Are football clubs losing touch with their ‘Real’ fans?
Hyundai’s sponsorship and advertising during Euro 16 included the hashtag #RealFansFirst but do they actually have a definition of, or understand who are ‘real’ fans?
One of their adverts during the tournament, “The Wait” (which has had an incredible c.48m views on YouTube since 30 May 2016), shows a little girl and a lifelong fan’s unforgettable Euro 2016 experience, pronouncing “Football starts with Real Fans”, so through their eyes are we to believe that only refers to those who can attend the games?
Football is the world’s most popular sport with an estimated 4 billion followers. Interest continues to grow, aided by increased access to a global audience and social media presence. Back in the dark ages, BC (Before Channels), choices were more limited as you couldn’t see icons and idols as easily or as frequently. Technological advances have provided connectivity and communication for you to tune in, follow and watch your favourite players and team, almost anywhere.
How has this impacted the debate as to how you now define “Real Fans” and do clubs and players (across all sports) understand who these are? The old stereotype was opposed to those supporting a club outside of the area they live in but surely that’s outdated and too simplistic? Is it only those who make the pilgrimage to the hallowed grounds to see their favourite team? Must your adulation of the team be passed down from a senior relative? Well not only has the game changed but the fan base has too and clubs and players alike need to recognise that, act accordingly or fall behind their competitors.
Cynics may believe a club’s perspective of a fan is limited to anyone who spends money with them. Investment is rightly made into existing and new stadia to accommodate visiting fans, however, it is worth noting that Deloitte’s Football Money League report 20161 showed the top 10 Broadcasting and top 10 Commercial revenue streams all exceeded the best match-day revenue of any club. For these deals to be successful and sustained, clubs need to retain and grow a quantifiable fan base where they don’t limit their definition to just visitors. They need to listen to their audience and, using intelligent insight based on understanding their emotions and behaviour, communicate in a language that resonate with them.
Clubs realise the commercial potential of a global audience and evidence of this can be seen in the massive numbers of fans and followers active across social media, praising and berating their players, teams and opponents. For example, in excess of 5.5m Tweets were posted across the world on Leicester City within 24 hours of them winning the Premier League title and when the club posted a tweet announcing themselves as 2016 Champions that was subsequently retweeted more than 400,000 times in only 48 hours.
Teams and players aim to continually increase their exposure to existing and potentially new fans through such means as international tours and friendly matches, releasing multiple language versions of websites and publishing content on numerous social media platforms. While this is great to increase awareness and push their brands, are we confident there are any strategies to learn who these loyal fans are, what they think, what they talk about & what influences their loyalty and behaviour? Do the players and clubs know if they are delivering an appropriate tone and content their fans relate to? Under our Social Stars offering, we’ve worked with a number of clubs and sports stars to produce insight from social media data that has profiled their fans, helped engagement and revealed new audience segments, however, this should be standard practice rather than innovation from the few.
Fans are the lifeblood of any club. Without their support there would be no commercial deals. A shirt may cost more than an entrance ticket but you’ll see poverty-stricken children wearing them across the darkest corners of the globe. You cannot artificially create the passion, those special moments of joy, of sorrow, of apprehension, week after week.
While there may not be a formula to define a fan or measure their level of commitment and devotion, it is possible to identify and effectively communicate with them. Clubs and players need to know and understand their fans and use that knowledge to converse and engage with them. Football is the game of the people and as long as we have it, along with its commercial opportunities, let’s continue to work to ensure the beautiful game is connected to and accessible to all fans, whoever and wherever they are.
Sir Matt Busby
“Football is nothing without fans.”
1 Deloitte – Top of the table – Football Money League (January 2016)