Ahead of Scotland versus England this Saturday, Sports Marketing Scotland is delighted to speak to the Scottish Football Association’s Digital Manager, Michael Bochel.

Scottish FA's Michael Bochel

We chat through the Scottish FA’s approach to innovation and digital marketing, how Scottish football as a whole can improve, and of course, “This Time”.

Could you just take a moment to introduce yourself?

I’m Michael Bochel and I am Digital Manager at the Scottish FA. Basically I am responsible for all things digital at the Scottish FA. I have a small team that is predominately content orientated.

You’ve been at the Scottish FA for almost a year now, how did the role come about and what are your current responsibilities?

I’ve been in the role about 10 months. My background has mainly been in global digital marketing agencies both in Scotland and in Australia. I began as a Junior Account Manager and worked my way up to Account Director working on global clients across a number of different industries.

My ambition has always been to work in sports, football in particular. I was back a year when I got the role.

One thing I didn’t fully realise before I started the job was just how much my team has to cover across the organisation. The Men’s National Team is obviously the biggest area but when you throw in the Scottish Cup, women’s and girls’ football, performance and youth football along with football development not to mention refereeing, coach education and general governance there is a lot for a small team to cover in terms of content production. People may read that and think how did you not know that but it is the amount of activity across each area that was the biggest thing to get my head around.

Beyond managing my team and the content output my other responsibilities include setting the digital strategy and day to day digital marketing for the organisation, working with sponsors, a new website project, contributing to the marketing plans and generally working with people across the organisation to ensure their digital needs are being met as much as possible.

How does the corporate or agency side of digital marketing compare to working at the Scottish FA?

Agency life is more fast-paced but I think that is common when comparing agency to in-house.

We weren’t the quickest of organisations to embrace digital so we still have a fair bit of catching up to do. There is so much I want to do but it is about prioritising and balancing resources.

Like any other big organisation, the digital understanding across the business varies. I’ve come from digital agencies where everyone has a digital background/knowledge, in the Scottish FA not as much.  It is an ongoing education but we are getting there.

Can you give us an insight into the digital strategy underpinning everything that goes on at the Scottish FA?

Certainly – digitally we are looking to put fans at the heart of everything we do. We are now the front line of day to day communications for the organisation. We want to be more open in what we do. With our ethos being fans at the heart of what we try to do online.

In my time at the Scottish FA so far I have seen first-hand what the common misconceptions are in regards to what the Scottish FA is actually responsible for and what we do. There are many reasons as to why this is and we have to accept a large part of the responsibility for that as we have been far from as proactive as we should have been.

One of the things we have been working on for the close season and into next season is an insight into the governance of the Scottish FA, how things work and what to expect. We are not here to patronise anyone but I want to give fans the opportunity to grow their understanding of the game and help them understand why certain things happen or don’t happen.

Do I expect everyone to read or watch what we put out? Of course not but those that genuinely are interested can begin to find the information a lot easier and improve their knowledge. Another element of this is how we get our messages across. I don’t expect everyone to visit our website especially in its current form so if they get the information via one of our social channels, email or videos then great. Website traffic is not the be all and end all. Getting our messages out there is what is important. It is why I have been keen to work a lot more closely with our sponsors and other online influencers to help with this. I am fully aware that as soon as someone sees something come from the Scottish FA they will have already formed an opinion or looking for the negative on what we are saying before they even read or watch anything.

I know this because I used to be on the other side and I was guilty of this. Again this is why I am not too fussed how people get our message – if I can get a sponsor or online influencer to help get the message out there then great. At the end of the day I want people to buy in to what we are doing and get as many people as I can get to talk positively about the national team, women’s football, Scottish Cup or whatever else it may be. It will make my job easier down the line as more people begin to consume our content and messaging without preconceived ideas.

There is more to digital marketing than just content though and behind the scenes I am still putting a lot of things in place to future-proof what we do. There are a number of processes and behaviours that I have taken from my experience in agencies and applied them to what we do here.

