9 October ~ Like it or not, as a football supporter you're a target for marketing firms. One can hardly blame them; after all, once we get our teeth into something it stays bitten. The power of football has long been acknowledged by those with a marketing agenda, from right wing leafleters in days gone by to the buyers of the advertising that drives Sky's influence over the English game. In the social media age fans are seen as a desirable yet achievable market to mobilise.
The internet has ushered in a new age of football geekdom and we can now legally watch football from all over the world online. But we also have access to unimaginable amounts of information, fuelling a wave of statistical obsession that threatens the aspects of the game that actually matter. As a football writer and a social media professional, I regularly see both sides of this story of percentages and historical records. I regularly have to bat away ideas that offer a "more informative, interactive viewing experience". These ideas tend to involve a heavily-branded online dashboard that provides imported data from Twitter and Facebook, and a live chat function that drives a misguided attempt to "empower" fans to have their voices heard.
It seems to have gone unnoticed that football supporters are, on the whole, a vocal and self-organising bunch. We've been making our own voices heard on internet messageboards since before social media had even been classified. We can arrange our own Twitter environment even more easily than we did messageboards, or chat rooms, or fanzines. Football fans as a rule do not need to be "empowered" by anyone, let alone for a big brand's commercial gain.
During the World Cup, ITV and the Guardian both enjoyed success with their in-game products. These are examples of companies that are, by their nature, a sound fit for this type of product and can provide value for users. ITV Live had the advantage of offering not just aggregated data and a huge amount of statistics but also full coverage of the match in question. It was a stunning piece of technology, give or take a wobbly opening night, but to be blunt it really wasn't my kind of thing. The Guardian Fans' Network was backed by a newspaper with a high standard of journalism and an excellent twice-weekly podcast. Pulling in tweets from fans all over the world, it offered the kind of insight you'd never get from the tax-funded automatons in the Match of the Day studio. Again, it's not for me.
Football fans love to know as much as they can about the game they are watching. Win percentages, recent form and historical results are all points of interest. But the game does not need to be made more interactive. Supporters can make their own experience more interactive by getting out to watch a local team. They can volunteer to help out in some way, talk to the players and club officials and really feel involved No amount of statistics or keyboard warrior knowledge can match that. Given the choice between having my brain jammed full of passing percentages and historical results by a big brand-sponsored piece of dazzling technology or sitting in the rain yelling as another chance is squandered by a blundering centre-forward, there's no contest. Chris Nee