In late 2013 I interned at English Championship side Queens Park Rangers football club in London, where I was able to work alongside highly experienced marketing, operations and fan engagement representatives at this famous football club.
My main aim was to explore how global sporting teams – I visited 16 UK teams such as West Ham United, Southampton, Everton, Manchester City and Fulham – engaged and actively communicated with their fans to bring them closer to the match day experience both at the ground as well as in their home via social media.
Two of the leading resources into fan engagement in the football world include the Football League Fan Engagement Guide as well as the Quality Assurance Stadium Scheme Visit Football Checklist.
The Football League Fan Engagement Guide is designed to help clubs grow their fan bases and provides a comprehensive list of ideas and initiatives that aim to improve supporter experiences for existing, lapsed or potential fans. The guide was designed to recognise supporter needs, deliver or add value to existing engagement strategies and create memorable match day experiences.
The Quality Assurance Stadium Scheme Visit Football Checklist developed by enjoy.england.com is designed to reflect the changing match day expectations of fans. It’s a checklist, conducted via a mystery shopper-style assessment, which addresses the supporters experience at every stage of the journey from pre-visit to inside the match and leaving the stadium. Moreover, this handbook looks at pricing, retailing, transport, amenities and much more. The assessment has been developed in order to ensure that fans have the best possible experience at the game as well as ensuring that football is attractive to all sectors of society.
These fan engagement resources feature ideas that had been well executed such as Portsmouth’s stadium sleep over, Cardiff City’s away fan zones (where bar staff wore the away team jerseys) and creative food ideas like Middleborough’s famous ‘Parmo burgers’ and Morecombe FC’s pies – which were so successful that they are now being stocked in Harrods.
At Arsenal there is a dedicated sponsor driven fan zone outside the Emirates called The Carlsberg Corner. Across town, Fulham has created a post box in their kids zone where young supporters can leave a note about their thoughts on the match.
Ipswich Town has also just installed a kids activity zone room in Portman Road, so it seems likely that more teams will also follow suit.
The importance of valuing fan-generated content via social media was also highlighted by these clubs, who spoke about the increasing need to back fans who create their own content for the club. A simple retweet on Twitter of a tweet from a fan who has created a design can do wonders in bringing that fan closer to the team, as well as showing the greater fan community that their participation is highly valued.
While the majority of fan engagement strategies are aimed at children in order to build lifetime supporters, it was interesting to note from all of these meetings that many clubs were realizing the importance of catering for different demographics. Improving the match day experience for the elderly fans, the purists and the tech savvy millennials is integral to creating lasting memorable experiences for fans at the game as well as in the online world by creating genuine human conversations via social media that connect fans away from the stadium.
Fan engagement is taking off in the sports business. While A-League teams have some creative initiatives such as Perth Glory’s man of the match QR code app, Brisbane Roar’s photographic experience in partnership with CameraPro and Central Coast Mariner’s Superhero themed match, more can be done to continue to make the A-League leaders in terms of fan engagement amongst sporting codes in Australia. The establishment of a fan engagement checklist or stadium quality assurance scheme is vital in taking the A-League match day experience to the next level in Australia.
Words and photos by Blair Hughes.
This article originally appeared in Thin White Line