‘Amputee Freestyle Football’ and ‘Football’s Most Dangerous Derby’ are just two of the 900 videos you might stumble across on Copa90’s fan-driven, YouTube channel – an online football network founded by digital media company Bigballs.
With more than one million subscribers, it lives up to its self-proclaimed status as ‘the home of global football culture’ and is the epicentre of audio-visual content from the fans’ perspective. Bigballs’ creative director Richard Welsh, dropped by
Where do you look for creative inspiration?
I often think that at its simplest, my job is about being curious, seeking out interesting stories and meeting great film-makers. You can get great ideas from magazines or online, but nothing beats reaching out and meeting people in person. At Bigballs we seem to have developed a canny knack over the years, for uncovering great talent in strange places, and in developing ideas, shows and now channels that connect and resonate with massive global audiences underserved by traditional media. Our approach has always been learning by doing – and when you’re working across digital platforms and building channels from scratch, the experience is by necessity multi-faceted.
As a result our creative inspiration comes from a melting pot of different competencies. We create, develop and produce our own content, films and series, are solely responsible for building and maintaining our community, then there’s the way we use data to optimise and improve our output. On top of this we’re the marketers and distributors of our own content and this is all before we get into collaborations with brand partners… It’s a whole new skillset for a whole new generation of audiences, and the most exciting thing is that the opportunities to tell great stories in new ways are virtually limitless.
What’s the most interesting location you’ve filmed in?
Unfortunately I spend most of my time in London, so I generally live vicariously through the myriad adventures of our production teams. However being at the FIFA World Cup last summer, and seeing Brazil beat Colombia was incredible - I don’t think I’ll ever top that experience… especially because we’d worked so hard to get the whole Copa90 team to the tournament. Outside of that incredible experience, we’ve sent our crews to Serbia where they covered the Red Star vs Partizan derby for our series Derby Days.
The footage they came back with is unlike any other football match any of us had ever seen… it looks like something out of the end of days! Then there was a US roadtrip we did around the CONCACAF Gold Cup a couple of years ago that was brilliantly funny and surreal and gave us our first taste of how big ‘soccer’ is going to be. There have been multiple trips to Finland, Germany and Spain meeting Ultras, and finally my favourite must be one of our presenters and directors completely a crazy journey to the World Cup through Europe, the US, Central and South America, over three weeks, using just the support of fans en route.
Do you use social media differently during live matches?
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to understand the different way people use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Viber. So when there’s a big football match, rather than being a content creator, like tweeting as the match goes on, I’m generally more interested in the unexpected ways the story of the match unfolds around the world. I find it amazing that more often than not, the most inventive and creative use of these platforms comes from outside traditional broadcasters or publications.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup was the most talked about events on Twitter. Why do you think sport is so popular on social media?
Someone I work with recently said, ‘the brilliant thing about football is that no one ever wins’, which is very true because as soon as the Premiership or the FIFA World Cup ends the speculation about how it’s all gone moves on to people talking about the next tournament. It’s brilliantly event-driven, so it captures people’s imaginations. Around big tournaments, football becomes way more than just a game - it becomes a shared cultural event, appealing way beyond just hardcore fans… and it’s at these shared moments that everyone discovers that they have an opinion and a voice.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen from Copa90's fans?
The most amazing thing was watching our YouTube channel grow from a standing start just over three years ago, into becoming a genuine and passionate community, where the ‘Copafam’ (their name, not ours), began to moderate the comments below the videos themselves. For me this is a perfect representation of our positioning as we seek to reconnect fans to the game they love. Our films and stories are providing them with a spark of inspiration, but it’s their voice that is adding fuel to the fire. And the great thing about this community spirit – you can’t buy that kind of loyalty or passion, it has to be earned, just like with the football club you love.
What does the future of vlogging look like?
I think there are two things. People will start to think about how they can become genuine storytellers, and how they can move on from doing stuff in front of their webcam to embrace a more film-led style out there in the real world. Many of the creators we now work with are great film-makers in their own right. A great example of this is Copa90 presenter Eli Mengem – we discovered him through a competition we ran a couple of years ago to find a creator to travel to the Confederations Cup in Brazil. He blew us, and the audience away with his passion and creativity – now we’re sending him off around the world to meet a whole new group of young creators who have entered our latest talent competition ‘In Search Of…’
For me this democratisation of storytelling is one of the most exciting things we’re seeing at Copa90 and Bigballs. As the price of camera technology falls and the next three billion come online in developing nations, it will be incredible to think that the next generation of creators might come from places you’d never expect, with stories and perspectives that would never otherwise have been heard.