Fan engagement has never been more important for leading football clubs whose support now ranges far beyond their immediate locale, with numbers reaching into the hundreds of millions – and presenting a significant commercial opportunity.

Big, tier-one football clubs typically reach up to 500 million fans around the world, according to Adam Field, head of global fan engagement at Chelsea FC. Many of those will be “passive” fans, but Chelsea itself has around 100 million fans actively connected to the club in some way through its various channels.

It is a major challenge to communicate at scale but still have an impact with individuals, Field told the recent Digital Transformation Conference in London. And it’s something that clubs can’t afford to ignore in the digital age, when both organisations and players are so exposed through social media.

“And then, fans have opinions – and that’s dangerous when you’ve got global platforms like Twitter and Instagram, whereby people can put out a point of view, right or wrong, cultivate an audience around that point of view, right or wrong, and elevate an argument that can be detrimental to the club.”

It’s “critical” to be proactive in this space, he stated, but that that doesn’t mean policing comments and having to mitigate against bad comments. “It’s about understanding what is happening in the world around us and ensuring that we are a step ahead of that.”

Chelsea also looks at how it can engage fans beyond the world of football – and recruit new fans as well – by partnering with artists and brands in sectors like gaming and music, travel and health. (For more details, read WARC’s report: Why Chelsea FC thinks about football outside the world of football.)

Further north, Everton FC understands that fan engagement is hugely important to loyalty. When it changed how it segments its fans, moving away from a simple demographic approach to a more nuanced attitudinal one, it found that everyone, from hardcore local supporter to the isolated fan in a faraway continent, wants to feel like they are part of the club and not just a customer.

Accordingly it has involved them in everything from kit design to the planning of a new stadium. (For more details, read WARC’s report: How Everton understands football fan archetypes.)

And, in a nice touch, it makes a big fuss of young fans when they attend their first game, with a goody bag on their seat when they arrive, an invitation to play on the pitch and an opportunity to meet at least one first-team player before the match.

Sourced from WARC