Is social media denying fans the real news from sports teams?

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A few years ago Manchester United’s managing director Richard Arnold described the club as “the biggest TV show in the world”. Arnold reckons that they operate on social media at such a scale that they are “akin to a religion”.

Across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube the 20 times champions of England have a combined following of 123.7 million people. For Real Madrid that figure is 219.7 million. Bayern Munich have 72.5 million. While these sorts of statistics are a long way from what happens on the pitch in terms of wins, losses and draws, they are the numbers that make global sporting organisations tick in the modern world.

For instance, for the year 2018 United generated £110m from matchday revenue. That’s just 18.6 per cent of the £590m total revenue they made during that same period, according to figures from

In the first full year of the Premier League in 1993, that matchday revenue figure accounted for 44 per cent of the club’s total revenue. Since then the disparity in those numbers has widened and since around 2007 the gap has become more and more stark. As odd as it sounds, global sports teams like United have far bigger fish to fry than filling the stadium each week.


Those huge followings on social media have given sports teams and organisations direct access to fans via in-house media through which they can bypass the traditional methods of broadcasters and written press. It’s a trend that is growing rapidly around the world and in Ireland as well. In football the FAI now regularly distributes news and interviews via their own online channels such as FAI TV, the IRFU does similar while Leinster Rugby TV recently hit 10,000 subscribers on YouTube.

To use Arnold’s term: teams are now beginning to control that TV show and reap the financial rewards from it.

Dr Merryn Sherwood is a senior lecturer in Journalism at La Trobe University who has researched the trend of sports teams and organisations taking control of their own media and dictating what gets out.

“The clubs are enacting their power more now,” she explains.

“It’s still really new that we have social media and clubs have the ability to communicate directly with fans. I think what we’re seeing now is that clubs are really realising that power they have and that they can communicate directly. It used to be that they had to speak to the media to get to fans and now they don’t have to do that. It’s difficult for me to see how it will change in favour of journalists again.

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