What is a ‘fan’ for football clubs?
By iSportconnect | February 24, 2011
A number of varied and conflicting elements come together to influence an individual’s decision as to which football club to support. It is odd therefore that most football clubs choose to treat their fans as if they were a single, discount homogenous group.
For UK fans, sales there is a familiar logic in maintaining the ritual of belonging to a club. This is a lifelong commitment often made at an early age and enduring through gut- wrenching failure and glorious triumph alike. Tribal loyalty of this kind is immutable, irrespective of team performance or the machinations of the clubs’ directors. But as with any belief system, it is the product of a long established ethos of shared norms, attitudes and values. Mostly confusing and often contradictory, particularly when extended to cover other cultures, it is unsurprising that few clubs have made a real effort to understand their fans’ true motivation and to act towards them accordingly.
The main justification given for supporting a particular football club is the influence of close relatives and traditional family orientation. Perhaps this is not surprising in a culture where football has been the national sport for well over a hundred years and where there is a strong indigenous league featuring clubs whose commercial image and brand reach projects far beyond the limits their company size would suggest.
What then of supporters who live in countries? In the USA for example, football competes for supporters and share of wallet with a hierarchy of national sports each boasting its own historic traditions, leading clubs and star players. Conversely, certain Asian countries have a strong local affinity for EPL football. The reasons for this support can vary by territory but are generally linked to the recent availability of EPL TV broadcasts; the strong brand image projected by certain EPL clubs in terms of their on-pitch success and the celebrity of the players; and the frequency with which leading EPL clubs tour and play matches in the region.
Other reasons for supporting a particular club can be more locally influenced. Consider the level of support (estimated at 70% of all football fans in the country) extended to Manchester United by their South Korean fans. This is because of:
- the live broadcast of FAPL & ECL matches (albeit in the early hours local time)
- the enduring success of the team over an extended period
- the colour of the team kit and the nickname “Red Devils”, (both identical to those of the South Korean national team)
- the recruitment of JS Park, South Korea’s iconic player and national celebrity Of course, the club’s affiliation with strong local sponsors, the establishment of local language media, the presence of a café bar franchise, the availability of a strong membership & financial services programmes and regular tour matches also helps.
Only when EPL clubs begin to research, understand and address the cultural and motivational differences (as well as the similarities) between their fans in different countries will they present their clubs in the most socially and commercially effective way. This means offering fans the opportunity to consume club content and cultivate a sense of belonging in a way that meets their local needs and aspirations. In return, clubs adopting this more enlightened approach will reap the reward of cementing the relationships with their fans for the long-term with all the potential for commercial advantage this will bring.
Star Sports Marketing has the experience and capability to help your organisation frame research to understand your fan base at home and abroad. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for an informal conversation on how our approach can add value and insight to your business.