Will Pyne, Chief Creative Officer

18th January 2018

Grassroots X Gaming: Inspiring a new crop of ‘Football Managers’ with the more relatable side of the game


Here's a list of things that you’re unlikely to see during this weekend’s coverage of the Premier League:

  • Highlights of the Jose Mourinho’s halftime diatribe at Burnley. 
  • An explosive Jeremy Kyle style row between Sam Allardyce and one his player’s girlfriends caught off camera
  • Extremely low flying drones capturing the match action at the King Power Stadium
  • Touchline accusations at the Emirates surrounding hungover players’ absence from the game
  • Wayne Rooney openly responding to critics on social media after the game (...if only)

That’s because Premier League coverage is polished, sanitised and you might argue other-worldly when compared to the action you see at grassroots fixtures around the country on any given Sunday. Coverage from this remarkably less glamorous side of football works for Gen Z fans because for them it’s utterly relatable entertainment at its best. We decided to help launch the latest edition of the game Football Manager through the lens of social media-fuelled, grassroots football.

The iconic computer game Football Manager has been around in various guises since the 80s. If you’re a gamer and football fan in your 30s or 40s the chances are the very mention of the game will hit you with a heavy dose of nostalgia. It will remind you of what felt like a lifetime, in the days when you had nothing better to do, patiently building your lower league nobodies up to top-tier, trophy-slaying football super powers.

Fast forward to 2018 where we find ourselves unquestionably in the FIFA era of football gaming; the title that first launched in the 90s, is now on the tip of every football gamer’s tongue. This is also a year when Football Manager 18 hits our mobiles and consoles, Sega-owned Sports Interactive’s latest edition of what was originally called Championship Manager. Brave Bison was approached to help launch the new game, and we knew instantly how to make it uber relevant to FIFA-obsessed, Gen Zedders.

Enter South East London squad Eltham SF and ‘Park Life’, a Brave Bison original YouTube series now in its second season that drops on a Sunday evening each week on Slash Football, our Gen Z multiplatform football channel. It’s social video content that’s about as authentic and relatable as you will find anywhere; sweary refs, hungover players and potholed pitches. Throw in consistently high-scoring matches, fun-loving players, two managers who go by the name of Paul and three big YouTube stars and you have a format that wins over 15 - 24 year old football fans. Period. It’s a series that achieves on average 150k - 0.5m organic views per episode, as well as hundreds of comments, likes and shares. We created a run of four Football Manager special episodes during November; harnessing an existing and engaged audience to demonstrate what it means to be a Sunday League football manager.

When it comes to Gen Z, brands crave their content to be seen as authentic, relatable and relevant. The company behind Football Manager, Sports Interactive, found the sweet spot with what we call ‘creator grassroots football’ and the Park Life series is the epitome for this genre. But for us, branded content is rarely a case of sticking a logo on a piece of film in an old fashioned sponsorship way. Better, surely, to seamlessly integrate the product they’re selling? Which is why we weaved in the new features from the computer game into the real life, utterly relatable, documentary-style narrative. The product acted as a visual and conceptual layer over stories about YouTube creators playing football, having the same fun and the same challenges that swathes of their audience deal with themselves every week.
We created branded content that was relevant to our audience, about the sport they love, in the way they want to watch it.

So did it work? The four episodes got almost a million organic views with a 50% watch completion rate on YouTube - way above average for this vertical- and a 97% positive sentiment rate. Barely a thumb down in sight. Over the course of the four episodes we saw the lot; the grassroots version of the entire list of ‘incidents’ at the top of this article and far more goals than you’ll see at the Etihad. Impact on sales at the time of writing were yet to be reported but it’s fair to say that this is how to market products to Gen Z; Football Manager 18 was planted well and truly front of mind for the football-obsessed fans who watch content like this on Slash Football week in, week out.

With the World Cup approaching, there will be many brands who can capitalise on the burgeoning space of creator grassroots football. Teams like Hashtag United with the Wembley Cup and Rebel FC, another part of Brave Bison’s football proposition, are proving seductive to brands who want to not merely appeal but become legitimate to a vast audience who implicitly trust the influencers they watch on social media. Brands will do well to siphon off some of their summer budget on content that’s a guaranteed hit with Gen Z.

Will Pyne, Chief Creative Officer, Brave Bison