I am an ambitious person and I have high expectations for what my team can achieve. Internally we are working to certain objectives but my team is fully aware of the long term objective of where we want to get to. I look at clubs like Partick Thistle and Dunfermline who would love to have my budget and resources but are managing to do some fantastic things. We need to continue to push ourselves further and further.

Data and insights is starting to become be a big part of what we do within the digital and wider marketing team. We have pretty much had to start from scratch so we are still working hard on that side of things. There have been a number of changes across the commercial team but there are a lot of talented people striving to improve what we do. It will take time to really see the difference externally but it is happening. I am very positive and excited about the direction we are trying to move into.

Certain youth team squads matches have been available for fans to watch via live streams recently, what’s been the reason for making those available to watch? And how have they been evaluated in terms of performance up against a traditional broadcast, for example?

There was a couple of reasons as to why we made these available. Over the past few years we had streamed Youth Cup finals and towards the end of last year we wanted to see if there was an audience for youth internationals hence why we streamed the Victory Shield. We were the first hosts of the revised tournament and without Sky Sports covering it there was an opportunity for us to do so.

The numbers were very encouraging. Over the tournament we got over 400,000 views for Scotland matches. As part of our marketing plans for the performance side of things we want to give fans a greater insight and understanding of youth football and the elite pathway. Live streaming of matches is just a part of this but it is something we are looking to continue.

In addition to the Victory shield we have already streamed the Under-17s qualifiers as well as the Under-21 friendly against Estonia this year. It is a great opportunity for us to showcase exciting young talents such as Billy Gilmour, Glenn Middleton and Jack Aitchison. A number of the boys within the Under-16s, 17s and 19s are in or have graduated from our Performance Schools. This is just the beginning of showing what we are doing to improve the standard of players coming through and how the performance strategy and Malky’s work pulls this altogether. We want to get people excited about the future of Scottish football.

Our coverage is continuing to improve. Gordon Duncan, Kenny Millar and Grant Russell have all been a part of our production and I have been talking with various others across the industry to share learnings. I am very happy to share our learnings to help other clubs and organisations to improve the standard of content output across the game and we are continuing to track our viewing numbers and engagement.

It would be very naïve of me to purely look at the overall views number for our coverage as anyone can tell you that Facebook for example will count a view after just three seconds. However the numbers speak for themselves. The Youth Cup final had over ½ million views. During the live broadcast, 102,000 of them were on YouTube where the average viewing time was over 17 minutes.

I think we are doing alright in regards to building an audience but there is far more we can and will do. People are taking notice of what we are doing and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if our productions continue to crop up beyond our own channels in the future. There is a growing interest in Scottish youth football in our country and beyond.

The last round of international matches saw the Scotland podcast launched. What was the thinking behind that?

We have been guilty of falling into the trap of just doing talking head interviews on social media and quote laden news articles on our website in the past so we have been trying to differentiate our content around the national team.

Our objectives around what we are wanting to do with our national team content is to get people excited about the national team which has obviously been easier said than done at times during this campaign; make our players more accessible and allow fans to relate to them more as well as give greater insight into what happens behind the scenes on international duty.

I am a big podcast fan whether it is listening to sports marketing podcasts like Sports Geek, Scottish football podcasts like the Terrace or Talking Baws and other football podcasts such as the Guardian Football weekly and Graham Hunter’s Big Interview. It is continuing to grow as a medium and it is was another thing we wanted to try. People consume content in different ways and podcasts are just another one of those ways.

I had actually wanted to roll out it out at the start of the campaign but it got put on the back burner for a little bit. We rolled it out for the double-header against Canada and Slovenia. It was probably one of the hardest times in recent history to get people excited about the national team so I definitely did wonder how well it would go down.

I had been chatting with Mark Benstead (Sky Sports) about my podcast idea and he was keen to get involved. From there we planned what we wanted to do and pushed to get players involved. We have definitely learnt a lot of lessons from the four we have done so far. There are lots of improvements we will make but it is definitely going to be an ongoing fixture and we plan to mix them up a bit in time throughout the rest of the campaign. All going well we will have one to ones with legends and cult heroes.

