Sheffield United: The man who has helped make The Blades big in Turkey, Brazil and Thailand

The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield meets Eoin Doyle, the man tasked with helping supporters of Chris Wilder's team get to know their Premier League heroes better.

Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 6:48 pm
Sheffield United are gaining followers in Turkey: Tim Goode/PA Wire.

Eoin Doyle spreads the pamphlets across the table and, arranging them in no particular order of importance, begins talking excitedly about their contents.

But suddenly, only seconds into his monologue, an idea occurs to him. So instead of leafing through their pages, he reaches for his phone.

"This," Doyle says, narrating the action unfolding on its screen, "Is exactly what I'm taking about. It's brilliant, absolutely brilliant. It turns something awkward into something funny. So I think it's a really good example of how we can use stuff like this, because it strikes exactly the right tone."

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Brazilians are also interested in Sheffield United's rise up the Premier League: (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, Breitling)

The 'We' Doyle is referring to is Sheffield United, who employed him as their digital and social media manager five months ago. The video he is playing was produced by Ajax who, after signing a player associated with one of their arch-rivals, filmed him writing lines apologising for his misdemeanor.

Although the papers Doyle has brought with him highlight reflect positively on his work - bearing titles like 'Instagram Business Profiles' and 'Twitter Engagement', they reveal soaring levels of growth - the facts, figures and graphs contained within them are slightly misleading. Because, as the Irishman explains, he is actually in the business of creating feelings. Or, to put it another way, helping supporters feel a little bit closer to their favourite club. It explains why, rather than some eccentrically dressed geek who prefers computers to people, Doyle looks, talks and acts like a normal bloke.

"I remember earlier this year, when the lads were celebrating going up, and we got tons of footage," he says, remembering the jubilant scenes inside one of Bramall Lane's hospitality suites when United's promotion from the Championship was confirmed. "It was all going off and everyone was going crazy. But, as you'd expect, there was quite a bit of swearing because people were so happy. When we sat down to put some clips together, there was obviously a discussion about whether or not we could use the stuff with the cursing on. But we did, albeit with a warning so one was was offended, because we wanted to reflect the raw emotion, to really give people the proper impression, of what it was like and what was going on."

Doyle has found himself at the forefront of United's drive to exploit the opportunities that Premier League football offers, joining the growing legion of tech-savvy professionals with an eye for a story now being recruited by top-flight clubs. Chris Wilder is focused on ensuring they continue to collect points. But others, including Doyle and his colleagues in this newly established department, are charged with helping to deliver results off the pitch. It is possible to mount an argument, with Wilder frequently highlighting the terraces' role in helping his players climb to fifth in the table, that the two things are actually inextricably linked.

Sheffield United's Kevin Cookson with The Star's James Shield: Steve Ellis

"I'm a footy fan too," Doyle, who grew-up following Kilkenny City before representing his country at the University Futsal Championship, continues. "And I always really enjoy seeing what's going on behind the scenes; what folk are up to and what they're like as people. I don't think that's a bad thing at all, you want to get to know people as much as you possibly can. That's one of the aims; to try and create a connection with supporters who are the lifeblood everywhere."

Comments on the timelines of United's social media channels confirm that target is being hit, with followers declaring how much they appreciate the insights, goal clips and snippets of skill which are regularly posted. But Doyle accepts others might view his work as part of the PL's PR machine; an all-consuming beast designed to cleanse the competition's image amid accusations it cares more about money than those who pass through the turnstiles. Trite content, Doyle insists as he highlights the potential pitfalls, is something he wants to try and avoid.

"Really, we just want to show the players' personalities. If you can have a bit of fun doing it, then great. But obviously you can get things wrong and that's why we try to steer clear or some of the cheesier stuff. I remember Bordeaux putting something out when Laurent Koscielny went there from Arsenal not so long back. It was a video of him taking off their top, putting on a new one, and then throwing the old shirt to the ground. It probably wasn't meant that way at all, but you can understand why lots of people were upset by it."

