Estonian Premium Liiga GROW Programme

UEFA first approached the Fan Experience Company in October 2017 to discuss our participation in their first League-based GROW project. GROW is a programme aimed at increasing participation and attendances at a National Association level, but many of the smaller UEFA members associations also run the top tier of their own football pyramid and would welcome support.

The GROW programme in Estonia involved identifying and recruiting 3 Community Development Officers for a pilot scheme characterised by an approach based on club identity, brand and values; community engagement and fan experience. The project ran from July to November 2018 and saw significant improvements in all of the KPIs, especially in attendance.

The three CDOs Karin Lagerest (FC Flora), Heiko Sallok (Tammeka Tartu) and Alex Dmitrijev (Narva Trans and our podcast guest –  drew attendance increases from two key sources: existing junior coaching groups already affiliated to the clubs and local schools & community groups. Among the innovative approaches were the following:

  • voucher schemes, whereby children enjoying the education and entertainment opportunities provided through player visits to schools would receive a voucher to attend and hand it in on the match day. This allowed each CDO to calculate an exact response rate for each school visit
  • innovative improvements to the match day experience designed to diversify club reach, such as go-kart races; free haircuts & community events
  • imaginative promotion of games, including using fan images on tickets to increase the ‘souvenir’ value and ‘magic’

Working closely throughout with colleagues from UEFA, it quickly became clear that the pilot had been successful and the green light was given in December 2018 to roll out the GROW approach across the whole of the top tier. A team of CDOs from all walks of life (recruited for their determination, creativity, imagination and personality) were recruited and the project began in earnest.  The Premium Liiga is a summer league, on account of the poor weather in winter in Estonia where temperatures can fall to 20 below, so clubs begin the seasons in March playing on 4G pitches, move to grass in May and then return to 4G towards the end of the season. This presents a challenge that few clubs would relish. And yet, with the average attendance increase approaching 50% by the summer of 2019, it was clear that we were on to something and that the UEFA GROW for Leagues model had shown its value.

The project has now entered the 2nd of 3 seasons and it continues to show innovation in the face of some immense challenges, but clubs who once had 60-80 fans are now regularly seeing 3-400+ attendances and are also moving from cash only to online purchase inc. refreshments to adapt to the post-Covid environment.

Mark has made many friends as a result of this project and continues to promote the amazing achievements of Katrin, Heiko, Alex, Marek, Arto, Karin, Liina et al.

How we helped one club to increase it's attendance by nearly 1000%

As part of the UEFA GROW programme, Estonian club Narva Trans increased their crowd from 85 – the average when the project began – to an average attendance of 450 fans in just a few months. They had 800 fans for one game, when even the country’s president was there. Here are some of the things that helped to make such a difference.