“The club is at the heart of the community and has community in its heart”
Those are big words but ones that every fan-owned club should have as one of their core aims and objectives. Many clubs will wonder where exactly they start in putting that into practice but often it is easier than it seems.
The key to delivering value to the wider community is first to understand the dynamics of the local area and then how a club can easily, quickly and cost-effectively add value, becoming more than just a football club. One approach that any club could take is to follow these five steps: -
1. Define what the “community” is – It is important that any community-owned club knows the demographics of their local community. Where do the competing factors on a match day come from? Local professional club, cinema, beach, shopping centre? What are the local pressures on the community? Is it a wealthy community or one where social pressures dominate the local area?
By understanding these factors, a club can quickly build community outreach programmes that will increase their standing and ultimately, reputation in the local area. For instance, many clubs are now working in partnership with local food banks to collect donations for the local community. Many clubs have facilities that could be used during the working week for local groups and good causes, such as blood donation centres or maternity classes.
2. Define the “quid pro quo” – Football fans have tribal instincts and are often more loyal consumers than retail shoppers. Often when times are tough, their loyalty to the “brand” increases – they are more likely to spend more if they know that they are going to help the club. So why not build on that concept of trust by engaging the local business community to work with the club on developing a loyalty programme?
For instance, approaching local businesses and asking if they will give owners of the club discounts on products and services in exchange for promoting them within the ground? Would a fan decide to choose one local take-away over another if they knew that they would get a discount or even better, that the club would get an element of commission? By building the trust with the local business community there’s also more chance that these organisations will want to get involved more with the club as a sponsor or a commercial partner.
3. Create a value proposition – Clubs need to be able to sell themselves to the local community as an asset. This means understanding what the club stands for and living those values. If the club can demonstrate its importance to the community not just through words, but through actions then it will increase its standing in that community. Look for local good causes, offer your club’s time and resources and be present.
One great example of this is focusing on local schools and working with them to provide access to the club for pupils by giving every pupil a free season ticket. Whilst some clubs offer free admission to Under16s, the majority of football clubs charge for their entry. Why? In most cases there is no marginal cost in admitting one additional fan – in fact in it high likely that everyone who enters the ground will spend money somewhere, whether that be on food, drink, programme, club shop or raffle. Young children will use pester-power to bring their parent(s) who will in turn pay to get in. Creating memorable experiences for these young fans will encourage them to come back time and time again, laying the foundations for the future.
4. Communication is key – It is important for any fan-owned club to have an ownership database, knowing exactly who the club’s stakeholders are. Likewise, it is equally important to ensure there is a regular dialogue with these owners. It’s wise not to restrict this communication to one method. Many clubs will use regular email campaigns, which is a good basis, but also think about how to use Social Media as an engagement tool for the local community.
Owners need to feel valued and communication engagement allows that. For instance, think about how you can include them in some decision-making such as the choice of an away strip, the music the teams should walk out to or even the name of a mascot. Likewise, think about how you could increase turn-out at election time by introducing online voting or livestreaming of the AGM. There are numerous online tools that can used for the basis of a communication strategy free of charge although it is advisable to have one person within the club in charge of the communication strategy.
5. Repeat to fade – It is important that once you have started to engage with the community, you do not give up. Constantly think about how you can improve on all of the above steps. Set measurable goals on elements such as ownership sign-ups and renewals, number of local businesses engaged and engagement in the communication (most tools will include the ability to do this for free). Review progress at the end of the season and listen to the feedback of all stakeholders.
The longest journey starts with the smallest step and often costs nothing. That’s the philosophy of community engagement. As we come to the end of another season, why not take the opportunity to step back and take a look as to how engaged you are with the local community and what you really want to achieve.