Fuelling the passion – fan engagement programmes that score
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Fuelling the passion – fan engagement programmes that score

Alastair Bruce

Managing Director at Shaw

There is brand loyalty, and then there’s sports fan loyalty. Nothing comes close to the fierce passion that fans have for their clubs, and many clubs and sports organisations worldwide – from Benfica to Force India and plenty more in between – are now fuelling that passion with some fantastically imaginative fan engagement initiatives.

In marketing terms, these might be seen as regular business-to-consumer schemes, but in the world of sport, there’s a context of powerful emotion that makes these initiatives particularly challenging and exciting.

Getting it right

First on the getting-things-right front, sports bodies will know exactly what they want to achieve. Fan engagement needs to be smart on all levels – whether the aim is to gather data, sell tickets, convey brand values, reward loyalty, generate content that fans will share, create memories, or a combination of all or some of these and others.

The best fan engagement programmes will be just that – programmes, not one-off initiatives. A fan engagement programme must cover match days and non-match days, the on-site (stadium etc) experience and the experience for those fans who may never make it to match-day. These are very different challenges, but for 360-degree engagement, each has to be delivered.

What works? Great ideas, great content, great execution

Key to success? First, that elusive beast, great ideas – ideas that truly connect to this passionate market, that recognise and value the fans, that give them what they want, that make them proud to be part of their club community, that enable them to bask in reflected glory, that amuse them, that inspire them.

Building on this, great content is a must – content that is memorable, authentic, emotional, shareable, that employs different media and addresses the scenarios (match days/non-match days, on-site/off-site experiences) above, that appeals to different age groups and different social backgrounds.

Benfica Safety video | Emirates Airline

And then, great execution. Let’s take a few brilliant examples. Benfica produced a matchday ‘safety’ video which has now had more than 3 million views. It connects with the fans, using humour to provide something memorable that Benfica supporters clearly love and share. (The theme was repeated a year later by the LA Dodgers/Emirates and this video has had more than 9 million views.) Borussia Dortmund did something similar with their cheeky adrenaline video – 700,000-plus views – while Tampa Bay Lightning (hockey) were one of the pioneers in placing a chip in their replica jerseys. This enabled fans to get discounts on refreshments and team merchandise, and it spurred a near twofold increase in season ticket sales.

The biggest secret of the Bundesliga | Borussia Dortmund

Great execution makes the difference. Others that have achieved this include an engagement programme by Force India which focused on behind-the-scenes material and led to an increase in web engagement of 65% in one year. Closer to home, Heart of Midlothian produced a first-team jersey which featured the names of the 8000 fans who had pledged support to the club through the Foundation of Hearts fan-ownership body. This achieved huge sales and demonstrated a real bond between the club and its supporters.

Clear objectives, a comprehensive programme of activity, brilliant ideas, great content, giving fans what they want – make it memorable, make it emotional, make it shareable. Fan engagement, properly conceived and constructed, is truly powerful. It shoots, it scores.

How we can help

We’ve got the experience to help you build your fan engagement programmes. Among other projects, we’re particularly proud of our involvement in a programme with the Foundation of Hearts which to date has brought in more than £8 million from the club’s fan base.

Do you deliver programmes that benefit your club and supporters? If so, what techniques do you use and what results are you experiencing?