How to improve club performance
A good understanding of business methodologies and practices is essential for a club to survive and prosper. All club managers know this, but it bears repeating: football is a sport, but it is also a for-profit, branded business based on entertainment. The one side does not exist without the other.
This is clearly evident when you think of professional football today. Just look at the news, the TV, the internet. World renowned clubs, owned by wealthy patrons, dominate the news cycle with a constant streaming of matches and commentary, with their expensive star players, their international branding, and the power of global advertizing that funds them. All these major clubs have the finances and resources to successfully execute and deliver every aspect of football as a business. That, just as much as the players, is what makes them great.
The successful business performance these top clubs have mastered is the biggest challenge smaller clubs face, because their dominance over public interest – and the fanbase – is starving them of audience. Remember, audience and fanbase is the root from which all income is derived, especially when you think of sponsors and advertizers.
The opportunity to create, manage and grow a fanbase is increasingly difficult and getting more so. This is as true at the stadium as it is on-line. What will the future of non-Premier clubs be? Everyone knows that smaller clubs have to survive and be successful so that the industry as a whole prospers. Saying that and doing that are two separate things. Big or small, all clubs must get by on their own merits.
How to survive and profit from what’s happening in the world of football and sport? Here are seven basic steps to be aware of and to action.
Football is a business, not a hobby
As with any other business facing wrenching changes like those in the sports industry, the fist thing to understand is that, like it or not, a club is a business that is part of an industry. Wrong choices and right choices made too late can, will and do cripple any business. In the sports industry everything is in flux right now, so the risks are much higher. If a club’s management don’t get that, then only a rich and constantly generous patron, or a tremendous stroke of luck, like that multi million transfer, will save the club.
Know where you are going and how to get there
Management must develop a true business plan and model that shows them where, in the future, opportunities, challenges and risks lie. The plan is a much more solid basis for everyone involved. The model is more than a budget; it is the source for the budget, and it is dynamic (i.e. it changes through time). A properly prepared multi-year plan and model helps you pitch the club to investors, to partners, to sponsors and to advertizers, because it shows them where you are going and how you will get there. Creating such a plan helps define strategy, details the actions needed to take to achieve club objectives, the resources needed to make those actions happen, and the funding budget (yes, it always comes down to money) to have the right resources needed to execute actions effectively, efficiently and economically.
Action both sides of the business
You know how to develop and train and make winners of the players. Otherwise you wouldn’t be a functioning club in the first place. But what about the other side of the business? How do you create, manage and grow your brand and fanbase? Where does marketing and promotion come in? How do you leverage the many ways of communicating with people? Where does income come from? Where could it come from? Could it be more and/or better? Look outside the box! What needs to be done to make that happen? Who makes all that happen? How do you organize ourselves as a team off the pitch to deliver and win, just like you do on the pitch?
Focus on building a brand
Yes, absolutely the cornerstone of the brand is winning matches. (Though some sports clubs in the USA have become famous for never quite winning, but that’s another story.) A brand is essentially a short-cut way of saying “buy us because you know what you are getting”. That’s what makes CocaCola so famous. Fans want a winner, and they want to be told they are backing a winner. The brand has to be yours, not a copy of someone else’s. Copy another brand and you are doing them a favor, not yourselves. Build a brand based on professionalism on and off the field, honesty and trust with public and business audiences. It takes a long time to build a good brand, an instant to wreck it, and an incredibly long time to build it back again. Don’t wreck it. Simple.
Market to Audiences
This is all about marketing to audiences. The flow of branded content to existing and targeted audiences has to be constant, consistent and of both ‘informal’ and high quality. Posts, articles, interviews, photos, videos, competitions, you name it. Nowadays that more than just press announcement and articles, this means daily interest items posted to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc. It also means having a central hub where audiences can easily see more information about the club. In other words a properly branded Website and/or App, not just a Facebook Page. Why? Because you want to engage people in a more structured way, leverage offerings, promote sponsors, get them to sign up for something. It constantly amazes me how many clubs still don’t have a robust, up to date and content driven website and/or app, when it is so important in building brand value. Not doing, running and updating social media, website and/or app together, is a big drag on growing brand awareness.
Sell the Brand
Sell physical things that have the logo blazoned on them. Nowadays online stores that do not require you hold stock can be incorporated into the branded website (yes, you need it for that too). You can even have a store associated with your Facebook Page, but with them, at least for the moment, you must have stock. Find local and national retail points, because you want, will and should have fans everywhere in your home country. Create a Club App for fans, and charge them a small monthly for it. Extend it to cover Membership and you can charge more. Promoting the brand helps sell the brand. Selling the brand helps put more money into promoting it. This is a virtuous circle, not a cost.
Look for partners, sponsors and advertizers
Familiar territory, of course. Most clubs have resources handling this. Across countries I am seeing a growing number of tie-ups, affiliations and partnerships between clubs and other clubs, clubs and training schools etc. For one side in the deal, these relationships are about covering the costs of development and in better coaching, for the other it is about acquiring good talent at an early stage for a lower then market fee. Both sides also leverage the deal to grow brand awareness. Sponsoring (giving or financially supporting something in exchange for publicity) and advertizing (paying money for publicity) are well known. What I see is that neither are maximized as they could be, because very often a club is so focused on its playing activities and the classic ways of signing up sponsors and advertisers it overlooks many other opportunities now available. How can you flip a deal around so that they advertize the club too? The income stream from sponsorships and advertising depends on the club’s brand value – so you see everything is connected.
and number 8: reach out for support when you need it
Please eMail or call me directly if you would like to talk to us about how we can help you improve your club’s performance.
Head of International Affairs
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