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus would score a hattrick. In my confusion, I asked why a United fan would so badly want a City player to succeed. “He’s in my fantasy team,” he said.
That’s the power of digitalization. Several thousands of miles away, and this fan is not only connected to his favorite club, but all of his other favorite players in the English Premier League through the Fantasy League app.
All around the world, digital media is changing the sports experience and transforming the sporting landscape. Sadly, the Ghana Premier League has failed spectacularly to take advantage of this new media to reach new audience.
According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), there are nearly ten million internet users in Ghana as at June 2017. In other words, a whopping 34.7% of Ghana’s population uses the internet on a daily basis. Of this number, four million of them are on Facebook alone– representing 14%.
With attendance to Ghana premier league matches continuously on the decline, I don’t see the sense in the GPL’s failure to embrace and invest in reaching the digital audience. Globally, with the proliferation of HDTVs, smartphones and social media, attendance to stadia is on the decline. This has forced so many leagues across the world to evolve and embrace new forms of marketing their products to the public.
To lure fans to a game against the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, the Phoenix Suns offered a money-back guarantee on tickets, promising that fans could get a refund if they weren’t satisfied with the team’s performance.
The EPL is the most popular league in the world but that has not stopped them from actively involved in social media for example. Every day, the EPL’s twitter handle is flooded with tweets and short catchy videos – whether it’s celebrating an old hero of the league or merely reminding followers of a particular day in the history of the league – the premier league’s sixteen million followers on twitter are staying closer to their favorite league.
The GPL only created a twitter handle last year with just over 11,000 followers. But don’t get your hopes high because that twitter handle is as quiescent as an employees’ Whatsapp group with the CEO in it. The last tweet was over 6 days ago at the time of writing. With so many twists and turns heading to the final round of matches in the Ghana Premier League, followers of that handle were deserted and left in total darkness.
The Ghana Premier League’s Facebook account is largely inactive with their last post to their 13,000 followers coming way back in August. In comparison, their compatriots in Nigeria – League Management of Nigeria – managers of the Nigerian Professional League, has over 70,000 followers on twitter and a further 38,000 likes on Facebook.
The Nigeria premier league ended in September, just before the start of the WAFU 2017 tournament. But check their handle, and you’d find a tweet few hours ago on the Nigeria Professional League. Social Media is a full-time job for leagues the world over. The Ghana premier league hasn’t even taken it seriously enough to be considered a part time job to them.
Apart from the obvious benefits of reaching a much younger and vibrant audience with social media, building a huge following on that platform has the potential to increase the league’s commercial value.
In 2014 for example, FC Barcelona engaged sports marketing agency IMG to examine what value social media adds to its shirt sponsorship rights.
Over one weekend, there were 61 million web impressions of the Qatar Foundation’s sponsorship of the club’s shirts, causing Barcelona to renegotiate their deal with the Foundation.
During the WAFU 2017 tournament, the Ghana Football Association’s communications department was heavily involved in developing a social media strategy for the tournament. People were hired specifically for that purpose and they executed WAFU’s tournament coverage on social media excellently. So it’s not an issue of personnel; it’s one of a disinterest, and that’s destroying our league.
Another entity that has surprisingly not taken digital and social media seriously is the media sponsor of the GPL – StarTimes Ghana. All around the world, sponsors have played a massive role in the promotion of competitions they sponsor with short video previews, interviews, reactions posted on social media so fans can access on the go.
StarTimes Ghana has yet to embrace this. Their twitter handle has 951 followers, and they have only tweeted 925 times with their last tweet coming six days ago. And while they post short video previews to the entertainment content on their channels, same is not done for the GPL. With three million followers on Facebook, the potential reach of anything on Startimes’ Facebook is enormous. Unfortunately, they have not invested same energy into the promotion of the Ghana Premier League.
StarTimes should be running short quizzes, predictions, posting short interviews, conducting polls and asking fans to vote for favorite goals, plays etc. The winner of these short competitions could be taken along with the TV crew to experience how coverage of a game is done. It’s a small gesture that would stay with that fan forever. This is how to build loyalty.
In the just ended season, a group of friends from GHPLLIVE created a Ghana Premier League fantasy league. It was a simple process of posting fixtures two days before every match day and asking people to predict scores of each match in the comment section, with 4 points allocated for a perfect score and 1 mark for correct prediction.
It started with just 10 people in the first week, and by week five, they had to cut the numbers. The interest this generated was beyond imagination. It forced people to pay attention to the league and the discussion that followed each match week in the comment section of this fantasy prediction was ridiculous.
With a great percentage of Ghanaians on social media between the ages of 15 and 45, developing a digital media strategy that goes beyond just sending out tweets and Facebook posts, could introduce the league to a new range of audience that has fast slipped away. And just then, maybe, we could get them to love our league again.
By: Fentuo Tahiru/ [email protected]/ The writer is a Sports Journalist at Citi FM.