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Fan relationship management is key in professional sports – looking at the PARTICIPATION touchpoint

Sports entities and fans MUST join forces to create the right passionate atmosphere around ‘sports brand experiences’. This element of fan relationship management is a crucial element and a ‘brand revitalizer’ when it comes to reaching sports fans and to benefit financially from achieving this objective.

There are different motivational factors for attending sport events. According to some research, some of the motivational factors linked to sports event participation ands sports fandom include include eustress, self-esteem, escape, entertainment, economic, aesthetic, group affiliation, and family needs” (Wann, 1995, p. 377). A vital element associated with these factors may be PARTICIPATION. For years, sports entities have taken advantage of the established touchpoint, which stems from people’s participation in sports. Participation mirrors an original link between a sports entity (this may also be true for non-sport brands, which want to apply ‘sport as a marketing vehicle’) and a fan. Hence, participation in a given sport adds informative and favorable aspects to ‘fan relationship management’, i.e. football is a universal language. The latter refers to how football (soccer) clubs have utilized the ‘emotional equity’ of the game, which is attached to participating members of the football community, e.g. this is illustrated in terms of how football branding is integrated in club activities like football schools, community departments, foundations, fantasy games, and partnerships/collaborative clubs.

Football clubs and other sports entities have strategically focused on reaching young fans. At this stage in time, this segment is very interesting due to the fact that they still have enough time and physical power to participate in the specific sport. This is especially relevant for sports like football, American football, rugby, or handball – all very physical demanding sports. It may be different for sports such as golf or tennis, which tend to be easier to play when you are older (of course this is relative). Participation also leads to ‘consumption culture’ and ‘cultural patterns’ associated with different subcultural groups, i.e. golf and tennis are highly linked to the business world whereas football (soccer) is very penetrating in many societies, e.g. in Denmark where the majority of kids have to deal with the sport in school, in a local club or later in life because it such a ‘piercing’ sport in the Danish society that companies and other organizations outside the ‘official football world’ take part in the sport (company sports, social gatherings in the park etc.). This leads to important revenue streams for the sports entities. For instance, parents may buy football kits and other merchandise to their infants – one of my friends had a baby the other day and his daughter already wears a FC Barcelona outfit. This is just one example of why sports entities should pay closely attention to what lies behind a sport’s popularity at the fan level.

Keeping these example in mind, it also bears much meaning to emphasize that there is more to participation than the physical ability to ‘throw the perfect touchdown pass’, to ‘shoot the ball like David Beckham, or to ‘play handball with aesthetic grace’ like Anja Andersen. Due to technological evolvement, video games and fantasy sports also play a role in terms of fan relationship management. Participation in this area of sports offers another touchpoint meant to create interest and learning for fans. It is a substitute for the physical world and it has become quite realistic given the modern technology available today.

As you can see in this post, which is focused on PARTICIPATION as a key touchpoint, knowledge about sports fan experiences present a way for sports entities to work strategically with the objective of founding and securing a long-terms fan base. For that reason, these experiences are highly associated with the venue management and what venues have to provide in relation to the creation of the sports fan experience (Real Madrid’s investment in technology at Santiago Bernabeu is an example and the same goes for the development in TD Garden in Boston).

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Photo: TD Garden in Boston – investment in a high-scale entertainment-minded arena (source: TD Garden web site).

Sports entities should also consider the fact that good participation rates not necessarily lead to good revenue streams, e.g. women’s football (soccer) in Denmark. Though, when linking with fans, research has shown that good levels of fan identification often leads to a situation where fans are more willing to exhibit the sponsorship offerings tied to the sports entity (Gwinner & Swanson, 2003), i.e. competent fan relationship management is associated with positive spill-over effects (brand transfers, ROIs etc.).

Additional inspiration:

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Gwinner, K., & Swanson, S. R. (2003). A model of fan identification: antecedents and sponsorship outcomes. Journal of services marketing, 17(3), 275-294.

Wann, D. L. (1995). Preliminary validation of the sport fan motivation scale. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 19(4), 377-396.

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