Fan Engagement as ‘Co-Creation’

In a world hit by Covid-19, the financial implications of the virus have been catastrophic to sports organisations, with many clubs fighting for their existence (listen to Damian Collins MP about his campaign to force government action on the looming crisis in the EFL). Sri Venkata Abhyuday, a recent MSc Sports Business graduate from the University of Liverpool, explains more about the financial – and organisational – benefits of Fan Engagement as ‘Co-Creation’.

For an industry often driven by the immediate consideration of attendances and matchday fan experience, empty stadiums are now forcing clubs to reflect on their most basic foundations. It is also becoming clear that with a potential six additional months without fans in stadia, clubs banking solely on social media platforms to ‘engage’ fans in the normal sense of the word require a shift in their approach.

Fans as Co-creators
Clubs these days do acknowledge the role of fans as a ‘stakeholder’, though often with little understanding in how that should impact on the way the actual club is run, with many struggling to define how the relationship differs from a fan’s role as a customer. That is where the idea of ‘Co-Creation’ comes in. Clubs across English football including Everton, Man City, Doncaster Rovers and Lincoln City have been involving fans in co-designing their marketing campaigns.

This shift to co-creation points to a future less dominated by ‘broadcasting’ or one-way communications, but could in itself be both an important route to help sustain clubs through this very difficult period, whilst also becoming an important driver in the economic recovery of clubs post-Covid. However, it requires leaders to redesign the approach to focus on greater collaboration from the fans.

Design Thinking
The pressure of selling out stadiums and driving commercial returns means that the clubs often, by default, treat their fans as customers buying their product or service.

The alternative model of Design Thinking is a more human-centred approach that advocates, in the case of sport, the engagement of fans throughout the design and delivery of a service. There are five simple steps:

  • Empathise by conducting a stakeholder analysis and then recruiting the right demographic of fans for interviews.
  • Define a clear goal for the engagement strategy centred around the fan.
  • Ideate by consulting fans for their suggestions, viewing them as co-designers.
  • Prototype the ideas gathered from various sources by utilising your resource capabilities.
  • Test the prototype idea before implementing it in the real world. Recruit a set of diverse fan groups to provide honest feedback and opinions. 

Commercial Benefits
The business gains from adopting a human centred approach are significantly positive, with IBM reporting Return on Investment (ROI) as high as 300% for the companies that implemented similar strategies. Their report provides other ground-breaking metrics that strengthen the case for a ‘Design Thinking’ approach:

  • Time invested for initial design slashed by 75% with cost saving of up to $872,000.
  • A profit increase of $1.1 M for major projects.
  • User feedback and involvement reduced testing and development time by one third.

Clubs need to avoid overspending in a time where money is tight, and co-creation can improve what they deliver to fans by using this method.

The interest of a fan isn’t simply restricted to what happens on the pitch. Fans often desire a higher involvement in the decision-making processes and aspire to be co-creators rather than be regarded, incorrectly, as mere consumers.

Addressing this through a co-creative ‘design thinking’ process would better represent the actual relationship, providing immediate and long-term organisational and financial benefits.

Further Reading:

You can find Sri Venkata Abhyuday on LinkedIn

You can join the Fan Engagement Network at We’re launching some exciting new services for members only soon, so join up.

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