Success means engagement that is more than technology

I’m a lucky ‘so ‘n’ so’. I have a black toy poodle, Chloe, with slight brown beard…she is so friendly and engaging and when I walk her, wearing a bright pink harness, she draws comments all the time. More than that, it gets me talking to range of people I’d otherwise never meet, and as some friends have noted I get into conversation with some quite attractive women who I’d otherwise not meet.  What’s this got to do with fan engagement…? Well, my Chloe experience is a lesson in fan engagement. The interactions are genuinely friendly, smiles and shows enjoyment (a yelp and tail-wagging is good sign), a pleasant after-taste, recognition the 2nd and 3rd times, no agenda, the wallet remains intact…it is a truly pleasurable and memorable experience.


There are many projects underway in Australia and globally to raise the level and quality of engagement in sport – fan engagement and sport participation project and experiments are being implemented across sports codes, events, event owners and venue operators who in turn compete for their venues to achieve top ranking public approval. Most fan engagement strategies involve significant application of new digital technologies and integration of social media. These in turn rely in various ways on smart ideas, clever marketing and extended reach via a range of channels, usually negotiated rather than owned – a veritable minefield.


Each has its potential in a rapidly changing arena with much competition for leisure time and disposable income. We strive to establish and enhance our own reputations. An interesting example of a sports start-up success is the Western Sydney Wanderers club, hastily formed just over a year ago by the Football Federation of Australia and already attracting international interest from potential buyers. How this club has built a solid and fervent fan base is quite remarkable.


Yet, in this market environment, one silly action can turn the dial back dramatically. Just as working hard to build a brand can be so easily undone by one unfortunate move. A recent scandal in Australia’s AFL over the administration of a performance enhancing program which involved banned supplements has loomed as one of those potential brand destroying actions.


The club at the centre of the AFL controversy is Melbourne-based Essendon, a team that has enjoyed exceptional loyalty from its 56,000 members. For many of these members, the club is the centre-piece of their lives. They demonstrate exceptional, deep support, loyalty and adulation for Essendon players and its senior executives, including those now disgraced over administering banned supplements. Among many, even now, all is forgiven; the carpet is already out welcoming the return of those who have been punished. Yet, these are crucial times for fan identity. It is a real crisis that goes to the roots and circles of association of those fans, members. 


There will be the inevitable loss of support, ie: members, falls in games attendances…who knows what the long term impact will be. This is uncharted territory for Aussie football and clubs. Essendon has lost 6 of its top management team in 6 months as well as being hit with this major scandal which was dealt with by a heavily negotiated settlement. There have been disqualifications. All this risks fracturing the bonds between the club and its members. The actions just reinforce the notion of no transparency and ‘lots to hide’ and fans don’t want to live with that.


In Asia, recent surveys demonstrate about 50 percent of consumers are unhappy with the level of service they receive when they go shopping. While it is the converted who attend sports fixtures and venues, it may well be that even among those converted a similar ratio of satisfaction and enjoyment prevails. This is not good news and adds strongly to the impetus for fans to look for alternative ways in which to share the fortunes of their teams and athletes, take in the excitement and engage with their clubs. In that equation, new technology, new ideas, new forms of entertainment and communicating one-to-one will be exceptionally important but surely there is more than that – think about Chloe.


A version of this artcle was published by iSportconnect in their newsletter – click here to see that version.

Eric Winton

Director, New Millennium Business

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