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:
- The temporary fan: A fan for a specific period who reverts back to normal patterns of behavior.
- 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.
- The devoted fan: Remains loyal to the team despite time or geographical boundaries.
- 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.
- 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.