EPL vs. MLS: Lessons in Soccer Storytelling
Richard Clarke, Senior Director of Digital Media and Communication for the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer (MLS) spoke on March 11th in a ballroom at the Four Seasons in Austin during SXSW. Previously, Clarke handled all the online digital content for Arsenal Football Club, one of the biggest franchises in the world and part of the English Premier League (EPL). Clarke’s goal was to teach the audience the lessons he in creating content in the drastically different yet competing leagues. The game is the same, but the storytelling strategies are not.
Clarke believes the EPL is the most important league in the world, and a lot of the belief comes from the money the league generates, but also from the global reach it has across the world. However, he emphasized that the EPL is a television based league that is becoming more digitally focused, while the MLS is a digitally focused league that is trying to increase its focus around television.
The examples he provided for this frequently stemmed from social media, where the MLS is an active participant and uses the different platforms to do everything from showing highlights to getting into “friendly” Twitter battles with rival teams. This sort of behavior is frowned upon within the EPL, which holds some views that these social battles can actually affect the outcomes of the games negatively.
“The MLS is playing offense with social media, while the EPL is playing defense,” Clarke said.
Because of the use of highlights within the MLS, which are more rare in the EPL, the articles written about games differ greatly. The MLS articles, both digitally and in print, can be shorter and focus the attention on the highlights and images of the game. In the EPL, the reporting is based much more on issues rather than tactics. Clarke took pride in the fact that during his time at both Colorado and Arsenal, he leveraged his ability to get the message he was reflecting to the fans be one that that generated themselves.
“The fans create the content or idea and the team reflects it back onto them. In this manner, content creators at the club also need to help create the culture,” Clarke said.
The important factor in all leagues, according to Clarke, is the narrative. Whether it is the league story, club story, player story, or fan story, Clarke is convinced that some soccer league is going to succeed in the United States within the next 20 years. He pointed out that because of global reach and the importance of digital footprints, this doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the US. Bigger leagues such as the EPL or Bundesliga have just as much opportunity as the homegrown league, and Clarke believes it will depend on who leverages these storytelling tactics digitally the best that will ultimately succeed.
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