This week one of the most iconic football stadiums in the country opened its turnstiles for the very last time. After 118 years as the home of Tottenham Hotspur, White Hart Lane will be demolished to make way for a new, modern stadium that will dwarf the original.
The Lane was, as commentator Martin Tyler said: “One of the stately homes of English football”.
So what does this have to do with digital and social media communications?
Sunday saw not only the final match at White Hart Lane, but also a closing ceremony packed full of history and sentiment. As The Telegraph stated: Tottenham show the world how to leave a stage. And it marked the pinnacle of a week during which the Tottenham Hotspur social media team was on fire as much as the team has been in the last few months.
With an obvious brief of ‘whip our supporters into a nostalgic frenzy’, they delivered in a big way, and it’s a masterclass in using social media content to drive emotion that an awful lot of brands could learn from.
So, from a social communications perspective, what did they do that was so compelling?
Facebook Live Video Streaming
Live video has been de rigeur in social media ever since Facebook took Twitter apps like of Periscope and Blab and turned them into something for the mainstream. Brands still seem reticent to try it, probably because of fear that something might go wrong. But Tottenham used it twice to great effect during this campaign.
The second was to broadcast the closing ceremony live through Facebook, giving Spurs fans worldwide the chance to witness what was a historic moment. But the first was more creative in its execution.
During the week leading up to the final match, the Club broadcast perhaps the most iconic moment from White Hart Lane’s history – the 1984 UEFA Cup Final – ‘live’ on Facebook. By re-running coverage of that final in real-time, complete with pre-match interviews and post-match celebrations, Tottenham gave fans of my generation a chance to nostalgically relive one of the greatest moments in the Club’s history and fans of a younger generation the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.
The lesson: use Live video, but use it in a way that is meaningful.
In conjunction with that 1984 final, the build up to the game was treated like any other match day, with the announcement of the teams an hour before kick off, pre-match features and, importantly, the buy-in of players who had taken part that day.
On Twitter, numerous members of the Spurs squad for that final joined in as if they were building up to the game in the same way that current players do. It spread news of the Facebook Live event far and wide, amplifying and adding value to it far more than the Club could have done alone. It was a great example of micro-influencer marketing done well, with the ‘influencers’ fully involved, enabled to take part in their own way and, as a consequence, clearly enjoying their role.
The lesson: feed your influencers with stuff that interests them but don’t try and control them.
Everyone loves a countdown, right? Well, sort of. Tottenham used them to great effect as they counted down the days to the last match at the Lane. Six great volleys, two great comebacks, four great free kicks…all in short 45 second videos that didn’t tax the watcher but that slowly built a sense of excitement, pride and anticipation.
The lesson: don’t make lists for the sake of making lists. When you do, have a good reason.
The major success story for the campaign for me was the role that video played. The volume of great content that Tottenham produced in the seven to ten days prior to the finale was remarkable, from articles and interviews on the Spurs website to pictures of glory days gone by and exclusive looks at the new stadium to come.
But where that content really stood out was engaging video. Interviews with players past and present were front and centre, as were the live streams.
But there were a couple of videos that the Club shared that make the hair on your neck stand up if you’re a Spurs fan, and that even if you’re not, you can’t fail (surely) to appreciate for their emotional resonance.
The official Kenneth Brannagh-narrated film shared at the closing ceremony was fantastic but, for me, this piece of video is incredibly powerful:
The lesson: invest in content that generates emotion. Make efforts to understand your fans and followers and tap into what is meaningful to them, not to you.
Check out the Tottenham Hotspur Facebook Page and Twitter profile to see exactly what went on.
But now for a spot of self-indulgence. If you’re not a Spurs fan, read no further; my work here is done. But if you are, maybe read on?
Part II: If…You Know…Your History…
I first visited the Lane on 22nd January 1983 (I had to Google the date). I was 11 years old and was taken by a friend’s mum to see a 1-1 draw. I remember being in awe of the ground and watching my heroes like Glenn Hoddle, Ricky Villa and Graham Roberts in the flesh.
Terry Gibson scored our goal that day (apparently), but the goal I remember was scored by Sunderland’s Stan Cummins from the penalty spot at the Park Lane end after Roberts handled a cross. Kind of sums up being a Spurs fan, doesn’t it? 🙄
The first four matches I went to see all ended 1-1, one of them being against Manchester United a couple of weeks before the 1984 UEFA Cup Final (pic below) and one being a game against Queens Park Rangers where Danny Thomas’ career was ended by an awful tackle from Gavin Maguire. I don’t remember the goals or the scorers; I do remember the tackle.
Over the years I have no idea how many games I’ve seen at the Lane. I’ve never had a season ticket, but as I got older I started to go more regularly and there was a spell where for several years in the late 90s and early 2000s prior to moving further north I was going to a dozen matches a season.
I stood on the Shelf while it was still terraced, I sat in the Park Lane end, I sat in the Paxton Road end and I watched a couple of games from boxes in the West Stand. But I always had a soft spot for a little area called the North East corner, the first part of the ground to be demolished when the new stadium started to encroach on the Lane.
The best times I ever had at the Lane?
I was there when we beat Southampton 7-2 in March 2000, three days before my birthday. I was there when we hammered Chelsea 5-1 in the Worthington Cup semi-final in 2002.
I saw Stephen Carr score a rocket against Manchester United; Christian Ziege blast a 30 yard free kick past Arsenal’s David Seaman; and Paul Gascoigne waltz through half a dozen Oxford United players to score on the way to the 1991 FA Cup Final.
But my favourite memory is a 2-0 win against Leeds United in an FA Cup replay in February 1999. It was an evening game and the atmosphere that night was incredible; the Lane always seemed to rock for evening games.
Darren Anderton scored a 30 yard peach but it was David Ginola who set the game alight in one of the best individual performances I’ve ever seen. He’d already hit the woodwork twice from distance, one after beating about four Leeds players, before he unleashed a fierce 25 yard volley into the bottom corner in the way that perhaps only he, Gascoigne and Gareth Bale could.
Over the last few years since moving to Oxfordshire and having a family I’ve not been to the Lane very much. I regret that now, especially after sitting in the cavernous Wembley Stadium four times this season only whetted my appetite to see Spurs live more often.
That feeling of climbing the stairs and seeing White Hart Lane open out before you is something I really miss. It sends a shiver down my spine just thinking about it. And I hope – I know – that the new stadium will generate the same atmosphere that the Lane was famed for.
All of which leaves me with one final piece of self-indulgence. My dream Tottenham team from the players I’ve seen down the years:
Perryman – King – Mabbutt – Hughton
Ardiles – Hoddle – Gascoigne – Bale
Lineker – Klinsmann
Lloris, Roberts, Gough, Modric, Ginola, Waddle, Sheringham
That’s one hell of a squad, and when you consider that players like Van Der Vaart, Keane, Villa and Defoe don’t even make it, it shows the talent that we’ve seen at the Lane down the years.
End of nostalgic indulgence 🙂