Things have come full circle in terms of communicating with fans of Aston Villa Football Club. Moving on from Randy Lerner, who was scarcely ever seen or heard, fans now rarely find more than a few hours going by without Dr. Tony Xia informing fans of his musings and of the club’s transfer activities.
Is an active social media presence a positive thing for supporters and the club?
With great power comes great responsibility
He may write like a fan yet he is more than that. As the owner, Dr. Tony Xia is the face of the club and an ambassador for it. By using social media to put himself in the public eye, he is attracting attention to himself and Aston Villa Football Club in a way that Championship clubs have never experienced before. His actions have an impact on how the club is viewed by people around the world.
The fans’ charter on the Aston Villa website states that all employees “must understand that they represent the Club and have the responsibility to uphold our values”.
Xia’s tweet in response to Ian Hollway’s critical prediction of where Villa would finish this season read as follows: “A failed player, failed manager and now f***ed pundit. Don’t bother reading at all!”
It was a bold move by Xia, perhaps designed to endear himself to Villa supporters by appealing to their patriotic and tribal nature. It’s worth noting that the comment was made at a time when we hadn’t made the transfer inroads that we have now. At worst, the words had a negative impact on the club’s name and painted the owner as lacking class. When trying to appeal to younger fans and those abroad in order to increase the fan base, perhaps it was not Xia’s wisest move.
Dr. Tony Xia is one of three chairmen of Championship clubs who have Twitter accounts, the others being Queens Park Rangers’ Tony Fernandes and Brentford’s Matthew Benham. It is interesting to read how Benham responded when he faced a similarly disparaging prediction of his club’s chances from Holloway, tweeting, “I respectfully disagree with Mr Holloway’s opinion”, no doubt aware of Xia’s response.
Do the talking on the pitch
Neither Fernandes nor Benham tend to tweet about football let alone their respective clubs’ affairs very often, possibly because they are keen to avoid the potential pitfalls of representing their clubs’ views and do not wish to become embroiled in fan tittle-tattle.
Announcing that Xia’s aim is for Aston Villa to be “one of the top clubs in Europe within 5 years” may be fanciful. However, no-one can fail to admire Xia’s ambition and desire to improve the Villans’ fortunes on the pitch.
Breaking news before it breaks
As fans, we now have a different source from which to get our news and gossip. Xia brings a refreshing honesty to his tweets. His angry response to Holloway’s comments shows his commitment to the club. Like someone hearing a loved one criticised, he decided to defend the club’s honour and fought back. He is also quick to denounce rumours stemming from lazy journalism and is eager to put the record straight.
By stating that he wants Aston Villa to be “the top club in Europe”, he fuels the excitement amongst fans and heightens expectations. Even if fans don’t believe him, it offers the key element which draws us back week after week – hope!
In Xia we trust
By engaging with fans, Xia has created a buzz around the club. This could all be part of a cunning strategy to regain supporter interest and improve ticket sales in a season in which attendances were expected to drop; he is a businessman after all.
When Xia waltzed on to the pitch before the Rotherham United game, he was caught up in the moment and exuded feelings of joy, excitement and pride – feelings that the previous owner had long given up on and ones fans yearn to be filled with. By humanising his role as chairman and acting with childlike abandon, as we have seen in his tweets, he is fast becoming a cult hero.
When things are going well he can ride the crest of the wave but what will happen if things start to go wrong? It will be interesting to see how he responds then. For now, I’m enjoying the renewed feeling of hope!