Football has a strong history and is by far sport number one in Germany. The Bundesliga made a healthy development in terms of early investments in new and modern stadiums. Some nations have forgotten that. Italy is a clear example of that. It may have been too easy to attract people previously but some nations or clubs have not caught up with new trends and tendencies in relation to building fan engagement. We live in the intersection between experience economy and transformation economy and there is intensive competition aimed at winning consumers’ time and money in a time where consumers must prioritize among so many opportunities. The raise of the Internet has pushed this phenomenon as it gives consumers additional options to spend their time and money. This post seeks to look at how the Bundesliga has done to engage with fans. The post also analyzes this context with much focus on the case of Hamburger Sport Verein (HSV) and a slight comparative relation to the Danish Super League. The case of HSV is interesting since the club, despite the fact that its current financial or sporting situations are not optimal, has done remarkably well to connect with fans and thus has had a strong average of spectators.
The Bundesliga has experienced some first-mover advantages in terms of establishing an authentic and constructive dialogue with fans. This was done to work with the fan base to enhance fan experiences and basically to increase the overall fan base. For instance, German clubs started to establish kids’ clubs and football schools with wide targeted reach and integrated events portraying Bundesliga players at an early stage. These events may take place at various places, e.g. the stadium, cinemas, schools etc. There are several fan engagement platforms. Particularly, there is a fan project in HSV, which involves full-time employees and thus engage highly with the club’s most avid (hard core) fans. The team goes to visit around 20 of the club’s fan clubs all over Germany every year. The whole team goes two times per year. Additionally, selected players go to visit specific fan clubs as well. Moreover, the German Bundesliga has emphasized the role of media content. For instance, HSV strives to produce meaningful content on a daily basis whether this content is typical social media (e.g. Google+, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram) content or content linked to the club’s own TV-channel, i.e. HSV total!. It has made a difference that the club has invested in its own TV-team to produce new and valuable content. The club’s HSV total! TV-channel is different from the club’s YouTube-channel. It is leveraged in collaboration with Deutsche Telekom and offers exclusive stories delivered as paid content. Some of the content goes to the YouTube-channel as well in a shorter version with a timing of a day or two later than it is provided on HSV total!.
The importance is to differentiate the content and in that regard, HSV has a set-up where Deutsche Telekom has exclusive commercial rights linked to HSV total!. Sometimes, free stories in a shorter version are provided via YouTube to promote important sporting features or social activities, which can be found exclusively in full length via HSV total!. I think that Danish clubs can learn from this by improving their ability to capitalize on such content, e.g. when the club holds the first interview with a new team coach or player or special ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories where the club visits a player at home or if the content integrates sponsorship content displayed when a player visits his ‘favorite’ restaurant in the city. To accompany this, special events are important. HSV has special events all over Germany to get in touch with fans and/or potential fans. From a learning perspective, it is notable that although Danish clubs have started to prioritize these elements there are still gaps to German clubs measured on resource allocation, which stems from the mindset in Danish clubs where it has not been usual procedure to fully acknowledge the meaning of investing in the administrative side of football. Danish football is on the right track at the moment but it still takes time to catch up with the years of not fully prioritizing these things in the board room or on managerial agendas. German football has been more proactive in that regard simply because it has been a professional business for so many years.
In professional sports, it is significant to look at the different phases that surround competitions. I believe highly in the commercial potential that is tied to what goes on before, during and after a sporting competition. To give an example, HSV is working on different ideas. The club does a lot concerning fan engagement but also admits that it has not completed what it wants to offer fans and that is a good standpoint to have because in business there is also an opportunity to optimize things (especially in the business of sports, which is so DYNAMIC). Thus, HSV is in the process of preparing HSV Campus, which is a facility that will be built close to the stadium. The complex will integrate training facilities and an academy but will also integrate a fan experience. Though, the regular German fans are very traditional in their approach to football spectatorship. Football is in the heart of fans in Germany for what reason clubs in the Bundesliga aim to enhance fan experiences at the stadium while still allowing room for fans to perform their consistent rituals before the games. The ‘football feeling’ is still the major part of German football fan culture but clubs are cognitive about the fact that it is also about optimizing factors like the show in the stadiums, a higher event quality in the area around the stadium and hospitality solutions, e.g. food & beverage experiences. Part of the plans for HSV’s new campus also entails the opportunity to host 2,000-3,000 fans before matches and the club hopes it will be completed in 2-3 years from now. But, there is a fine balance between what takes place on and off the pitch and German fans are not interested in football events turning into ‘big amusement parks’ as we see in the NFL. Therefore, the new campus will take these factors into consideration.