United supporters first became aware of Doyle's work during the close season. As a flurry of new faces arrived, including record signing Oli McBurnie and returning hero Phil Jagielka, the business graduate and his cohorts were on hand to document Wilder's work in the transfer market.

Eoin Doyle, Sheffield United's digital and social media manager: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Describing how they structure their shots and condense the images they collect into something intelligible, Doyle uses the opportunity to address a few more misconceptions.

"Social media never holds a deal up," he laughs. "That's never happened and it won't. Can you imagine us having to tell the gaffer that something hasn't gone through because we need to get sorted? I don't give the players any media training myself either. I don't tell them what to do or say. We just try and stay in the background, so we don't get in the way. I also think you get better stuff that way because people, although I think we took some getting used to, begin to forget that you're there."

"What actually happens," Doyle says, warming to his theme, "Is that we'll get a phone call from Kev (Cookson, United's media manager) saying there's something going through at such and such a time tomorrow. He does the interviews, we get those down, and then we try and do some other filming.

"Usually, we try and work to some sort of template but obviously when Jags came back, because of his history with United and coming through the ranks, we wanted to do something a little bit special for that. We wanted to remind people who maybe didn't watch him the first time around that he's a legend here. So we did that differently. I don't think to many people actually did need reminding but it was still nice to make that point."

Doyle hopes to bring the story of Sheffield United to a winder audience: Bradley Collyer/PA Wire.

Doyle has actually been working at United for well over a year, joining them from Huddersfield Town where he was a marketing intern tasked with building their online footprint. But it is since Wilder led United out of the second tier that his profile - and his presence - has risen dramatically. Still, he concedes, formulating engaging content can be a matter of trial and error.

"We look at all the data and the trends of course. But you don't ever really know what people are going to enjoy, what's going to strike a chord if you like, until you put it out there.

"Because I'm not from here, I also had to get to know the area and what makes it tick. I've been really lucky in that respect because Kev and Woolly (Cookson's assistant Mark Woollas) are both from around here. They are proper, pure Yorkshire if you like and so that helped me understand the culture.

"Fortunately, the Yorkshire sense of humour is pretty similar to the one in Ireland. We both enjoy taking the p**s and are down to earth. What works in one area might not work in another. Even though they're pretty close together."

Before he departs to begin crafting another series of video vignettes, scooping up his folders and stuffing them with papers, Doyle pauses for a moment before making another point. It is one he is determined should be placed on record because it highlights the essence of his job.

"There's a real bond here between the fans and the team," Doyle says. "The manager is a supporter and so is the captain (Billy Sharp). There's a real connection and that helps. So it would be a shame not to tell that story because it's a really special club. And if we can bring that to a wider audience, then so much the better."

Sheffield United's social media followings have grown dramatically since Chris Wilder's squad achieved promotion to the Premier League, revealing how top-flight football represents an opportunity to expose happenings at Bramall Lane to a wider audience, writes James Shield.

Figures collected by the top-flight club detail how the number of people who subscribe to its Facebook page has risen by over 15 per cent during the past 16 months, with engagement levels also showing improvements of around 10 times that amount. But the biggest increase has come via Twitter and Instagram, with followers of United's account on the latter growing by nearly 520 per cent.

Intriguingly, data compiled by their social media department and shown to The Star also highlights where those clicks, likes and follows are being sourced. Naturally, the United Kingdom tops all three polls with the United States, Turkey, Brazil and Indonesia completing the Instagram 'Top Five.' On Facebook, Thailand, Brazil and Egypt feature on that list. Istanbul, the home of Fenerbahce who played United in a friendly five years ago, provides United's fourth biggest Instagram audience.

Where The Blades are being followed:

Instagram Top Countries

United Kingdom, United States, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia

Instagram Top Places

Sheffield, London, Rotherham, Istanbul, Chesterfield

Facebook Top Countries

United Kingdom, Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, Egypt

Facebook Top Places

Sheffield, Rotherham, Bangkok, Yangon, London