Football is often a reflection of society so it was inevitable that the growth of technology would filter into sport. That filtering has developed into more of a flood, with persistent debates at how technology can be incorporated into football to make the matchday experience even better, both on the pitch and off the pitch. With the prevalence of social media fomenting a desire for absolute connectivity at all times, clubs are seeking new ways to cater for fans’ consumption of the sport. Everton are one of the clubs leading this new development, with their official club app enhancing the experience for fans by ensuring supporters remain in the loop with news and maintain contact with other members of the community. In an era where some are concerned over a perceived divide between clubs and fans, this positive use of technology cannot be understated.
The debate about technology in football has become more prominent than ever before, propelled by discussions over the suitability of the video assistant referee (VAR). Used in a similar manner to video support in rugby and cricket, an extra official with access to replays can assess and affect decisions during a stoppage in play. It is that stoppage that has traditionalists concerned over the flow of the game, while pragmatists suggest that using any method to achieve the right decision is a fillip for football. The biggest concern over VAR is that it excludes fans at the ground from a part of the match, with supporters left in a confused limbo while the VAR works its magic. This will always be a topic for debate, with validity to both sides’ arguments. However, the use of technology off the pitch has inarguably improved the footballing experience for fans.
Apps bringing fans and clubs closer together
Everton’s official app is representative of a general trend in which clubs are seeking to ensure that fans are able to stay up to date with the latest team news and transfers. Although many use social media to keep track of developments, the advantage of official clubs apps is that it filters out the noise from uninformed commentators and competing clubs, giving fans a direct line to their beloved team. Everton’s club app is not just a news service; it provides means for buying merchandise and match tickets, as well as giving the opportunity to discuss all things Everton with fellow fans. Essentially, it offers supporters a comprehensive service for everything related to the club, although the app is yet to develop sufficiently to fully transport supporters from across the world into Goodison Park on matchday.
However, it is that global reach that is one of the app’s leading advantages. Not everyone lives close to their team’s stadium, but apps such as these can evoke a feeling of connection. It is not just Everton that offers such an app. Championship clubs such as Fulham and Middlesbrough have devised apps for fans, while even smaller clubs like Exeter City and Liverpool have developed an app to keep fans connected. Those who cannot watch matches live receive the opportunity to view highlights through club apps, and even those who do attend matches have the chance to either relive the euphoria or dissect the horror of the last game.
Other apps that enhance the fan experience
Sometimes, a specialist club app is not sufficient. Even the most partisan football fans generally have a passing interest in the sport as a whole, and this is where news services come into play. The likes of Sky Sports and BBC Sport offer apps that function in much the same way as their website, but with the ability to connect to fans on the move. Especially on dramatic days such as transfer deadline day, this type of app can be indispensable for supporters who wish to be aware of events within a few minutes of a player signing on the dotted line. This style of app makes for easy access to pundits’ blogs on the latest footballing events, the ideal distraction for commutes and lunch breaks. Being able to read Garth Crooks’ team of the week while on the move anywhere on the globe truly marks out these days as a time to cherish.
It is crucial for many fans to be connected with significant events such as transfers or injuries, but it is similarly significant to be appraised of in-game occurrences moments after they transpire. There is a plethora of apps that offer a live score service, operating in a similar fashion to the vidiprinters that adorn popular goal services such as Soccer Saturday and Final Score. The Guardian identified Forza Football as the leading app of this ilk, but there is a multitude of competitors available. These live-score apps frequently offer the opportunity to customise which matches deliver updates, enabling fans to only be disturbed by goals that they personally consider noteworthy. This type of app is particularly effective when used in conjunction with apps from bookmarkers, with mobile betting a growing market. Almost all bookmakers offer websites designed with mobile users in mind, while the largest bookies even offer specialist apps to streamline the betting experience. With bookmakers’ in-play services now a large contributor to their overall reputation, fans are now likely to gravitate towards companies that offer connectivity and instant betting for punters who are on the move. The match experience has diversified for supporters, with fans able to keep appraised of other fixtures while being able to bet on events transpiring right in front of them.
Social media keeping fans in the loop
Source: Bristol City FC via Facebook.
Social media is inevitably an influential part of sport, as it has become an influential part of society as a whole. Even those resistant to social media’s charms in terms of reconnecting with old friends and being inundated with cat videos can find a Twitter account useful to purely following sporting figures and commentators. Sports journalists now break stories via their Twitter account, while clubs tweet live as matches develop. Bristol City have been widely lauded for their social media activity, with their gifs of players’ celebrations memorable and amusing. They’re lucky that their excellent social media activity has been complemented with a successful season on the pitch, otherwise it would surely prompt questions such as ‘when did Bobby Reid have time to be filmed celebrating with a fire extinguisher?’ Manager Lee Johnson even went as far as to tell the BBC that those gifs could have a positive impact on the pitch, which is undeniably a creative view on the benefit of an active social media presence.
Although social media can be a more cumbersome way of transmitting information than a specific club app, its breadth and depth is a relentless mine of analysis and developments for fans. Sometimes transfer announcements can get swallowed up in the ruminations of journalists or even friends but, nevertheless, there is a swelling of anticipation when an official club account tweets about an imminent signing. That anticipation may fully dissipate when it turns out that the signing is Morgan Schneiderlin for £24 million, but you can’t put a price on the excitement of it all. The 21st-century football fan will likely have an array of apps on their smartphone, from live scores to social media. However, the most important could be the club app, often in conjunction with an official club wallpaper. It will be fascinating to see how these club apps develop, as the implementation of technology on the pitch similarly expands and evolves.