I was fortunate enough recently to take part in judging the best marketing campaign produced by some of England’s finest football clubs. A confidentiality agreement protects the guilty, but safe to stay that beyond a handful of fantastically innovative campaigns, the majority left me cold.
The end of the January transfer window demonstrated that football continues to operate above the cloud of austerity that hangs over the rest of us in a pre-financial crisis world where credit was cheap and plentiful.
In the main, football clubs, despite often being owned by successful entrepreneurs, are terribly run businesses that leak money by paying over-inflated wages to capricious assets that drop in value more often than they gain.
And despite huge strides made by some clubs in the two decades since the dawn of the Premier League era that saw huge benefits from bumper paydays, most continue to be run as cottage industries.
Opportunities to exploit the thousands, millions in some cases, of eager, passionate fans around the world willing to part with their hard-earned, therefore, are being missed.
It is not just about selling season tickets, the still voracious appetite for football sees most grounds being sold out more weeks that not; it is about developing a relationship with supporters – brand building to return it to marketing parlance – and then developing targeted direct response campaigns.
In my capacity as a judge, and my role of a fan, I have witnessed a woeful lack of innovation in the way that clubs are communicating with fans.
The problem is not data capture, huge leaps have been made in CRM, the issue is a focus on sales over engagement. A problem that will only leave football fans feeling used and abused especially in these straitened times.
Marketing activity needs to be more than here’s a shirt, here’s a price, and here’s how you buy it. Clubs, especially the lesser ones scrambling for support not captured by larger and more successful neighbours, need to develop long-term campaigns that build engagement.
The football money train will not keep up its momentum forever.