As a football fanatic, and a Sports Marketing/PR professional, I spend a lot of time thinking about how football clubs in Scotland position themselves and communicate with their fans and the wider world.
With that in mind I have mapped out a five-point plan for how football clubs in Scotland can maximise their engagement without the need for a limitless budget. There is so much exciting and creative work being done in Scotland right now and I feel a real buzz of positivity coming from so many clubs. I’ll give due credit to examples of best practice.
1 – Digital first
I spend a worrying amount of time on the internet via my laptop, phone and sometimes both at the same time! I’m always up to date on my Twitter & Instagram feeds. At this stage my genetic make-up is part internet. I hope this isn’t unique. This presents a huge opportunity for clubs to speak to fans where they spend the most amount of their time through content marketing, advertising, promotions etc.
Therefore, it’s so important for clubs to have strong digital practices. A great recent example of this was Hibs Good Friday Easter treasure hunt. They posted clues throughout the day via their Instagram Story. People that found the ‘treasure’ entered a competition to win hospitality tickets. A relatively inexpensive way to engage younger fans during the school holidays AND boost their databases in a presumably GDPR compliant way? Perfect.
Digital policies should look beyond social media as well by embracing emerging trends. Do you have fans who are into eSports? Support them with some kit and have them go to competitions representing your club. Why not run a fantasy football league where fans can compete against players/coaches/staff for prizes etc?
One final point on digital strategy is engagement. On social media, engagement is the difference between hitting a tennis ball against a wall and playing an opponent. A recent study by The Online Rule looked at the replies from official English Premier League Twitter accounts. Taking a week of tweets as a sample it found that 7 clubs didn’t reply to a single tweet. The best (Southampton) replied to 8. While some clubs have separate customer support accounts the main accounts have the largest following and are tagged into the highest number of conversations. It is worrying to see so many of the UK’s largest clubs treating their Twitter feeds as one-way communication tools.
One thing I am always aware of is the saying people buy people. Some clubs in Scotland have supporter liaison officers who are very active fielding queries on social media. This works best when the person replying is in a position of authority and can provide real-time, definitive information to allay supporter concerns. Alan Burrows (CEO) of Motherwell is a perfect example of this. Here he is giving fans a quick update on the announcement of post-split fixtures:
For those asking about post-split fixtures. The SPFL have told us preparation of the schedule is nearing completion. Final discussions are underway with broadcasters and the Police regarding live television selections, with full confirmation expected within the next 48 hours.
— Alan Burrows (@Alan_Burrows) April 9, 2018
2 – Put the community in the club (and vice versa!)
This is where so many Scottish clubs excel, many self-identifying as ‘community clubs’. You don’t have to look far to find wonderful examples of Scottish clubs reaching out into their communities and using football as a force for good. Most clubs host their own Football Memories groups, regular meetings helping to tackle social isolation and help those living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
I can’t write about community engagement without praising the stellar work of the SPFL Trust and their fantastic projects. The Football Fans in Training project has helped countless fans improve their health and wellbeing while the recently announced Changing Room initiative hopes to do the same for mental health in association with SAMH.
These examples are brilliant ways for clubs to open their doors and welcome the community into their facilities. Clubs have an opportunity to be focal points for their community. There should be no limit to this.
This can work both ways. If there are local events, fairs etc. that are important to the town or city, the club should have a visible presence. Give praise and recommendations to local business success stories via club social media. If you send business their way, they might be encouraged to return the favour with sponsorship/hospitality.
Finally, a lot of clubs will support charities. There are creative ways to maximise this. Hibs are based in Leith, so is the Edinburgh Dog & Cat Home whose colours also happen to be green & white. No brainer? Have the EDCH mascot at matches, rescue of the week in the match programme, discounts for season ticket holders for boarding. The list goes on.
3 – Accessibility – Not all fans are the same
It’s easy to assume that everyone else knows as much about football as you do. It’s important to remember that every match can be someone’s first. Looking at club communication through fresh eyes is a difficult but essential way to welcoming new supporter and growing the fanbase.
One area that may seem minor but can be very frustrating is the way teams announce line-ups. More and more fans are savvy to checking the Twitter feed an hour before kick-off to see the teams.
Now, imagine you’re a relatively inexperienced supporter. You’re not an expert on every player, their position, the style of the team etc. Imagine you look up the team sheet and you’re greeted with a graphic of players in shirt number order. As an experienced fan I often struggle to place the 11 names on a pitch in my head so what chance does a relatively new fan have?!?
Currently in the SPFL, one club stands head and shoulders above all others with the way they announce their line-ups. Take a bow Kilmarnock FC. Faces, numbers and tactical shape. An incredible amount of information in one concise graphic.
Team News | Here’s your Killie XI to face @AberdeenFC ?⚪
— Kilmarnock FC (@OfficialKillie) November 26, 2017
4 – “Without fans, football is nothing”
That quote was true when Jock Stein said it and is just as true today. There is a marketing concept that can give a 21st century flavour to it: User Generated Content.
Clubs should be encouraging fans to take their passion for the club and run with it. Be it graphics, design, football manager stories etc. clubs should be embracing and promoting it all. Online there is a growing army of data analysts, podcasters and video bloggers, many who cover their specific club. Invite them into the club, give them access. Many of these people have significant audiences that clubs can access through them.
Finally, this will be contentious among a certain demographic of fans but lots of fans record goals on their phones. It happens. You need only look at Twitter after a game to see countless videos filmed from the stands. Personally, I love them. I feel they can bring you into the heart of the atmosphere at a game more than any broadcast video can (I have my own goal video of Leigh Griffiths 2nd free kick vs England pinned to my Twitter profile). Imagine if fans could send their videos each weekend of goals/chances/match experience/travel to & from the game to the club who could cut together a ‘goals show’ feature for their YouTube channel? Fans would get excited to see their videos featured with their profiles given a shout out. What a great way to highlight the atmosphere and experience of being at a game and encourage new fans to give it a try.
5 – The players are the most important commodity – use them!
I’ve spent a lot of time recently watching ‘All or Nothing’ on Amazon Prime, the fly on the wall documentary series inside NFL teams (currently filming a series with Manchester City). What I’ve found most fascinating about these series are the scenes featuring players away from the pitch. Fans like to know about their heroes as people as much as what they see on Saturday afternoon.
In the context of Scottish football, would I rather watch another identical post-match interview or a video of Cédric Kipré and Gaël Bigirimana playing FIFA against Motherwell Manager Stephen Robinson and his son? You can guess the answer!
It’s the decider ?
— Motherwell FC (@MotherwellFC) April 5, 2018
Motherwell have been first class at producing this kind of content that engages fans and helps them get to know their players as human beings. Above all, it looks like the players really buy into how much fun it all is.
I also must give credit to the Scottish FA for their recent player-centric content drive. It seems that every squad get-together results in some really engaging content be it quizzes, games, John McGinn dressing up as Santa etc. What is particularly commendable is their content strategy includes men’s, women and youth teams.
Importantly, this kind of content needn’t be expensive. Players can deliver season tickets, visit schools, play games etc. This creates a virtuous circle for all parties. The clubs get better engagement among their fanbase which leads to fans who perhaps felt distant from the club getting closer, leading to ticket & merchandise sales etc. For the players, getting involved in this content gives the fans more knowledge of them, raises their profile and creates a positive image for potential suitors in future.
Through using digital channels and a bit of creativity there is no limit to how Scottish football clubs should be looking to reach and engage their supporters. And the hope would be that with greater reach & engagement comes greater conversion of casual fans into long-term supporters.