It likely went over the head of quite a few, but to the meme generation it was the ultimate social media mic drop moment. On Monday the LA Galaxy posted a Twitter video in the style of a renowned meme highlighting Portland Timbers’ Diego Chara’s role in getting Jelle Van Damme sent off at the weekend. Like the fat man leaping off a bridge, the obvious implication was that Chara had dived.
Of course, that is quite the allegation for a club to make of an opposition player over social media, but the tone of the tweet meant the claim was made in a way designed to provoke hilarity rather than outrage. The video went viral, collecting 36,000 retweets and over 51,000 likes at the most recent count.
However, there may be repercussions for the Galaxy. A report by Sports Illustrated claims MLS will address the tweet, with league figures believed to be unhappy with the notion of one club mocking another in a centralised system. This might be the last such video we see from a MLS club.
That would be a great shame. The Galaxy’s video underlined just how effective social media can be, drawing in fans who otherwise wouldn’t have known anything of the controversy surrounding Chara’s antics in the Timbers’ win at Stub Hub Center on Sunday.
Indeed, MLS should be seeking to preserve its social media culture, not curb it. Leagues from all over the world look to the North American game for a lead in social media strategy. MLS isn’t at the forefront of much in world football, but it leads the global game when it comes to social media, as demonstrated by LA’s video of Chara.
Social media might be written off by some as merely a fad with little consequence or impact, but that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to younger generations. The way young people consume football is changing, illustrated by the drop in television viewing figures around the world. Now, fans consume the game in snackable, shareable moments. They see football as sports entertainment.
In England, clubs and media outlets still largely cover football as hard news. That’s the way it has been for generations, but that method is outdated and in need of modernisation. Some Premier League clubs are beginning to make the transition, but for the most part they remain characterless. It’s all rather po-faced, but not in MLS.
Of course, there are times when MLS has got it wrong on social media. Most notably, the video that panned former Manchester City player Nigel de Jong following his exit from the LA Galaxy was misjudged, trolling the Dutch midfielder for the scant impression and number of mistimed challenges he made during his time in the league. It was a strange tone for MLS’s official Twitter account to use.
But different rules apply for club accounts and the kind of mischief making that saw the Galaxy highlight Chara’s diving should be encouraged. It gets fans engaged in the league, establishing rivalries and narratives in a way that traditional media struggles to. NFL and NBA teams have also discovered this, with North American sports leagues boasting some of the most compelling social media accounts on the internet.
“We see social and digital as core to the future of this league, and we’ve been able to harness some of that through our content and distribution, and really work with our fans to grow the league,” MLS’s vice president of social media Amanda Vandervort explained in an interview last year. We want to recognise the direct relationship we have with our fans, and personalising that relationship to deliver the right content at the right time on the right platform is incredibly powerful.”
By taking steps to curb this relationship MLS would be compromising a large part of what has made the league so successful over the past decade or so. MLS, perhaps better than any other division in football, does an excellent job of packaging itself as a modern, progressive pursuit. It’s for this reason that the league is so effectual at drawing younger fans, very deliberating marketing itself to urban 20-somethings.
Those younger fans are what gives MLS such a bright outlook for the future. While some leagues in more traditional footballing countries are toiling to attract new fans, dying as quickly as the elderly hardcore pass away, there is no such issue for the North American game, which instead struggles to attract older supporters raised on a staple of catching ball and shooting hoops.
For a league which has woven social media into the fabric of its very being, MLS’s reported issue with the LA Galaxy’s Chara video is out of character. One must hope this is an isolated case and not a shift in strategy from a league that has shown football how to succeed in the internet age.