|SPECIAL REPORT: Engaging with fans all year round|
Monday, 17 October 2016 11:42
It’s the age-old question – how do you keep fans engaged during the offseason?
While the NFL regular season and play-offs take up a significant period of the yearly calendar, it’s still difficult to keep fans engaged with the team or league when the players down tools for a good few months.
Hussain Naqi is the SVP of International Development at Jacksonville Jaguars and was formerly SVP of Fan Engagement with the Jags.
He tells iSportconnect how they manage to keep the fans engaged – something which is highlighted by the fact there are just a handful of NFL regular season fixtures played outside of the US.
He said: "We have to understand what the fan wants - one of our biggest challenges is how we continue the conversation on a year-round basis. That is why we have developed a programme where we are in schools now, we have kids playing American Football on a regular basis.
“We're able to have a variety of different age groups who are able to play the sport on a year-round basis - they can continue the conversation and become a fan. From our perspective the growth through participation model, is really the most sustainable way of growing fans and developing fans and having that year-round conversation."
Mark Fiddes, European Creative Director at global marketing agency Epsilon, believes that the participation model is a good option.
He said: “You may have a soccer mom in the mid-west without an affiliation to a club. Yet she wants the opportunity after school to get her kid into an academy, run by a known brand like Arsenal. She starts to develop a preference for Arsenal through taking her kid through basic soccer coaching. She’s the one who will be booking the extra sessions, the branded kit and the games on TV. So fans can come from anywhere.
We tend to assume that it’s an emotional bond that brings the fan in but it could be a very rational, functional one, like our soccer mom who wants to train up her kids. On the other hand, it may be as simple and emotional as 'my grandfather supported Fulham, so I will too.' Fans can come from either base.
"You have to go beyond the game. Fandom, whatever temperature it is, burning hot or just vaguely interested, will be developed through different ways of becoming involved in that club.”
For the last decade or so the NFL have presented fans across the globe the opportunity to see live fixtures through the International Series. Multiple games are now played in London while in 2016 a regular season game will be played in Mexico City.
Naqi believes the Series has added benefits for the Jaguars, who have an exclusive deal with Wembley Stadium.
"Particularly with respect to the Jaguars, one of the benefits of the International Series is that we are here on a regular basis. We are establishing our name and entrenching our name as London's team. We have the ability and commitment to this market to do things that other teams can't, I think as a general proposition, of course, the growth of the game from an NFL perspective and football generally, the more you play here, the more target point you have with the market, the more engagement you will get with fans obviously.
“With respect to the Jaguars specifically, the fact that we're here regularly, the fact that we have specific marketing rights, that are only available to us as a function of our commitment, allows us to do some interesting things, particularly with regards to growth of the game. From a fan engagement perspective, we have a secondary schools program where we have now over 1,500 kids every week playing American football across London and the region.”
Going beyond the game is something Fiddes agrees with. Here he gives an interesting example of how a sports team have taken a different approach to fan engagement.
He continued: “Every year Fulham FC take advantage of its fantastic stadium. Interestingly, with Fulham a lot of emotional connection rests there with the ground itself, Craven Cottage. (There was uproar around the rumours of a move during the temporary stay at Loftus Road) One outstanding aspect of the ground is that it offers a fantastic view of the river.
“What a perfect spot from which to see the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race every year! So what Fulham have done is open up Craven Cottage to be a premier venue to watch the boat race, then hosting the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity football match afterwards. Thinking imaginatively about how you can involve more people is important, in that case based on your real estate.”
"I'm interested in areas where clubs can reach out and take their mission beyond the game. Barcelona is 'Més que un club' - more than a club. The training system at LaMasia is world famous. There's a brand development opportunity in that. How they take a training product into the wider world would be fascinating. It will make football better. But it will also build great business for Barcelona.”
With social media being adopted by fans and virtual reality continuing to be mooted as the next big thing, the relationship between fans and sports teams is likely to grow closer.
Finding your next fans is the biggest challenge that teams face and perhaps with Tottenham Hotspurs deal with the NFL coming into fruition over the coming years, it could be easier for American Football teams, like the Jaguars, to grow their fans across the UK.