Russian football giants FC Zenit St. Petersburg recently clinched the Russian Premier League title with four games to spare in a season extended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The club has successfully managed to engage a global audience and popularize Russian football. The Playknox spoke with Mark Bowen, International editor of the club to know more about the digital strategy of the club, the popular ‘Tifos’ by the local fans and growing female fan base.
How challenging has the Covid-19 period been for the digital team of Zenit?
The challenge as a digital team for us was to keep providing content as we were quite restricted with the contact we could have with the players. Also, the film crew, the social media staffs were required to have the Covid-19 test every three days. They call it ‘Clean Zone’ where only certain people who were tested and found negative only entered. But we had to find content and find new content for which we had to work harder than before. We tried to be more innovative for eg. when Malcom won the Player of the Year award, we delivered the trophy via a drone and the footage went viral. We also try to keep the fan engaged on topics beyond football so things like safety measures, government circulars etc.
What is Zenit’s fan base like globally?
The football audience now is changing rapidly and the type of things they follow is also changing rapidly. To talk about Zenit, we have got our Russian fanbase (locals) and International fans. We have a small hardcore foreign fans of the club who are from different parts of the world like Asia, Africa and Europe. Then we have the football Twitter community who are mostly from the UK then places like Germany and the United States. We also have a lot of young fans who follow players rather than teams. For eg. we have got fans of Malcom , Dejan Lovren and Sebastian Driussi, Argentinian player who follow and engage in any content related to them.
We have see huge cut outs in the stadium during matches. What’s that about?
We have hardcore local supporters who sit in the ‘virage’ – four sectors at one end of the ground. So the giant cut outs you see is not the club, it is the local fans who bring those in. We allow them to come in early and set their things up.
What are some of the digital offerings of the club?
We have a Zenit app which you can find on Google store. It is very popular locally. Fan engagement is a big thing we are into. We are just behind Real Madrid and Manchester City in terms of International (foreign language) Twitter accounts. We also ask our fans internationally to translate articles and in exchange we give them tickets, shirts as a reward. We also have Zenit India, Zenit Italy, Zenit Swedish, Zenit Spain, Zenit Brazil etc. In terms of fan engagement we definitely are one of the top clubs globally. The likes of AS Roma, Bundesliga are too doing a great job in leveraging social media for fan engagement. It is very hard to get an audience to follow Russian football. For the last couple of years, the stream for the match was unavailable. But now it is on YouTube and everyone can watch it.
We are on Instagram and VK – Russia’s biggest social media platform. TikTok too is a big hit especially among the younger demographic. Also, our female following is more than 20% which is quite surprising as well. Also, at the Gazprom arena which has the capacity of more than 60k , around 40% of the audience is women and children. This is perhaps one of the unique things about the club. Also, since we have a women’s team now, we are really promoting the same across all our social media handles.
Tell us about your recent partnerships.
We have great sponsors like Gazprom – which is our main sponsor. We just signed a deal with IQONIQ which we will start working on from September. IQONIQ has been named as Zenit’s official and exclusive fan engagement platform with the partnership set to utilize new digital trends to enhance its relationship with its fans. We always try to incorporate sponsors in our digital strategy for eg. we have G-drive ( another sponsor) Player of the Month.