Esports was already heralding the digital revolution and the pandemic has further accelerated its growth. Sports organisations/clubs have launched their own teams to compete to gain the edge. Total esports viewership is expected to grow at a 9% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2019 and 2023, up from 454 million in 2019 to 646 million in 2023, as per Business Insider Intelligence report. The Playknox spoke with Russell Jones, General Manager – Marketing and Commercial Growth at the Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves) to know more about the club’s venture into esports and fashion, fan engagement and recent partnerships. Excerpts:
How has COVID-19 impacted the business model of Wolves? How is the club tackling the challenges?
There are a number of parts to the Wolves business and COVID has affected these in different ways. The most impacted part has been stadium revenue. The closure of the stadium to fans on match day has significantly impacted revenue from ticketing, hospitality and catering. On a non-matchday, the stadium closure has meant that our conference, events and tours business has essentially come to a standstill.
While that is very frustrating for both the club and our fans, we have been able to leverage commercial opportunities in other areas. Providing creative ways to increase exposure for our partners and driving ecommerce revenue though digital channels has been very important. We seed these commercial messages through content created in six languages. This content is predominantly delivered via social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in Europe and the Americas; and Weibo, WeChat and YouKu in Asia. For our younger – esports savvy audience – we deliver content on Twitch and TikTok in Europe and the Americas; and DouYin, Huya and Douyu in Asia.
What is the current marketing/branding strategy of the club?
Our brand ethos is built around challenging a traditional marketing approach to football. We see ourselves as a sports and entertainment brand and our main goal is growing our fanbase from five million fans to 15 million fans. We have prioritised four key markets (UK, China, Mexico and USA), and two secondary markets (India and Brazil) and offer tailored language content in all six markets.
The reach of our players is our biggest growth opportunity and to a large degree dictates our priority markets but we are also investing in new brand verticals like fashion, esports and motor racing, which help us tell new non-football stories and create a more rounded sports and entertainment brand.
In Mexico we built our anchor point around Mexican striker Raul Jimenez. We are very lucky that Raul is not only a great player but he is also a very intelligent, handsome and articulate guy. He is an absolute pleasure to work with and has played a central role in a number of tactical campaigns to engage the Mexican public. Thanks to Raul’s cooperation, we have worked on content collaborations with his former club (Club America), with one of his friends who is a famous WWE wrestler (Sin Cara), numerous social media influencers like Clinica de Futbol/Cracks and a charity project with WWF Mexico around the endangered Mexican wolf. Last year we even launched a tri-colour (Mexican themed) third jersey, in a fond nod to our new Mexican fans. These examples, alongside hundreds of other tactical posts and media interviews, have helped us acquire over 1.5 million Mexican followers. To put that into context, that is seven times more followers than we have in the UK!
In China we have built our anchor point around esports and fashion. We have four teams competing in PUBG, Identity V, FIFA online 4 and Pop Kart Racing. They live in two gaming houses in Shanghai and Guangzhou and compete across Asia. Our teams already have over 500,000 followers on social media and stream on Doyin to millions of fans every week. To capitalise on this growth, we opened a physical megastore and online TMALL store in China which now offers fashionable esports merchandise to this new audience.
In the last 12 months the Wolves brand has seen a 200% growth in follower acquisition and broken numerous engagement records. That growth makes us the fastest growing football club across all top five European leagues and earlier this year we were named in Brand Finance’s Top 20 most valuable football brands in the world (ahead of AC Milan, Ajax and AS Roma).
Tell us about your latest partnerships. When considering partnerships with brands, how do you evaluate the brands?
It’s been a big summer for us and we are delighted to welcome Manscaped, Tezo, Sure, Aeroset and Samtrade FX to the Wolves family. Our brand narrative is built around being the ultimate challenger club for challenger brands. When we assess potential partners, we look for brands that share our ambitious and courageous approach to growth. The key word is ‘partnership’.
This isn’t about badging content, it is about sitting down and agreeing a strategy together to create moments of marketing magic that will add value to fans, capture the imagination of the media and deliver a tangible return on investment.The number of new clients and our commercial growth is testament to a great internal team on and off the pitch.
What are the Digital offerings of the club for fan engagement ?
We have hundreds of digital offerings all tailored to different groups of fans. Our richest digital experience is available via the Wolves App. Our app is configurable based on geographic location, time zone and content preferences. Via the app fans can tune in to live match pictures (under 23), live audio (first team) and a number of augmented reality features.
Outside of our website and app, we work with a number of amazing agencies to create authentic, tailored social media content in six languages. The key to our success has been that we don’t ‘translate’ from the global @Wolves account, content on each channel is completely tailored to local fans.
Our strategy evolves quickly as we approach digital with a nimble attitude. Our brand verticals – like esports – help us engage with new young audiences that may not have been aware of the football side of the club. In June we teamed up with Gulf Racing to take part in the 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual – the most viewed SIM race in history with 14.2 million people tuning in. And in August we launched a TikTok account which has already had over 2.5 million likes and 250,000 followers.