“I WANTED TO GIVE THE FANS A VOICE”

From hum­ble be­gin­nings, Ar­se­nal Fan TV has quickly be­come an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion

Australian Four Four Two - - YOUTUBE -

“I thought it would be nice to hear from the peo­ple who in­vest all their time and money into go­ing to games,” Ar­se­nal Fan TV founder Rob­bie Lyle tells FFT. “I wanted to give the fans a voice.” To­gether with his part­ner Tao, Rob­bie grabbed a video cam­era and a mi­cro­phone and stood out­side the Emi­rates Sta­dium as fans streamed out fol­low­ing a 2012 North Lon­don Derby against Tot­ten­ham. “We were un­known at that stage,” he ex­plains, “but my think­ing was: ‘There are 60,000 peo­ple here. By the law of av­er­ages, some­one will want to talk about the game.’” They ini­tially en­joyed a cult fol­low­ing, be­fore the open­ing day of the 2013-14 cam­paign proved to be a break­through. Ar­se­nal fans had grown ex­as­per­ated by the club’s lack of trans­fer ac­tiv­ity over the sum­mer, so when the Gun­ners lost their sea­son opener 3-1 at home to As­ton Villa, emo­tions were run­ning pretty high. A fin­ger-jab­bing fan by the name of Chris Hud­son gave Rob­bie an in­ter­view that some­how com­bined fury, weari­ness, ut­ter chaos and ra­zor-sharp clar­ity. “Ev­ery­thing he said en­com­passed what ev­ery­body was feel­ing that day af­ter the Villa de­feat,” re­mem­bers Rob­bie. “He was just talk­ing straight from the heart.” The video went vi­ral and has now been watched over one mil­lion times on YouTube. Hav­ing ini­tially ig­nored the project which was filmed on its doorstep, the club has since in­vited Rob­bie to press launches and be­hind-the-scenes events. Even Ar­se­nal’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Ivan Gazidis, a reg­u­lar tar­get of some colour­ful out­bursts on the chan­nel, has ad­mit­ted that he en­joys the videos. “I spoke to him at a club event once,” Rob­bie re­calls. “He said to me: ‘Look, I know I of­ten get some crit­i­cism on your chan­nel, but I think you guys do ev­ery­thing in a very pro­fes­sional and fair way – so just keep on do­ing what you’re do­ing.’” Rob­bie has ful­filled his dream of giv­ing the fans a voice, but he’s done so much more than that. He has made them stars.

There is, how­ever, some good news for gen­uine foot­ball sup­port­ers. One of YouTube’s most pop­u­lar sport­ing chan­nels is Copa90, which brands it­self as ‘by fans, for fans’. Very few in foot­ball – only Nike, Barcelona, Real Madrid, FIFA and a hand­ful of freestylers (more on them later) – have a big­ger fol­low­ing than a group ded­i­cated to the fan ex­pe­ri­ence, and they hold no lit­tle in­flu­ence. “No one gave us a chance,” says CEO Tom Thirl­wall, who co-cre­ated Copa90 in 2012. “Ev­ery­one said that a foot­ball me­dia busi­ness with­out any foot­ball rights or recog­nis­able foot­ball ta­lent on screen was em­phat­i­cally not go­ing to work. And in 2012, sport made up less than half a per cent of the con­tent on YouTube, with foot­ball a sub­set of that. But we made it our mis­sion to cap­ture and cham­pion the voice of fans. “What amazes me to­day, four and a half years later, is that we will get briefs from some ma­jor global brands, leagues and tour­na­ments who want ‘a fans-first ap­proach’. Isn’t it amaz­ing that when play­ers want to play in front of them, clubs want to re­cruit them and broad­cast­ers want to sell their prod­uct to them, the fans have been for­got­ten? Brands will say, ‘We’ve had three or four agen­cies work­ing on this for months and here’s our line…’ – and it’s ‘Con­nect to fans through au­then­tic con­tent that speaks to them.’ Wow. OK. So what have you been do­ing up to now?” In cre­at­ing videos on sub­jects rang­ing from the in­tense ri­valry be­tween Red Star and Par­ti­zan Bel­grade to a Syr­ian refugee try­ing to forge a play­ing ca­reer in Ger­many, Copa90 can tell sto­ries to a large net­work of fans (one that has been boosted fur­ther by pop­u­lar videos on Lionel Messi and FIFA 17). They’ve man­aged to es­tab­lish a con­nec­tion, some­thing that’s not gone un­no­ticed by foot­ball’s heavy­weights. “We’ve done a lot of work over the past cou­ple of years with Ma­jor League Soccer,” Thirl­wall tells FFT. “We have had con­ver­sa­tions with the FA and the Pre­mier League. Fed­er­a­tions have ap­proached us to say, ‘We have a prob­lem con­nect­ing with fans and we un­der­stand that you have this au­then­tic con­nec­tion, so we would like you to help us.’ Our am­bi­tion is In re­cent years, YouTube has seen the cam­era turn 180 de­grees. Foot­ball fans can be mi­nor celebri­ties, as can peo­ple once mocked for up­load­ing videos of goals ‘they’ scored on FIFA or PES (or, in­ex­pli­ca­bly and in­ex­cus­ably, Foot­ball Man­ager). Any­one can be a player now. Foot­ball freestylers are self-made celebri­ties. Blessed with quick feet, con­fi­dence and a cam­era, these skill mer­chants – many of whom pur­sued a ca­reer in pro­fes­sional foot­ball only to find they lacked the req­ui­site physique, drive or broad range of tal­ents – have found a dif­fer­ent way to make a liv­ing from their abil­ity. Freestylers and clips of pro­fes­sional foot­ballers’ flicks and tricks ac­count for many of YouTube’s most-watched sports chan­nels. F2Freestylers – arch-ballers Billy Win­grove and Jeremy

Lynch – now have nearly five mil­lion sub­scribers. “We try to think of things no one has done be­fore,” Lynch tells FFT. “We’re work­ing through a list of 100 or so, but al­most ev­ery day we think of a new one.” Win­grove adds: “We have man­aged to make our job from an­other av­enue. We’re film­ing with Barcelona play­ers! Six or seven years ago, it didn’t even ex­ist. We cre­ated it, ba­si­cally.” YouTube’s im­pact has been mas­sive. Skilled foot­ballers who don’t make the grade now have an­other route into the game. And when 17 of YouTube’s 40 most-watched foot­ball clips are ei­ther freestylers or skills reels, the site could even be af­fect­ing how to­day’s young play­ers play. Will the next gen­er­a­tion of foot­ballers be more con­cerned with fancy flicks than hat-tricks? If that hap­pens, it would be the most sig­nif­i­cant case of YouTube chang­ing foot­ball, more than a decade af­ter Ronald­inho wowed the world with his cross­bar tom­fool­ery. For now, YouTube’s only im­pact is in foot­ball’s growth, fan cul­ture, celebrity, scout­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and the way we spec­tate. And it has got ev­ery episode of Ren­ford Re­jects.

to be­come an im­por­tant in­flu­ence on the game go­ing for­ward, giv­ing fans a voice and a plat­form.” Think on that the next time you’re brows­ing on YouTube for foot­ball’s fun­ni­est howlers.

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