Manchester City v Atalanta: Group C - UEFA Champions League

Social media is a powerful tool for sports organizations seeking to engage fans and expand their reach. Manchester City is one of the most proactive soccer clubs in the world when it comes to digital platforms thanks to its extensive in-house content operation.

However, it was left red-faced after an unauthorized advert called for social media influencers to advertise the club’s UEFA Champions League home matches.

City has had an uneasy relationship with Europe’s elite competition due to ongoing investigations over the club’s compliance with Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations and perception of unfair treatment from administrators. Fans even boo the iconic Champions League anthem before matches.

Man City Tribe

This animosity has translated into below-capacity attendances. Although the figures are impressive for most clubs, Tuesday’s 5-1 victory over Italian side Atalanta was watched by 49,308 spectators but the club’s Etihad Stadium can hold 53,000 for European matches. There is a degree of sensitivity about the subject, not least because fans of opposing clubs use attendances as a vehicle for mockery.

According to the Manchester Evening News, an advert on influencer marketing application Tribe called on males who were either from the city or were Man City fans, with more than 5,000 followers to produce content about the game.

Specifically, this content needed to be “fan-centric which has an element of FOMO [fear of missing out] at its core” and “showcases the electrifying atmosphere that only Champions League live football matches can deliver.”

The advert dismisses City’s three opponents in the group stages of this year’s competition – Atalanta, Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donetsk – as unknowns: “The Champions League draw this year has given us 3 relatively unknown teams meaning our core fans are less likely to attend…We want to get across the great atmosphere of the Etihad through the use of influencers who can tell an authentic and genuine story of what it’s like to be at the game.”

However, all is not as it seems. Multiple reports state that the City did not authorize the advert and that it was placed by a marketing agency with which it has an existing relationship. The club is reportedly so incensed that it is reviewing its relationship with the agency and has no plans to use Tribe in the future.

Even though this incident wasn’t City’s fault, it does offer evidence for the need for caution. Social media can be a powerful tool for sports clubs and federations eager to expand their audience, but it needs to be used correctly.