In the last year, we’ve held focus groups with fans of four professional football clubs.
From the outset, we cast the net wide to ensure feedback was coming from a range of fans spanning each club’s supporter base.
From the creators of unofficial fan sites and season ticket holders, to occasional match goers and those who watch from afar, we were able to capture a comprehensive view of the attitudes and perceptions around each club’s site.
We spoke to fans with varying levels of digital knowledge too - some worked in our industry and others were more infrequent users of online channels.
The sessions led to passionate, yet constructive feedback about fans’ expectations, hopes and frustrations for the digital presence offered by their club. While some of the feedback differed from club-to-club, there were several common themes:
1. Fans want more behind-the-scenes access
At each focus group, the same message came through loud and clear: fans want more access to what happens within the club on a day-to-day basis. Essentially, they are hungry for insight that they are unable to get from other news sites.
For example, access to the club’s training ground to better understand how their club prepares for a match.
Naturally, clubs want to keep some things private and training facilities are often at the top of that list. However, increasing transparency and being more open about the club can build strong ties with fans.
Wherever possible, clubs need to showcase to fans that they are about much more than just the 90-minutes on the pitch - and in doing so, they are likely to be in a much better position to be able to use this content as a lure to attract fans back to official club channels
For example, clubs should be using video to show the arrival of a new player. Not only does this create shareable content, but also it supports in building excitement and generating positive fan sentiment - both of which can be influential in merchandise and ticket sales.
2. Fans want the club to own its news
One of the biggest frustrations amongst fans and their club’s use of digital is how late they can be in announcing their own big news.
Most fans recognise that clubs are in no position to comment on rumours. However, delays in officially unveiling a new signing can often annoy - especially if sources on social media or media outlets like Sky or BBC are the first to confirm the arrival.
Clubs are naturally bound by rules that other media sites are not. They also have to manage the risks attached to announcing a new player too soon, which can cause embarrassment and negative fan reaction if the deal subsequently falls through.
However, clubs are in a unique position to offer something media juggernauts like Sky and BBC are unable to, and can go into more depth than any other media outlet.
They have access to their own players, which means creating and sharing strong content that enriches the story - while it’s still ‘hot’ - can be a great way of alleviating the frustrations and building positive engagement.
3. Fans want content everywhere
The club website is a vital channel for communicating with fans and growing revenue. But the number of digital touchpoints being used by fans to stay up-to-date on club news has grown - and continues to grow.
One of the common threads of our fan focus groups has been the need to serve up great content across all of those touch points to ensure they never miss out on the latest information.
It’s an easy demand to meet, but clubs must decide whether to provide content in full in-feed, or as a taster to drive fans back to the main website.
Fans will inevitably crave the former, but ultimately a club’s longer term strategy should strike the right balance between the two to maximise engagement and commercial opportunity.
4. Fans want to feel part of the action, wherever they are
Not every fan can make the big game. Some of the fans we interviewed had other commitments, many lacked the means, whilst others were based on the other side of the world.
No matter what the reason for their absence, they all shared a common desire to still feel connected to the club on a match day and believed more could be done to bring that to life online.
From the point the squad meets up, to the final whistle and beyond, there are opportunities for clubs to use videos, Vines, photography, text, stats, polls and more to reach, connect and engage their fans.
By telling the story of the day and offering the chance to interact, clubs can ensure fans feel part of their club wherever they are, making them more inclined to buy tickets or merchandise in the future.
5. Fans want to feel like they’re valued as individuals
One of the most consistent messages during our focus groups was of not wanting to feel like just another customer.
The more frequent web users in our groups were already familiar with the concept of personalisation and have come to expect it as part of a modern digital experience.
The technology exists for clubs to build a comprehensive profile of each fan and create tailored communications that makes their experience a relevant and rewarding one.
Commercially, this could include offering multi-game ticket bundles to a non-season ticket holder with a previous booking history, or promoting the latest away kit to someone who already has the home.
It could also be used to tailor editorial content based on the types of information individual fans like to read or engage with.
Rippleffect has worked in football for 15 years and is one half of the longest digital partnership in the sport. We are trusted by some of the UK's biggest clubs, including Arsenal, Aston Villa, Everton, Liverpool, Stoke City and Swansea City.