This very first guest blog post on Loyalsticity is written by Jacob Holm. Jacob has built up his expertise through extensive analysis of the football industry. In this exclusive post he gives his view on a common challenge to many sports clubs.
We all know the clubs: Manchester United where Old Trafford is packed to 98-99% of its capacity at every home game, Bayern Munich that had all its home match tickets for the coming season (69,000 seats) sold out 1½ month before first match, and Barcelona where it is not uncommon to see around 95.000 spectators at Camp Nou.
But what can football clubs do to attract spectators, when Messi is not in the squad and when they do not have Abramovich to buy the “new Maradona”? And what can they do when they are not in this superior league of exclusive clubs with long traditions of winning the domestic league and European cups? The answer to this question might be found by analyzing two clubs which are not even close to winning any national or international championships.
37,000 spectators in fourth division
Santa Cruz, Brazil. A football club without a long tradition of winning trophies. Yet, in Serie D (Brazil’s fourth division) in last season Santa Cruz had an average of 37,000 spectators for home matches – the highest average number of spectators in Brazil. Number two on the list was the giant club, Corinthians (last season’s Brazilian champions), with “only” 29,000 spectators per home game.
The characteristics of Santa Cruz are, among others, that the club is known for being an open and including club. The club was one of the first in Brazil to attract and include players of different ethnic backgrounds. This meant that the club had an appeal to a broader population in and around the city. It increased the numbers of people that the club could create relationships with.
The German outsiders
St. Pauli, Germany. A club playing in the 2nd Bundesliga without a booming trophy room and without star players. However, the lack of trophies and star players has not affected the loyalty of the fans. St. Pauli has 19 million fans in Germany which is very close to Bayern Munich, the most popular team in Germany, with 20.7 million fans. The large and loyal fan base shows in the numbers of season tickets sold: 16,000.
What has St. Pauli done to attract so many spectators? Just as Santa Cruz, St. Pauli is known for being an open and inclusive club and have managed to attract fans of many different kinds. For example, at St. Pauli females have been highly prioritized resulting in the highest part of female spectators in Germany. Furthermore, St. Pauli has included its fans in decision-making which give them a feeling of empowerment and being a part of the club. Fans have a say in decisions such as stadium design and ticket prices. As the team manager, Christian Böning says: “We invest more in bricks than in legs…” This statement is backed up by the chairman of the Bundesliga, Christian Seifert, who says that: “…clubs’ strategy with moderate prices, great comfort and safety is of course assisting in attracting spectators”. In fact, this strategy has been very successful – the average number of spectators in the Bundesliga has increased with 50% in a 10-year period.
Some might argue that not investing in (star) players will lead to a lower support from the fans, and thus, a lower turnover. However, St. Pauli has proven this argument to be insufficient. The club has both one of the largest fan bases in Germany and increased its sponsor income because sponsors are interested in being associated with a team with passionate fans and with a broad appeal.
Increasing number of spectators and stronger fan relationships
Clubs without a booming trophy room and without star players have to find alternatives to attract spectators and create relationships with fans. An important point from this analysis is to listen and be open-minded to supporters, whether they are existing fans or if it is new segments that have to be attracted. And even more important is it to implement what the fans want (if financially possible). The Football Supporters Federation, a grassroots movement in England which has 180.000 members and which is the voice of millions of fans, conducted a survey among its members to uncover what fans really wanted. The highest prioritized area was ticket prices (prices had to be decreased). Next on the list were better service and higher safety at the stadiums. These three areas are (incidentally?) also the components that Santa Cruz and St. Pauli applied to attract spectators.
Furthermore, if clubs have a broad appeal, just as Santa Cruz and St. Pauli, it opens different opportunities, such as more segments to target and increased sponsor income, which ultimately can lead to increased profits.
Santa Cruz and St. Pauli have both proved that smaller clubs can attract more spectators, create strong relationships and even run a sound business by focusing on the experience, listen to the fans and implement what they want. And this can be done even without having Messi in the squad or Abramovich to operate in the VIP lounge.