“This Time”. Take us through the thought process behind the campaign and some of the activations around it?

This Time launched just before I started. The thought process behind it is that supporting Scotland is in our DNA. We never give up hope. We know it won’t be plain sailing and that there will be twists and turns along the way but we don’t give up.

“This Time” was just the hashtag but became the focal point of the campaign to much of the audience. Online we have looked to carry the message through video and imagery. Offline the same messaging has been run through radio, print and billboards.

The message has developed from game to game and while the #ThisTime has drifted to the background a little bit, the belief from the team and the organisation is still that we are not out of it yet and we still have a chance. It is up to us to convey this. It’s definitely not been easy. As a fan I get it. Most of my lowest points as a football fan have been supporting Scotland so we have been trying to create content that keeps fans optimistic.

We launched our #MyScotland series of videos before Slovenia to try and tap into the emotions and memories of why we are Scotland fans. Nostalgia can work well but we are also cautious we can’t dwell in the past too much. As I said not easy.

Results haven’t been as good across the campaign as they could or should have been so far. You’re a Scotland fan like the rest of the us. How difficult is it to continue to attempt to engage with fans online when things aren’t going as well as expected?

It can be difficult. As we know there is nothing quite like the Scotland National Team to generate debate and opinion and there are wildly varying opinions out there. I enjoy reading the different viewpoints especially those that are articulate and well founded. Sometimes I can’t help but rise a smile at some of them. One of my personal favourites recently being someone go on a rant about Russell Martin and his performance in the game at Wembley. A game in which he didn’t play in.

A lot of people online have a default negative reaction to Scotland, whether it is a fixture, squad announcement, team line-up, player missing a chance, scoring a goal. Vast majority of the time it is people who don’t go to the games or have any intention of doing so. We are all Scotland fans though and I would be more concerned if people didn’t care at all. When things start going well again then I hope to see them at Hampden.

What concerns me though is reading about fans who have been coming along for years that have become disillusioned. A lot of our issues run deeper than what happens online. What we do online to engage fans can only go so far. I was, in fact still am part of the supporters club and have been for 10 years. The new marketing manager is the same. We are embarking on a big piece of work behind the scenes to improve the Supporters Club. Those fans are our biggest priority.

The Scottish FA have long been at the forefront of digital innovations, being one of the first sports organisations in the UK on Snapchat for example, while our club teams are often encouraged to be more innovative. What aids the culture of innovation at the SFA?

In the digital team we are willing to try things. David Childs, who was the social media person at the Scottish FA before moving to FIFA, tried a lot of good things socially, a lot of which we continue to do today.

I encourage my team to seek inspiration from sports teams and organisations around the world. We constantly share a lot of examples of things we like amongst the wider team. We are not afraid to admit that we have been slightly influenced by American college sports recently.

From a technology and fan experience point of view we still have a bit to go but we are always willing to push boundaries.

Take us through some of the challenges of promoting such a historical competition like the Scottish Cup?

I think we are fortunate in Scotland at the moment that there is still a lot of respect for the Scottish Cup. It is still a bit special. Saturday showed that. Our teams still take it seriously and the fans still seem to get excited about it. I think when you look down south at the FA Cup and what is happening with international football to an extent it is becoming as a bit of an inconvenience to league football. We are very wary of this.

We ramped up our social coverage of the cup this year, featuring and covering a game just about every round. Funnily enough one of the biggest challenges I have encountered this season is getting accurate historical data. Turns out it is not that easy for the Scottish Cup due to poor record keeping over the years.

Are you of the opinion that Scottish football needs a USP to better differentiate itself from our neighbours down south?

I’d say we do yeah. I think the biggest issue we have as a country when it comes to our game is the continual comparisons to the English game. We are a 1/10th of the size of England in terms of population and we have a fraction of the revenue but we are our own game and we need to embrace that. It is a well-trodden path in terms of rolling out the most attended per capita line but it is true we need to realise that we have something good up here.

