Creative Interviews, Social Media Marketing

A lesson in managing social media in sports

When social media were on the very rise, and I was busy with public relations agency projects, I came across a blog post of a girl, who was managing digital activities for an NHL club. She was writing of tweet-ups for fans, setting an official pages on Flickr, YouTube and Facebook and all things social. I was so fascinated when I saw the opportunities and prospects of merging social media and marketing communications in sports so I started thinking of it as a dream job. And now I’m living this dream though, managing social media activities for the most popular sports team in Russia – FC Spartak Moscow.

FC Spartak Moscow

FC Spartak Moscow

We started early in 2010, together with the launch of new website. And it was a great test to find out what social media could do for us. When we had troubles on the website, and that is inevitable with any new site, we could publish urgent official messages on our newly set pages, get reposts from mass media and reach the audience just like we’d do with a website. Then again, we had our site tested inside out by users and had all bug reports collected in discussion topics we set on our pages.

FC Spartak Moscow on Twitter

FC Spartak Moscow on Twitter


Our communities have been growing fast, and are one of the largest in Russian segment of the audience of popular social networks. Some say, we’re lucky or sports on a whole are lucky, because we already have fans and fan communities easy to transfer to social media world. True. You’re more comfortable with liking your favorite sports team than an FMCG brand. But there’s a catch. Two of them, actually. One is that sports fans are well organized and they are okay within their own communities – be it a fan website, forum or a group on a social media website. And one has to really be interesting content producer and great engager to keep the audience on a club page. Another trick is that fans are faithful and rarely change their attitude towards the team. Say, if you sell mobile phones and someone doesn’t like your new model or the way your brand communicates – they can switch. But if a football fan doesn’t like the game score or a fan shop items choice or a food on the stadium, they’ll keep with the club, but will constantly keep providing their negative feedback on every possible channel, including social media. So the amount of audience on social media is an indicator of whether the team is open to the fans and is ready to change.

When we’ve started, we were the first ones in Russian sports to do social media, and I was most afraid of opponent’s fans to ruin the idea. I even had a nightmare on the night we had a launch, that I wake up the morning after and the page wall is filled with cute kittens pictures, posted by fans of CSKA and Zenit. But it didn’t happen. And I guess that’s because we keep forbidden fruit free – if you’re a fan of another club but like to get our news on social media, want to discuss and comment without aggression – feel free to join, no one will ban you.

The hardest thing so far in social media for Spartak is to find the right balance between various communication channels and find the place for digital in it. At first we’ve only reposted official news, then started adding exclusive content, viral content, contests and live chatting. But still our social media activities have existed aside comms triangle that incorporates real life and traditional media as well. Now we’re on a stage of getting all our communications play together, just like football team does. Every channel plays its role to achieve one result.

Another challenge is sponsorship activation, since it requires understanding of social media significance and techniques from sponsors as well. But we already have several successful cases. One is presenting of new Nike kit exclusively on Facebook. It might seem a common practice for brands now, but then it helped to make a great buzz and draw attention to promo video. Another case worth mentioning is New Year giveaway by Henderson clothing. We had a football fashion trivia on twitter, supported by #henderson hashtag. Not only we had all our audience involved but also had twice as much hashtag mentions as we had audience at the moment – great buzz effect.

But all those challenges step aside as there are fantastic prospects that social media provide to sports fans. Russia is huge, and a boy from Vladivostok could never dream of winning a jersey or chatting with his football idol. And now with help of Facebook, twitter or Vkontakte (that’s largest Russian-speaking network) he can do it. We had a contest once where fans suggested their support line on social network and a winning line appeared on a stadium screen during a game. That’s another example on making fans even from abroad closer to what’s going on in the club.

We’re also experimenting with new progressing networks, such as Foursquare or Google + to see how it goes and be where our fans want us to be. Fans are the best asset of any sport club, and we at Spartak know that very well and can proudly say that our fans are best in the country. Therefore our communication is where it’s best for our fans.

Asya Shalimova, Social Media Officer at FC Spartak Moscow

Asya Shalimova Spartak Moscow

Asya Shalimova

Spent half of her life in sport dancing, competing and teaching. Worked in public relations both on client and agency sides. Then passion for sports prevailed. Since 2010 doing marketing communications and social media at FC Spartak Moscow. Founder and teacher at sports journalism school courses at
People’s Friendship University of Russia.

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