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Manchester United end 13-year wait for official YouTube channel

Manchester United is to launch an official YouTube channel after a 13-year absence as it looks to build its brand and commercial income in a deal with the world’s biggest video-sharing site.

Manchester United is the only Premier League team, and the only one of the world’s biggest clubs, not to create an official channel since YouTube launched in 2005.

To date the world’s biggest club has relied on distributing its pay-TV channel, MUTV, its own online presence and a page on Facebook with 72 million followers as the main means of continuing to build – and make money out of – its global fan base.

However, the lure of YouTube’s 1.3 billion users and a slice of its $11bn (£8bn) in annual revenue has galvanised Manchester United into playing catchup with its footballing rivals.

“Amazingly, even without an official football channel it is the most viewed club in the world on YouTube,” said Tomos Grace, YouTube’s head of sport for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “But one channel that people are looking for is the official Manchester United voice. The plans they have are very exciting. They want to go big.”

YouTube said that since the start of this football season views of Manchester United video content had risen 60% year on year to almost 850m.

The club will have been partly spurred on by its cross-town rival, Manchester City, crowing about being the UK’s biggest club on YouTube (with 1.1 million subscribers), though its target will be to surpass the world’s most popular club, Barcelona (3.8 million), which has been on the site since 2006.

“The club’s vision is to be the largest and most engaged sports club in the world,” said a Manchester United spokeswoman. “Our presence on platforms such as YouTube will allow us to achieve this vision.”

Despite YouTube’s enormous growth – revenues will more than double from $4.28bn to $10.5bn between 2015 and 2019, according to eMarketer – the deal will not primarily be about making money. For one, YouTube keeps a significant minority share – thought to be up to 45% – of all income.

“The revenues are pretty small compared with income from the sale of TV rights and sponsorship,” says Richard Broughton, an analyst at Ampere. “It is not a brilliant platform to make massive quantities of money if you are already a big brand. It is more about brand building and hitting different demographic groups.”

Couple taking selfie outside of Old Trafford

Football clubs are worried about losing the increasingly hard-to-reach youth market. Photograph: Alex Morton/Getty Images

The name of the game in the increasingly globalised football market is reach. Particularly as saturation hits in mature markets like the UK, as seen with the plateauing of Premier League TV rights, while growth is coming from abroad.

Clubs are also worried about losing the increasingly hard-to-reach youth market, who are not watching as much football via expensive pay-TV packages or buying season tickets in the numbers they once did.

“YouTube will allow us to continue to evolve our demographics, as well as provide us with analytics and insights to feed not only our media and content plans but other cross-club initiatives,” said the spokeswoman.

YouTube estimates that 57% of the total time spent on the site by adults is by 18- to 35-year-olds. Ampere said that 70% of 18- to 24-year-old UK internet users go on YouTube in any given month, compared with 86% in the US and 90% in Brazil.

The UK has the second-highest consumption of football content on YouTube of any country in the world, only behind the US.

“Our YouTube channel has no impact on MUTV or our other social media platforms and they will complement each other,” said the spokeswoman. “Each have their own set of content, a large portion of which will be exclusive to each of the platforms.”

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