Markus Breglec, former director of marketing and media at Liverpool FC, warns that the industry has a lot of ground to explore in terms of fan engagement and recognizes that “football has to learn to connect with the youngest” and to segment audiences
Liverpool FC has been taking the lead in commercial matters among the Premier League clubs for several years now and it seems that in 2020 it wants to continue setting an example in terms of fan engagement. When in 2017 it increased the stadium capacity by 8,500 seats, the club decided to boost its commercial activity by converting its official store into a pub where fans could meet to follow the team’s away matches.
The club’s sponsorship policy will also bring changes in a few months, when Nike replaces New Balance as technical sponsor, and in this new cycle the fans will also win. Liverpool FC has agreed to receive a little less through the Nike sponsorship, but in return Nike will guarantee more activation and exploitation of merchandising given its greater worldwide distribution network.
Social networks will also allow the Anfield club to continue increasing its revenue stream thanks to content monetization. Liverpool FC has announced the creation of a ‘premium’ section on its YouTube channel, which currently has 3.94 million subscribers. From now on, in addition to free material, it will offer two paid membership options for all those fans who want to access the club’s own audiovisual material, either from the first team or from the lower categories. It should be noted that Liverpool was also the first Premier League club to have a presence on TikTok, an application for creating and sharing content in short video format, with the clear objective of accessing young audiences.
The club’s former director of marketing and media, Markus Breglec, was one of the guest speaker at the fan engagement workshop organized by Johan Cruyff Institute for its master’s and postgraduate students. Following his interesting talk, he gave us this interview.
What particularities does the marketing department of a football club have?
I think it’s important to understand that the club life at a football club is different to a normal marketing life. Simply because a football club has different dimensions of craziness and emotion happening every day. So, I think what marketers wanting to move in that direction have to understand is that they have to always marry the marketing function with the emotion of a club and that has an impact on their everyday job.
What kind of new professionals will the football industry need in the future?
I would say there are the obvious ones in the digital space, no question. But within the digital space there will be new areas that will be opening up around artificial intelligence, the social media platforms are growing on a daily basis—to make sure that they are covered, the influencer space is hugely important and then, last but not least, esports are becoming a very important pillar of football going forward. So, how does a club manage those different entities within football? You need relevant experts from the industry that are, firstly, from a mindset perspective, young and understanding that this is needed and, secondly, obviously well-educated to make it happen.
Football is the most popular sport in the world. Would you say it is also the most developed sector in fan engagement?
I wouldn’t necessarily say so. I think football is potentially a sport that can develop further and quicker. I think football was potentially quite conservative in developing that space, especially when it comes to digital. Other sports like martial arts or basketball are much more modern in how they slice and dice content, and how they think about fan engagement, more interaction, fan dialogue. I think football is not necessarily the most developed, to answer your question. There is a huge opportunity to bring football up to that standard and also break some barriers that have been those rules in football for a very long time. But being open to new formats, to new ideas, to ideation in general, that means a huge opportunity in football.
Is it difficult to break these barriers in football?
It depends on the clubs. In a way, it’s two-way: the club has to understand that this is what fans demand, and on the other hand, fans will push clubs in the future to move in that direction. And other clubs will help from a competition perspective to bring the market to a more modern status. So, I think it’s doable, it’s just something that slowly but surely is starting to happen in this space.
What is the most difficult target to engage with?
I would say for football it’s the next generation fan, so the youth fan. Because of the different opportunities there are, the changed media consumption habits, the different way of how younger kids come into the game today as fans. In the past, they came with their dad, today they come via gaming or via esports or via other players into a club fandom. So, the approach to football is different, the entry point and the way fans enter to football is different than before. And to me, that’s why it’s harder to engage because it’s something that the football industry has to learn.
What will happen with older fans that are not used to digital content? What can we do for them?
It all comes down to being relevant to all different fan groups. That’s why clubs go to great lengths when it comes to segmenting their fan base, understanding what the fan base wants in detail and then catering to these fan bases specifically, rather than looking at a fan base as one big blob of people. It’s understanding the different audiences, working with them on a one-to-one basis and understanding their needs and their behaviors. And then nobody will be left aside, hopefully.
What is the main purpose of working on fan engagement for a club?
It’s the combination of making sure that the fans feel the love of the club because the club wants to feel the love back. It’s as simple as that.
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