How Social Media Is Changing The Way We Consume Football

How many screens do you need to watch a football match?

For most of us these days, it’s at least two. For others it might be as many as four – the tech quartet of HD TV, smart phone, tablet and laptop, cooking up a feast of furious information, supposedly “complementing” the experience.

Social media, in particular, has dramatically changed the way we consume football in recent years. There were 32.1 million tweets and 280 million Facebook interactions recorded during the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. That tells you a big number of those watching the game were multi-screening. They were looking for another layer of engagement; for something more. And they knew where to get it.

Is watching the game with a few mates not enough to sustain us anymore? Even those in the stadium aren’t satisfied – with many accessing apps, scrolling MBMs (minute-by-minute commentaries) and trawling social media at regular intervals. Take a look around the next time you go to the game and you’ll see heads in phones all around you.

The last time I went to Old Trafford, a family in front of me gathered around an iPad, as the players they'd paid £50 to see warmed up barely 10 yards in front of them. Maybe the Theatre of Dreams just wasn’t dreamy enough for them? Maybe they were trying to tempt Paul Scholes out of retirement to fizz one in their direction?

Whatever their motivation, is there a danger we’re being becoming more and more distracted from the main event?  

How many great goals have already been missed by fans looking down at their phones for Facebook updates?

How many heated debates in the stands, or at the bar, have been denied by fans otherwise engaged with the Twitter feeds on their handsets. 

Might we argue that social media, for all the insight, connectivity and hilarity it serves us, is doing more harm than good when it comes to the way we consume football?

The counterargument is a strong one. Those who like feeds with their football will tell you a second screen only magnifies their enjoyment of a game. You're getting a real sense of how the masses are experiencing the match, while also making sure you don't miss a single element of it. 

A Liverpool fan abroad can be made to feel connected to the Kop. A Manchester United supporter can find relief in the mass ridiculing of Marouane Fellaini

Analysis pours in and you're armed with the best of it. Every 90 minutes is a football pundit festival, and you get to play curator. You come out wiser, with a fuller understanding of the game you've just watched and every incident addressed in detail.

When it comes to controversial moments, you get answers, and you get them quickly.

Not sure if a player dived? Social media will help you decide. Should the goal have counted? Social media will show it to you from every possible angle. Unclear whether Luis Suarez bit somebody? Social media will put forth the evidence. Want instant live odds for the next goalscorer, yellow card or corner? Just follow your bookie 

That has to be good, doesn't it? As fans we want to know it all about our clubs, as quickly as possible, and social media is blisteringly fast at doing the job. 

But are we really watching the football everybody is posting about? Having worked on Bleacher Report's social media output during the World Cup, I know just how quickly games can pass you by when you're buried in other peoples' feeds.

You catch the headlines - they're impossible to miss on planet social media - but the nuances of a contest can be lost. There were times I felt the need to watch games a second time to get a better feel for what really happened. Do we watch the game while monitoring social media, or the other way around? Sometimes it's not easy to say.

If you aspire to being a credible football journalist, there's no choice but to embrace it of course. Social media is a driving force of traffic and the obvious place to build brand identity for yourself and the title you work for (see the likes of Guillem Balague, Henry Winter and Stan Collymore as perfect examples). An up-and-coming writer without a Twitter handle isn't going to get very far in today's market.

That's how important social media has become to those covering football as a profession. It's reaching the same importance for those watching it now also. 

On one hand, information is power and social media is bringing the game to fans in greater detail than ever before. On the other, I can't help but feel football would be better off if we focused on watching it and having the debate in person afterwards.

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