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Why social media should be on Football Clubs’ radar

January 6, 2010 1 comment

My name is Ed, and I support Southampton FC. It’s been a while since I said that in public!

Anyone who follows football (soccer for the US dudes) may have noticed The Saints slipping further and further down the leagues in the last few years and they now reside in the third tier of English football. They succumbed to the same problem that has been plaguing many clubs, some much bigger than Southampton…they screwed themselves financially. I won’t go into the details as its fairly basic stuff, but this season, the same fate has befallen Southampton’s great south coast rivals, Portsmouth FC. This is by no means a post to gloat or rub the proverbial salt into Pompey’s wounds, rather one about how inept most football teams are at communicating with their fans.

So, Pompey continue to slide towards administration and seem to have resorted to the same tactics that other clubs and indeed businesses have done in in the last 12 months – pretend it isn’t happening and hold the ‘official party line’ of – All is good.

Tired PR tactics

The most recent post addressing the issue is here, clearly coming straight from the PR/Legal department. Read it, its non sense!

“Portsmouth Football Club has not been formally served with a winding up petition and is shocked and surprised this action has been taken in respect of VAT, PAYE and National Insurance Contributions which either have been, or are about to be paid, or are disputed.”

Shocked? That is what happens when you don’t pay the bills…your creditors come for you.

I remember when Southampton were going through similar financial hell last year and recall vividly how the tired, corporate spin each week on the official site would proclaim ‘All is well, carry on as usual’ It is so insulting to assume the fans, who are the clubs customers SHOULD be kept in the dark. It reeks of the kind of corporate arrogance that social media is gradually eroding in the business world. Organisations can’t pretend all is well with their product or service (in this case the football club) when the customers (fans) are seeing the reality – staff not being paid, team getting humped each week, costs being cut etc. And yet it continues….

Social Media

One way to keep the fans abreast of what is going on, really going on at the club would be to open a dialogue with them and social media is pretty good at that. So what is happening on the biggest social channel – Facebook?

Pompey have no official Fan page. In fact, if they wanted a nudge as to what their customers are demanding, they should check out the What Is Going On Group ! and yet nothing from the club.

They aren’t alone though, Even Man U do not ‘officially’ contribute to their page and they have 300,000 fans!

Chelsea have the right idea. Their Fan Page integrated with the official site, regular updates etc – is this systemic of a club not up the creek. They have no fear of being open? Liverpool as well do a good job and have over 1,000,000 fans. Arsenal, not too bad either.

I haven’t checked them all so apologies if your club is social media awesomeness personified, I am making a general point about how bad most sports teams are at engaging with their lifeblood – the fans.

Fanatical Brand Loyalty

I have been focusing on Facebook as the channel as I think Fan Pages lend themselves perfectly to sports teams  – where people are actual Fans. If brands such as Starbucks can do such good stuff through their fan page, then sports teams really have no excuse. The US sports teams are much better at it and examples such as New England Patriots show what can be done. We also see more of the athletes themselves embracing the tools, all be it under constraints from the various governing bodies.

Football fans are the most brand loyal people. It is the most adhesive, one sided relationship I can think of (maybe religion but that’s for another post!). If you support a team, really support a team, then even if you want to change allegiance…you can’t! It affects you on a cellular level and the clubs need to realize this. The non-playing staff at football clubs will move on to other jobs in other industries and in most cases don’t have any affinity to the club in the first place other than they pay their wages ( or not in Pompey’s case), they need to realize the fans make the club, they are the paying customers.

If major corporations are realizing they need to be open and honest with their customers then Sports teams need to wake up to that as well. It isn’t going to make the millions of pounds of debt vanish, but it may create a siege mentality amongst the fans and keep them coming through the gates and spending money. As soon as you create a them vs us scenario in terms of information, you are on the slippery slope. When you insult your customers intelligence by spitting out press releases that contradict reality, you are almost at the bottom of the slope and in the shit pit.

I don’t think sports teams realize the potential they have to bring the fans and the players closer and the kind of brand equity that will buy the club. Most clubs have ‘fans forums’, and by that I mean physical meetings once in a while where a few hundred fans are allowed into a staged conference with the manager, Chairmen, players etc. This is good but impractical to do on a regular basis. Social media can provide the next best thing and if nothing else will create the feeling that the club cares and respects the fans. If they can’t at least do that then they deserve to drop down the leagues…and stay there.