It occurred to me when I was in Brazil for the World Cup that when the 2010 tournament kicked off in South Africa, the iPad was just a couple of months old. Apple has shifted more than 200 million tablets since then and the second-screen experience is now the norm. By the time Mario Goetze fired Germany to World Cup glory over Argentina in Rio de Janeiro, Twitter use increased by a staggering 13,500 percent in just four years.
Not so long ago mankind was of the opinion that watching television was an activity that required total concentration. Of course, several people could benefit from a single screen, but it was a silent, solitary activity, with interaction only enjoyed in reflection. Screen time was precious and, in a three-channel world, the “television event” could bring a nation to a standstill. Royal weddings had that power, so did the Olympic and Paralympic Games and, of course, football.
Anyone over the age of 30 can recall a time when, beyond international tournaments, the only live football match shown on television was the FA Cup final. Now, despite drowning in football, our appetite for “the beautiful game” knows no limits. Football fans are now football consumers and our consumption habits have evolved accordingly. The most obvious sign of that evolution is that one screen is no longer enough.
Digital technology is the football consumer’s most loyal all; we can all eat football, sleep football and tweet football. In fact tweeting football was taken to new limits during this World Cup; the Brazil-Germany semi-final received 35.6 million tweets in the duration of the match, which is a record, easily surpassing the almost 30 million tweets recorded during January’s Super Bowl. Of course, that game was exceptional; Brazil, trounced by Germany 7-1 in a shock felt around the world. The final itself received 32.1 million tweets, peaking at nearly 619,000 per minute as the final whistle blew. Even the second semi, a tedious 0-0 draw between Holland and Argentina, received 14.2 million tweets. The game is constantly with us and the World Cup is when the football consumer gets completely consumed.
Even in the biggest stadiums on Earth only about 90,000 people can share the football experience live, but we are now obsessed by the big, live and communal event. The rise of the music festival is testament to this but football’s 90-minute burst does not translate to a long, muddy weekend at Glastonbury. The vast majority of fans experience their football communion via a screen, or two.
The second screen is now the primary screen. You can watch it, talk to it, listen to it, read it, write on it and even have a bet on it. You can tailor your second screen to suit you and we are so much more capable than the generation who turned on the television with one hand and pressed a finger to their lips on the other. A survey conducted by ESPN revealed that sports fans are 33 percent more likely to be “multi-screeners”, while 21 percent regularly use a second screen while watching a live event. Those numbers are only going to grow – a fact emphasized by FIFA’s official World Cup app being downloaded more than 70 million times.
Two or more screens are normal for fully immersive coverage of a major event. This is now; what lies ahead might seem like science fiction but the children of the 1970s are already living football Star Trek.
The football experience at the World Cup in 2018 might not require a ticket to Russia to be at the tournament. Through a screen, or some device that is still two years away from launch, the World Cup experience might be beamed to you in a three-dimensional form, but one that is being played out a thousand miles away.