Saudi club Al-Hilal impresses with social media success

Al-Hilal after winning a record-equaling third Asian Champions League title in November last year in Saitama, Japan. (Files/AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2020

Saudi club Al-Hilal impresses with social media success

LONDON: When Al-Hilal became Asian champions for the third time last November, they joined Pohang Steelers of South Korea as the most successful teams in the continent’s history. When it comes to social media however, it is clear who is No. 1 in Asia.

With 9 million followers on Twitter, Al-Hilal are head and shoulders above the rest and have 150 times more followers than Pohang. It is not just about Asia; Al-Hilal rank alongside the biggest clubs in the world on the platform and surpass the likes of European giants Bayern Munich and Juventus. 

Other leading teams in the Saudi Pro League are also far ahead of continental counterparts, with Al-Ittihad close to 4 million and Al-Nassr near 3 million. Some of Asia’s biggest clubs, such as Urawa Reds of Japan with their 400,000 followers, can only dream of such figures. Only Indonesian giants can come close, with Persija Jakarta at 2.9 million followers on Twitter and Persib Bandung at 3.3 million.

In 2019, the Saudi league was ranked as the third-highest league in the world in terms of fan interaction on social media. Tweets about the league reached 80 million from 40 million accounts, surpassing the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue One. Only the English Premier League and La Liga had higher rates of engagement.

How have Saudi clubs done it? That is a question that people are starting to ask around Asia. One reason is the sheer numbers on Twitter. “It has always been by far the most popular social media platform in Saudi Arabia,” said Wael Jabir, founder and CEO of Ahdaaf, a Dubai-based football digital content company. “In fact, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest percentages of population on the platform worldwide.”

Jabir noted that Al-Hilal have improved their quality of late but believes that these clubs gain a major advantage from the size of their fanbases. “I’d even argue that the top four Saudi clubs are not even the best in the league in terms of social media content quality, but their popularity is such that above average content gets massive engagement.”

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Al-Hilal and other Saudi teams are not going to rival the likes of Barcelona in terms of global profile, but they can raise their standing across the world. 

That engagement leads to a higher quality social media presence, however, as fans and clubs interact. 

“If we take a look on Al-Hilal’s social media platforms, we will see how most of their content is football-related,” Xavi Bove, sports marketing consultant, said. “Lineups, results, goals celebrations or post-game photographs are predominant in their feed. The club publishes original content regarding players’ birthdays or families.” The Spaniard believes that more behind-the-scenes or fan-generated content would improve the product further. “Such strategies have been very useful for clubs like FC Barcelona.”

Al-Hilal and other Saudi teams are not going to rival the likes of Barcelona in terms of global profile, but they can raise their standing across the world. 

“Leveraging Saudi fan passion across the digital landscape together with the expansion to international markets through the signing of foreign players and more content beyond football can surely boost Saudi teams’ exposure in global markets,” Bove said. “A conscious exercise of branding and storytelling will become crucial to create more interest and trust both locally but especially globally, since football is shifting toward the industry of entertainment rather than sport. And, of course, success on the pitch is always important to attract fans and followers, as we tend to seek brands that genuinely inspire us.”

Bove added that signing big stars from countries such as Brazil helps increase awareness, but Kim Myung-won, a Seoul-based social media and communications expert, believes Asia should be a first port of call, especially as nations such as South Korea and Japan have a lot to learn from Saudi teams.

“Just follow the posts ahead of a game. A map of the world is posted with all the different times listed, which fans in different countries can watch,” said Myung-won. “It is simple but effective in showing that the club sees itself as an inclusive international brand. It is a call to action, too.”

Video content is also hugely important. Myung-won pointed to Al-Nassr’s welcome of South Korean international defender Kim Jin-su, who was signed at the end of August. 

The video opened overlooking the megacity of Seoul with Jin-su packing his bags in a hotel room and telling fans of his new club how much the move meant to him. 

