Comment: Fans need to build bridges too

Part of the purpose of Fan Engagement is to build bridges. To bridge the gap between those who run/own a club, and those who support it. In a sense, it’s about ensuring that both sides see the other as human beings. Breakdowns in relationships tend to come about when one side goes into defensive mode, or attack mode, and forgets it, and relationships can be repaired when people drop that stance, sit down, listen and talk.

What is problematic in a digital age is that everything can be done at arms length. When digital becomes more-or-less the only means you have to reach people, there’s an even bigger challenge to see the other person as human, and not a collection of code, some tweets or an avatar. That’s something a lot of us struggle with online as it is, but with a health crisis on top of things, everything becomes more heightened. Mario Leo from Result Sports said that their analysis of social media exchanges during the early part of lockdowns showed that people were angrier. You can hear the excerpt in his recent podcast (listen at 08:00 mins on Part One of Ep. 17)

It’s been a very frustrating time for fans, of that we know. They can’t spend time with their ‘football family’, the people they see week-in-week-out for nine months of the year, laugh, cry, moan with. We all have people we love to share the game with, dissect the key moments with, and we can’t do that face-to-face, at the ground.

But we also need to remember that the same is true for those at the front-end in clubs, trying to keep the ship afloat. There are some real heroes out there, some of whom I’ve spoken with directly or have been made aware of, in some cases under the threat of potential redundancy. There are people who have been coming back from much needed leave to work on Covid19 pilots that never happened, or as we now know, never led anywhere.

I was particularly taken with what I learned about how clubs like Leicester City reorientated their Fan Engagement output to ensure it works for a more distant, digitally engaged fanbase, and ensured vulnerable people received regular contact. I know other clubs have done so too. In the last six months I’ve understood even more just how much hard work these people running clubs have been putting in, and how frustrating it’s been for them that they can’t do what they’re there to do, and want to do: to build those bridges. Yet they still put the extra work into making virtual and digital engagement as satisfying as possible.

We talk a lot about involving fans in decisions, but it works both ways. Part of bridge building means that we need to understand the role being played by the people running the clubs. Let’s hope this terrible pandemic teaches us something about that.

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