Football clubs are not really concerned about the real fans. The brand ambassadors that wear their name with pride and turn up week in week out, whatever hardship they have to endure or lack of entertainment. That is one of the challenges faced by the commercial teams that run the business side of a sporting business. Brand loyalty is such that they really can do what they like. As a fan, it might irritate me that our star forward does not bother to talk to me or sign a kids shirt, I will still chant their name if they curl one in from 90 yards.
I don’t really care if you put on cheerleaders or rock bands before kick off. I go to worship my club, not to be entertained. If I’m entertained it’s a bonus, but if you treat me badly, over charge me, put on an uncaring and drab display, I will still be back next week. That is my loyalty, my calling to my club, and nothing will break it.
The customers, the commercial team need to be concerned with, are the corporate clients in hospitality. They have less calling and more choice over where and how they spend their money. The clubs focus their efforts and real hospitality to those with the bucks to spend, in an effort to ensure they get the best possible experience. The commercial customers can choose if they want to come back. The fans will come back whatever they get served with, the corporate will not.
Success on the pitch brings the floating fans. Initiatives like buy one get one and family tickets make a small difference, but the floaters will follow success and big games. That is what builds gates, nothing else. With the cost of stewarding and policing, which is calculated as a per-head ratio, giving away tickets increases cost without increasing revenue proportionately. A good experience might encourage them to come back, but only if the success is there to.
Success also sells extra shirts and other merchandise by people that want an association. Get to the play-offs, the cup final or challenge for the title, shirt sales go through the roof. Everyone wants to look like a real fan. (A real fan of course will buy a shirt whatever the cost, quality or standing of the club. It goes with the season ticket!)
Success on the pitch also brings television revenues. Big money comes from TV, much more than you can ever hope to generate from selling beer or burgers during the half time interval. The fans have to suffer changes to kick-off times with no consideration for travelers, hours or convenience. If the US switched on to football in real numbers, I have no doubt games would go the same way as boxing matches and kick-off between 12.00 and 2.00 a.m. the real fans would still wear it.
The reality is that the only currency that makes any real difference to commercial success is results, and every club makes every effort to maximize this. The fans tag along for the ride whatever the customer experience out of a sense of belonging bordering on religion and live football is not where the money is.
This might seem a harsh view on the clubs, but it is a reality. To their credit, despite the blind loyalty of the customer, many clubs do what they can to make it better. The one area most clubs really excel is often unseen and unnoticed. I have seen many examples of clubs using their brand and standing for good in their local community. In particular I remember witnessing about 120 school age children who had been excluded, working diligently as part of the Leeds Utd community programme. They calculated the area of the pitch and the combined attendance for a math’s project. For geography they worked out the route and the mileage/time needed to travel to away games. One of the first team super stars (a then international), who had a press reputation for being a bit wayward, came in each week in his own time to help with reading. He did this without any publicity, and the majority of the “greedy” players were happy to be involved and appeared to take a genuine interest.
It’s not just Leeds that runs these types of programmes. Every club I have come across takes their community responsibility and outreach seriously and the players seem to get a lot out of this away from the cameras.
For me, this is the area where social media channels could really be utilized, to use the club brand (and the players’ personal brand) to engage in projects and causes that actually make a difference to the community by association. It is also a two way street, as exposure to reality for pampered younger footballers used to living in a cocoon would also do no harm.
I don’t think it would sell many extra tickets but it would make the club and its staff real and worthy ambassadors of the club brand. This is the best way to repay the fans and the community, whatever the size of the club.
About the author:
Bill Boorman is best known to readers of this blog as the founder of the recruiting Unconference TruLondon and as a commentator on recruiting and social media, but in a previous life was heavily involved in the sporting arena. Bill was formerly a Director of the PrimeTime Group who operated offices within sporting venues in particular football stadiums from the Premiership to the third division. Through these sporting partnerships Bill had extensive exposure to the commercial workings of the football clubs and has been involved in training and liaising with the commercial staff in a number of clubs as well as serving as a commercial director for a period of time.