The Bundesliga has also done well when being evaluated on how it sells sponsorship exposure related to match-days. Now, focus is on optimizing sponsorship revenues away from match-days and the stadiums. This means that there is more intensive focus on areas like social media, apps, digital content and events. It is all about finding platforms that can integrate sponsors in a smart way so that the sponsors as well as the fans engaging with the clubs gain value. An example of working with sponsorships that seeks to optimize sponsorship ROIs and ROOs is HSV’s CSR-initiative der Hamburger Weg. That exemplifies what a Bundesliga club does to differentiate its commercial platforms and to obtain targeted reach via these actions. The Hamburger Weg is an isolated sponsorship package and is also meant to give current sponsors ‘added-value’ via improved activation opportunities, which is displayed when a current HSV-sponsor like Emirates joins the Hamburger Weg initiative. Thus, there is a combination of classic sponsorship and CSR-sponsorships.
A good way to engage with fans is also portrayed in the Bundesliga’s ability to maintain a great fan atmosphere in the stadiums. Partly, this has to do with the fact that there is a very passionate football culture in Germany but it is also influenced by the fact that the inflation of ticket prices has not exploded as we have seen it in the English Premier League. If you lose lower income fans that are often known for their passionate and die-hard connection to football it will have a negative impact on the atmosphere in the stadiums and the German clubs seek to keep that in mind. My point is that if you lose fan engagement, it may hurt your revenue streams in the years to come. To secure a healthy balance, some Bundesliga clubs have implemented dynamic pricing in the sense that they are strategic about charging premium prices at the VIP levels whereas prices are kept at a reasonable level in the lower end of price list to maintain the captivated stadium atmosphere. As an example of building a sound bridge with future fans, HSV does not offer all seats to season ticket holders simply to maintain the opportunity to connect with new fans. A few times per year, HSV also sends out special offers to segments, with which the club wants to engage, e.g. giving away free tickets to specific children’s groups to build fans for life.
The Bundesliga has prioritized brand development and that transfers to what individual clubs has done regarding brand development campaigns. HSV is aware of the fact that the club may have lost a little contact to the legends from the club’s successful time in the 80’s but the club knows that it must find a new and modern identity that boosts the club’s brand right now although the club does not want to erase the connection to the legends. The latter makes sense given the fact that the club’s proud traditions and heritage is rooted in the great performances of these players for what reason fans have a strong emotional bond with them. Right now, HSV works with a brand and corporate identity agency (MUTABOR) to implement some future-oriented and professional brand management processes and the current campaign ‘Nur der HSV’ is a product of this collaboration. The videos below reflect that emotional bond that HSV strives to build with the city, the region and its population and such emotional equity is important when seeking to optimize fan engagement. We have seen that in the Danish Super League as well when clubs like AaB, FC Midtjylland or Brøndby IF have implemented various initiatives like ‘Ta med på Opturen‘, ‘The Locals‘ or ‘Masterclass‘.
The Bundesliga and clubs like especially Bayern Munich but also Borussia Dortmund have all benefitted highly from the international success of German football in recent years whether that is measured on the ability to perform well in UEFA Champions League, at the national team level or in terms of developing new and strong individual stars like Mesut Özil, Manuel Neuer or Mario Götze. HSV knows that the club cannot currently compete with Munich or Dortmund but anyway the club must do what it can to accept offers to go abroad in collaboration with the Bundesliga, i.e. to travel when it is offered to go to Indonesia in 2014 or to Brazil in 2012. In that regard, it is also important for the HSV to be strategic about positioning the club in various interesting markets, e.g. South Korea before the club sold Son Heung-Min to Bayer Leverkusen. Denmark is also an interesting market for HSV and the match between Denmark and Brazil in Hamburg in 2012 was a chance for HSV to show Danish football fans its stadium in relation to a marquee event. There are still many Danish people who travel to Hamburg so such initiatives are very strategic.
Fan Engagement and spectators:
To put things into perspective, the photo below reveals the accumulated amount of live spectators for the games in the Danish Super League round for round this season. This should be measured against HSV’average amount of spectators per game this season (2013/2014) of approximately 51,000 (see also below for the 2012/2013).
Photo: Spectators in the Danish Super League, round for round (source: SuperStats)
Photo: HSV’s average amount of spectator per game per season – 2000/2001 – 2012/2013 (source: Statista)
Visiting HSV & looking into the business of the Bundesliga.