Next season marks the 20th anniversary of the Premier League. In the two decades since BSkyB’s money began to flow, English football has changed immeasurably – stadiums, ticket prices, coverage, playing personnel and wages – leaving the sport almost unrecognisable from when Leeds United won the last first division title. What hasn’t
changed a great deal, however, is the poor grasp of marketing basics demonstrated by most clubs.
Despite billions flowing into the game, despite a worldwide fanbase willing to throw huge amounts of money into the coffers to satiate their distant love, football clubs have been slow to adapt to their new found status as brands.
Buoyed by fame, clubs rushed to sign as big and as many sponsorship deals as they could, sell as many shirts as they could, safe in the knowledge that the gravy train would never stop, fans’ love would be undying and even failing that the TV money would continue unabated.
What they forgot in the meantime is building the tools to foster engagement so their direct marketing had maximum effect.
There are, of course, exceptions that prove the rule. Arsenal, despite being the second most successful side of the Premier League era to date, appears to have just woken to the need for effective CRM.
The club is pulling together data from its shops, Facebook fans and Twitter followers to build a new CRM system that will help it target fans with offers and membership options. Sound familiar? I’d wager yes. Essentially as its straight out of the direct marketing book for dummies. Data driven, targeted advertising? Whatever next? Brand building?
This is not to mock the North London club. Such a move is as worthwhile as it is necessary. However, the fact that it is noteworthy is indicative of the majority of the failings of English football’s top flight. The attitude to now for the majority has been “build it and they will come” or, perhaps, more realistically “sell it and the gullible will buy year in year out”.
Football clubs need to focus on their core fans, be it here or the other side of the world. They need to understand them, nurture them and with engage with them as them on a regular basis. Signing sponsorship deals in every far flung corner of the world is one thing but clubs will not be able to truly exploit the kind of brand equity, affinity and love that very few brands in any other sector could boast, a little back to basics training is required.