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How football leagues communicate on TikTok

From Italy to Saudi Arabia, the social is changing the way sport is told

How football leagues communicate on TikTok From Italy to Saudi Arabia, the social is changing the way sport is told

In a world so captivated by the power of social media, TikTok seems to stand out as the premier tool to grab the public’s attention and build a strong community around a certain brand. The short-lived, easy-to-consume content is perfect to keep users on a page as they scroll their time away, so creators, businesses, and all types of organizations are now in a race to become the most “TikTok friendly” they can be. Football leagues from all over the world are no different, although they do differ in the way they make and deliver their content, the mood they try to instill into their audience, and how they combine social media trends with the game of football.

Premier League - focus on the players

While these all are “football social media accounts”, the way each league interprets this term is constantly fluctuating. For example, the Premier League follows a model in which the main type of content is pure football and on-pitch endeavors. Old highlights with legendary players such as Thierry Henry and David Beckham, for example, encourage nostalgia but also remind the fans of the Premier League’s glorious past, while action-packed clips from the ongoing season try to sell the league as extremely entertaining. There is lots of importance given to individual players, like stars of the best club's Marcus Rashford, Erling Haaland, or Trent Alexander-Arnold.

@premierleague The cheek #premierleague #arsenal #thierryhenry original sound - Ian Asher

Serie A - memes and team-centred content

For Serie A’s page, however, season recaps for entire teams are much more common, especially when it comes to Napoli. Due to the Azzurri’s historic Scudetto, there is a lot of hype to capitalize on with a team and city that seem to have undergone a total Renaissance in appeal over the past year. Videos of the team celebrating their triumph or depicting player-fan interactions make up a playlist dedicated to this year’s champions, with captions and sounds in the Neapolitan dialect. Not only this, but the Serie A account is one the most meme-concentrated on TikTok, using popular meme templates surprisingly often (like those of iShowSpeed or Hasbulla, for instance) and showcasing a very thorough preparation on how to appeal to a Gen. Z audience. Other than that, there is also frequent interaction from the page admin with various users, using funny videos or sounds to reply to some of their comments. This is unseen in the Premier League’s case, as it focuses more on simply showing and promoting the game in its purest form. There are some funnier TikToks, but most clips posted contribute to a more serious, focused profile compared to Serie A’s. The Italian league is filled with memes, impromptu and spontaneous challenges like Q&A’s, or “This or that?” and overall feels like it makes a bigger effort to appear as more genuine, real, and less fabricated. It is not as distant from the fans.

@seriea Il @SSC Napoli sferra il colpo del KO! #juvenapoli #meme #hasbulla #gol #raspadori #tiktokcalcio #seriea suono originale - Eatsoycubano

MLS - funny skits and visibility for young talents

The MLS seems to be in many ways closer to Serie A, choosing to establish a closer relationship with the fans, trying to be funny and not keeping it 100% about football. They do so not with memes, but rather with short skits, as they aim to create entertainment outside of football matches and involve big names from the platform such as Noah Beck. Interviews and similar content is often also meant to be humorous and filmed in rather informal contexts, much like Serie A and unlike the Premier League, giving the stars of the league a chance to show their personalities and become more “human” in the public's eyes. There are also numerous videos involving the page admin, as well as MLS office workers in the “Ask the office” playlist, where “normal” people get to show the MLS fan base what goes on behind the scenes and how they work. This, as previously mentioned, makes the people feel closer to the league, even more than in Serie A’s case.

@mls @noah beck taking over the marketing plan was definitely in the script #mls #soccer #futbol #sports #noahbeck #marketing #tiktok #takeover original sound - Major League Soccer

Unlike the other two leagues, however, the MLS likes to give its youth set-ups and academies visibility through social media, perhaps as a way to show a rapidly growing grassroots soccer movement that aims to organically and sustainably foster talent for the American game. There is a narrative about the US being poor at football, and this is one of the main ways that the MLS is using social media to try and escape this belief. 

@mls There were reasons to celebrate at @MLS NEXT Cup #mls #soccer #footy #sports #futbol #celly #celebration #goals #championsleague #mlsnext Trap beat with Bass(209176)

LaLiga - Internet challenges

Another league that posts lots of youth content is LaLiga, most notably with the #HurricaneChallenge that involves kids from academies all over Spain. This is in heavy contrast with the rest of the page, where we rarely get any 1 on 1 content with players or coaches, and barely, if any, funny content. The page mostly focuses on football highlights and sometimes even posts advertisements (for the league itself) similar to the ones we see on TV, which, compared to the MLS and Serie A, severely hinders the potential to be closer to the users. There are no playlists or extra content, and scrolling through the page one feels like it is detached and fabricated. There is nothing that makes it stand out.

@laliga ¡Aitor y Quim frente a frente en el #HurricaneChallenge original sound - Michael @ Fire & Brilliance

Ligue 1 - balance between humor and spectacle

Ligue 1 doesn’t really stand out and has no true “unique selling point”, but it has built an impressive following by being very balanced and borrowing the best aspects from other leagues. With a team as star-studded as PSG and names like Neymar Jr., Kylian Mbappè, and (until recently) Lionel Messi, it is imperative for this account to have many flashy, exciting videos of football prowess, but the league also understands that being funny makes you grow. Serie A-style memes and funny TikToks are very common here, mostly in English to attract a wider audience. Argentina’s Primera Divisiòn employs a very similar approach, although the account is entirely in Spanish and overlooks the use of English, as does Serie A.

@ligue1ubereats #Ligue1UberEats original sound - ligue1ubereats

The 'Premier League model' around the world

The Bundesliga has lots of elements that can be traced back to the Premier League TikTok model of strictly focusing on what happens on the pitch, as is the case with minor leagues like the Saudi Pro League. The Brasileirão also rarely engages with the funnier side of the app on its page, although their focus on football consists of posting almost exclusively match recaps instead of highlights or flashy plays that fill the other accounts mentioned. While those following the Premier League TikTok model attempt to sell their league as an action-packed spectacle of entertainment, the Brasileirão is mostly concerned with reporting results and showing a more transparent version of their game.

@brasileirao Virada colorada! Os gols do @SC Internacional? Aqui! @canalpremiere #TikTokEsportes #BrasileirãoAssaí2023 #NossoMelhor #CampeonatoDoBrasileiro som original - brasileirao

The Australian A-League is another example that follows the Premier League approach, but they do so by incorporating women’s football and granting more visibility to a side of the game that gets little recognition. With the FIFA Women’s World Cup coming up, and Australia being one of the favorites to win it all, this element is perfectly in line with the football culture of the country.

@aleagues Now that’s how you celebrate a Grand Final goal #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #soccer #football #footballtiktok original sound - A-Leagues

One thing that brings all of these strategies together is their profound difference from true football. That horizontal, flat version of football, spread out among those 90 minutes that could even seem monotonous in comparison to the dopamine-filled content that we find on social media. TikTok has the ability to eliminate those 'dead' parts of the game, those that no one wants to see, transforming this sport in pure entertainment for a generation that grew up phone in hand and an ever-decreasing attention span. We are witnessing a shift from the horizontal screen to the vertical one - will football as we know it survive?