Clever play: Usain Bolt and Soccer Aid prank Twitter with football announcement

Retired sprint superstar Usain Bolt whipped sports fans across the world into a frenzy with the announcement that he had signed for a football team - but the big reveal turned out to be a clever piece of PR.

The Jamaican has frequently talked about his desire to play top-level football.

As such, Bolt's tweet (see above) on Sunday announcing that he had signed for a team got the internet talking, and achieved international media coverage. The fact that he and Borussia Dortmund both work with sports brand Puma put the German club in the frame, while one South African team was also subject to rumours. His favourite club Manchester United was also discussed.

A small number of trusted journalists at outlets including the BBC, Manchester Evening News and Evening Standard were given the name of that team under embargo.

As promised, Bolt revealed the name of the team this morning - it turned out that rather than an elite club, the sprinter would be lining up for the Soccer Aid World XI in a celebrity charity match, part of the Soccer Aid series originally founded by musician Robbie Williams in 2006.

The 10 June game at Manchester's Old Trafford is in support of Unicef. The charity is organising the game through Soccer Aid Productions, a new joint venture created between it and Triple S Sports & Entertainment Group.

The announcement was handled by Unicef's in-house press team and Triple S Communications, the PR arm of the group launched in 2016 by former FA comms man Mark Whittle.

Whittle said: "The Usain 'tease' on Sunday night was a collaborative effort between the PR teams of many high-profile stakeholders involved in the new Soccer Aid for Unicef. These partners include Soccer Aid co-founder Robbie Williams, Unicef UK, ITV, Manchester United, Triple S Events, Initial Productions and of course Usain Bolt himself.

"Given the amount of people involved it’s a credit to the Soccer Aid Productions team that the world’s media was kept guessing until the reveal at 8am this morning."

Clever play

The handling of the announcement was praised by PR professionals.

H+K Strategies' global head of sport & partnership marketing Andy Sutherden was impressed, commenting: "Any organisation, especially in the cluttered world of not-for-profit, should be congratulated when the general public are genuinely caught by surprise with positive news that keeps an established brand fresh and relevant. This is as true for Usian Bolt as it is Soccer Aid.

"For the trained eye, Bolt's highest profile sponsor, Puma, has pulled off a smart kit deal too. They will all benefit from making powerful connections with new audiences but most important of all, Soccer Aid has almost certainly guaranteed itself a record breaking year in terms of fundraising for UNICEF."

Paddy Hobbs, head of sport at PrettyGreen, said: "Using Usain’s social platform to create intrigue and anticipation to effectively launch this summer’s match was a great achievement.

However, he cautioned that the prank format of the announcement should not be overused. "For Usain, it shows excellent awareness of his own personal brand - but you need to be careful about 'crying wolf' with these type of spoof announcements too often, or trust and engagement will fall," he said.

David Fraser, founder of Ready10, said of the announcement: "When Bolt put this out on Twitter yesterday there was a big question mark: Will this be an extension of an amazing sporting story or a lame marketing stunt? Although its turned out to be closer to the latter, when you discover that it's in aid of Unicef , all is forgiven."

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