What is a Stakeholder?

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Key Insights:

  1. Fans don’t in general make rational purchasing decisions
  2. Fans should be regarded as a primary (or ‘super’) stakeholder, with the ability to benefit (or harm) the financial or reputational position of the football club if things go badly
  3. Spend some time identifying the key groups and influencers in your fanbase

Although we know that fans do have some forms of customer relationship with a club (because they purchase services and products), the overwhelming motivation behind it is one of a stakeholder. Why? It can’t be said that football fans on the whole make rational, purchasing decisions. The reason they watch football is overwhelmingly one to do with place, identity, family, friendship. If it were related to identifying oneself with success, most clubs would cease trading very quickly!

Stakeholders in an organisation or business are defined as:
“Groups or individuals who have an interest or stake in an entity such as an organisation, community or country. In corporate terms, a company’s stakeholders typically include employees, suppliers, members of the local community and customers.” (Donna Wood, University of Northern Iowa (US), Department of Management)

We advise identifying fans as a special kind of ‘super stakeholder’, holding a special status in a football club beyond, for example, a local school that uses the club’s community coaching arm. We often identify them as ‘Primary Stakeholders’.

Primary Stakeholders are ‘those whose actions can be harmful or beneficial to an organisation. Without the continued interaction of primary stakeholders, an organisation would cease to exist. (Timothy Coombs, Texas A&M University, Department of Communication).

A club could still operate without a specific community scheme (which isn’t to say it should), but it can’t operate without fans. Some in public relations identify these forms of primary stakeholders as ‘Publics’, though we’ll stick to using ‘primary stakeholders’.

To illustrate this, we are all aware of examples where fans have effectively withdrawn some or all of their cooperation from a club for one or other reasons (organisational, financial, sporting). Boycotts and ‘direct action’ are something that those running most clubs will have experienced at one time or another, usually during a time of crisis or upheaval.

We advise identifying the groups of fans (formally or informally organised), ‘ultras’ groups (those concerned more with the atmosphere at matches and issues such as safe standing), online forums, social media influencers/accounts or messaging groups where a lot of fans gather to talk about the club. Each of these groups or individuals will have different concerns, with some varying vastly from another. This process will help you to better manage the interests of those groups and influencers.

We also advise spending a bit of time with your staff and colleagues to do this.

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