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How FourFourTwo built its digital presence

In its first 20 years, football brand FourFourTwo had it all. 20 licensed editions around the world, unrivalled access to players and clubs, and huge respect from readers. But something needed to change…

Although the brand had websites in the UK and US (two of its core markets), they were built separately and couldn’t communicate with each other. With football becoming more popular (and richer) than ever, FourFourTwo needed to take advantage of this global opportunity.

Andy Jackson ()

“Our opportunity was 100 per cent global and increasingly digital,” said Andy Jackson, global brand director, Haymarket Consumer Media Asia, at FIPP Asia today in Singapore. “Our USP in print was not being replicated digitally,” he added.

July 2013 marked the beginning of FourFourTwo’s digital journey, which started with two websites, 195k users and 689k page views, which was just not enough, according to Jackson.

“How could we transfer our print success into the digital world?” Jackson asked. “We needed to identify our core audience and find out what they were looking for digitally. We wanted more users and page views, but not at all costs – content needs to be honed and respected.” 

Core values

As part of the digital transition process, FourFourTwo identified four core values for brand:

Passion – “We love the game. Everyone who works on the brand loves it, and celebrates it at every opportunity. Lots of competitors can be quite cynical about it. We’re not interested in that. We want to celebrate the game of football, A fan that comes to FourFourTwo wants to feel good about football.”

Access – “No one gets better access. Players and clubs know we’re not going to stitch them up. What we needed to figure out was how to translate that to digital?”

Insight – “We have experts. There are plenty of places where you find out what happened. FourFourTwo tells you WHY.”

Humour – “It’s a game, it’s fun and at its heart is something to be enjoyed. We never want to lose that as a brand.”

Core users

FourFourTwo identified two very different core target audiences:

Football connoisseur

Influential, intelligent, respected opinion on football, thirst for deep, and cerebral analysis of game, broad age range, not restricted by geographical boundaries. The person who leads a conversation in the pub.

FourFour two gives this audience credibility, makes them look intelligent to their friends, takes them inside the game and tells them great stories.

Typical advertisers interested in this audience might be alcohol brands, said Jackson.

Football crazy teen

Aged 13-19, gamers, play football, YouTube is their default search engine, they follow players, not necessarily clubs, very social.

FourFourTwo gives them more knowledge, helps them impress on and off pitch, helps them look the part, gives them a window into the life they aspire to. Also practical, bite-sized content, nutrition, training, everything surrounding the game.

Typical advertisers interested in this audience could be sports brand, e.g. Nike.

Content planning

Next, FourFourTwo developed a content planning matrix, which meant writers would have to be very disciplined with what they choose to feature in the brand: 

Content planning matrix 442 ()

“If it doesn’t fit in one of the boxes, we shouldn’t be writing it,” said Jackson. We’ve got to be really disciplined about it.”

Although the brand had an idea of how they wanted to go on their digital journey, it didn’t always go to plan. South East Asia, the UK and US are its core markets, where it has invested its own resources and launched dedicated locales (local in Thai and Indonesia). “We had the idea that the website would work across one platform. This proved difficult in certain markets, so we had to change, and develop the idea,” said Jackson.

For example, a more flexible approach was taken in Norway, where a site was launched with Dagbladet as a partnership with FourFourTwo. “As a result, we started with 300,000 users, which grew to 500,000 in three months. This would have taken a lot longer if we’d forced them onto our platform,” said Jackson.

And now, with one click, multiple FourFourTwo sites can share stories across countries. Jackson also mentioned the brand’s Performance site (built for mobile) and it’s hugely successful Stats Zone app, which is four years old and has an incredible 2,000 data points.

Communicating the vision

“Our ambition was to become one of the most influential football sites with a focus on quality access to two very defined target audiences,” said Jackson.

“Social is a great way to prove a case e.g. if you get lots of likes/follows from country where you don’t have a site, it will give you an idea of appetite for the brand there,” Said Jackson.

Social media numbers 442 ()

Now, the brand boasts 4,745,400 unique users (195,00 in August 2013) and 19,636,420 page views (689,000 in August 2013).

A word on print

“Print is still massively important to us and is right at the heart of what we do,” concluded Jackson. However, the brand’s revenue streams look very different from where they were 20 years ago and now include programmatic, branded content, sponsorship, events and content agency Football Inc. 

And after its long digital journey, the brand still remains on top. Its redesigned print edition won Cover of the Year at this year’s PPA Awards and FourFourFour two also netted “Party of the Year” at the MPAS Awards in Singapore last night for its initiatives during the European Football Championships, which included creating authentic fan experiences, involving sponsors.

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Haymarket launches FourFourTwo site in the US

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