Fans as Customers

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Key Insights

  1. Fans don’t pay for things because they’re customers, they do it because they invariably ‘love’ the club, and have a relationship rooted in family, community or relationships with the town they were born or grew up in, or even lived in for a while
  2. Don’t confuse ‘Fan Experience’ with ‘Fan Engagement’

‘Fans as customers’ is Fan Insights is trying to avoid, to a large extent. What a lot of Fan Engagement advice has done has often seen customer-driven solutions being expected to work in the context of the fan as a stakeholder. Much of this could be better classified under the heading ‘Fan Experience’.

Fans in that sense don’t want to feel like they’re being sold to, and don’t feel like customers. As Duncan Drasdo, CEO of the Manchester United Supporters Trust said:

“Football clubs as they are now, see themselves as businesses like any other rather than clubs, and other businesses don’t have ‘fans’ (like football) or perhaps more appropriately let’s call them members (of a club) to more truly reflect the historic relationship and also the currently perceived relationship.

“Therefore it’s not appropriate to use the same ways of engaging with customers as a club would with members. Members don’t expect their Club to use exploitative techniques to try to sell them stuff. They want a relationship which is more meaningful, and is more reciprocal.”

Whilst fans are often buying something when they conduct the relationship with their club, in many cases they see it more as an investment: that what they’re doing is providing money for the club to be able to out and invest in players, or pay for projects that might benefit them or other fans. The relationship is much more subtle. Even though the people purchasing look a bit like customers, they’re not purchasing a cinema ticket or a mobile device.

It’s the same reason that they are very often uncomfortable with the idea that money leaves the club in the form of profits or dividends on shares: football clubs are not money-making enterprises. They are things loved by people, generations of families, communities.

For that reason, it’s always wise as a club to think about fans first as stakeholders, not as people who buy something for utility. They might look a bit like customers when they’re handing money over for a season ticket or shirt, but they’re not really. Even if that’s what you think they look like.

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