Fan Engagement – Listening or Marketing?

With the new Fan Engagement Index looming on the horizon, I thought I’d dip into something that I keep coming back to in every area I work in in football: listening.

‘Organisational Listening’ is a term standardised in communications & PR by Professor Jim Macnamara, Distinguished Professor in the School of Communication at the University of Technology Sydney.

He argues coherently and correctly that many organisations are too focused on ‘…a transmissional broadcast approach to public communication.’ Meaning? Pushing messages, content, out.

Football clubs organise matches and events, must communicate fixture information (including travel, or fixture changes), transfers and other content on a near hourly basis sometimes. These days the Twitter channel is often used as a match-updates channel, meaning that even marketing messages get lost in the flurry.

Yet clubs are also organisations who by their own admission, have a very distinct set of followers, consumers, primary users. The essential message of people like Paul Barber at Brighton, Ben Kensell at Hibs, or Liam Scully at Lincoln City (all former guests on the Fan Engagement Pod), is that despite there being a customer in there, the motivation to purchase isn’t very often as rational as a customer looking at price point or manufacturing quality. There’s a relationship, and that needs ears to hear.

Reflecting on my work in the game, I applied Jim Macnamara’s ideas to football as a student of PR in 2017, speaking to a host of CEOs and leaders in the game. My instinct then was that too much of the focus of the pressure on clubs internally and externally is driven by the need to monetise, and to focus on converting loyalty into cold, hard sales. Prioritising a payrise for the left-back, not a crucial fan engagement position that will pay long-term dividends.

Every conversation I had, every insight gained, underlined that too many clubs were causing many of their own problems by not listening, and by prioritising selling over making the relationship as good as it could be – building a good foundation on which the rest of the business is built.

As I approach the new version of the Fan Engagement Index, coming out in just a few short weeks, I can see that the perspective is slowly shifting in the game. Not fast enough, maybe, but it is and that matters. Many good people are working hard to bring about changes in culture that a few short years ago would have been deemed impossible. We should recognise that, thank those doing so (often under-rewarded), and redouble our efforts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *