Marketing To Fanatics The Manchester United Way

How do you devel­op CRM for 659 mil­lion fans?

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Matt Scam­mell, Asso­ciate Glob­al Spon­sor­ship Sales Direc­tor at Man­ches­ter Unit­ed, gave a talk a Dream­force 2014 about the devel­op­ment of CRM ini­tia­tives at the foot­ball club. High­light­ing the impor­tance of seg­men­ta­tion as a means of devel­op­ing sophis­ti­cat­ed per­son­al­iza­tion, the insights are per­ti­nent for brands and busi­ness­es from oth­er indus­tries, as well as the sport itself.

From a mar­ket­ing per­spec­tive, sports fans are the most engaged, loy­al, and ded­i­cat­ed brand advo­cates in the world.

As Rogan Tay­lor, Head of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Liverpool’s foot­ball research unit once said:

Fans are very dif­fer­ent from cus­tomers of con­ven­tion­al busi­ness­es, no-one has their ash­es scat­tered down the aisle of Tesco.”

And for most fans, foot­ball (or soc­cer for our Amer­i­can read­ers), is more than just a sport or pas­time, but a pas­sion engen­der­ing deep emo­tion­al ties — a ver­i­ta­ble escape from every­day life. Foot­ball fans have dreams, hopes, and desires for their teams, emo­tion­al con­nec­tions that are entire­ly inde­pen­dent of per­for­mance, cus­tomer-cen­tric­i­ty, prac­ti­cal­i­ties or use­ful­ness, as is the case for oth­er busi­ness­es con­sumers may be loy­al to.

Fans pos­sess team affil­i­a­tions that often stretch back sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions, strong rela­tion­ships based upon a sense of his­to­ry and tra­di­tion. It means that sup­port­ers often resent com­mer­cial or brand mar­ket­ing intru­sions into their rela­tion­ships with their clubs.

It means foot­ball clubs have to be spe­cif­ic and rel­e­vant about their mar­ket­ing mes­sages.

Developing CRM Initiatives

For some foot­ball clubs, devel­op­ing mar­ket­ing per­sonas is noth­ing short of a gar­gan­tu­an task. It is believed that Man­ches­ter Unit­ed for exam­ple, have 659 mil­lion fol­low­ers around the world, in ter­ri­to­ries span­ning every cor­ner of the globe from Asia, the Mid­dle East, and North Amer­i­ca, as well as Europe.

How­ev­er, foot­ball clubs are rec­og­niz­ing an emerg­ing need to devel­op CRM ini­tia­tives to bet­ter under­stand, and mar­ket to fans world­wide. At the 2014 Dream­force Con­ven­tion in San Fran­cis­co, Matt Scam­mell, Asso­ciate Glob­al Spon­sor­ship Sales Direc­tor at Man­ches­ter Unit­ed, out­lined the clubs com­mit­ment to devel­op­ing the way it inter­act­ed with fans:

It’s all about work­ing with our part­ners to acti­vate not just glob­al­ly in terms of vis­i­bil­i­ty but mak­ing it local­ly rel­e­vant to every mar­ket and all the fans we have around the world. Using online and mobile we can devel­op more inti­mate rela­tion­ships [because with every inter­ac­tion] we build up knowl­edge about who that fan is and what type of con­tent they like to con­sume.”

The solu­tion, as is now the case for all con­sumer fac­ing busi­ness­es, is to devel­op sophis­ti­cat­ed CRM mod­els that seg­ment and iden­ti­fy indi­vid­u­als. As Scam­mell con­tin­ues: “we want to turn fol­low­ers into address­able indi­vid­u­als. It’s all very well hav­ing 60 mil­lion fans on Face­book but we real­ly need to know more about them so we can inter­act with them and share their con­tact details with our part­ners.”

Scam­mell revealed that Man­ches­ter Unit­ed will be using a num­ber of Sales­force plat­forms includ­ing Exact­Tar­get, Bud­dy Media and Radi­an 6 to achieve their CRM ambi­tions.


In a study by Gar­ry Adam­son of CRM in the foot­ball indus­try, Adam­son pro­posed that one of the keys to suc­cess­ful CRM for sports fans was in suc­cess­ful seg­men­ta­tion of fans and audi­ences.

In a 2005 sur­vey under­tak­en as part of the study, 72 per­cent of clubs said that they had the abil­i­ty to per­form queries on cus­tomer data. How­ev­er, it remains true that “seg­men­ta­tion” rarely rep­re­sent­ed any­thing more detailed than the sep­a­ra­tion of sea­son tick­et hold­ers and oth­er mem­bers of their data­bas­es. Per­haps for this rea­son, mar­ket­ing rarely extend­ed beyond the realm of sell­ing sea­son tick­ets.

Instead Adam­son sug­gest­ed five dif­fer­ent per­sonas which reveal fas­ci­nat­ing insights about the nature and motives of fanat­ics:

  1. The tem­po­rary fan: A fan for a spe­cif­ic peri­od who reverts back to nor­mal pat­terns of behav­ior.
  2. The local fan: This fan’s moti­va­tion for sup­port­ing a sports team, event, or play­er is geo­graph­i­cal­ly based, sug­gest­ing that if this per­son moved to anoth­er area then the orig­i­nal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the team would sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce.
  3. The devot­ed fan: Remains loy­al to the team despite time or geo­graph­i­cal bound­aries.
  4. Fanat­i­cal fans: Almost obses­sive type of sup­port of a team or indi­vid­ual, but where at least one aspect of their lives pro­vides iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that is stronger than being a fan.
  5. Dys­func­tion­al fans: Those indi­vid­u­als who gain their main source of self iden­ti­fi­ca­tion from their object of sup­port. Hooli­gans reside in this cat­e­go­ry.

With this kind of seg­men­ta­tion, “casu­al” sup­port­ers who made their buy­ing deci­sion based on con­ve­nience and enter­tain­ment, could be iden­ti­fied. Such sup­port­ers go to watch foot­ball to have a good day out, but they could at any time switch to anoth­er activ­i­ty. It means that val­ue and aware­ness of poten­tial prod­ucts are a key pri­or­i­ty for casu­al sup­port­ers.

On the oth­er end of the spec­trum, “fanat­ics” refers to the group of sup­port­ers who have the deep­est con­nec­tion to the club. The group can be fur­ther split into two sub-seg­ments: those who strong­ly iden­ti­fy with the club itself (club lovers), and those with a deep pas­sion for foot­ball itself (foot­ball lovers). This group of sup­port­ers is like­ly to respond to authen­tic mar­ket­ing mes­sages. Club lovers espe­cial­ly, may be recep­tive to offers of sou­venirs, and club mem­o­ra­bil­ia.

Lessons For Marketers

Foot­ball is a very spe­cif­ic niche. Fans aren’t the same as engaged con­sumers, or even brand advo­cates, and the sug­ges­tion here is not that this approach will work for all brands.

Sports are unique in that the prod­uct is high­ly intan­gi­ble and the val­ue that each par­tic­i­pant or spec­ta­tor draws from a club or brand applies to a spe­cif­ic com­bi­na­tion or set of ben­e­fits. Con­sumer demands fluc­tu­ate wide­ly and its nec­es­sary to ensure mar­ket­ing mes­sages are tai­lored for indi­vid­u­als.

Instead, seg­men­ta­tion should be empha­sized as a means of devel­op­ing sophis­ti­cat­ed per­son­al­iza­tion tech­niques for con­sumers and audi­ences.

Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex's data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

Inked is published by Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

Discover why brands and agencies choose Linkdex

  • Get started fast with easy onboarding & training
  • Import and connect data from other platforms
  • Scale with your business, websites and markets
  • Up-skill teams with training & accreditation
  • Build workflows with tasks, reporting and alerts

Get a free induction and experience of Linkdex.

Just fill out this form, and one of our team members will get in touch to arrange your own, personalised demo.