Managing the Social Media Voice of your Football Club

In order for a football club to establish a direct and engaging relationship with its fan base it must develop a strong and consistent voice across its various digital and social media channels.

Having an original and genuine voice can prove to be a challenge as it is not always easy to speak to fans in a conversational tone.  If managed correctly, however, it can uplift the presence of a mediocre club to become an industry leader.

Some important guidelines to remember when establishing your club’s social media voice include:

A.      Determining your football club’s own brand identity

This will be based on the organization´s culture, values, and overall brand experience it would like to promote.

For example, more traditional clubs like Arsenal, Manchester United or Real Madrid will tend to communicate throughout their social media platforms in a more formal manner as they consistently strive to transmit the image of class, excellence and tradition.

On the other hand, less classic and long established clubs such as most Major League Soccer’s franchises will favour a more personable communication approach in an effort to consistently generate buzz and engagement in less mature football markets.

 

B.      Knowing your football club’s audience

Knowing the desired demographic that your brand wants to reach will help your club understand its target audience and the relevant social media channels to use to reach out to followers and potential consumers.

Although it is important to remain consistent throughout your social and digital media presence, it is also imperative to adapt your approach to the relevant audience you are targeting through each platform.

For example, the style of writing in a football club’s official website should be different than the voice and tone used across other social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.  Each platform has a different set of followers and must be targeted accordingly.

 

C.      Engaging and interacting with your community 

Whether the objective is to inform, sell, or provide customer support, it is essential to know how to communicate your football club’s objectives with personality and sincerity.

Listening to the needs, thoughts, opinions and insights of your audience will help your brand achieve the corporate objectives and remain authentic via social and digital media platforms.

Because of their massive size and social relevance most top-flight clubs will tend not to answer directly to followers on social media mainly due to a question of volume and risk management.

Nevertheless, when communicating with your online community of fans and supporters worldwide it is essential to remember that in order to generate true engagement social media platforms should be used like a telephone and not like a megaphone.

photo-6The Sports Business Institute Barcelona offers a two-month program entitled ¨Football Communication & Social Media Online Program¨ that provides practical training to those wanting to start or advance their career in the areas of communication, PR, sports journalism, online branding and social media management for the football industry. 

For more information visit: http://bit.ly/111jVD9

To read the full course prospectus click here: http://bit.ly/1sGqhiy

Labour’s Proposals For Fan Ownership – Are They Credible?

The Labour Party’s commitment to legislate for partial fan ownership published today by Clive Efford, Shadow Sport Minister, is admirable for its intent but worryingly short on detail says Mike Dyer, Director of Portsmouth law firm Verisona Law .

Dyer said that “there is a tendency to think of Football Clubs as being somehow different from any other business organisation.” In many respects, perhaps they are, but the underlying fact is that they are companies and as such bound by Company Law in the UK.

The proposals do not seem to address the fact that fundamental changes would be required to the Companies Act 2006 surrounding (in particular) Shareholder rights.

For example, the proposed right for a Supporters Trust to appoint and remove Directors whilst only being a 10% Shareholder represents a significant departure from the present legal position.  As the law currently stands, a Shareholder with only 10% of issued shares would not have such a right unless there is a Shareholders Agreement in place (a document setting out various terms between Shareholders and regulating the voting rights on certain issues).

Without such an Agreement, a 10% Shareholder will be unable to pass the necessary resolutions to give effect to this “right” without new Company Law legislation.

I sincerely hope this proposal is not just a poorly considered populist vote catcher – but if it is to be treated as credible then significant further detail of the proposal is needed.

Mike Dyer

Director, Verisona Law

Let’s Get the Fax Out of Football

As always the closing days of the European transfer window have been a source of great excitement for football fans and casual sports observers around the world. As the January transfer window closes at 11pm on Friday 31st, we’ll see the rumours come to an end and the final line up for our top teams fall into place.

As a keen Manchester United fan I’m pleased to see our boys have already signed Juan Mata, a much needed reinforcement at this point of our season! Meanwhile, a fair few of my colleagues are not as happy as me with their clubs’ activities in the transfer window. As the window draws to a close there’s still those vital few days where anything could happen. Over on Twitter we’ve been watching the #deadlineday hashtag closely.

