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11 reasons why sports clubs should take the lead in Social CRM

Blog post by on February 8, 2010 15 Comments

A while back I claimed that although the world of sports had been a late adopter of CRM there was a great opportunity for sports in taking the lead in social media.

Assuming that clubs and leagues integrate their social media activities with their overall CRM strategies it could not be long before sports clubs – instead of being late adopters of CRM – stand out as thought leaders.

In the past years several sports clubs and leagues have taken steps in the area of social media. These initiatives range from clubs setting up online forums or using existing network tools to connect with fans to the other extreme of for example Ebbsfleet United, where fans own the club!

Although the adoption of social media in sports is still in its early stages (as it is in most industries) a range of industry specific factors – or accelerators – within the world of sports leads me to repeat the claim about the sports industry’s potential future leadership role in relation to successful (social) CRM.

Below I have attempted to outline the proclaimed sports industry specific factors that can work as accelerators for rapid adoption of social media.

1) Fans are interested in engaging with their club. Sports fans are of nature interested in their club, its players and the home of the club (stadium) to a much higher extend than the average consumer is interested in its supplier of food and telecommunications. This is also the case when it comes to engagement. Doing research and analysis within the world of sports, for example, reveal unbeatable response rates from fans compared to other industries, e.g. seen in the annual Premier League Fan Survey . In the past many clubs have engaged with fans with “supporter organizations” – social media simply allows for a global forum in which the club can engage with every single of its fans in a way the fans would love.

2) Fans feel like they (ought to) have a say! It is common to hear sports fans speak out over coaches, games, players or decisions that have been made by a club and in many cases fans expect to be heard. The opinion of the fans even on occasions lead to serious changes by clubs ranging from firing/hiring of a coach to renaming stadiums. Sports fans already speak their mind (it is part of being a fan) and many see themselves as part of the “club” already – for these as well as the rest of the fans the adoption of social media in relation to their favorite club is a natural next step in the “relationship”.

3) Players and club individuals are perfect communications icons. In no other industry are there proportionally as many individuals that actually mean something to the fan – receiving a personal birthday message from your favorite player or a response on a question from the commercial director is difficult to beat by any other industry.

4) Fans speak out – and influence others. Sports fans are avid in terms of speaking out for their club (and sometimes against!) – it is thus also clear that the sports industry in particular will benefit from the increase in importance of for example customer referral value measures (in contrast to traditional customer transaction value) as highlighted by Graham Hill recently. As an individual I may not know which of my friends have a Philips TV or a Samsung TV in their living room but I sure know who is supporting Arsenal and who supports the New Orleans Saints. Getting the ball rolling in the area of social media could have a snowball effect for sports clubs as fans will speak out and influence others – well beyond the reach they traditionally had.

5) Fans are easy to reach. The number one source of information for sports fans are club websites – a great starting point to inform fans about other social media possibilities that exist in relation to engaging, interacting and collaborating with the club. Other companies may be able to communicate new initiatives to a customer via mass media or even direct marketing but none can match the platform a sports club has in the form of its website – which Toronto Maple Leafs fans doesn’t visit the clubs website now and then without ever being asked to do so?

6) Clubs are going international. The good old assumption that a certain geographical area is the (potential) fan base of a club has been disrupted. This is primarily due to advances in technology – both in terms of more widespread traditional technology as well as development of new technology. At every major sport club today one of the key focus areas is thus also looking beyond its own area and even its own country to connect with fans and the race is on for who gets the biggest piece of the pie first. This dramatic shift in focus by clubs in their marketing and sales strategies will only accelerate the clubs focus on social media as well.

7) Fanship is emotional and loyalty is long term. Studies show that up to 90% of people have decided who their favorite sports club is by the age of 10 and only a few change this preference later on in life. This high level of brand loyalty means that sports club already have a good starting point for utilizing social media to connect with people – in particular as people are not only involved with the club for one purchase or a short term relationship.

8) New media is critical to economic success of clubs. To reach out to fans further away and increase the number of fans sports clubs are turning more and more to new media. For many clubs this is not a matter of choice but simply a necessity in order to compete. With today’s big expenditures for clubs they simply need the big sponsorship deals that can only be justified if the club reaches a bigger audience – mostly in areas that are not easily reachable by traditional media (e.g. international markets). New media will shortly become the key communications and interaction tool for clubs – a great catalyst for driving social media strategies.

9) Social media is mobile – sports is mobile! Games, interviews, news and updates are all things that fans demand to access anywhere and anytime. Sports is a perfect product for mobile applications and devices whether it is up to date news, instant replays or other information – the devices are already there, the fans are interested etc. – the only thing to be added is opening up for the two way communication between the club and the fans via these devices.

