Fans / Leagues

Social Media

South African soccer style

Author Mlondi Mashinini, Fanbase Analytics

Posted: July 7, 2016

Tagged: Facebook / Twitter

The 2015/16 version of the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) season ended on the 21st May 2016. The offseason always presents an opportune time for professional sports teams to evaluate their performance based on sporting results and commercial success.

All PSL teams have adopted social media as a means of communicating with their fans and a way to enhance fan engagement. A social media snapshot conducted on the 19th June 2016 is available at here. Facebook and Twitter dominate social media usage in South Africa, with a combined 20.4 million users (13 million and 7.4 million respectively), which is why this audit has focused on those two platforms.


Building a fan community

Social media is a great addition to games, road shows and other events, which teams use to attract and retain fans. It also represents a platform for the fans to communicate directly with their favourite team and receive first hand, trusted information.

Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates are traditionally known as the teams with the highest fan bases in South African soccer, unsurprisingly they also lead in terms of social media support, making up 77% of Facebook likes and Twitter followers among PSL teams. The high social media following of the two teams can also be attributed to the efforts they have made to create their social media communities. Kaizer Chiefs have by far the highest number of tweets amongst PSL teams, at 36,700, which is 17,500 tweets more than the next team. Consequently Kaizer Chiefs commands a 76% share of all PSL teams Twitter followers.

One of the best practices used to build large social media fan communities is to communicate with followers at a personal and emotive level. Kaizer Chiefs uses the peace sign emoji, which is synonymous with the team and their slogan ‘love and peace’, when writing messages to fans. Mamelodi Sundowns also have a great example of communicating with their fans using language, which forms part of the team’s parlance, with their Twitter handle being @Masandawana, the team’s nickname. This type of language creates a sense of belonging amongst fans and the need to be part of the community. Additionally such symbols are useful for brand recognition.

Avon Middleton from Clipping Point Media is a digital marketing specialist who is adamant that engagement with fans has a direct correlation with fan attraction AND fan retention. “Following a brand is one thing, but if I as a fan, receive no value from that relationship, I can very easily unfollow that brand. But brands who engage with me, respond to me on time, listen to what I have to say and involve me in their conversations, then I am likely not only to be a loyal fan, but to share that experience too.”


Content management

For fan communities to grow, followers need fresh and engaging content, therefore the frequency and consistency in communication with fans on social media platforms is important. Avon Middleton suggests that “content really is king. Winning on social media and ultimately in the real world, depends largely on producing engaging, shareable, likeable and memorable content. It’s what brands like Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns are doing well.”

Regular feeds of engaging, informative content, sent on a daily basis result in higher fan following, as seen from the Kaizer Chiefs example. Their content is varied and rich in nature, it includes team-generated content such as videos of team practice sessions, player interviews, infographics, etc. The team also does a good job of engaging and responding to fan queries at an individual level.

At the other end of the spectrum, some PSL teams have not sent any information on their social media platforms since the end of the season. These clubs miss the opportunity to use social media as a means of facilitating a 365-day conversation with their fans.

Lastly, quality information is key: teams who send real time updates on games being played, team/player and information that isn’t already available in other public sources, receive the highest number of followers. Fans see the value in following such social media accounts because of the access to exclusive and reliable content.


Direct marketing

To sports teams, social media followers represent a captured market of fans; therefore social media platforms can be leveraged as direct access to a team’s target customers for marketing purposes. Orlando Pirates for example promotes their online magazine subscription on their social media accounts; other clubs send fans information on ticket and merchandise sales.

A correlation coefficient calculation of social media followers and average stadium attendance showed a weak association, with a result of 0.24. However Mpumalanga Black Aces, a relatively small team, from a small market has both a high social media following and had the second highest attendance of all PSL teams. A possible means of increasing the association between attendance and social media following, would be using social media as part of an overall integrated digital marketing strategy. The strategy would include analysis of fan preferences, time of communicating to the fans and the ability to send customised information for each fan based on past behaviour and predictive analytics.

There is much to be gained from digital marketing in the South African landscape. Many sports teams have not capitalised on the digital market share of fans. They should. It could assist in turning the tide of such poor game attendance figures and possibly even make a marked improvement on both the fan experience and the bottom line of PSL teams.

About Mlondi Mashinini, Fanbase Analytics

Mlondi’s career spans the globe, from running Business Strategy / Fan Analytics at the Kansas City Chiefs Football Club (NFL) to working in Sales / Customer Acquisition Strategy at Real Madrid Football Club. Mlondi holds an MBA in Sports Management, which he attained at the Real Madrid Graduate School in Spain. In addition to his sports career Mlondi has 8 years working experience in project management and cost consulting for some of the biggest names in the entertainment and hospitality industry. He is contactable via

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