Back in the boardroom, however, the deadline day can be an administrative nightmare. Managers are left pulling out what little hair they still possess as deals fall through. West Brom missed out on signing Romelu Lukaku in the last minute the last window, and the club has failed to emulate last year’s form without this new blood. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s last minute signing of Mesut Ozil has proven a stroke of genius.

The final rush of transfers as the deadline reaches its peak on the 31st of January means clubs often miss out on signings as paperwork fails to be put through to the FA before the 11pm deadline expires. Historically, the format has seen numerous signings fail as last-minute transfers are not put through in time. The cause of this is the sheer amount of paperwork which clubs need to file in order to sign a player.

Like any legal or business transaction, transfers can only be approved when the correct forms are signed. This means clubs need to organise documents on player wages, medical forms, transfer agreement between clubs, international clearance and visa issues. For clubs like Cardiff City who have made a number of signings so far including bringing Kenwyne Jones on board. I can only imagine the amount of forms and contracts the club administrators are dealing with right now!

The craziest thing is we’ve seen The Premier League embrace technology on the pitch to simplify processes and regulation, as with goal-line technology. Which begs the question – why have they not embraced advanced technology off the pitch?

Believe it or not clubs still have to dust off their fax machine every year in order to send these documents to their opposite number before the deadline closes. Far from the most technologically advanced pieces of hardware in the digital age, faxes are slow and prone to breakdown. When clubs are pushing through a last minute contract, this can be a devastatingly costly failure, both in terms of the finances of the club as well as its performance during the football season.

We’ve already seen this happen in the NFL just last year. The Denver Broncos were left in serious trouble when linebacker Elvis Dumervil and his agent experienced issues with their fax machine, meaning his contract renewal was sent six minutes past the deadline. When the Broncos did not receive the paperwork, they were forced to release Dumervil in lieu of guaranteeing his salary for the upcoming season. As a result, the Broncos were left with more than $4 million in dead money which could not be used against their salary cap. With so much at stake financially in the sporting world, these issues need to be addressed.

The solution? Get the fax out of football!

In the US, electronic signatures have been adopted by the NFL Player’s Association in order to avoid such a contract-signing fiasco happening again. It’s ridiculous to think that multi-million contracts are still being handled through a piece of outdated technology like the fax machine.

As Premier League clubs struggle to handle the administration involved in signing and selling players, technology like DocuSign’s eSignature solution could prove invaluable. There is definite excitement for fans in hearing that a star player has signed to their team at the last minute. However, there can also be anger when they hear a deal has fallen through as paperwork has not been put through in time.

So let’s get the fax out of football. Let’s spend less time on administration and more time on watching and playing the beautiful game.

By Neil Hudspith, Chief Revenue Officer, DocuSign

Should football fans expect an Amazon online experience when purchasing tickets? And will they ever get this?

As we enter 2014, there has been a raft of New Year predictions are being reported at a prolific rate. One of the most hotly reported trends is that 2014 is going to be the year where ‘personalisation’ comes into its own. Brands will be jumping on this trend to gain a piece of the significant e-commerce pie – read one well reported piece here from The Drum: http://www.thedrum.com/news/2013/12/04/2014-will-be-year-personalisation-brands-try-take-piece-14trn-e-commerce-pie.

This certainly comes as no surprise to us. We’ve been evangelising the importance of offering a personalised customer experience for some time, focused primarily on our work with customers in the sports arena using our TALENT platform. We believe this is central to building fan engagement; whether rewarding loyalty to committed supporters, or incentivising engagement with new fans, or looking specifically at the next generation of supporters via family packages and promotions. It’s been at the heart of our product strategy to ensure customers can use the data held within TALENT to deliver a unique customer experience to their sport fans when purchasing online – whether this is for buying tickets, retail merchanise or corporate hospitality for example.

We’ve been focused on our product roadmap to deliver new developments, such as linking product data so that TALENT prompts customers about relevant offers and deals they may be interested in, specifically based on their preferences. There’s also the ability for clubs to use TALENT to provide an increasingly richer personalised experience when developing targeted marketing campaigns. These utilise all the data that sports fans provide at that critical point of ticketing transaction, held within TALENT, hence allowing clubs and organisations to tailor their communications to supporters.

