On Wednesday, AFP reported that Manchester United, the storied 135-year-old football club, finally joined Twitter and Sina Weibo. It has 446,714 followers on Twitter as of this moment and a modest-by-comparison 171,510 followers on Weibo, but realize this: Arsenal, which has had a Sina Weibo account for at least a year and has posted 7,238 messages compared to Man U’s 46, has only 88,815 followers. Even in the realm of Chinese social media, the Red Devils reign supreme.
This means nothing, of course, to true fans of the game. But in the greater world outside of sports, it’s significant. Man U has long claimed hundreds of millions of fans in Asia — their exact numbers are a bit apocryphal, but the brand is undoubtedly strong — which translates into a vigorous revenue stream and probably ensures at least one Asian is on its roster at all times. (Who knows, maybe a Chinese player will be signed sometime, following in the footsteps of Dong Fangzhuo.)
AFP reported that Richard Arnold, United’s group managing director, said, “Connecting with our fans is a key part of the club’s strategy,” but let’s be honest here: this is a business move, in much the same way that teaming up with Wahaha and China Construction Bank is. As Digital Football points out:
Last year we reported a story found tucked away in the Manchester Evening News that suggested United might be looking to start using Twitter. In a comment which has subsequently been removed since the story was posted, the MEN said they understood that United would,
‘ensure commercial partners were happy before they launch an account’
This perhaps suggests that United wanted to make a real business case for the channel and try integrate a commercial element into their Social Media strategy with advertising opportunities for sponsors. A clever move, and something we have seen all to often in recent months in the US, as established sporting brands now look to try monetize their channels (as we predicted earlier this year in our 2013 Sports Social Media predictions).
In the meantime, maybe Man U should post more Twitpics to gain followers. It’s been working for Wayne Rooney, he of the 6.7 million followers. Or are we not allowed to mention him around these parts?
Deleting Man United from my twitter account. Rubbish. Go to – http://t.co/MYvQrxbYFh
— Wayne Rooney (@WayneRooney) May 10, 2013