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Thursday, 16 June 2011

Fan Power

Recent days have seen ‘fan power’ exerted across the global sporting landscape.  Seemingly Birmingham City FC were turned away from Steve Mclaren because of supporter disquiet (though the same club seems set not to listen to the the same supporters with regard to Alex Mcleish).

Supporters ran crazy in Vancouver after their team’s subsidence in the Stanley Cup finals, whilst at the opposite end of the scale, the EPL are seemingly shutting down the Supporter's Direct Trust.
It raises the question as to how teams should interact with their supporters, and even how much should they let supporters make decisions for them.

Supporters will tell you that the game is for them, they are the lifeblood of the sport and of your team - and in many ways they are right.  However, other factors loom large when managing a sports club - sponsors, TV execs (and their large wallets), the players, the coaching staff, team owners.
And when it is time to make decisions as to what is best for your club, sports leaders are often faced with decisions that do not offer a perfect solution to every interested party.  Certainly, the supporter base feels aggrieved at many times during any normal season.  Be it season ticket prices, player recruitment, communication channels, strategic direction - there are often reasons why ‘management’ make decisions that are not immediately obvious to supporters - thereby driving same supporters ‘wild’.
By over listening to your supporter base, you can end up losing your direction - bogged down and distracted in constant queries / ideas and complaints.  But by failing to listen, the direction you head off in may well be the wrong one.  So - of course there is a balance to be had.  
However, where the majority seem to get it wrong, is by mis-reading the ‘scales’.  Yes, your TV income may be up to 50% of your revenue, and your season ticket income eclipsed by sponsors, corporate and other.  But, by approaching your fan base with the right attitude - listening, open/consistent/timely and relevant communication, understanding your market (current and future) - will give a well run sports club a great many benefits that will secure the team’s long term future.
  • Increased revenue streams of course.
  • Long term revenue streams - as a ‘communicative’ club is one that will build loyalty beyond a simple price transaction.
  • Increased ‘referral’ revenues - and in today’s social world - this is increasingly powerful.
  • A more passionate (and supportive) support infiltrates the fabric of the club - players buy into the club’s ethos, sponsors move from commercial to emotional decision making.
Looking after the ‘little man’ sends the right messages to your staff, to your media and to everyone associated with the Club - including the income heavy hitters of TV and sponsorship.
In the long run, those of us that look after the supporter base will surely win out.  The huge $$‘s within sports today can quite easily cloud this ethos (and there are sadly a number of examples where success comes to those who don’t adopt it - #farmorefromthosehtatdo) but as culture shifts through the generations, it is the voice of the people that will eventually matter.
The annual ESPN review of the top performing sports franchises in US sports is an interesting look into the same topic - you can make your own judgements thereon.

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