However, when you look at the retail experience offered online by companies in the retail space – and I’ll pick out Amazon for its remarkable personalisation of service – there’s still a gap between that which sports fans are offered, especially in the football and rugby area. There are quite a few significant reasons for this.

Fundamentally, Amazon can sell any of its products to anyone – there are no restrictions. All Amazon really has to consider is stock, and delivery of this stock. However, in football and rugby, there are lots of different scenarios that need to be considered before a club can even begin to sell a specific ticket, with varying qualification criteria which differs from supporter to supporter.

I’ll give a few examples. There’s the issue of fraud to ensure tickets are legitimate and don’t get into the wrong hands; there’s safety and access control to ensure the right number of tickets are sold and only the right people can enter the stadium. And that really is just the start. Clubs tend to make tickets available and allocate these tickets based on loyalty. Each ticket buyer needs to be categorised, which comes down to a set of criteria based on a perception of ‘fairness’ and ‘entitlement’ around loyalty – whether they are a season ticket holder (the most loyal supporters) and how many games they have attended. These all count for ‘points’ and these points mean prizes in terms of being given first allocation of tickets for premium games and early access during ticket sales. To make it even more complicated, this qualification system can be different for every club and sporting organisation.

So before any tickets are sold, the ticketing commerce platform needs to be able to manage a level of intelligence and logic, which is essentially a number of pre-requisites which have to be accounted for before the potential ticket purchaser can even put anything into their basket.

This comes into action more fully around key dates such as season ticket renewals and high demand match ticket sales. For Liverpool football club for example, it operates a unique bi-annual sale of its tickets. Its most recent members sale – which took place last month – saw more than 70,000 tickets sold online within two days and around 100,000 over the full four day period.  The success of this sale – which avoided extensive queuing for fans online and ensured the right tickets reached the right supporters – is a great example of TALENT operating a system of pre-requisites based on fan loyalty, where tranches of tickets are made available to fans in planned phases to manage peaks of demand and reward the most loyal of fans first.

So although retail operations do reward loyalty – early bird offers, exclusive deals for card holders etc –we’d argue that in sport, there is a different level of sophistication required.  And quite rightly so – the degree of loyalty that sports organisations demand and receive from fans goes far beyond the commitment around most retail purchases, not to mention the long-term nature of loyalty delivered by fans. The commercial success of clubs is largely based around those fans and the experience they deliver on match-days – imagine a stadium without its fans to drive excitement for the teams. So when you think about the degree of qualification that needs to be delivered by sports clubs, it’s also worth considering the intelligence that is contained with the ticketing systems. It’s only after this is delivered successfully in sports, can clubs take the opportunity to then concentrate on delivering the truly unique and personalised customer experience.

Mark Dewell, MD

Advanced Ticketing

For all news and stories see our Advanced Ticketing news site or follow us on Twitter: @Adv_TALENTSport

Away Fans Matter!

The Football Supporters’ Federation urged travelling fans to share their experiences of away fixtures as part of their ‘Away Fans Matter’ campaign.

Speaking at the Supporters Summit 2013 at St George’s Park, Martin O’Hara, Deputy Chair of the FSF, outlined the main points of the campaign aiming to improve treatment of away supporters.

Fan

The Away Fans Feedback Project is an online survey designed to gather fans’ views – good and bad –about their experiences at away grounds throughout the season.

It allows the FSF to produce statistically valid examples of fan experiences, which is used to create a league table of Premier League and Football League clubs based on how satisfying a trip there is.

Clubs can then be urged to improve their treatment of away fans based on the statistics, and compared from season to season.

Over 2000 fans took the survey during the 2012/13 season, and it is hoped even more will sign up next season when it is opened up to the Conference.

Mr O’Hara said: “Away fans make our game unique. They’re the ones that create atmosphere, but they are declining. Last season they were 9% down on the season before.

“Away fans will travel for all kind of reasons, but not always just for the result. These reasons are how we encourage fans and improve atmosphere.”

In addition to the survey, the FSF will be aiming to produce a Good Ground Guide to inform fans of which clubs’ grounds are safe, reasonably priced and respectful of travel arrangements for visiting supporters.

Mr O’Hara also linked the ‘Away Fans Matter’ campaign to their ‘Twenty’s Plenty for Away Tickets’ online petition.

