What’s a modern football fan? A recent report sheds light on how young fans are watching, what they’re watching for, and how the relationships between fans, players, and the game itself is changing.

Copa90, the innovative football-focused media brand covering “how football feels”, has looked into an audience core to its platform: males and females aged 16-24 who engage with football content every day. The results of the research are published in The Modern Football Fan 2.0.

Last year’s report looked exclusively at the UK, but this year Copa90 has broadened its reach to include the US, Brazil, and China in its research. The study surveyed 2,110 people across the four countries.

With its business division led by the former Leo Burnett social and mobile chief, James Kirkham, Copa90 knows how to work with brands. Its report drills down into what brands and agencies need to know about the habits and cultural mores of modern fans.

Here are some of the key findings.

Preferred platforms for consuming football content among young fans globally:

  • 35% TV (live)
  • 24% YouTube
  • 18% TV (on demand)
  • 15% football-specific websites
  • 14% Facebook
  • 13% Instagram
  • 12% Twitter

What’s more, 61% of modern fans are interested in a platform channel that allows the user to pay for a section of a game – such as the last 20 minutes in a tight match – at a reduced rate. The appetite for this among US fans is particularly high, at 78%.

2018 World Cup effect: Last year’s competition saw in a significant shift from broadcast to streaming. “A total of 31.2 million browsers watched the group matches through the BBC platform compared with 32 million online viewers for the whole of the Brazil WC 2014,” the report states.

Illegal live streams as well as new entries from Amazon have helped younger fans get their fix. Some broadcasters’ streaming offers (ESPN+ and Telemundo) also lowered barriers to entry. But the ongoing prevalence of online streaming suggests there is an opportunity for a more accessible offering than a full satellite TV package.

It’s not women’s football, it’s football: In March of this year, a crowd of 60,739 set a record for the best-attended football match in a women’s domestic top flight game between Athletico Madrid and Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium (total capacity: 67,000).

This year there’s a World Cup kicking off on the 7th June, a tournament that Copa90 predicts will be a watershed moment for the women’s game.

Yet the coverage is lagging. Despite record growth in attendances and viewership of both regular games and major fixtures, there is a lack of press. “If the media doesn’t show the game, it’s a problem, our matches become hard to find,” says the Bayern Munich midfielder and German international Lina Magull, “More positive coverage will have a huge impact on all aspects of the sport, including the players.”

The Copa90 research shows significant appetite for the upcoming tournament, with three quarters of surveyed fans excited about the it.

Currently, the report suggests, the women’s game’s growth in the social era means that player-influencers will be far more important than their clubs in commanding a following. However, it also points out that the lack of regular coverage has dictated a need to go directly to the source of the action.

“Brands like Nike, adidas, and PUMA also have an important job to do in not only providing platforms to create the superstars and role models for the next generation of players and fans but also in normalising the women’s game for a wider audience”, the report states.

However, the money entering the game has thus far gone to a handful of big-name teams and is yet to flow down into the rest of the game.

Leagues watched: For young viewership of specific leagues and tournaments, the World Cup is the most popular overall, with 79% of UK viewers, 58% US, 92% of Brazilian, and 88% of Chinese viewers tuning in. The next most viewed is the UEFA Champions League, the top European club competition. Interestingly, Brazilian fans are the most voracious viewers of non-domestic leagues, reflecting the fact that most of the country’s top players ply their trade elsewhere. Brazilian fans are also the most avid viewers of the World Cup and Champions League, with 92% and 88% of fans following the tournaments, respectively.

Duality: More players (and fans) are from mixed heritage than ever before. In the headlines last year, the Arsenal players Granit Xhaka (Swiss-born to an Albanian family) and Mesut Özil (German-born to a Turkish family) reflected the tension that such players face in the media when nationalities and heritage don’t match.

For young fans, a mixture is increasingly relevant: 74% of modern fans feel players should be able to talk about their mixed national identity. Additionally, 61% of fans find players with mixed identities particularly relevant.

Influence: For Copa90, a big moment in the year came from Manchester City’s Barnardo Silva replicating one of its influencers, David ‘Vuj’ Vujanic, after scoring a goal. Copa90 has become a powerhouse through a curious mix: the majority of the content it creates for its YouTube channel carries some kind of sponsorship, or at least a plug. This then allows the channel to approach some huge and complicated topics in football culture, most notably through its Derby Days series, which has now broadened its offer to feature-length foreign reporting.

Player influence: When exploring the idea of players as individual brands, forecast in last year’s report, the clearest cut example is the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid to Juventus. On Instagram, Madrid lost a million followers after the striker’s departure; Juventus gained 4.7 million. The trend is even more pronounced in China where 76% of fans follow their favourite players rather than clubs.

Copa90 predicted this last year, and the rise of platforms such as Otro signal this shift with real investment from both companies and players.

Though certain players have been influential since the inception of televised football, the conversations around them had always been one-way. Racism is still rife in football, and racist tropes continue in its reporting. The new player influence means they can now talk back: witness Raheem Sterling’s critique of the reporting around him following racist abuse at matches. The forward is now a figurehead among players and fans alike. Young fans are extremely concerned about racism in the game, with 41% of all fans surveyed saying it was the most pressing issue in the game. This is particularly acute in the UK, where 50% of fans think it is the most important issue to address.

A taste for tragedy: Following football has always been about stories; these are also the bait that woos the neutral. The latter half of 2018 and early 2019 saw the release of two major storytelling projects. From Amazon Prime, the All or Nothing series followed Manchester City’s stratospheric 2017-18 campaign, tracking the minor hiccups on the club’s way to Premier League glory. It was entertaining, but left viewers ultimately unsatisfied – there wasn’t anything new that we didn’t know before.

Contrast that with arguably the year’s football storytelling triumph. In Netflix’s harrowing Sunderland ‘Til I Die, we sob through the cosmically bad luck of the north-eastern English side as they try to fight their way back to the top flight, only to fall further. It’s a story as much about the players and the club’s workings as it is about the city and the fans. According to some sources the series brought the club more fans, who fell in love with the struggle.