“It was simply but beautifully done,” said Myung-won. “It showed a little of Jin-su and his homeland and immediately brought the player closer to fans. Signing a left-back from South Korea is not going to get fans too excited, but this video makes a difference.”

For too long, Myung-won says, the rest of Asia have either not known of the social media success of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and other teams in Saudi Arabia, or have not cared. That should change.

“Clubs here in Korea and Japan think that they can learn only from Europe, but officials should be flying to Saudi Arabia,” said Myung-won. 


‘Loved and appreciated’ Bale starts as Spurs win, Celtic undone by Milan

Updated 23 October 2020

‘Loved and appreciated’ Bale starts as Spurs win, Celtic undone by Milan

PARIS: Gareth Bale said it felt good to be “loved and appreciated” after helping Tottenham to a 3-0 win over LASK of Austria in the Europa League on Thursday.
The Welsh international started his first match since his return from Real Madrid and played for an hour before Jose Mourinho gave him a break.
Bale had come on as a substitute last Sunday with Tottenham 3-0 up against West Ham before his team collapsed to give up a 3-3 draw.
“It is amazing to be back,” Bale told BT Sport on Thursday.
“It is a big reason why I play well and why I came back. You want to be loved and appreciated. I will give everything for this shirt.”
However, he admitted it will take time to find his feet.
“I am a bit stiff. It is like a mini pre-season for me and I am trying to get minutes into the legs,” he said.
Despite Bale starting, it was on-loan Carlos Vinicius who made an impressive debut in the Group J opener.
Vinicius started in place of the resting Harry Kane and he made goals in either half for Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min, while he would have also netted himself had Andres Andrade not scored an own goal.
Bale made that goal where Andrade put through his own net.
Leicester made the perfect start in Group G with a comfortable 3-0 win over Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine.
James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho were on the scoresheet.
In Glasgow, Celtic struggled against Serie A leaders AC Milan who were 2-0 up at half-time thanks to goals from Rade Krunic and Brahim Diaz.
Mohamed Elyounoussi reduced the arrears after the break, but Jens Petter Hauge broke clear to secure Milan’s Group H 3-1 win in stoppage time.
Milan were so comfortable that they could afford to take off Zlatan Ibrahimovic just after the hour.
Earlier Thursday, Arsenal came from behind to down Rapid Vienna 2-1 and Rangers beat Standard Liege 2-0.
After a goalless first half Arsenal went behind when keeper Bernd Leno fluffed a clearance on a night he will want to forget.
Taxiarchis Fountas capitalized on Leno’s clanger, much to the joy of the 3,000 home fans allowed in to watch under coronavirus safety protocol, but the Gunners then turned the game around in four second half minutes.
David Luiz put them level with a deft glancing header off Nicolas Pepe’s free-kick, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang then tapping home to bag the three Group B points.
It was an eventful night for Mikel Arteta’s side.
Alongside eight yellow cards, there was an eye-catching display from Thomas Partey on his first start since his transfer deadline day move from Atletico Madrid.
A frustrated follower of the game from his London sofa was Mesut Ozil, who has been left out of both Arsenal’s Europa League and Premier League squad.
“When I can’t support on the pitch tonight, I will support in front of the TV in London.” tweeted Ozil.
The other Group B game was being played out in Dublin where Dundalk, only Ireland’s third ever representative in the group stage, were beaten 2-1 by Norwegians Molde.
In Belgium, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers took on Standard Liege fresh from their Old Firm derby win over Celtic which moved them four points clear in the Scottish Premiership last weekend.
James Tavernier scored from the spot after Noe Dussenne handled in the area to put them into a 19th minute lead.
Then three minutes into stoppage time Kemar Roofe produced a wonder goal from the halfway line, the ball flying over the head of bewildered keeper Arnaud Bodart.
Benfica had claimed the first goal of the night and they went on to beat Lech Poznan in Poland 4-2 in the other Group D game.
Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen ran riot 6-2 against French side Nice and Spanish side Granada, in their first ever European campaign, beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1.