Russia 2018 will be the most connected World Cup on Twitter on and off the field

Why Russia 2018 will be the most connected, engaged World Cup ever – both on and off the field.

Once every four years, football/soccer fans worldwide gather in union to watch the FIFA World Cup. With the tournament now just a few days away, fans can look forward to accessing more content than ever before as we head towards the first truly connected, digital World Cup.

Since Brazil in 2014, there has been a rapid shift in the way sports content, particularly football, is discovered, watched and shared. Linear TV continues to struggle to attract new, younger fans and advancements in technology and production has dramatically increased the speed at which premium content can be shared across a variety of platforms – resulting in a far more connected fan and a different level of engagement.

The World Cup drives conversation at a global scale. Twitter reported over 700 million tweets during the 2014 World Cup, and over 280 million people watch a game on a mobile or connected device. The Final was watched by over one billion fans worldwide, and while record viewing numbers for live games are expected – China alone is expected to break the one billion viewer mark for the 2018 final – we can expect those engagement numbers to significantly raise, as each federation, broadcaster, brands, teams and players turns to digital and social platforms to provide more content, more access and a more authentic fan experience.

For fans, this means an explosion of World Cup-related content on every platform, and device whenever and wherever they are. At any point during the World Cup fans will be able to pick up their mobile phone and see goals, highlights and reactions in real time. Twitter is looking to cement its place as the go-to destination for World Cup content with partnerships for live shows and clips across: Australia, Brazil, France, Indonesia, Mexico, Spain, Taiwan, the UK and the US. This includes new monetisation opportunities for broadcasters leveraging digital clip rights for Twitter's sponsored video advertising programme (previously known as Amplify).

However, the most significant change will be the amount of content produced outside of the 90 minutes, with individual federations and broadcasters looking to create viewing experiences that go far beyond on-field highlights. Expect to see plenty of behind-the-scenes training content, fan-driven interviews, analysis, GIFs and memes, as well as player syndicated content and sponsor activations.

The shift in content strategy comes from the growing understanding amongst publishers that the modern football fan consumes sports in a much different way. Outside of live coverage, modern fans spend 44% of their time watching ancillary content such as football documentaries or challenge videos on digital platforms (Source: Copa 90 – 2018). This represents a considerable opportunity for federations, broadcasters and brand partners involved in the World Cup to generate their own engagement, to control the narrative and to bring fans closer to the game than ever before.

Many formats and brand activations will focus on video storytelling away from the live games. The content will sit outside the existing media rights agreements which is why it's attractive to brands, teams and digital publishers. This content, which is made for digital platforms provides fans with an opportunity to create the most engaged and accessible World Cup in history.

The English FA has started to explore using direct to social distribution as a way to bring fans closer to the England team during World Cup 2018. Ahead of preparation fixtures against Nigeria and Costa Rica, the FA has been using YouTube to deliver exclusive content centered around the England camp. Hosted by YouTube star Craig Mitch, the FA is aiming to bring authentic and unfettered access to players, the manager and coaching staff – as well as regular prompts for fans to interact with the team and Mitch, primarily through live streaming, a format that will continue on a daily basis heading into Russia.

As social platforms continue to become the latest place for 'appointment to view' television, this type of live daily recap show is expected to be widely available across territories and platforms. In the United States, FOX Sports holds the broadcast rights to the World Cup and has struck a deal with Twitter to bring real-time highlights to the platform and original live content. The new live streaming format is a daily, episodic (27 shows) live show called "FIFA World Cup Now." The exclusive social broadcast will feature match previews, recaps, guest appearances and, reactions from the world of Twitter. The platform has also penned a similar deal with Australian broadcaster SBS for 23 live shows and with British broadcaster ITV to distribute real-time highlights with Twitter in-stream advertising.

This is going to be a record-breaking World Cup on Twitter and across social and digital platforms; fans will be delivered a first-class experience, accessible anywhere at anytime with more access and interaction than ever before, as we all experience the first truly, connected, digital World Cup. A billion live videos streamed on mobile? That's something worth tweeting about.