Comment: Clubs must learn from Covid-19

“Covid-19 has reset the relationship between clubs and fans”

“Clubs now know, if they didn’t before, that what matters are the fans”

“Those clubs who nurtured the relationships with their fans have had a better crisis than those who didn’t, and are invariably the ones whose fans handed their season ticket money back to the club”.

These have all been said to me in the last few months, and I’m sure there are plenty of other examples.

Just how much more Covid-19 will be upending our lives is a question that none of us amateurs can yet answer, but we do know that its echoes will be felt for years to come, and the same applies to all sport, as in pretty much every single area of our lives.

Tony Bloom of Brighton asks fans to stay away

We know it’s already affecting every single club financially. Whether or not the predictions from some that numerous football clubs will go to the wall are correct – and we have to hope not (football is in a position to act collectively to prevent this) – even clubs in the Premier League will not be returning to ‘business as usual’ anytime soon. Financially, as explained by Dan Jones of Deloitte, they will be suffering from a financial hit from the penalty clauses in broadcasting deals, commercial revenues falling away and the loss of matchday income that won’t reappear in the same quantities with the new season, whenever that starts. Don’t forget also that commercial revenues depend on businesses who in very many – if not most – cases have lost a substantial part of their income, and with that, things like advertising and discretionary spend will suffer.

In England, football has become fat on the land: ‘Build it and they will come’ has long been the unspoken mantra, but now it faces a time of diet. Why else is the BBC being handed their first ever Premier League fixture for live broadcast? And we haven’t even begun to mention clubs outside of the men’s professional football circuit. Women’s football, Rugby League, Union, Cricket for example – are under serious financial pressures. Rugby League sought and secured a loan from government to support its clubs through this period.

And it’s hard for many of us not to be cynical. Plenty will say that “clubs have had it coming”, but cynicism is pointless, corrosive and damaging, and doesn’t solve problems. Instead, we should settle on hope, optimism and a determination to change. That’s the reason the Fan Engagement Network exists.

Everton has been one of the many clubs seeking to reassure its fans during this time

Instead, let’s look at this time if not as a reset, then a reassessment of how fans and clubs interact. Let’s hope that the period of time where football looked as though it might not be back in any form whatsoever until next year, led to serious thinking being done by clubs and those who oversee the game. Let’s hope that the change in tone we appear to be hearing leads to a genuine gear-shift in the way we do things. Let’s hope that we now understand that relationships with fans – Fan Engagement – isn’t something solved by an app, a conference, a set of data or a marketing mix. We will never find the answers through cryptocurrency or other such gimmicks.

Carlisle United – seeking a reset after Covid-19

Let’s hope that in the cold light of day, those with the power to lead the change to the way Fan Engagement is done now understand that these special and precious relationships that fans have with their clubs really are, as the late, great Brian Lomax said, more than just the 90 minutes of a match twice a week, and that this needs to be woven into the very way that clubs operate. Let’s all commit to playing our part in that.

We’ll certainly be doing our best to contribute to making that change permanent, and if you want to join the Fan Engagement Network and be part of that, we’d love to have you onboard. You can join via the website

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