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.