Football may be one of the oldest sports around (early versions of the game date all the way back to the Classical Roman and Greek eras). But it’s also the basis of a global industry that embraces the latest in technological innovations and developments – whether that’s new training tools for developing up and coming players or innovative new performance kits and training gear.
The digital era has had an impact on the beautiful game, making the sport more accessible and disrupting the industry in significant ways. Here’s a summary of how virtual and digital technologies have changed and improved the sport, in a relatively short space of time.
Local teams have gone global
Back in the day, football fans would typically support their home clubs, or whichever club their friends supported. Diehard fans of the sport kept up to date with clubs from other parts of the country or world via sports supplements and the like, but actually following and supporting a club from out of town was very rare. Football games cost money to attend, after all, add travel costs on top of that, and it becomes a pretty costly affair. The digital era changed all that though broadcasting local teams to a global audience and enabling unprecedented levels of connectivity.
Remember when, back in 2012, Man United casually announced that they had a total of 659 million followers from around the world? Well, that level of global reach is now a reality for most premier league clubs. The internet and all its wonders now make it easy to choose multiple clubs from anywhere in the world to support. Content streaming sites make their key games widely available and today’s fans aren’t even bound by television broadcasting limitations on matches in the same way that older generations of fans were.
Then there’s the impact of social media on ensuring a more extensive reach for football clubs. Any individual who signs up for a Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram account can immediately interact with a club via its official profiles, and reach other fans even from the other side of the world. This sense of immediacy fosters a strong connection with supporters, plus the more involved they get in online discussions, the more social media algorithms will show them posts, news, and updates. Just look at a certain Portuguese footballer’s Instagram stats for a clear demonstration of the power of social media. He currently has over 178 million followers, which is over ten times the total populations of his native country.
Boosting the sport at the grassroots level
But it’s not just those top of the league clubs who are enjoying a global fanbase; digital technology is also assisting smaller, grassroots clubs with fan engagement – even if they aren’t connected to major associations or leagues.
FC United Manchester (FCUM) is currently the most prominent, fan-owned British club – a feat that most likely wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for digital innovation. It took them a while to do it, but FCUM embraced digital tech and have since been able to utilize social media to significant effect. By embracing the likes of Wakelet as well as the more conventional social media platforms, FCUM has attracted the attention of fan shareholders and bumped up match day attendance to be one of the most attended non-league football clubs in the UK.
Football in the home
Even the way in which football fans enjoy the game at home has changed massively in the past decade or so. Whereas once we had to be content with a simple football-based console game, there are now all sorts of games based on the sport in which we can control our fantasy leagues, play in world cup tournaments and even enjoy football-based real money games and mobile apps.
The ubiquitous SEGA/Sports Interactive Football Manager, which is currently in its 17th edition, could be considered the ultimate football video game, but a flurry of new releases are signalling a new, even more, technologically-advanced direction for playing football in the home – Virtual Reality. Admittedly, VR hasn’t quite had the impact that it was touted as having and it’s a long way away from being available in every home in the UK. But as far as getting close to the real thing without setting foot on a pitch Nintendo Wii definitely tops the list!