Everyone belongs to a community. We all have a gene pool, a culture, an interest group. Sports organisations often reflect and sometimes guide the social mores of the time. Older readers may recall the hooliganism that plagued English football in the 1970s. The conflict was tribal with small bands forming alliances to fight the ‘enemy’ in defence of local honour against polarised local communities or to enhance national status. At that time social upheaval was a product of industrial change. Now, in the era of financial meltdown, sports organisations must work even harder to preserve their income streams and the loyal affinity of their constituencies.
In particular, football clubs make great efforts to reach out to their local communities. This work has been going on for many years, but only now are clubs bringing all of their community and charitable work together under a single administrative unit or foundation. Why should they invest so much time, money and effort into this activity? The reason is simple. Community no longer means just those fans living in the soot-shrouded shadow of the ground. The game has gone global with shiny new stadia generating up to £3m per game from corporate hospitality and much more from global media rights. The new watchwords are ‘franchise’ and ‘legacy’.
So does the concept of ‘community’ have any relevance to football clubs in today’s global game? The considerable investment made by leading clubs such as Chelsea with its Blue Pitch initiative and Manchester United with its Soccer in the Community programmes suggests the answer is yes. Community activity carried out locally ensures that future generations of fans are engaged and recruited to populate the shiny new stadia. While commendable, this effort is not wholly altruistic as the ever- increasing revenues required to sustain on pitch performance could not be achieved without the support of local fans and of the commercial sponsors who stalk them.
Nevertheless, for English Premier League clubs, the concept of community now extends to wherever the TV rights are sold. Fervent and passionate supporters across the world, most of whom will never experience the joy of seeing their team play live at home are part of that franchise. Clubs are keen to capture not only their loyalty but also their dollars, bhat, won, yen and rupees. This is achieved through the launch of local language websites and publications, the recruitment of strong local sponsors and the staging of pre-season tour matches against local opposition. Each activity offers a touch-point to engage local fans, collect their contact details and promote a range of club-branded products and services including merchandise, media, telecommunications and financial services.
In return for this interaction, the local community and the national associations (whose permission is required to stage tour matches) are rewarded with ‘a legacy’. This may take the form of an investment in local infrastructure or in the staging of training and education events for local coaches and children. Often, clubs have been criticised by local media for a perceived imbalance in the energy used to build their franchise compared with the investment in the local legacy. While this may once have been justified, clubs now realise that their interests are best served by addressing this issue if only because all teams and sports need engagement from their fans - and this engagement is not sustainable without community involvement.
Star Sports Marketing has both the experience and capability to help you plan and enhance your community engagement at home and abroad. Visit www.starsportsmarketing.com or email
for an informal discussion on the possibilities for your organisation.