Cyber Fandom Boom: A boon for African teams

 

Social media is one of the technologies that have dramatically grown in use in sport ‑ particularly in soccer. With the advent of modern technology, even innocent off field incidents can become public, as highlighted by the situation involving footballers and their off-field life.

During 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Kaka, one of the world’s premier football players, was using his Twitter account to connect with fans and this proved beyond doubt that soccer by nature is a social interactive forum that knows no boundary (sex, age, religion, creed, ethnicity and race). This means that social media is an everyday fact that both teams and players need to manage. Hence, soccer teams should embrace social media platforms to engage with their followers in a fruitful way.

“With the growth of information technology and social media in Africa, the continent is seeing the emergency of online football identities and cyber fandom.

“This means that Africans living in the diaspora without or with little access to African soccer are following their teams’ fortunes, interacting with other soccer supporters and practising their identities via platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google groups,” said Manase Kudzai Chiweshe, in his research study largely based on online observation and monitoring exercise.

The study goes on to say: “Fans socialisation begins in the field match and ends up on a fan page. The fan community brings people together all across the globe.” The social media boom should also be utilised by soccer clubs within and across Africa to provide live information to the world; and to reach into target publics across national and cultural boundaries. Teams should take opportunities provided by the cyberspace to establish and maintain goodwill with supporters.

Online fan spaces create a sense of belonging and identity among people who do not necessarily share the same geographical territory. As noted in Chiweshe’s report, “Internet appears to be a democratic space where everyone is free to be who they want to be.” Writing in a leading Zimbabwean soccer magazine, Linda Zimuto highlights that supporting a football club is a life-long project that begins at an early stage and ends with the life of a fan.

Zimuto goes on to explain: “Cyberspace football fan bases cut across all races and gender. Therefore, the advances in technology such as satellite television and the Internet have allowed football teams to defy geographical limitations and built online communities.”

Because of this, football clubs within and across the great African continent should embrace social media platforms since they help them to organise supporters and fans outside stadiums. They should use these platforms to market their sporting brands since they offer a powerful organising tool for fans beyond the stadium.

Social media platforms are important public relations tools that can be used to create good images for footballers. Therefore, is it important for clubs to be innovative and use social media pages to market themselves. One of the key components of public relations and the use of technologies as connection outfits with fans is “the instigator two-way communication between football clubs and its publics” and this tactic permits football supporters to feel part of the event where their ideas and opinions can also be heard.

This means that football clubs should effectively embrace social media platforms to disseminate information and at the same time generate feedback. Information dissemination and handling are valuable instruments that administrators can use to keep on raising numbers and restructuring new concepts. Sport public relations is all about relationships, relationship management and relationship building, and social media ideally can match this idea.

October 2013
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