Scotland’s close relationship with glorious failure in sport, particularly football, is well documented. If our sports clubs across Scotland learnt from their failures and embraced them, as is the case with startups and other companies that adopt a startup-like approach, it can be used as a catalyst to drive growth going forward.

Startups traditionally begin with small teams of people working towards the same aim of getting their product or service off the ground. In the early days, there isn’t much money available either. It’s because of these two points that I believe it’d be an ideal way for our clubs across all sports in Scotland to operate. Scottish clubs across sport don’t have huge operations working behind the scenes in the marketing, comms, PR or commercial teams. And I think we all know there isn’t much money kicking around.

I’m not suggesting that our clubs cease existing and start all over again. Some of our football clubs in Scotland are well over 100 years old, as you’ll know. I’m suggesting our clubs start acting and thinking like a startup. It’s time to start challenging that “way it’s always been done” culture that’s got some of our clubs in a vice-like grip.

Different methods of operating are well documented, a simple Google search can bring up hundreds if not thousands of examples that can be read, interpreted and implemented. Why not experience it for yourself though? Numerous examples immediately spring to mind of non-sport businesses in Scotland from who examples of how to act and operate can be adopted and adapted. The Leith Agency bring Irn-Bru’s brand to life. Brewdog have disrupted the brewing and beer industry (as discussed in this piece from Edd Norval). Two more examples of homegrown startups that’ve gone on to become global businesses are based in the same Edinburgh office building, FanDuel and Skyscanner. Businesses in the non-sport industry are usually quite open to sharing best practices. Get in touch with them! Even if you just gain one insight that you think you can take back to your club, it would have been worth it.

Below is just a couple of things to consider if clubs are considering acting like a startup.

Data is everything

Our clubs across football, rugby, ice hockey and more are continuously striving to get more fans through the turnstile. Do they know who the fans are that they need to be targeting? I don’t want to suggest that our clubs run before they can walk and create elaborate campaigns based on sophisticated information they’ve collected on each individual fan. More can be done though.

Only recently have we seen clubs really pushing fans online to purchase their tickets before a match. Some clubs still don’t do this, so the non-season ticket holders that attend their matches may as well not even be there. Clubs are blind when it comes to these fans. A basic starting point would be to collect their name and email address. Maybe throw in their home address there too. These starting points would allow clubs to open up a dialogue with their current hardcore and potential future fans. Alongside that it actually opens up the opportunity for clubs to start building out who their fans actually are. Building profiles can then inform other activities, such as signing relevant commercial partnerships that fans as well as the club can gain value from.

Small scale testing

Once you have an idea based on your interpretation of a piece of data or a hypothesis you want to try and prove, you need to start testing. However, one of the key components of test in a startup is not going gung-ho and rolling it out across your customer (or fan) base. It’s about starting small with a subset of people initially. Clubs could do some traditional marketing to fans that live in a certain postcode, or put together an audience based on their likes on Facebook and create an ad to serve just to them. Maybe it might be splitting collected email addresses into group A and group B, and changing the messaging served to both groups of fans to see what works best.

When your test is complete, it’s vital to analyse the results based on the success metrics you’d determined. Did fans in your chosen postcode to target actually attend the match? Did your targeted audience on Facebook actually sign up to the newsletter? Did more fans in group B buy a season ticket in comparison to group A? Based on the findings, what you’ve learnt can then be rolled out to a larger subset of fans, or become the norm to communicate to all fans.

Don’t be afraid of failure

Try something. If it doesn’t work, don’t be disheartened. Intelligently dealing with failures is recommended, it arguably unlocks potential that might not have been realised otherwise.

Here’s a radical suggestion too, what about sharing failures publicly? Healthy and competitive rivalry is encouraged on the pitches, but why does that have to extend to the business operations of clubs in sport across the country? Enabling other clubs across the country to look and learn from them too. Clubs growing off the pitch can only have a positive impact on the league as a whole, and that sport in the country.