Almost 10,000 people have signed the petition calling for a £20 cap on away ticket prices, which when completed is automatically emailed to both the fan’s respective club and their league.

The ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign supported a protest march about ticket prices outside the Premier League’s HQ on 19 June, and Mr O’Hara was confident that sustained fan pressure can yield results.

He cited the example in Germany as proof, and introduced guest speaker Martin Endemann from Football Supporters Europe.

Mr Endemann explained how the ‘Kein Zwanni’ campaign has been successful in reducing away ticket prices from around €20 to €13 in the Bundesliga.

The German campaign involved observed boycotts of local derbies, including the high profile fixture between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04.

Mr Endemann said: “This made it clear that clubs will eventually lose money. Three clubs removed categorisation in tickets due to pressure, and this will hopefully lead to other fans questioning ticketing policy at their club.”

For more information, please see the FSF Away Fans Matter campaign page here.

Written by: David Ralph

Follow on Twitter: @DavidJRalph

The Economics of Football

I’ve donned my economics hat for this week’s newsletter as the topic of the economy, tax and inflation has dominated the news since the beginning of the year.

The start of 2011 brought with it (in the UK) a 2.5% increase in VAT to 20% coupled with rising fuel and commodity prices, the worry is how the economy will react. UK inflation has been running above the 2% target rate for 40 of the last 49 months and is edging towards 4%.

Yesterday’s response by the Bank of England to hold interest rates at 0.5% for the 22nd month is a desperate attempt to keep inflation under control and boost confidence in the market.

But for consumers and football fans alike, the financial pressures on everyday life are reducing the disposable income they have. The likely response for 2011 will be a consumer that is ever more discerning on where and when they spend their cash and will seek quality and best value in equal measures.

Coercing that spare cash from our pockets will be tough. Niall Quinn, Sunderland’s Chairman, expressed his disappointment at the below anticipated attendances at the Stadium of Light despite the club’s high league position.

But Sunderland sits in an area that is baring the brunt of the Government’s austerity measures, with more than a third of the region’s population working in the public sector, spending confidence is low.

Fans are the life blood of the club, but to buy a ticket for the game, a replica shirt, a pie and a pint has become an increasingly expensive luxury. The inertia of the past must be replaced with a dynamic display of innovation by clubs.

And most have, but there is still a lot to do.

Football – A Political Agenda

As we draw closer to a General Election I was reminded about a head line that once appear in the nations favourite (?) newspaper way back in 1992; ‘it’s the Sun that won it’ the self obsessed daily once famously proclaimed!

Maybe this time however, the headline will be ‘it’s MUST that won it’?

As we nudge ever closer to a General Election the political cat fighting has began. In last week’s budget we were given an outline of cost savings and tax hikes that would help pull the country out of recession and reduce the deficit. Pretty uninspiring stuff from a man with funny eyebrows!

But then all of a sudden, after someone had bothered to read the red book, it emerged that there was a special clause in there aimed at protecting foreign footballers from the 50% tax on income should they reach the Champions League final at Wembley in May 2011. This was apparently at the request of Gerry Sutcliffe, the Sports Minister to help protect sport in the UK. Apparently, Madrid won the right to host this year’s final because of the low tax on earnings in Spain.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Oh how we laughed when Gordon Brown was refused a spot on Match of the Day by the BBC! Well in a shrewd piece of political chess, the Labour Government has obviously targeted football fans as a key demographic for its election campaign. Gordon Brown hanging out with the lads…well spotted the BBC.

Instead of boring us to death with the usual health care proposals, education, education, education promises and keeping very quiet about defence spending, they are taking advantage of a subject that really does matter – Football!

We all know of the very well publicised disputes over football club ownership. The Supporters are rising up and shouting extra loud at the way in which football is being run and in particular how their clubs are being run (into the ground in extreme cases!). The depth of the feeling amongst fans runs as deep as the financial troubles of Portsmouth.

And now Labour has seized the initiative, and put fans ownership of football clubs at the top of the political agenda. A political manifesto that includes proposals to give fans trusts the ‘right-to-buy’ up to a 25% stake in their club should it become available was greeted with as much joy as it was skepticism.

Are they going to tear up corporate law just so a bunch of disgruntled Gillingham fans think they can run the club better than the current owners?

