At Little Mesters we are passionate about football, and being based in Sheffield we are well aware of the city’s history with the sport. Home to two professional clubs, Wednesday and United, it has been part of its rich tapestry for over a hundred years. More influential than those two, if you can imagine, are Sheffield Football Club. Founded in 1857, and often described by club chairman Richard Tims as a “living, breathing antique”, the oldest football club in the world is celebrating its 165th anniversary this year.
While the term “heritage brand” might get thrown around a lot, Sheffield FC are pioneers of the footballing world, responsible for inventing the first corner kick, throw-in, free-kick, cross-bar and fouls.
The club’s unique heritage plays a large part in the work we do today, but importantly it also informs how we approach the club from a digital marketing perspective. In development for over six months, our original 25 page plan included over 3,500 words to be implemented in phases over several years.
The primary aim was to build upon the club’s existing digital presence, which included introducing a structured plan for organic social media and paid advertising, as well as email marketing supported by analytics and detailed reporting.
It was particularly important to capitalise on the club’s unique position as the official grandfather of football, with a strong focus on the notion that every football supporter has a spiritual connection to Sheffield FC.
At the heart of this plan was the ongoing strategy of the club’s new membership scheme. Designed to encourage supporters to take their place in footballing history, the scheme was also part of a wider plan to build a social community and engage with fans both locally and globally.
A feature of our wider strategy has been capitalising on what we like to call “energy moments”. These moments, often in collaboration with other creative agencies, centre around larger campaigns designed to generate and maintain momentum around the football club.
These collaborations have culminated in campaigns such as the 2021/22 kit launch with COPA Football, Peter & Paul and Pedalo Photography, as well as the club’s inclusion in FIFA 22 and ULTIMATE TEAM as part of the “F.O.A.T Code”, in partnership with EA Sports and Jung von Matt SPORTS.
Outside of these collaborative campaigns, the unpredictable nature of the sports industry can present challenges and opportunities for our team, and wielding the expertise to appropriately react is part of our ongoing strategy with Sheffield FC.
The unsuccessful launch of the European Super League typified this approach, resulting in a statement from the club across all social media channels delivering over 500K impressions and over 35K engagements.
Like many brands, organic social media has been a great source of success for the club. Surprisingly, at the heart of this success is the dream of a potential pre-season friendly in South America.
As part of our strategy to build and engage with the club’s growing community, we asked followers, supporters and members to choose their dream pre-season friendly opponent.
The post received a wide range of responses, including teams from England, Germany and Russia. For example, popular German football club Borussia Dortmund were a fan favourite in the replies. As the responses continued to come in, the name of one infamous club in particular refused to go away.
For a long time Brazilian side Íbis Sport Club has been regarded as “the worst team in the world”. This particular punchline is perhaps rooted more in myth than in reality, but it spurred on their fans, or perhaps Brazilian football fans in general, to vote for their team.
With Íbis Sport Club planted firmly in our minds, we launched our poll. What happened over the next 48 hours was bizarre, exhilarating and utterly transformative.
Almost overnight the Brazilian club won 93.1% of the vote from a whopping 62,872 votes. On Twitter alone, the post achieved over one million impressions and over 135K engagements.
Throughout Latin America the prospect of Sheffield FC travelling across the world to compete against “the worst team in the world” caught the attention of many, including the continent’s news media.
The story was picked up by geglobo, Latin America’s largest sports news agency, as well as ESPN Brasil and Desimpedidos, with the latter boasting two million followers on Twitter and eight million subscribers on YouTube.
What began as a core part of our strategy to engage with the football club’s community had ended with Sheffield FC chairman Richard Tims dreaming of Copacabana Beach.
For ourselves, this was one of our coveted “energy moments” which aligned perfectly with the aforementioned notion that every football supporter has a spiritual connection to Sheffield FC.
Outside of what we like to call organic social media, our marketing strategy has also been bolstered by paid advertising set-up to support the football club’s digital presence from a brand and e-commerce point of view.
We introduced our paid advertising campaigns with a strong focus on the membership scheme, initially targeting Sheffield-based football supporters before pivoting to a nationwide interested-based audience.
Given Sheffield FC’s cult status around the world, particularly in European countries such as Germany, we also sampled and tested audiences in those markets to build upon the international heritage brand ethos of the club.
A key result of this advertising strategy, not to mention the impact of a wider digital marketing strategy, is the club’s landmark achievement in having more than 4000 members from more than 50 different countries.
As we continued to help build the club off the pitch as an e-commerce brand, our paid advertising activities also shifted towards merchandise, particularly during last summer’s COPA Football kit launch and the all important Christmas period.
During these campaigns, our paid advertising strategy has delivered a string of outstanding results for Sheffield FC, including:
- Over 500 conversions
- 3.45 ROAS (return on advertising spend)
In terms of reach, our advertising campaigns delivered:
- More than 5.5m impressions
- 135k link clicks
- 145k engagements
Additionally, our Twitter campaigns drove:
- 112k impressions
- 4.9k link clicks
- 6.9k engagements
Over the past 12 months, Sheffield FC has grown significantly. Since March 2021, we have helped to deliver:
- 28.9m impressions
- 1.3m engagements
- 89.5k link clicks
- 9.8k audience growth across all channels
As we look back on this first anniversary, we have learned a lot about the sports industry, particularly the importance of history and heritage in one of England’s most revered cultural arenas.
Moving forward, this history and heritage will continue to play a dominant role in our marketing strategy as Sheffield FC looks to continue its status as a pioneering and forward thinking football club.
Also looking back, chairman Richard Tims adds:
"The work Little Mesters do has been invaluable to us over the past twelve months. The team are passionate about what we do and what we want to achieve, and their expertise continues to put us in the right position to succeed."