Football returns to marketing grassroots

Many Football League clubs are showing signs of financial distress with the bulk of the sport’s sponsorship and broadcasting riches going to Premier League clubs. The country’s less celebrated sides, however, are using innovative, low-cost marketing initiatives to boost short-term revenues and build long-term relationships with supporters.


Research from financial consultants Begbies Traynor found that 13 of the 68 sides playing in the Championship, League One and League Two of the Football League are showing signs of poor financial health, such as late accounts filings and negative bank balances.

The money distributed to clubs from broadcast rights will be cut by £23m a year from next season following the signing of a three-year £195m deal with BSkyB, which gives the satellite broadcaster exclusive rights to Football League fixtures.

The Football League, which distributes the money it collects from sponsors and broadcasters to member clubs, has stepped up efforts to increase its income.

The governing body is building a commercial team to drive revenue for its clubs through sponsorship of grassroots initiatives and digital campaigns with global commercial partners. It is also seeking a new sponsor for the League Cup for next season that is willing to pay more than current sponsor Carling.

Beyond the League’s efforts, many clubs are also looking to low-cost, high impact marketing strategies to boost commercial revenues.

Charlie Lincoln, new business manager at Championship side Bristol City, says because matchday revenues are falling outside the Premier League, clubs are finding themselves stuck between being loyal to their fans and increasingly unrealistic operating conditions.

He adds: “Given our position in the Championship and the financial situation of the club, there’s a greater need now for our marketing to be more grassroots and tactica to boost short-term revenues.

“We’re targeting local fans with game-by-game ticket promotions to boost matchday attendances alongside our long-term marketing strategy of using our Community Trust programme to reach younger supporters and communities outside of our normal fanbase.”

A similar approach has been taken by League One outfit Walsall, which is offering free season tickets to all supporters under 18 as part of a wider refresh of its youth supporters’ scheme.

Dan Mole, club secretary at Walsall, says: “We have to be realistic with our marketing strategy. We’re offering League One football in an area where you have three Premier League clubs [Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa] so we’re using price-led promotions and investing in our grassroots scheme so that younger fans are encouraged to attend matches.

He adds that while the club’s marketing strategy caters to older supporters through its ECRM system, the priority is to build relationships with younger fans in the hope that they build an affinity with the club over time.

Jenny Warburton, commercial director at fellow League One side Oldham Athletic, says that as much as clubs need to work on cultivating their local support, they need to work with the League to gain maximum exposure through its marketing schemes such as Fanpower Stadium.

“We’re working with the Football League on developing a social media strategy that’s going to allow us to offer incentives to our fans throughout next season. Social marketing is key for engaging with supporters on a broader scale and will be a huge part of our commercial strategy.”

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