For too long we’ve been casting covetous eyes at Barcelona. Held up as the idealistic model of club ownership that can one day be repeated across the footballing empire.

Barcelona, we love you!!!

But is it right that football should become a political agenda or even and election winner? I have my reservations, but at least it makes any election campaign worth following for a while.

The search for the Holy Grail!

The Red Knights!

You have to admire the ‘Red Knights’. Their charge to the rescue of the damsel in distress has been of epic proportions, so too the publicity it has generated.

We all know the story by now. The Glazers took over Man Utd in 2005, they saddled the club with more that £700m of debt in the leveraged buy out. Some fans disapproved so much that they split from the club and FC United of Manchester was born. After a series of ticket price rises and the revelations that the club was struggling to service the debt including an emergency £500m bond issue, the fans spoke out once again. Then a group of wealthy Man Utd fans headed by Keith Harris and Jim O’Neill came along and created the Red Knights with a plan to buy the Glazers out for an estimated £1.25bn.

But it all seems a bit Monty Python and the search for the Holy Grail to me!

After being subjected to a torrent of abuse aimed in their general direction, our hapless King, Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table try a number of times to storm a castle occupied by the French. However, their epic attempt comes to an abrupt end when the ‘Trojan Rabbit’ they were supposed to be hiding in is fired back over the castle wall towards them to the collective shouts of “Run away!”

It’s all very amusing and the French have the upper hand.

But how does this relate to the Man Utd story? Well, the Red Knights have a justifiable cause, but what must be remembered is that the Glazers bought a public limited company and apparently they don’t come cheap! This is their castle and they are up for the fight.

Now I’m not suggesting that Keith Harris is as hapless as our King, but the tale of his attempts to storm the Old Trafford board room have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The whole anti-Glazer jamboree has gathered remarkable momentum with so many groups voicing their discontent to the backdrop of the Green & Gold campaign.

They are all making the right noises, but I just can’t help feeling that it all seems a bit empty and will ultimately fall flat. And if the Knights do gain control of the club will they be any better than the Glazers?

The debt is there now and unless the new owners are going to turn this into equity then it will remain a burden. What is also overlooked is the £500m bond issue will make up part of this bid, the very thing that caused the whole uproar.

I’m not for one minute suggesting that I support the Glazers. My stance on this is that the Premier League and the previous Man Utd board failed in their foresight to protect the club from the leveraging of debt onto the club. The business plan has some serious flaws that make it hard to believe it was agreed, but then on the other hand the club has acquired record sponsorship deals and turnover is at an all time high.

I just can’t help feeling that when the Red Knights finally think they’ve found their Holy Grail, they will be told to “go away we already have one!”

Making use of stadiums

I have a confession to make. I’m not proud of this, but I don’t think it’s my fault (and I’m sure thousands more will back me up, I hope?).

I love nothing more that matchdays. The excitement of the whole day is all consuming. What will the team be? Will we win? blah, blah, blah!

At mid-day, I head into town to meet the others in a local pub then stay there until about 20mins before kick-off. We then walk up to the ground (with the thousands of others) and take our seats approximately 1 minute before kick-off.

Then at half time I might go down to see if there is any chance of getting a drink or snack, no is the answer unless I go down 10 mins before the half time whistle to queue up. Then at the end of the game I’m out of there and off back to the pub to reflect on the game.

So this is my confession, I do not spend anytime at the ground, or indeed any money other than the purchase of my ticket.

And why is this? Well this is just my opinion, but there is nothing worth going to ground earlier for.

The food and drink is (very) over priced (don’t get me started on half time catering facilities, or lack of them). There’s not enough room to stand in comfort with your over priced drinks and food. I don’t smoke but some do, this means they do not want to get there too early. And generally, apart from watching the players warm-up (whilst I sit and freeze to death) there is very little to make me want to get there any earlier and give them some of the cash I spend at the pub in town.

Match day revenues are now only a small proportion of a clubs turnover, but I’m sure more could be done to reduce the impact of this potentially lost revenue. And, unless I pay more money for hospitality and VIP areas then I’m unlikely to want to come to the ground any earlier and spend my hard earned cash.

So what can must clubs do to encourage me to make more use of their facilities?