Discussions around Scottish clubs utilising “live” in-game clips as part of their gameday digital strategies has grown arms and legs over the last few years as clubs focus more and more resource on their social presence. With the 2020/21 season set to kick off behind closed doors, is now the right time for in-game clips to be allowed and introduced on social?

Clubs, broadcasters and leagues have been banned from showing live football on a Saturday afternoon in the UK for as long as I can remember. Google confirms this has been in place since the 1960s, with a fear of falling attendances sighted at the primary reasoning behind the decision.

It’s not just the SPFL clubs that are affected by this regulation either, with Lowland League side Berwick Rangers confirming in a recent fan forum the rules apply to them too.

What’s more, current regulations prevent Scottish clubs from posting highlights of any kind on the day of the game, a move which means highlight posts are regularly scheduled to go live at 00:01 each Saturday night/Sunday morning.
If I’m being honest, this means the first thing I do when I read of a screamer being scored on Twitter is search “player name + goal” to watch it via a recording of someone’s TV or a clipping from a dodgy stream – why should clubs miss out on that engagement?

It is fair to claim – almost 60 years after it was introduced – the law is massively outdated in a world of smartphones, streaming and social media.

With coronavirus closing stadiums, a new Sky Sports deal in place and every rule book thrown out the window, it is worth taking a deeper look at the potential benefits of in-game clips for clubs.

To do that, I’ve taken a look at how other sports use the footage and analysed the numbers from previous Europa League examples.

Would live streaming or in-game highlights affect attendance in Scotland? With a quick glance at Ibrox or Celtic Park on a Europa League night, you would struggle to suggest it does. That’s not enough to form an argument though, so lets dig deeper.

My current sport, basketball, arguably leads the way in live streaming and in-game highlights. Our professional domestic league, the British Basketball League, or BBL for short, live streams every game.

Internationally, there are unlimited ways to stay up to date on the scores; A free live stream, play-by-play updates via the tournament website, the team’s social media and your usual journalists. You’d have to be on the moon to not know the score.

Despite this, GB Basketball’s latest European Qualifier comfortably sold out. Furthermore, engagement on GB Basketball’s Twitter is on average 4x higher when “live” highlight plays are shared during the game. The video content tends to have a longer shelf life too, as players come off the court and engage with it much more than they would a traditional score graphic.

The increased engagement from both fans and players isn’t just limited to basketball either. Lizzie Sleet, Media & Communications Executive at Cricket Scotland, shared how the advantages of in-game clips are almost identical for international cricket:

Naturally, our in-game live clips certainly benefit from greater engagement than our text-based or static content does on social media. We also find players themselves are much more likely to share that type of content on their socials after a match, too!

An argument for the success of these in-game clips could be the increasing demand from fans for a strong second screen experience. Whilst Scottish football fans take pride in the lack of phones in the terraces, they’re never far away when watching sport on TV – something which is ever increasing as clubs look to build global fanbases.

It’s a discussion being held at the highest levels of football too, with FC Barcelona’s Digital Director, Enric Llopart, recently discussing the importance of utilising smartphones for fan engagement at the Nou Camp.

Llopart sited the NBA as a source of inspiration, where teams take advantage of in-game clips from unique angles, many of which boast eye-watering engagement figures.

So, it likely wouldn’t affect attendances, but can it add serious value to clubs now that coronavirus has closed the doors? Scottish clubs have had the benefit of using these in-game clips before, with BT Sport sharing them as part of their Europa League package this campaign.

I extend my thanks to Celtic for providing as close a comparison as we could have asked for over the last six months. The Parkhead side picked up two 2-1 wins over Lazio in this season’s Europa League – one in Glasgow and one in Rome. On top of that, they both came courtesy of late winners too.

The difference in views between the video of the away goal and home goal was 1.4 million in the former’s favour, with Celtic’s goal tweet recording over 3x the engagement in the away game. In short, it would appear the demand for this type of social content goes through the roof when the masses aren’t in attendance.

It all points to the well-discussed theory that fans want to be as close to the action as possible, and they’ll engage with any content from clubs that offers that. In-game highlights would have a positive impact on helping clubs capture the emotion for supporters during the key moments – now more than ever.

Grant Russell, Motherwell’s Head of Digital & Communications, spoke about how his club captures emotion and its importance in their story-focussed digital strategy:

For us, telling the stories of what we do – and what we stand for as a club – is the driving force behind all of our digital content.

It ties right back to our brand strategy, which is to try and improve people’s lives. That takes many different forms, of course, and there are many different things the club does to tell its stories. Capturing the emotion of something is paramount to many stories.

Speaking specifically about the content strategy on match days, we want people to experience the games in as many different ways as possible. And the key word there is experience. Because every club can cover the match routinely. For us, it’s about how you can you add value to the experience if you’re in the stadium or, if you’re not there, experience the feeling of being there as much as possible.

As a club, Motherwell are widely regarded as one of the best in Scotland – if not the UK – when it comes to social. The ability to share in-game clips would only add further value to their current digital offering – especially with no timeline for fans returning to Fir Park:

This naturally comes with limitations. We can’t put up video of the match as it happens. In football if something truly remarkable happens, you’re hamstrung in a sense by not being able to share that particular experience in real time. But that doesn’t mean the moments can’t still be felt.

We’re tweaking again how we will do things for 2020/21. But certainly big things for us are our on-pitch camera. Right on the full-time whistle, we’re on the pitch and catching the thoughts of a player while they are still catching their breath. It’s an immersive moment you’d never get in the normal experience. You get the raw emotion of the player before they’ve even had time to compose their thoughts. Win, lose or draw, you as the supporter feel that emotion with them.

We also try and show what’s going on in the stadium as much as we can. The fans in full voice. Behind the scenes. Pictures from the match. The most important details of what’s happening on the pitch.

Whilst Motherwell and other top flight clubs have the resources to film a variety of video content, Grant believes it’s possible for clubs at any level of the Scottish pyramid to capture emotion for supporters whilst restricted by closed door games:

For any club – there are ways to make people not present feel the emotion of any match. It can be video, pictures or even your words. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Find what takes your audience on the journey with you, wherever they may be.

Moving away from football and back to cricket, Lizzie explained the ability to share the emotion of key moments was a key factor in Cricket Scotland’s decision to take advantage of in-game highlights over the last few years:

We play away from home a lot and unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of TV coverage when we do play at home, so these in game clips become really valuable to us in terms of our match day offering. They allow our fans the chance to feel part of the action as best they can and share great match moments with us at the same time.

Looking to a another sport – tennis – Wimbledon’s content from the 2019 women’s final offers a great example of the power emotion has to drive engagement through timely clips. Simona Halep picked up her first Wimbledon title vs Serena Williams at 3:05pm and, by 3:09pm, the clip had been posted across Wimbledon’s channels.

What followed was over 600k views and almost 30,000 engagements. You can’t help but question how much of that excitement would have been lost had the social team had to wait until midnight?

There’s still a lot more to be explored in the argument, such as the ability to monetise the clips through platform advertisements and sponsorship deals, but it’s certainly time that the issue is addressed by those in charge. It’s clear across all sports that the content drives emotion-based engagement.

Football is a passionate game and, now more than ever, clubs need all the help they can get to build that connection between themselves and their supporters. In the absence of pre-match pints and bums on seats, social media is where the crowds will be gathered for the foreseeable future. Now is the time to fill it with the emotion we all so badly miss.