Do We Need New Rules Of Engagement?

Mark Bradley


Mark is a regular contributor in FC Business magazine. He set up The Fan Experience Company in 2005, and they now assess over 350 games each season in 13 countries. 

In December, at our Rules of Engagement event at Manchester City’s Football Academy, we shared our story.  We presented a mix of films, interviews and talks to illustrate everything we’ve learned about fan engagement and league / club growth over the past 17 years.

And it’s all about FOCUS. 

Put engagement at the top of your agenda, espouse it, make it a business priority and you’ll prosper. Relegate it to the backwaters of ‘extra-curricular activity’ and ‘the team’s rubbish, we need to do something to make the fans happy’ and, well, I’ll leave you to guess how that ends.

Progressive customer-focused businesses don’t just rely on their company’s position in the League table (i.e. their bottom-line performance in respect of the competition) or the number of people buying their product at any given moment. They know that their success will depend on them uncovering what matters most to key audience segments and then delivering that.

Many mature organisations will now be assessing the link between performance at different ‘touch points’ and their customers’ ‘satisfaction’: whether that be their likelihood to buy again or how likely they are to recommend you to friends and family. By doing this they’ll be able to separate out those things that their customers rate highly (but have no impact on future advocacy) from those things that customers rate highly (and which DO drive overall engagement). You may have the brightest looking banking hall in UK Retail and your customers may tell you that. But if it’s not important to them, save some money on paint and expensive graphics and invest where it DOES make a difference.

" If you could understand what mattered to your different supporter groups, then you would be able to target resources, time and commitment where it will have the biggest impact. But does this mean another 80-question Fan Experience Survey? No, not at all... "

If you maintain structured dialogue with your supporters, then why not create some food for thought for your next meeting?

Simply put out a survey with 2 questions:

  1. Based on your most recent match day experiences and, on a scale of 0-10 where 10 is ‘most’, how valued do you feel as a supporter of this club?
  2. Use the following box to explain your main reasons for saying that

You may be wondering why I’m not advocating the Net Promoter approach (in which you ask the question ‘how likely are you to RECOMMEND …?’) but in my experience, the majority of your supporters will have a strong emotional connection to the club, which will result in an artificially high ratings in response to that question (e.g. they’re hardly likely to recommend your rivals).

Asking the RECOMMENDATION question feels right for groups that are less experienced, who are relatively new to the club, who may attend less frequently or who may use your hospitality, conferencing or banqueting services and I’d definitely encourage you to ask it to people using your family zone / stand, for example, as they’ll be unconsciously comparing it with other family leisure destinations. But when it comes to your core fan base (and they’ve long been kept at an arm’s length by most clubs) I’d advise you to ‘bite the bullet’ and find out just how valued they feel.

The overall rating that emerges is far less important that the reasons they give. Identify the common themes, engage your structured supporter dialogue processes to start doing more of things that MAKE YOUR FANS FEEL VALUED and I guarantee you that this will be the soundest step you have ever taken along the road to engagement and growth.

Originally published FC Business magazine at & re-printed with their permission

© The Fan Experience Company 2020