10) Clubs are big brands but small or medium sized organizations. Sports brands belong to some of the biggest brands in the world. Clubs in the English Premier League, for example, with brand recognition as high as some of the most well known global products only employ a few hundred people! If social media is to be well integrated in the (social) CRM strategy and thus imbedded organization wide the conditions within a smaller organization tells me it should be quicker to implement (if appropriate focus is put on the matter of course) than within a global organization with hundreds of thousands of employees.

11) Fans and sponsors simply expect it. There are (still) many clubs today who don’t truly see the need nor the benefit of social media and why the club should engage further with its fans? Arguments such as “let us run our business” to “if we ask fans we will only increase expectations” are common. What most clubs overlook, however, is that the world of sports is not living in a vacuum but is part of the greater world where social media is growing rapidly. Before we know it the time will come where fans and increasingly sponsors will start to ask “hey, why can’t we have a relationship like that?”

Even with these industry specific “drivers”, however, it is still to be seen just how much sports clubs will take advantage of social media? Many clubs are jumping on the social media train but there are also examples of clubs holding back.

The second big question that remains is if clubs will be successful in integrating their social media strategy with their overall fan relationship strategy? Clubs who succeed in this will in the future not only be sitting as listeners at big CRM events – they could be up there on the podium speaking and showing the lead.

Do you agree? Or do you have comments on the above article? Please join the discussion.

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15 Responses to 11 reasons why sports clubs should take the lead in Social CRM

  1. Greg Sayer February 10, 2010 at 12:26 am #

    Fantastic article. Very compelling reasons why sports clubs need to embrace social CRM. I liked the sources you cite. MyFootballClub.com – what a great concept. Would love to see that spread to our local hockey team!

  2. Arthur February 10, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    Amazing article, also amazing how different are markets in South america where social media its not as big as other countries.
    I would love to see that practice on hispanic markeets in the USA.

  3. Jason Peck February 11, 2010 at 8:08 am #

    100% agree with you. It’s interesting that many have taken the “marketing” approach to social media rather than seeing it as an opportunity for more robust CRM and customer service.

  4. Rob Jaynes February 11, 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    I really appreciate the thought that went into this piece. I could not agree more and really wish that more folks, in positions to leverage such a belief, were willing to expand CRM initiatives to include targetted social media applications. I am fairly certain that most folks would agree that we/they feel somewhat trapped by the standard “brick & mortar” functions of fan and community relations. Social media provides limitless touchpoints and, really, is as adaptable as your imagination allows. The best news is that a direct result of such activity actually benefits the bottom line.

  5. menno urbanus February 11, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    Kristian, your article is spot on! we all know it, but majority of clubs are, in my opinion, afraid to lose control. Specifically football teams are very conservative. Let your fans do the work and sit back while they make it happen!

  6. gijsbregt February 15, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    The reasons for more a solid presence in social media are compelling and beyond doubt from my site.
    But I shiver when social media gets coupled with CRM. CRM is currently (especially in the service industry) a tool to get as much “value” from a customer as possible.
    This is value for the company, not for the consumer. Most of the times it is reverse value for the consumer. So he is meant to spend more the he/she would have liked to spend. For big multinationals with focus on SHV this might be morally correct (although I doubt it), for sports organisations with FANS (not consumers), this seems abject.

    But maybe I see CRM too gloomy?

  7. Henk-Frits Verkerk February 16, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    Most consumer don’t care if there electricity supplier or any other organisation misspels their name or doesn’t acknowledge the fact that they have been a customer for 5 years. However, supporters tend to be insulted if their club makes these kind of mistakes. And quite rightly so. Supporters are not consumers in the normal sense, they are consumers who feel they own the club.

    CRM is way for clubs to get to know their supporters. And, more importantly, to know and remember how supporters want to be treated by their club. A club can only guarantee that supporters who do not wish to be contacted, are not contacted, if there is a central place for all customer data to live.

    You can argue that a club shouldn’t start gathering data about supporters via social media without a supporter’s consent because supporters won’t like it. But social media are a two-way street. Supporters want to part of a club and therefore the club will know more about them. Whatever it is, it’s certainly not morally wrong.

    Don’t judge a club on what they know about their support but how they treat their supporter.

  8. DaniËl de Wild February 16, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    Kristian, compliments for putting this conclusions on paper. As others who have commented I agree with your thoughts.

    Gijsbregt I agree that the basics of CRM are to provide the company with the most valuable customers, and get rid of customers who just cost too much. But does this also counts for a company which has fans instead of customers?