Scottish football has a personality. There are so many things that happen in Scotland that makes us unique whether it is how some of clubs carry out their social media, goalkeepers getting sent off for nipping to the toilet behind the goals or Jason Cummings being Jason Cummings.

According to a UEFA survey, Celtic and Rangers have the biggest supports in Scotland. Absolutely zero surprises there. Do you know who is the third biggest club supported in Scotland? Liverpool! Yep Liverpool. Fourth? Man Utd. Fifth? Barcelona. Aberdeen sit joint ninth with Real Madrid. I love Scottish football and that breaks my heart a little bit. Yes it is just one survey but we don’t do enough to celebrate our game. Positivity can go along way and that includes fans, media and ex-pros.

For me we should be aiming to be the most fan friendly league in Europe. Motherwell are doing some great stuff at the moment. Celtic have definitely ramped up their fan activity around the ground on matchdays. We need to encourage more clubs to push this sort of thing more. We can’t keep expecting the fans to continue to turn up and pay their money and continue to be positive if we don’t keep putting them first.

Can you narrow it down to recommending one thing you think will improve Scottish football?

I think Grant Russell had mentioned about centralising marketing efforts and such like and after speaking to a couple of clubs at various events I think we definitely need to help each other a lot more in Scottish football.

For the most part we are not in competition with each other off the field. I think some clubs might be in that mind-set as it is the natural standpoint to take. From a marketing point of view I think we could look at helping each a lot more, sharing learnings and a whole lot more. It is something I have been working on in the background and have some grand ambitions that I hope can come to fruition.

As a collective we have a lot of buying power, a lot of knowledge and skills. We all need to work together from governing body to league and clubs. Am I being too naïve in thinking it is possible? Maybe but we won’t know until we try.

I would also like to be able to get a beer at the football too. It’s not the one single thing that will revolutionise Scottish Football and it may be a simplistic way of looking at it but I would love to see a pilot in League 2, Highland League and Lowland league to allow the sale of alcohol. I think it would be another way to add to the fan experience and bring much needed additional revenue into clubs at that level.

Are there any other organisations, or teams, that you look at and admire for what they’re doing?

There are lots out there that I look at and admire. Scottish Football wise: Hibs, Dunfermline and Motherwell are all doing some great stuff on a minimal budget. Wider football: Spurs, MLS, Roma, Everton and of course Man City are doing some exceptional work. Other sports: American college sports from a social content point of view and the European Tour I think are one of the best for social and video content.

What do you think the next big thing is going to be in the sports marketing industry?

How broadcast rights are sold will be one of the next big things in my opinion. We are actually already starting to see it with deals to show La Liga, MLS and MLB on Facebook. NFL on Twitter. If and when Amazon want to come to seriously play in this space then we will see major shift. I hope we are open to this sort of thing in this country. We should be looking and pushing to be involved where possible.

What one piece of advice would you give to anyone looking to make a move into the Scottish sports industry?

One bit of advice: If you really want it, put in the hard work and hours, you are not just going to be handed it.

In terms of personal development and getting experience and knowledge in digital the best way is self-learning and actually doing.

Create a blog/website. If you want to work in football, obviously make it football related. Find a niche and run with it. You will soon learn about what makes a good website, what makes good content, Google Analytics etc. Off the back of this you should create some social profiles for the website and spend a little money through Facebook building an audience.

Read, watch and listen. I can’t stress this enough. You need to be like a sponge and willingly look to build your knowledge and a bank of examples to throw out whenever someone asks. If you don’t have the experience then you can at least show your knowledge and passion. Podcasts should be your new friend.

Finally another great way to get experience is go and find a lower league team and offer your services. I am sure there are plenty of teams that would appreciate that additional support with their marketing, digital or social media. This is great experience and can get the brain working on how to do things with no budget.