At first the issue of a clubs Twitter followers might seem unimportant, flippant even, but as a measure of clubs profile it is actually quite a good gauge. We’re used to seeing attendance used as a measure of underlying support and by extension its revenue generating potential, but there are two issues; firstly the big clubs are held in check the difficulties with expanding capacity in terms of planning constraints, land availability and the ability of transport infrastructure to support development. Twitter however, is, in economic terminology, scalable in that there are virtually no physical limits to how many Twitter followers a club can attract therefore it can reveal the true differentials between clubs profiles. Secondly commercial income been growing in importance to clubs and according to Deloitte overtook match-day revenue for the first time in the 2010/11 season, so what matters more to clubs is not the number of people who physically watch their games, but how many replica kits they can expect to sell and how much sponsors will pay to be associated with the club.
What looking at the number of twitter followers does reveal is a massive inequality. Based on figures gathered on the 5th of August the combined number of followers for the top four clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, significantly exceeded the total for the rest of the football league – some 14.2 million compared to 8.6 million – and that’s not even including the followers of the foreign language Twitter feeds that some of the bigger clubs possess to engage with their overseas support. Manchester United’s official Spanish language account, for instance, has over 130000 followers which is more than the majority of Championship clubs.
The difference between the elite few and the clubs at the bottom of the football league is correspondingly vast. Arsenal, who sit at the very top of the table, boast 4.2 million followers, only just holding off Chelsea who themselves have 4.1 million followers. At the other end of the scale League Two Morecambe count just 5662 followers, a mere 0.1% of Arsenal’s total. This is indeed a stark divide considering that with average attendances 2013/14’s bottom club Accrington’s average crowd was around 2.1% of top club Manchester United’s.
The raised profile of the Premier League as a whole is demonstrated by the difference in followers between clubs in the two divisions. Among the Premier League clubs the median number of followers is 254500 whilst for the Championship it is a much lower 57550. The clubs in the Championship with the most followers have all had recent spells in the Premier League; newly relegated Fulham, and Norwich, lead the division with 237000 and 208000 followers respectively, while Wigan and Reading, relegated the previous season, also have followers numbering in the six figures. The number of followers for Blackburn and Bolton, however, both relegated at the end of the 2011/12 season, are much closer to the division average suggesting that being away from the spotlight of the top tier for more than a season can cause clubs profiles to shrink dramatically.
The numbers for League 1 and League 2 are even lower with the median number of followers per club being 19650 and 17250 respectively. Despite this clubs outside the Premier league have proved among the most enthusiastic adopters. Only three of the top 10 Tweeters, in terms of the total number of Tweets made since their accounts were started, are current Premier League clubs. It is a Championship club, Charlton Athletic, who lead the field having managed 59600 tweets. Also in the top five are fellow championship side Huddersfield and League One sides Notts County and Scunthorpe, each making over 50000 tweets: incidentally Manchester United on just over 7300 tweets are 6th from bottom. No doubt, these clubs have like many others from Premier League to grass-roots level found that Twitter is a valuable tool in engaging with supporters and enhancing their profile. Hidden in those numbers though is a story of deep inequality which will be unsettling to many.
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