Strategic Fan Engagement Plan

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Key Insights:

  1. Consider that your fans could provide resources and support that could help you deliver your Fan Engagement work 
  2. Ensure that your board, CEO and leadership team buy into your strategy: Fan Engagement isn’t just about what you do, but about the structure and attitudes behind it
  3. It doesn’t need to be a huge document, but it should be something that explains the culture of Fan Engagement you want to foster at your club

It’s difficult to look at the big picture in football. Everything moves so fast, week-to-week.  Taking time to think about the big issues that affect your business can be difficult to schedule into the busy life of a club.

It’s perfectly normal to find yourself focused on ‘delivery’ – what you’re doing day-to-day, but it’s also important that you stay on top of the issues that concern fans, and know how individuals or groups might react to a particular issue. That’s where a strategic Fan Engagement plan can help.

A Fan Engagement plan, led by the board and senior management, means that the way you set out to meet the needs of fans will be less driven by the outputs and functions you already have (selling tickets, running matches, signing players, etc), and instead work from a deeper understanding of your relationship with fans.

It’s important to remember that even when they might be playing the role of a customer (buying a shirt, a pint, a pie) they’re always stakeholders.

And it’s absolutely vital that you don’t just hand responsibility for a plan to whoever heads up your Fan Engagement day-to-day. Owners, board, senior staff and department managers, should have an interest in this issue- the people fans look to when things aren’t working. Everton, Norwich City, Lincoln City and Doncaster Rovers have been particularly good at this in recent years.

You should also incorporate the plan into your broader business planning and PR/Marketing work. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Carry out a ‘stakeholder analysis’ of your fans and groups
It’s important you do this, rather than ‘segmenting’, which is a tool much more focused on a marketing/sales relationship. Ask yourself what organised fans groups do you have, and what type are they (supporters’ trust, ultras, etc)? What influencers – blogs, podcasts, fan or unofficial websites and media are there? How about individual fans? Do you have a membership scheme? Do you carry out an annual survey of your fans (you could start doing one)?

2. Identify the issues
What are the sort of issues that concern your fans, and what demands do they tend to make? Are they about transparency, finances, structure and governance? Or are they more about matchday issues like policing, stewarding, ticketing or crowd safety? Is there any ‘low-hanging fruit’ or ‘quick wins’ that might be worth focusing on in the short-term, and which could help build trust, and show that you’re listening?

3. Identify your resources
This means resources both to ensure a thorough review and to deliver the plan you create. Can you free up or combine other resources if needed: e.g.: within your communications, marketing, or supporter/customer services team? Collaborating with with fan groups could identify some nifty short-cuts. How about convening a group to feed into what the charter should look like? You can also use your fans parliament, or even convene a focus group to take soundings from a wider group of fans

4. Ensure your board/CEO own it
Are those responsible for your day-to-day Fan Engagement part of the process, providing their expertise and insight? Are your fan-representatives willing and able to be part of the process? What sort of insight and skills might they be able to bring? Is there any groundwork/preparation that they might be help you with?

And remember…..

  • All groups are not the same

Clubs have become quite sophisticated at analysing their fans as individuals, but the groups matter as much, if not more. Do you know for example what a supporters’ trust is, and what they stand for? Do you know that they originally came about because of failures by owners/regulators?

  • Leadership is key

If you’re a leader yourself, looking for ideas, then take our word for it: the best CEOs, Chairs, and heads of department are already doing a lot of what a good plan should contain, so go and speak with them.

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