Effective Supporter Liaison Officers (SLOs)

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Key Insights

  1. You need people who provide credibility with other clubs, police and stewards, as well as your own club. Don’t overlook skills within your own fanbase – you’ll be surprised what you find!
  2. Collaborate: Ensure the role description fits the needs of fans too. Talk with your organised fans groups about the issues to focus on (refer back to your Fan Engagement Plan)
  3. If in doubt, refer to the guidance: ‘An SLO is responsible for building bridges between club & fans. SLOs might communicate fans’ opinions to a club’s board or senior staff, and should also liaise with stewards, police & counterparts at opposition clubs.’ (FSA guidance)

Clubs need to ensure that their resources can be deployed most efficiently to ensure effective Fan Engagement, and the role of Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) is no different. They need to be able to think creatively about how to use the role to meet their needs, whilst ensuring that the purpose and spirit of the role is observed as closely as possible.

The research we’ve carried out suggests that many clubs haven’t yet embraced its intended purpose – or seized on its potential. In one respect, the origins of the role from Germany, where clubs are minimum 50%+1 member owned is partly where the difficulty lies. English clubs are mostly controlled privately and the culture defined by the ‘shareholder’ model.

However, like Fan Engagement in general we don’t believe this needs to be an obstruction to making the role effective. It offers a useful route to building cooperation with organised fan groups, including the possibility of co-delivering the role, or via a team of SLOs.

All the evidence points to the most effective SLOs being those who carry very high levels of legitimacy with their fanbase. In this regard, they can play a key role as intermediaries between fans and the club. (we could call them ‘translators’ – in that they speak the dialects or languages both)

In practical terms, as the security challenges for crowded places such as football matches evolve, the need for effective communication and cooperation becomes greater. At some clubs, for example Cardiff City, SLOs are already playing a crucial role in reducing conflicts and issues between fans and the police, or helping to coordinate travel logistics.

SLOs can offer a consistent and trusted go-between and therefore also enhance opportunities for police and stewards to act in a more proportionate and informed manner towards fans.

The appointment process is often key. A number of clubs often appoint an existing senior member of staff to the role, for example from the marketing or communications team, or combine SLO duties with a customer service officer, or someone from the ticketing or merchandising team.

Instead it’s more desirable to fill the role with a volunteer or paid staff member who is a genuine supporter, providing a credible link to the fan base, as UEFA/SD Europe and Football Supporters Association says. You could even have a team of volunteers involved.

It also helps to have a transparent appointments process as some clubs do. The type of appointment and the process behind it are both important in making the role work. There are plenty of ways to ensure the role delivers for fans and clubs, whilst being cost effective.

It must however be acknowledged that there are often competing demands from club & fans, which need to be managed carefully and respectfully. Make your appointment transparent. Arsenal followed a formal appointment and interview process for their current SLO. Notts County fans elected one of the three who fill the role for them.

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