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Sunday’s match between Manchester United and Liverpool was significant for a number of reasons. Liverpool’s 3-0 victory means they’re still firmly in the Premiership title race, while the result ratcheted up pressure on David Moyes to what must be near-insufferable levels. However, it was Google’s experiment with its hangout video technology that was, for me at least, the most significant aspect of the game.

What was the experiment? In brief, 20 Man Utd fans from across the globe enjoyed a private Google+ hangout while watching the game, and video feeds from their webcams were beamed onto the digital advertising hoardings that border the Old Trafford pitch. (Head here for #MUFrontRow background details.)

Amazing, huh? Well, yes and no.

Manchester United’s Google+ page had created high expectations for the event. It was nowhere near as huge as I had been hoping for, but in terms of launching an initiative to engage sports fans then it was a significant step, even if the amount of ‘screen time’ given to the fans was minimal.

So, What Happened?

There were reportedly 20 winners but the maximum number of fans shown ‘live’ was 11.

They appeared seven times throughout the game, once in the first half and six times in the second (at 42 minutes, just before second half kick off, and 52, 59, 66, 73 and 87 minutes). The pictures below were taken from my TV screen, so aren’t the greatest quality but are at least indicative!

You may suspect that the fans were obviously not watching live as they were not weeping in anguish at the trouncing being dished out by Gerrard and co. Regardless, most of these fans would never have the opportunity to watch a match at Old Trafford in person, and being in the ‘front row’ provides a compelling story. Indeed, the Man Utd Google+ page promises to cover their stories over the coming weeks.

The advertising hoardings are huge and the images of each participant were indeed very visible, but each appearance was so brief that you’d have missed it if you blinked. Images were ‘on screen’ for 10 seconds at a time, and on either side of the video there was information about what it was all about: “Fans across the world showing their support live – Google+”. (You can see this in the featured image at the top of this article.)

In terms of it being a notable event in social media marketing it is huge, and with the social fan base that sport has then the potential for this kind of engagement is likewise enormous. But what about the cost? The event would have taken meticulous and lengthy organisation and when it came to the crunch just over 50% of the fans made the cut (11 of the 20). There may have been connectivity issues, and of course some fans may have been inconsolable, but the ones who did appear looked very happy.

I would imagine that the footage that did appear was pre-recorded from earlier in the match rather than being broadcast live; you can’t look into a camera as they were doing and also watch the match at the same time. There was a tweet from a participant saying they had just seen themselves, and that would not have been possible if it were live.

There was no mention of the event by the commentators, which was both surprising and disappointing. I had rather hoped for a fanfare as in social media terms this could have caused way more of a buzz. The hashtag #mufrontrow was trending on Google+ but there was very little chatter on Twitter. Some declared it a fail, which would be reasonable in the first half as nothing appeared until 42 mins in.

It will be interesting to see what Google and Manchester United report during the week. Both have said they will follow up on the event after the fact.

What do you think of this promotional event? Was it successful in your eyes?

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