FourFourTwo: In a league of its own

Andy will be at FIPP Asia-Pacific from 27-28 September. 

Discounted, Early Bird registration for the conference is available until 15 August. Click here to register or contact Claire Jones or Natalie Butcher if you are interested in discussing a custom package for a delegation (5+ people) to the conference.

Andy Jackson ()

Tell us about the FourFourTwo brand and how it has evolved…

FourFourTwo launched in 1994, very much as a pioneer in the adult football magazine sector. At that time, the young end of the market was very satisfied, with products like Roy of the Rovers. In the teenage bracket you had things like Shoot and Match. And then you had this emerging football fanzine culture, bringing products such as When Saturday Comes. FourFourTwo came along and plugged a gap in terms of a higher end, high-production-value product, with primarily adult readers or late teens. And 22 years later it is still here with 12 editions around the world. While my talk at FIPP Asia-Pacific will be very much around building a digital product from a very successful print brand, what’s really interesting is that FourFourTwo France launched last week in print. So print is certainly not dead. In fact, in the last six months we’ve launched with three licensees in Spain and France on print products.

Tell me a bit more about overseas licensing, in particular Malaysia…

Let’s start with Asia. Our Asia strategy for the first 20 years of the lifecycle was all about licensing. At its peak we had editions in South Korea, which is still going, Thailand, which is still going, Indonesia, which is no longer there, Singapore/Malaysia, which is still going. We have a content syndication deal into Japan. And Australia is still going. All of these were primarily through licensing. But then around three years ago we launched a digital strategy to translate what had always been successful in print into the digital age – which was harder than it sounds. For one thing, there is a plethora of football sites out there so this was very much about finding the balance between having everything that a football site needs while trying to transfer the tone and that premium, exclusive and influential feel into digital. 

OK, so tell us more about the strategy and the transition to digital…

So the first thing that we did was to say we need to be on one platform – a platform that is either licensable or expandable into markets, where we could add on territories easily. It was important that we retained the ability to have a Singapore edition, a Malaysia edition etc, all running off Then we had the option to take on a licensed partner in that locale or open as ourselves. And we wanted to be able to flex that further between print and digital. In KL (Kuala Lumpur), for example, we were doing the website but our licensed partner was doing the magazine. We supported our licensee there because they could promote the magazine through the website and, as the web got bigger, that in turn gave them a bigger audience to promote the magazine to.

Tell us some more about regional expansion…

We launched Thailand and Indonesia in local language just before the last World Cup. And we decided pretty soon after the World Cup that we’d seen enough to encourage us to put some further investment behind that. What’s interesting is that Thailand is now consistently our number one market worldwide in terms of audience and Indonesia is number two.

If you’d have said two-and-a-half years ago that by the time the next Euros kicked off our two biggest markets for FourFourTwo online would not be in English, I don’t think anyone would have believed you. At that point the UK audience was around 65 per cent of the global pie. It’s now less than 10 per cent. So it’s clear that, increasingly, FourFourTwo as a brand is becoming much more international.

What’s driving that?

I think it’s two-fold. Firstly, there are just an awful lot of people here that love football. So for me coming from Australia, where you’ve got 20-odd million people of which you could probably say two million are football fans, here there are probably more than two million football fans in Singapore alone – an island 20 miles by 30 miles.

Then you go into Indonesia, where there’s just phenomenal interest. Also, it’s not as saturated with quality content. The broadcasters generally do a good job because a lot of them are just taking the Premier League feed. But in terms of on-the-ground local content, we realised very quickly that just focusing on the Premier League and the Champions League was not going to drive growth.

Doing the ‘FourFourTwo treatment’ on the local game is what drives sharp growth. That’s been a big learning for us. When I moved here I would have thought it would be the Premier League that would drive growth. 

In terms of where we’ve found our niche, it’s been through doing very good, quality written, digital content on the local game.

Does the quality of your brand help you deliver that quality local content?

Yes, absolutely. When you’ve got a brand like FourFourTwo, which has heritage, which has history, and that has that premium feel, then what you find is that the local players, clubs and leagues are massively supportive of your access requests – because they want to be alongside the Premier League on FourFourTwo, whether in print or digital. When you demonstrate that you are going to treat them in the same way and it’s not going to be substandard content simply because it’s not the Premier League, then the sort of partnerships you can build are very strong.

How have you transferred the FourFourTwo values across to digital?

That’s interesting. Our focus is very much feature driven and insight. Our three core values are access – as in access to the players and the clubs – insight and humour. And part of the digital transformation process was to go back to our print core values and say, right, why should they be any different just because it’s digital? A lot of digital pure plays that would be launching just can’t get close to players, because they’re just another website, whereas FourFourTwo still has that access. That’s where print is still a massively valuable part of our arsenal, because we can go to Adidas or Nike around player access and say, well, we’ve still got print – but now we can also do this in video, this on digital, this on social. To say that if they give us an hour with a headline player like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo and that it will go into all of these markets simultaneously, that they will be getting more out of the time they gave us with the player, and that the website’s gone from a million users 12 months ago to just under four million last month, is incredibly compelling.

And you’re pushing into social as well, are you?

Oh yes. Very much. For example, on Facebook we’ve gone from nothing two years ago to 1.1 million Facebook fans in the four South-eastern markets; half a million in Indonesia; 450,000 in Thailand. Twitter has been a bit slower, although it’s now started to pick up in Thailand. But certainly here Facebook is the primary social platform.

How has the digital transformation changed your revenue and commercial propositions?

Obviously the print is still exactly the same model – it’s newsstand, it’s subs, it’s ads. But of course reader revenue is under constant pressure.

But FourFourTwo is still holding its own after 22 years. There are still major tournament issues and season previews that sell phenomenally well. As for the monetisation model online, we focus on what I would call premium display – our core clients being Nike, Adidas, Puma, all the big football sponsors. Obviously programmatic is increasingly part of the mix, either on private marketplace deals or just on open auction. But the increasing area of the business is around branded content and integrated content. And again it’s really nothing new. It’s what we were doing in print 15 years ago with supplements and advertorials. It’s just that we can do that online and for all markets.

On the other side, if a brand wants us to produce content that sits on their platforms instead of or as well as ours, we can do that too and have created a separate offering for that as Football Inc. So for the Euros, we’ve had content activations in the UK for BetVictor, for Nike, for Continental. Here in Singapore we were doing a daily video for Singapore Pools, which is the exclusive betting agency here. And we ran a live site FourFourTwo HQ, taking over a venue in Clarke Quay (in Singapore). That’s a live activation where fans came and watched the game, with special guests onstage previewing the game and live bands.

In summary, as things move into the digital age, the core values are still the same and the reasons the clients want to work with us are still the same. It genuinely really is just that the platforms and the channels and the formats are different.  

Hear more from Andy at FIPP Asia-Pacific from 27-28 September. 

Discounted, Early Bird registration for the conference is available until 15 August.

Click here to register

Or contact Claire Jones or Natalie Butcher if you are interested in discussing a custom package for a delegation (5+ people) to the conference.

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