The recent “Price of Football” BBC study raised several questions around the future of our national sport. Many opinions have been raised since, but one thing is abundantly clear – attitudes and offerings need to adapt to a new generation.

For me, the standout stat of the survey was that only 1 in 6 young people (aged 18-24) attend a game at least once a week; when girls in the age group were asked, the figure was just 7%. Compare that with these further stats on the same age group:

  • 61% engage with football via console/PC games (FIFA, Football Manager etc.)
  • 44% engage via betting
  • 33% engage via playing fantasy football

In truth, those running our game are behind the times when it comes to meeting the expectations of a new generation. However, there are notable exceptions to this at club level – it is no coincidence that some sides are ‘recruiting’ FIFA players and Football Manager YouTube video creators. It’s thinking outside the box to increase their online presence, and hopefully their overall engagement with their future core fanbase as a result.

The BBC touched on this emerging eSports market with this article last year, looking at the emergence of Hashtag United amongst other phenomena. Several clubs in England have now jumped in to the online space and had a go at taking on an online gaffer, started off by West Ham in FIFA and seen most recently via Nuneaton Town in Football Manager. While this isn’t an immediate solution that raises attendances in the short term, it does achieve the vital aim of being noticed by the younger age group and getting an opportunity to promote their offering to them.

It should be noted at this point that going this route may well be dismissed by many sides as there is no immediate and noticeable tangible impact made – however, it involves little to no investment, and surely there is nothing to lose by trying, especially for smaller outfits down the ladder? Another key theme from the study is that ticket costs in the top leagues are out of the reach of many young people (I’d wager many people full stop!) who may well be tempted to go for a better value experience down the ladder.

Initial aims, of course, must be realistic when it comes to trying to explore a brand new market. There are some very achievable goals that the likes of Scotland’s Highland & Lowland leagues could aim for: getting to the stage where the leagues are playable “out of the box” in Football Manager, while promoting database extensions activating your level in the meantime (like the SLFL did with my edited database); the person/people in charge of social media channels being active and engage with those using club(s) in created videos & blogs (possibly offering prizes to boost exposure, in the recent example of Manchester Central FC); looking at running an unofficial competition between creators, adding stakes and growing overall reach simultaneously (e.g. who can do best in one season with Team A).

My bias should be clear to see in this: I make a database expansion for the Scottish leagues in Football Manager every year, and have attended Lowland League matches for the last few years after becoming disenfranchised from football at the top end. The thing is, my experience tells me that I am not alone, and there are many others in the 18-30 age band that feel the same way! There are passionate fans losing touch with the game and this should open up a tremendous opportunity for clubs of more meagre means to gain some traction. What they need is the attention of these people and my argument is that online exposure could provide part of the answer.

A portion of this article originally appeared on mozzagaming.wordpress.com