Top clubs can’t afford to get social media wrong


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Social media can play an important part of any club’s interaction with fans. To the world’s biggest clubs, however, social media is not only another communication and engagement channel but a crucial component to the club’s future success. Simply put, in order to sustain their positions as top clubs, international expansion is crucial and social media can and should play a central role for these clubs.

The following three elements are the most important drivers behind this statement:

Saturated home markets. Real Madrid, for example, is not going to find many more fans in Spain compared to what they can attract outside of Spain. Most kids in Spain have already made up their mind as to who they support whereas kids and adults in other regions of the world either haven’t devoted their support to a specific club (or football all together) or their connection with the club has not (yet) turned into passion.

Player expenses. The increasing player salaries are driving up costs for the clubs and new income streams are necessary. Clubs need to look beyond their current markets and expand in order to cover the high costs associated with running a top club. Clubs from the NBA, NFL and top European football clubs are increasingly busy expanding beyond their traditional markets, for example via overseas games and events.

Globalization of media. Fortunately for sports clubs, the age of media globalization brings the opportunity to generate more media income in foreign markets. Key to increasing revenue, however, is that the audience numbers increase. Media globalization also has a significant spill-over effect in the form of increased fan spending outside the stadium (e.g. merchandise sales) and more importantly the potential for bigger (and global) sponsor deals. No company only operating in the English market, for example, can afford (or see the ROI) in sponsoring one of the top Premier League clubs.

The abovementioned elements provide an opportunity, but also put demands on clubs to move beyond the traditional fan approach towards developing a true global fan base. The fan base is no longer made up of predominantly ticket buying individuals living within driving distance of the club, but reaches out into all corners of the world. Media partners today demand insight into a club’s or a league’s potential global audience before closing deals. Sponsors will want to know not only the volume of fans in India and China but also the profile of these and how they differ from other clubs’ fans. To clubs this means several changes, one of the most important ones being developing strong relationships with people who can only dream of once visiting an actual game of their favorite club. What these “new” fans don’t leave in ticket entries, however, they make up in sheer numbers as well as their consumption of games on TV or online, merchandise purchases, betting and showing positive consumer behavior towards the club’s sponsor(s).

One of the best ways to be competitive in this global race for fans is through the effective use of social media. As several clubs have already experienced, there is no other mechanism that can drive the numbers up so quickly and thereby create the basis for relationships with fans all over the world.

Social media is of course only one component of the strategy but already now we see the leading clubs (e.g. FC Barcelona) establishing a link between social media as CRM. As FC Barcelona was striving to reach 5 million “likes” on Facebook they put a teaser on their Facebook page through which fans were encouraged to officially sign up with FC Barcelona – and thereby helping their club reach its goal. This data is worth an enormous amount to the club – and as argued earlier, not only in the direct relationship with the fan but also in the club’s profiling and negotiations with partners and sponsors. Other top clubs mix their newsfeeds on social media networks with marketing messages (e.g. news about merchandise, membership programs) and thereby reach out to many more fans than ever before.

The race is on and some clubs have taken the lead whereas others are still getting out of the starting blocks. Within football the top two Spanish clubs are leading together with the Premier League top clubs. Most other clubs, however, including top clubs in the Bundesliga as well as Serie A are playing catch up and as this is indeed a race, time is running and many clubs risk missing out on the opportunities.

Besides the traditional top clubs in Europe (e.g. Liverpool FC, Real Madrid) we have in the past few years seen an increasing number of clubs from for example Russia and the Ukraine seeking to compete with the big European clubs on the field. Several of these clubs are participating in the Champions League and other big international tournaments. These clubs all have big ambitions but up until now it seems like their fan relationship management approach requires additional focus if they also want to compete with the traditional top clubs in the global game for fans.

In summary, top clubs throughout the world can’t afford getting social media wrong or underestimate the importance of connecting and integrating it into the club’s overall CRM strategy. Failing to do so or not be quick enough will simply lead to losing the competition off the field (and later on the field) to the other big (or maybe currently smaller) clubs.

What do you think? Is social media crucial to top clubs? Who is doing better than others? Any “smaller” clubs that could excel in fan relationships and engagement?….

Kristian Gotsch
Kristian Gotsch has more than 15 years experience within the world of CRM. As CRM Manager at the Eredivisie (Dutch Premier League), Kristian has a great interest in sports and CRM and is the founder of Loyalsticity. Prior to his current role Kristian held various CRM positions at T-Mobile, PwC and Microsoft. This is a personal rather than a corporate blog. My opinions reflect my own views rather than necessarily those of my employer.


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