James Kirkham, head of Copa90, on the company’s recent study and big plans for the World Cup
The modern football fan looks nothing like it once did. According to a recent report by Copa90, the world’s largest independent football media business, the modern football fan is “worldly, culturally curious and passionate”. They’re super knowledgeable about obscure teams and players thanks to avid gaming habits on the likes of FIFA, but don’t expect to see them imparting that knowledge socially - the privacy of WhatsApp is their safe-haven and that’s where they do their sharing. You can check out the study in its entirety here, but for some extra analysis – and to also find out Copa90’s pretty rad plans during the World Cup in Moscow – LBB’s Addison Capper picked the brains of James Kirkham, head of Copa90.
LBB> So for the World Cup Copa90 has got a clubhouse for six weeks in Moscow – I think there will be film screenings, panel debates, live shows, music, a gallery. A lot! What kind of crowd are you expecting to be there? Will it be quite global?
JK> Very global - very Copa90 really. When people are in town we’re trying to make it their base because it’s not easy to just nip about. There’s a co-working space too, so on top of all the stuff going on you can also get some work done. Someone might be in Moscow for a game in the evening, but get to the city in the morning – they can watch some pre-games, hang out, do some work if they need to.
The point of the clubhouse really is where Russia meets the rest of the world. Our whole take was that we wanted to be the ones to tell the truth. We dropped a documentary called ‘Should You Be Afraid Of The Russian World Cup?’ just over a year ago. It wasn’t meant to be an antidote or anything, but that’s what it ended up being because everyone else was taking such a myopic, one-sided view of what Russia would be like. Everything we try to do is to explore the absolute truth. And it [Russia] is a cultural curiosity, it is quite different in many ways, but it’s got phenomenal things going for it that are never reported in the western media. Lots of the content that we’re making and the stuff we’re doing out there is bringing to life the brilliant side of what makes it such an exciting country.
It says it all when you see the excited faces of the young kids there. They don’t know about Putin and government and geopolitical situations and the stuff we have to watch and be aware of. They’re just thrilled to see these players on their shores.
LBB> It’s funny, the Moscow clubhouse reminds me a bit of the LBB & Friends Beach in Cannes - LBB and Copa90 are both very digital beings, but the clubhouse and the beach are the physical embodiments of us.
JK> It really is like that. That’s a lovely comparison because Copa90 has spent a long time doing things in a smart, new world, digital way. The belief that we have – that a diet of the old media can’t satisfy the appetite of the modern football fan – is really amplified by the kind of stuff that we make and produce. Of course, it exists primarily in digital and social, and we’re going to make a shed load of stuff in that space. However, what’s lovely about this World Cup is that it’s also being realised through things like the clubhouse, the event space, live gigs, galleries, film screenings, a place to hang out with like-minded fans and friends. We’ve got other broadcasters, from the likes of CNN to the BBC, who want to come down and hang out and show what we’re doing, which is fascinating. Perhaps that’s because it’s an antidote to how things would usually be done.
We’ve gone even further with the physical aspects this year too – we’ve produced a limited edition World Cup IPA beer and we’re doing a launch night for that, we’ve got a bunch of merchandise, we’ve done a World Cup book. The World Cup is a real peak moment, there’s such an attention to it that we have an ability to reach a crescendo and really show people who we are, what we’re about and what we’re doing. It’s the moment to be the best at what you do.
We’ve always believed that football is the universal language, the ultimate common denominator – during the last Euro Championship we did work that people said broke down barriers. It can heal division, it can be an incredible force for good. And in a world right now, post-Trump, post-Brexit, we think football is very, very important and I believe it’s got real connective tissue.
LBB> Let’s talk about The Modern Football Fan, the big study that you guys recently launched. The modern football fan is “worldly, culturally curious, and passionate”, you say – can you just elaborate a little on that? Do you think this is a mirror of the evolution of everyday culture too?
JK> Football is no longer a singular passion. Anyone that treats it as such, whether from a brand or an agency, they’re going to be stuck behind the door. Football exists as part of the fabric of culture, full stop. So you can love football, but also music, be into style, design - those influences fuse much more readily now.
In the modern fan report we explored that very early on and found that music and gaming are at a huge intersection with football. Its influence has created what that curious, worldly, wise fan is. For example, let’s take gaming. I’m flying to Portland today and my nine-year-old son immediately started telling me about the Portland Timbers team and the MLS - he’s nine! And the reason is gaming. He plays FIFA, PES, he’s spent time on Football Manager. Anyone under the age of 30 has had an education in football via gaming. This means that those fans are less tribal, they’ll follow more than one team. Teams also have much more global followings - my son will walk around with a Paris Saint Germain shirt on. He doesn’t really support them but he loves them and knows them. And then that goes further because gaming influences the rise of individuals - people will follow Zlatan [Ibrahimovic], for example, irrespective of where he ends up.
LBB> One big thing that the study says is that this group is very wary of public discussion – their safe space is WhatsApp. With that in mind, what does all this mean for brands? What are the opportunities?
JK> They’re going to be challenged but there are opportunities. The meme culture that erupted a couple of years ago, which I’d almost now call a third language, has spread so massively. Ronaldo’s scissor kick from April – nearly 7,000 videos of that were created by over 5,500 different accounts. You can’t own the moment anymore, like Oreo once did in the Super Bowl. But there’s a reaction to that. Kids and teenagers now talk about escaping the algorithm. They want a complete reverse from their algorithmically controlled lives, i.e. they don’t want the same stuff sent from the same people. They look in different places. That’s a number one opportunity for brands – make different stuff, look at putting it out in different places and it will be found either way if it’s good enough.
Then you’ve got companies like Publicis Media launching ‘6 Second Video’, saying that kids don’t have a long enough attention span. I think that’s nonsense. Kids will get rid of stuff that doesn’t work, that they think is rubbish. But look at Childish Gambino’s This Is America. It’s political, it’s incendiary, it’s nuanced, it’s full of hidden meaning – it got to number one thanks to a very young audience on the same social platforms that media agencies are claiming they don’t have the attention span for. They’ve got no attention span for stuff that’s rubbish. They will take a four-minute madly political, quite difficult to understand piece of content, and take it to number one. So actually, there’s never been a better time to make good stuff.
And with regards to WhatsApp – as you say, it’s a social safe haven. Young people in our studies were reticent to keep blurting stuff out because they didn’t know where their tweets, for example, would end. They were worried because they’d seen people like Stormzy be pulled over the coals for social posts. But they will still have content being shared in those spaces – it’s down to whether a brand can be smart enough to infiltrate them. Can they produce something that’s then the piece that gets shared in the WhatsApp groups? Can they leverage an initiative like adidas did with Tango Squad? That’s a good example that leverages more of that dark, social world – we will definitely see more of that.
LBB> To round things up, I wanted to pick your brains on something that was announced last week. Amazon is going to live-stream 20 Premier League matches from 2019 onwards – what kind of ramifications do you think this could have for brands and the modern football fan? And how do you see the future for live football rights?
JK> I think it’s just the start. They’ve been really smart. A lot of the games are going to be shown on Boxing Day so they’ll probably wrap it up in some kind of Amazon Prime deal. People can then go and get involved with the rest of Amazon – it’s entirely down to convenience and convenience will always win. If you can simply augment into the life of the modern fan in a seamless way, that’s a great thing because that’s what people will flock to. Facebook began live-steaming games from Liga MX, the Mexican league, last year. It went a bit under the radar around the world, but this is a hugely supported league. This is where the audience are spending time so it’s the most natural thing in the world. More and more of these platforms will look to stream football in the places that their audiences already are. It’s the further breaking down of the previous monopoly.