The paradox of engaging with new fans

Dr. Oliver Seitz, academic director of the Master in Football Business by Johan Cruyff Institute, reflects on what clubs can win and lose in his strategy of engaging new fans

Football clubs are community based organisations. They are typically founded by a group of people with common interests and stay playing in the same region throughout its existence. For every club, fan engagement started with friends, family and neighbours.

As a club progress, success generates growing influence and importance, and it starts to attract new fans organically. A mildly successful club attracts people identified with the location and the values of the organisations. A very successful club starts attracting people identified with all the glories connected to success in itself.

The paradox of engaging with new fans - Johan Cruyff Institute

However, the more spatially and culturally distant is the fan, the weaker is the connection with the club and the higher is the amount of work that the organisation needs to put in place to generate positive engagement.

In order to truly profit from this relationship, a club needs to remain successful for a long period of time and be able to create and enforce the links with the new audience. At the same time, a club cannot turn away from engaging with its local and much more vocal fanbase, as well as from the core and historical values that have created the club.

However, there are two main key conceptual challenges in engaging with these fans:

  • How clubs can maintain a long-term relationship with spatially and culturally distant supporters without needing to rely on success?
  • How clubs can maximize the relationship with spatially and culturally distant supporters without jeopardizing the historical bonds with its outnumbered local fans?

This is the paradox of fan engagement that clubs so often forget. There are plenty of examples of disillusioned local fans turning away from their clubs after years of negligence as the focus of the organisation shifted to richer and more numerous audiences. However, in the end of the day, after success eventually fades, these are the people that keep the club alive. No club should ever forget this.

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