Tom Brady, Birmingham City and the riddle of 17billion ‘positive media impressions’

“This is just the beginning of our journey,” wrote Birmingham City owner Tom Wagner in his open letter to UK prime minister Rishi Sunak this week.

In the communique, expressing concern over the plight of the proposed high-speed rail network which was supposed to link London to the north, Wagner also made a point about his football club’s growing prominence.

Explaining why England’s second city needs the network to be built, Wagner emphasised the influence of football clubs on a global scale.

There is mention of the huge surge in interest at the West Midlands club — who play in the Championship, one tier below the Premier Leagueexperienced on the back of NFL legend Tom Brady’s arrival as a minority owner following Wagner’s takeover.

Something, Wagner said, which gave the club a stellar period of exposure and headlines across the planet.

So far, so good — it is the Brady factor, after all. We’re talking about one of NFL’s greatest ever, and most instantly recognisable, quarterbacks. An A-list name.

Wagner expanded. “For instance, during a 10-day period in August, coinciding with the announcement of seven-time Super Bowl champion and entrepreneur Tom Brady’s minority ownership in the club, Birmingham City became the most talked-about football team in the world, generating over 17billion positive media impressions.”

Sure, as he said, big interest, right? But whoa, hold on a Super Bowl second… how many impressions? 17billion? Seventeen. Thousand. Million? Really?

The population of the planet is currently 8.04billion. Does that mean everyone on earth somehow saw content about Brady and Birmingham in August — and then saw it again? Or did an awful lot of people view it an incredible amount of times?

Let’s think about this….

What is a ‘positive media impression’?

The Dictionary of Public Relations Measurement and Research defines an impression as “the number of people who might have the opportunity to be exposed to a story that has appeared in the media; also known as ‘opportunity to see’ (OTS)”. Digital marketers and publishers use impressions as a unit of measurement, often with less focus on the fact they reflect how many people potentially had the opportunity to see some content.

So, in the social media world, it’s debatable how much impressions count. You see tons of stuff on your feed but how often do you click on something that catches your eye or really read it? 

Anyway, how does an impression become ‘positive’? That is a difficult one to pinpoint with no clearly defined answer.

Traditionally companies have tried to mark the sentiment of their media coverage as positive, negative or neutral (a glance at the foot of this article would reveal as much), but doing that with social media would rely on engagement: things such as likes, retweets and favourites on X (formerly Twitter), or likes and re-posts on Instagram.

Can Birmingham-related content really have generated 17billion of those?

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Brady made a positive impression at Birmingham at a game in August (Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

How are impressions greeted in the industry?

For some industry experts, impressions “aren’t impressing anyone”.

As Katie Delahaye Paine, a ​​measurement, insights and analytics consultant at Paine Publishing, wrote earlier this year: “Impressions do not measure awareness or any other marketing objective. They are made-up numbers designed to make you think you are reaching people when all you are doing is triggering an algorithm.

“Impressions make you look like an idiot to senior leadership. Anyone who goes into a meeting and reports that they ‘reached’ 5billion people will be met with derision. Even if you had reached every human on earth, how many were actual potential customers?

“Impressions do not deliver outcomes. They are like sperm — there are lots of them and very few do what they were intended to do.”

So it is all a bit of marketing chicanery, then?

Possibly — but there is a way that Wagner’s claim could stack up.

Tom Scott is the founder of Little Mesters, a marketing agency based in Sheffield, England. Despite agreeing that “positive media impressions” is a strange metric, he reckons Wagner’s claim is plausible if based on a particular method.

“It’s possible if you take into account any news article that mentioned Birmingham and Brady in that period,” he says. “One article on sites like MailOnline can generate tens of millions of impressions so, if they added that to articles anywhere in the world, maybe on CNN, I suppose you could get to that sort of huge number.

“Then if you add in the audience figures for whatever TV news channels covered the story then it’s plausible.

“Of course, unlike the ‘reach’ metric, which is about individual views, impressions can mean one person looking at something 100 times.

“Maybe they are using some sort of tool that monitors sentiment and, if the TV stories reported the story neutrally, I guess you could construe that as positive.”

The Athletic understands that Wagner’s statement may, indeed, refer to every single Brady-related piece of content and club content, including when the same person or device has registered multiple views.

As well as social media impressions and online views, it also includes all press cuttings and TV viewing audiences.

“The letter details Tom Wagner’s position and we do not wish to add anything further at this time,” added a club spokesman.

It is possible Wagner — who is co-founder and co-chief executive  of Knighthead Capital Management LLC, the group that completed its takeover of Birmingham in July — was also basing those staggering impressions on the monthly views of some of the websites that reported the story. In which case this piece is inflating the total further.



Why is Tom Brady buying into Birmingham City?

But isn’t Brady’s impact surely key?

The NFL legend is a global superstar with a considerable social media audience. He has three million Twitter followers and a whopping 14.4million on Instagram.

In August, the 46-year-old entered into a partnership with U.S.-based Knighthead — meaning the seven-time Super Bowl winner took part-ownership of the Championship team and became chair of the advisory board.

In that role, Brady will be “working directly with the club’s board and members of Birmingham City Football Club’s leadership team”. Birmingham said that Brady will work with the board “on global marketing efforts and the identification of new commercial partnership opportunities”.

“Birmingham City is an iconic club with so much history and passion and to be part of the Blues is a real honour for me,” Brady said. “The club is built on teamwork and determination and I’m excited to work alongside the board, management and players to make our second-city club second to none.

“I’ve been part of some amazing teams in my day, and I’m looking forward to applying my perspective to create that same success here in Birmingham.”

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Brady considers the scene ahead of Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Brady retired from the NFL at the end of the 2022 season, drawing to a close an illustrious 23-year playing career. The former quarterback spent most of his career with the New England Patriots but spent his last three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He holds the record for most Super Bowl victories with seven and most Super Bowl MVPs with five.

And, quite possibly, the means to generate 17billion “positive media impressions”.



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(Top photo: Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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