    I agree sports clubs should embrace social media. Especially when mass media as TV and radio in their current form are on the urge of loosing ground rapidly. So will be the source of income for clubs…

    As Mr Urbanus kind off says: Provide a platform! The great companies of this time like Google, Facebook, eBay work like that. They are giving power (or at least the feeling) to the customer, isn’t that truly CRM? I think a platform combination of Manchester United-Facebook-Youtube is what will make the most fans happy. Besides the core product of course, the event in the stadium/ live match on a screen.

    I have a question what you think about the part of fanbase which I will describe as hardcore fans (maybe 5% of a total fanbase). Who are not likely to be organized by their club and want to stay as independent of the club. Meaning have as few as possible contacts with the club besides the matches, training, etc.. Will social media coming from their sports club work for them? Or how will social crmedia help the clubs get and stay in positive contact with these fans?
    The reason I am asking about this group is that most clubs are finding this part of the fanbase a nuisance, because they form a big part of a clubs reputation and identity. And that gives them power.

  9. Robert K Sebbale February 18, 2010 at 5:51 am #

    I can not agree more Kristian. But I think we have to distinguish between sports that have the capacity to pull fans and make them permanent supporters and those that can not.

    Football in its various variants has a capacity to magnetize fans. But I wonder whether many other types of sports are capable of doing that. I for one for example, in as much as I love Formula 1, I have supported different teams. I supported Benetton Formula One when Schumacher was there, moved to Ferrari when he moved and recently I have been favoring Maclaren Mercedes because of Louis Hamilton. I have therefore been attracted by the stars as opposed to them team. I think my problem is true to Brazilians, Britons and Germans who follow their home grown Formula 1 drivers. I therefore wonder whether Formula 1 teams have a capacity to lock people down into social media activities and therefore CRM.

    Teams must also try to attract new fans (grow the fan base)and lock them in through CRM efforts. This is important because you need to engage a growing group of people as opposed to small un worthwhile support base. The issue of growing a fan base is critical here in South Africa for example. The current league leaders and winners of the past two football leagues in South Africa can hardly fill a stand of a thousand supporters. This is tragic. It is therefore critical for them to put a lot effort in attracting and locking fans in.

  10. Geoff wilson February 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Good article and I can back up the content with what we are doing at the Irish fa. We now have installed a crm solution that touches admin ie player reg discipline fixture management coaching refereeing etc and marketing ie membership scheme texting and email marketing event management etc

    we also have our own facebook Twitter bebo and youtube channels

  11. seotrabajo March 7, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    I am Agree with you!

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  12. Marcus Cheng March 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    Definitely helps to connect the dots between the characteristics that make sports and entertainment entities unique and the requirements of a strong social media strategy.

    Another distinct advantage is the availability of content: there’s always the next practice, the next game, the next community event.

    And there’s definitely a demand for it.

    That said, we must maintain a focus on creating high-quality productions in all relevant forms of media to drive traffic, loyalty, affinity, and revenue through the constantly evolving menu of digital channels.

  13. Andrew McConachie April 5, 2010 at 5:00 am #

    I agree completely with the points made above especially concerning when you think that fans are desperate to interact with their team in anyway and social media is the exceptional way to do so.

    As with all interaction, fans can be positive or negative but through my studies I have found that even when being critical the fans will still appreciate the efforts of the club to involve them in decisions, even if their input means minimal interest.

    Sports are now truly global and the only exceptional way to include all fans is through Social Media. Having just completed my studies on case studies of Best Practices of football teams who have adopted compared with those who are lagging I have to say that these points hit the nail on the head.

  14. Kyle July 29, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    Kristian,

    I agree with most of your points. Recent data from surveys in the U.S. suggest that social engagement with top fans, makes them more avid fans of the club.

    Specifically 61 percent of Major League Baseball fans and 55 percent of National Football League fans consider themselves bigger fans of the respective leagues since they started following their favorite teams on Facebook.

    Look for to discussing more on the sports marketing network.

    -Kyle

  15. Kristian Gotsch September 21, 2010 at 12:45 am #

    Hi everyone – thanks for all the comments, ideas and input. Some great points ranging from discussions around the greater definition of CRM (which there are a lot of good articles/discussions about on this very site) to specific examples from sports and social media. A follow up blog post was just made together with Marcus Cheng of the Miami HEAT as I completely agree with his point that “availability of content” was indeed missing from the list I posted. To read the new piece go here:

    http://www.customerthink.com/blog/the_12th_reason_why_sports_clubs_should_take_the_lead_in_social_media_and_social_crm_0

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