Thanks to Eugene Burns for this very interesting and topical guest post. The two contrasting examples discussed by Eugene highlight the potential benefits, but also the risks, associated with fan empowerment in a social media age. As more and more football clubs, and sports organisations in general, begin to engage with social media important organisational and control issues need to be addressed. To what extent should fan criticism be accepted on official channels? How involved should fans be in managing these channels? Does the passion, loyalty and commitment of the ‘tribe’ make football and social media a ‘marriage made in heaven’ or in hell? We very much welcome your thoughts and feedback.
You can connect with Eugene on twitter @the_eriugena Thanks Eugene for a very interesting guest post. I am sure it will stimulate debate. Jim H
Last week it was reported that Arsenal fans are furious that their long-established forum ‘Your Arsenal’ is to close on July 18. The interest for the wider sporting community in this announcement is that the site is not an independently run fan forum, but an integral part of the official Arsenal.com site, run by fans for fans.
It appears that the much talked about trophy drought in the North London club caused a strong anti-Wenger backlash to surface and the forum to reflect that sentiment, so fans are crying censorship in the face of the club’s claim that the forum has simply been outgrown by more interactive public forums such as twitter.
Contrast this with the interactive fan experience launched by the New Jersey Devils, a professional ice hockey team in the United States, earlier this year. Mission Control is a digital command center specially outfitted with the latest in technology to bring fans closer to the team and uses social media to enhance the behind the scenes experience. The club claim it’s the first time a sports team has introduced a media monitoring initiative of this type run by fans with the full technical and financial support of the club’s owners.
As someone who writes a sports blog with a media focus, has a relatively popular twitter account and is involved in setting up a fan-based media network with a wider reach, these stories show the obvious benefits, and also the potential pitfalls, of fan hubs in our always on, always connected age.
Both Arsenal and the New Jersey Devils have shown trust in their own fans to deliver and monitor content on their official sites, and have given them the tools and the freedom to express opinions, to comment on the club, players, management and performance of the teams and often gain access to restricted areas usually reserved for the media.
Trust surely is a key element in the fan-club partnership, as the fans too have to place their trust in the integrity and commitment of the teams that they follow with passion and pride on a weekly basis and often for generations.
The trust shown by the New Jersey club is evident, although I suspect that this trust is quite carefully managed. Yet the apparent success of the Mission Control scheme really is something that all team owners and managers should be watching closely.
Trust your fans and they will deliver a much greater interactive experience for other fans and users of your media than any paid employee or third-party supplier could ever do. Fans bring a passion that simply cannot be bought, or artificially replicated.
In the Arsenal case the club’s trust in the fans seems to have diminished as their passion has turned against the club management, in the same measure as the fans have lost faith in the team to deliver the results their passion demands. The partnership and the trust have broken down.
Yet there is so much to be gained by a football club building truly meaningful and trusted partnerships with their own life-long fans. Marketing becomes easier and more successful because you know what your fans want, because they tell you. The end result is better marketing, stronger financial returns and eventually more on the field success.
The question then arises: who really owns a sporting team’s brand? The owner who bought a controlling interest in the club, the directors and the management team. Or the fans that place their trust and passion in that club and without whom the club would have little value at all?
Comments and feedback very welcome