Fans-at-sea to Fan-tasy football

How much do clubs really know about their fans? I’m not talking fans in general, but more specifically – for example, Steve Rogers who’s sitting in row D, seat 10 with his 12-year-old son, Tom on his special birthday trip? Or George Robinson who’s been in the stand supporting his local footy team every Saturday for the last 30 years? Because while it’s all too easy to see fans as a collective, defined by the colour of their team shirt or scarf, the reality is – they are individuals. Take rugby, for example. Some fans are die-hard, never-miss-a-game supporters, others just get tickets for the big matches. Some play the game themselves, while others still might just stumble on the odd match, say on a group stag-do trip. With so many variables, it would be naïve and foolish to treat everyone the same when it comes to how clubs run fan engagement programmes.

The question is, do clubs truly engage with their supporters on an individual level or is there a disconnect leaving fans-at-sea? More importantly, do clubs know which fans are most engaged and which fans need to be spurred on to boost loyalty? How can clubs identify those fans at risk of drifting away and put in place actions that will help reconnect with them?

With every touchpoint giving an insight into fan behaviour to inform engagement strategies, it should be that every fan feels just how important they are to their club. However, according to a recent survey by ESSMA and the European Club Association (ECA), almost three quarters (73%) of clubs still only gather and analyse limited information during the entire fan journey.

The personalised, 360-degree view of a fan that comes from data insight is, without doubt, the best route to building a stronger relationship with fans – as the 53% of respondents surveyed who offer loyalty programmes at their club are well aware. Knowing a fan’s match day, retail and hospitality preferences, and how and when they prefer to be contacted with relevant features, offers and messages, is vital. Every fan feels valued by, and has enriched interactions with, their club because they understand exactly who they are and what they want. It also means a club gets the most from their supporters in a way that provides a true value exchange for each.

To create an all year-round relationship, clubs need to understand individual fan behaviours and preferences. Only then can they deliver experiences that truly nurture fans’ loyalty. What else can incite fierce loyalty? One thing that gets most fans going are ‘ultimate experiences’ with their club – especially those that nobody else has access to. Special offers and experiences could be the tipping point that turns a casual fan into a season ticket holder or convinces an at-risk season ticket holder that it’s worth it to renew. Every small relevant gesture goes a long way to reminding the fan that the club cares about them, and shows other fans that if they continue to show up to support the team, they could also enjoy similar rewards. Whether its upgrading seats or providing discount codes to use in the team shop, the key is to create truly unexpected actions that ‘surprise and delight’.

Progressive sports clubs are shaping a holistic fan engagement strategy that pushes beyond the match day in search of the “every day”. The tool that can tie this together is an innovative rewards programme – that delivers those exciting yet relevant rewards. Fans engage with their club in dozens of ways beyond buying tickets, from merchandise and concessions, to signing up for promotions and competitions, and engaging with the team via social and digital media. Finding ways to track and reward this behaviour adds to the fan experience because it lets the fan know that they are being acknowledged, as well as providing a way for the club to collect information that can be used to enhance that fan’s experience in line with their personal preferences.

Our platform enables our partner clubs to cast this net even wider; providing them with a unique insight into fans’ spending behaviour away from the sport they love and connecting this data to their sporting habits through rewards they want. The offer of attractive and affordable rewards can play a critical role in re-engaging fans who are in danger of falling into that disconnected sea.

We know that engaged, loyal fans are the lifeblood of any club.  For those clubs that are keen to embrace the technological advances in our ever-connected World (including platforms like ours which are focused on rewarding behaviours and driving loyalty), the opportunity is there to create a ‘fan-tasy football’ experience which can – and should – extend from digital fantasy teams to the stands to the shopping basket.