Why Manchester United's 20th Century Fox partnership could benefit from more subtle social media promotion

Jonathan Izzard
Huh? Manchester United's 20th Century Fox partnership appears to be focused on social media (Source: Manchester United)

If you’re a Manchester United fan on Twitter, you may have noticed a number of players – both past and present - getting excited about seeing Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s film, The Revenant. Memphis Depay, Juan Mata, David De Gea and even club legends Andy Cole and Bryan Robson have all tweeted about the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring Oscar fodder. So what’s behind the burst of cinephilia that has swept through the Old Trafford team? Did Louis Van Gaal give them all ODEON vouchers for Christmas? Is Marouane Fellaini running a seminar on Belgian cinema? Has Sir Alex lent them all his copy of Looking for Eric?

The answer’s simple: United have agreed a ‘ground-breaking’ commercial tie-up with 20th Century Fox to help publicise their 2016 release schedule. Fair play: everyone loves going to the cinema – even footballers, right?

But this isn’t the first time a major studio has worked with a football club to promote its wares, the most infamous example possibly Columbia TriStar’s sponsorship of Atletico Madrid in 2002/03. This was a deal that saw not only the obligatory player-meets-movie-star-awkwardly-holding-club-shirt photos when press junkets touched down in Spain, but an innovative approach to use of the studio’s main sponsorship real estate: Atletico’s shirt.

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The result was that month’s latest release front-and-centre on the players’ kit. The good news? This gave rise to some of the most captionable player imagery of all time, as the likes of Fernando Torres and Diego Simeone were forced to play with Bad Boys 2, Hitch and even Peter Pan emblazoned on their shirts, making it an instant classic in sponsorship terms.

Will Smith holds up the Atletico Madrid shirt as part of Columbia's Bad Boys 2 promotion (Source: Getty)

So how are Manchester United breaking the mould with their deal? Well, it appears to be less straight media buy (based on eyeballs watching matches), and more social-focused passion marketing. The short video for Deadpool, starring Wayne Rooney and Ryan Reynolds, is a good example, and by no means the worst cross-over content featuring footballers.

But the current approach to player support on Twitter leaves much to be desired. As most big club fans routinely follow a raft of current/former players, seeing half the team post near-identical tweets on exactly the same day is rather too transparent for consumers. Surely this needs a little more subtlety in both wording and timing? How about a picture of a player leaving the cinema having actually watched the film? This would at least show United’s excited advocates putting their money where their mouth apparently is.

Also, whilst The Revenant has had positive reviews, how about if the same player accounts were used to promote a turkey? Would we believe an enthusiastic tweet from Darmian about Ice Age 5? How about Trolls? Judging by some of the replies on Twitter, they might already have some.

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