How football site Goal is using Facebook for global reach

Football news site Goal has global ambitions. The site publishes 37 digital editions in 18 languages, and naturally Facebook is front and center of its global plans.

The site, owned by Perform Media, has 1.5 million monthly visitors in the U.K., according to ComScore. But Facebook is where the fastest international growth lies, and it has 52 million followers. Goal was one of the first publishers to start experimenting with Facebook Live a year ago, and has since published over 200 streams in countries including the U.K., France, Italy, Spain, America, Brazil and Argentina. Rather than create generic content and seed it out to all countries, the editorial teams (350 in total) in each country create Facebook Lives in their native languages. The style of these videos has evolved as the publisher has become more au fait with how to make the most of the tool.

“We’re talking about a new breed of football fan,” said Goal’s global editor-in-chief James Marley. “Their consumption has changed, they don’t follow a single team anymore but multiple teams, they’re less tribal, more socially inclined, and mobile dependent.”

For that reason Goal gives a lot of attention to areas like fantasy football. Now it runs weekly, morning 45-minute shows on Facebook in countries like the U.K. and Italy. Goal football experts answer questions from their Facebook audience, relating to what line-ups fans should pick for the following week. Some Facebook streams have averaged 100 comments a minute, according to Goal’s marketing manager Sam Brown. In Italy in particular, the league is so dominated by Juventus, that fans are more interested in their fantasy football line-ups than the matches themselves, he added.

Goal France also streams a weekly Facebook show, called The PSG Show, dedicated solely to the Paris Saint-Germain club and the current Ligue 1 champions.

Likewise, Goal is capitalizing on its existing Facebook audience to run a Messenger bot. This rolled out a few weeks ago, and users can currently select to receive news on teams they want to follow from the Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A, and France’s Ligue 1.

Meanwhile in the U.K., where Goal has 55 staff, 25 of whom are editorial, Instagram has been the platform of choice. The publisher has grown from 250,000 to 1.4 million followers in the last six months. Snapchat is the flavor of the month with so many publishers, but for Goal, Instagram Stories is a bigger focus. So far, the U.K. team has published 15 Instagram stories, ranging between 10-20 pictures. The aim is to pick specific tent-pole events around which to tell Instagram Stories, such as the Champions League Group stage. For this, correspondents from a range of countries sent images of the first day’s match, which generated 450,000 views on Instagram.

Goal has published 15 Instagram Stories.

“We learned that sound doesn’t work on Instagram. If someone is talking to the camera or giving a verbal breakdown of what’s happening, people just swipe past them,” said Brown. Transfer deadline commentaries and other verbal formats have been binned in favor of behind-the-scenes content and silent videos of funny cultural moments that happen off-pitch.

Snapchat content is less in-depth so far, mainly because Instagram is the natural extension of Facebook, and therefore offers easier visibility.

Text articles remain as important as video for Goal, on Facebook. Last week, research from U.S. digital marketing agency Fractl, showed that Goal outstripped competitors like the BBC, BuzzFeed, Mail Online, The New York Times, and Huffington Post, for generating the most shared text-based articles on social platforms. Fractl monitored the top million most shared articles on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms in the first six months of 2016 (the majority were shared on Facebook). Goal articles like: “Made of gold! Magical Messi is the most dominant player of all time” were shared 84,000 times on Facebook, where it has 52 million followers.

Ashley Carlisle, Fractl’s brand relationship strategist, said Goal came out top in its research because the nature of its content appeals more to a wider international audience. “Football is the world’s most popular sport and its stars, such as Ronaldo and Messi, are some of the biggest celebrities on the planet. This helps Goal engage a global audience compared to rival publishers, such as BuzzFeed and CNN, whose fan base is concentrated in America,” she said. “Only 17 percent of Facebook’s daily active users are in the U.S or Canada.”

Being beholden to Facebook algorithm changes is a risk, so Goal isn’t relying solely on the platform, but also maximizing its reach via other popular apps and platforms. Like many publishers trying to tap audiences in Asia, Goal is on Japanese messaging app Line, where it claims 6.5 million followers. When it comes to making money from Facebook and other platforms, it’s content to play the long game. “It’s not easy to monetize but there will be opportunities there in future, and we want to ensure we’re in a good position to use that. There are some commercial opportunities already available,” added Brown.

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