In a Johan Cruyff Institute webinar, Nathalie Nénon-Zimmermann (Olympique de Marseille), Rob Miller (ex-Manchester United) and Damian Bott (PSV Eindhoven) analyze clubs’ strategies to generate fan engagement and the keys to monetizing it
Football is going through a transcendental moment for its evolution in the medium and long term. Keeping the attention of fans is, without a doubt, one of the great challenges facing clubs at the moment. It is no longer enough to perform well on the pitch to fill the stadium. Clubs have to go a step further in their relationship with fans, on and off the pitch, both in their immediate area and on an international scale. And here technology is the main ally.
Business generation depends on the ability to maximize this link with both physical and virtual fans. Now, with the advent of Web 3.0, fan engagement strategies are looking toward new assets such as NFTs and cryptocurrencies. These were some of the aspects analyzed in the second episode of the Inside Club Football series, organized by Johan Cruyff Institute and dedicated to the club football business in collaboration with Portas Consulting.
The webinar, which featured professionals with experience at Olympique de Marseille, PSV Eindhoven and Manchester United, analyzed the strategies carried out by clubs in recent years to gain the trust and attention of fans on a local and global scale. The guest speakers were: Nathalie Nénon-Zimmermann, assistant general manager of Olympique de Marseille, in charge of marketing and club revenue; Rob Miller, a consultant at Portas and former member of Manchester United‘s commercial strategy team, where he focused on the development and implementation of commercial strategies; and Damian Bott, head of marketing and media at PSV Eindhoven.
A hybrid strategy to care for the experience of all fans
On the panel, moderated by Portas consultant Harry Brian, the professionals discussed the strategies that clubs should implement to optimize the monetization of fans inside and outside the stadium. They all agreed that sports organizations should work on this double aspect to maximize the offline and online fan experience that encompasses fan interactions to generate added value.
Nénon-Zimmermann stressed: “We have membership offers that are valuable for both digital and physical fans” and identified one of the keys by pointing to the need for “fan segmentation”. The OM manager added that the ultimate goal is to make the fans part of the club and to this end she advocated improving the club’s interraction with them.
Rob Miller said that during his time at Manchester United it was about understanding the long-term value of the fans, which is closely related to the need to “break down the fan base and identify the loyal fans and not the casual fans”. To this end, he stressed the importance of working on offline elements for the physical fans, not just for the virtual ones.
“There is a need to link fan engagement to sustainable actions rooted in the life of the city, which generate a direct impact on the life of the fans” – Nathalie Nénon-Zimmermann
PSV‘s marketing manager Damian Bott stressed the importance of turning fans into customers. “We are looking for ways to personalize the relationship with fans,” he said. To this end, technology has become the best ally for clubs to get closer to fans.
But success on social media does not fill stadiums. In an era when the convenience of social media platforms means that many fans are choosing to watch matches from the sofa at home rather than go to the stadium, the task yet to be achieved by most clubs is that of translating the interest they receive on social media into attendance at their team’s matches. In this regard, Miller suggests that social media follower data should be quarantined and more importance should be given to the response obtained on other operational channels of the club, such as its website.
“Social media is very important, but the next step is to get that information into our databases” – Damian Bott
The commercialization of assets of sporting institutions has included digital assets that have emerged through social media. This is not a minor issue, as can be seen with the recent deal between CVC and LaLiga, which seeks to digitize the clubs’ infrastructures. Fan engagement cannot be understood without connectivity.
A pioneer in this type of practice was MLS club Sporting Kansas City in 2013. Through an app, the club allows fans in the stadium to connect to the live match and interact with the rest of the stadium, watch replays and even share messages via the stadium’s screens. Thanks to its connectivity, the stadium collects information about the spectators.
The control and analysis of data, the key to knowing the fan
Lagging behind American sport, the stadiums of European clubs are currently being upgraded in what in a few years’ time will no longer be a novel experience but a necessity. The importance of clubs having their own platforms for users to sign up to is a reality. “When you don’t use your own platform, it’s difficult to know who your fans are and how to monetize them,” explained Nénon-Zimmermann.
This is not a minor issue. In fact, clubs have thrown themselves into generating content for their fans, not only to strengthen the brand and get closer to them, but also to get to know them better. “Social media is very important, but the next step is to get that information into our databases,” said Damian Bott.
And in terms of content generation, NFTs have become a great opportunity to accelerate this process of getting closer to the spectator. Through these initiatives, clubs are able to reward fan loyalty and involve them in the club’s decision-making process. The key to success lies in linking these initiatives to physical presence in the stadium. “To monetize fans, we need to offer immersive experiences; there are many opportunities and challenges, and we need to think long term and listen to the digital natives,” stressed Rob Miller.
“To monetize fans, we need to offer immersive experiences; there are many opportunities and challenges, and we need to think long term and listen to the digital natives” – Rob Miller
In short, the speakers agree on the need to link fan engagement to the local environment through “sustainable actions rooted in the life of the city, which generate a direct impact on the life of the fans”, as the representative of Olympique de Marseille pointed out. Nénon-Zimmermann concluded that “it is about understanding how we can give back to the fans what they have given us, because if this does not reach the fans, the links start to fail.”