Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren closed down his Twitter and Instagram account because of the reputed abuse he was getting from Southampton fans (after Southampton’s 3-2 win over Liverpool). Christiano Ronaldo revealed this week he has 200 million followers on social media.
The Liverpool owner John W Henry stepped away from his Twitter account between 24th April and 18th November 2015, largely due to the over whelming demands for Brendan Rodgers to be replaced as manager of Liverpool.
Numerous football club owners have also cited fan abuse (both social media and in person) as the reason they have put Football clubs up for sale and social media has increased this type of pressure on owners. Last week Notts County owner put them up for sale due to abusive messages to him and his family; and the Wolverhampton Wanderers owner Steve Morgan cited the same reason when putting Wolves up for sale in January.
Fans are prone to knee jerk reactions and often instantaneously tweet players after bad performances or bad mistakes and this must add to the already heavy load of expectation on players. Jose Enrique the Liverpool full-back has received a lot of abuse for not taking a transfer to WBA and choosing to sit out his contract and leave on a free transfer.
Citing the fans’ abuse he closed down all social media accounts two months ago.
On the plus side, social media has allowed fans to mobilise very very effectively for good causes, such as the ticket price reduction at Liverpool on season tickets and the £30 maximum for away games. Twitter has spawned more podcasts also allowing fans to discuss the minutiae of every game in detail. Twitter and the resulting podcasts have united often disparate fan bases, and allowed international fans an avenue in to the discussion. Graham Hunter the Spanish football journalist @bumpergraham is averaging 1.8m listeners on his fortnightly podcasts, which is a huge following.
Access to players via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram has the plus point of allowing the players to correct any misconceptions in the sports media, and gives them their chance to clarify information.
Updates on injuries such as Kurt Zouma and Luke Shaw are tweeted and fans are kept up to speed and abreast on progress. Twitter has also worked well in improving the analytical aspect of the game. The diversity of articles is far greater than previously written, and there is an instantaneous ability to get opinion and news in your feed.
Twitter polls are often used by clubs to gauge the fans’ viewpoints on certain issues and this can only be a good thing. The brand is also enhanced with increasing advertising revenue for clubs. Individual players also often push products to their fan base thereby enhancing their earning and sponsorship ability.
Overall social media is a double edged sword for football, players with a fragile confidence will suffer at the hands of vociferous fans who often just want to vent after a bad loss.
With a 200m following Christiano Ronaldo can almost play the fans against the club in any dispute, forcing the hand of clubs on certain issues. This takes “player power” to a whole new level.
However the analysis and scrutiny that social media has given football has largely been a blessing. Knowledge of the fan base is increasing and fans feel more connected to their clubs and players. Inevitably there will be some downside as the Lovren incident shows, but on balance more good has come out of social media than harm. The social media phenomenon has created greater transparency and that can only be a good thing for football on balance.