Irish Sports fans are renowned for being amongst the best, in the world. The true power of their fandom can span industries and is evidenced right now, Zombie, a 24-year-old song by Irish group The Cranberries has reached number 1 in the Apple iTunes charts on the back of the Irish Rugby Team’s recent tournament successes.
It is true to say that sport truly captures the hearts and minds of the Irish. And this isn’t something new, in 2016, The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland football fans are received an award, the ‘Grand Vermeil’, from the then mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo for their “exemplary sportsmanship” during the Euros and garnered praise from sporting bodies but also from the French public – with videos of them singing lullabies to babies, serenading a delighted French lady, and changing a stranger’s car tyre going viral.
Just imagine for a second, making a product that frequently lets its customers down, a product which can cause grown mean to cry real tears in anguish, and has intensely loyal customers who stick with it year after year, and generation after generation… That’s what sports clubs have.
There is a key difference between consumer loyalty and sports fan loyalty whereby, usually the customer needs to remain satisfied in order to continue the relationship, whereas in sports fan loyalty, disappointment and dissatisfaction are part of the pleasure in the experience.
Sport is not just a source of intense dedication – it’s also a great equaliser; appealing to children, their parents, and their grandparents, across gender and ethnic lines, and even traversing financial demographics, like no other medium can, for examples, bankers and blue-collar workers share space in the same sports terraces every weekend.
Sports dedication truly is a law of its own. “Some people think football is a matter of life and death,” legendary Liverpool Manager Bill Shankly once said, “I can assure you, it’s much more serious than that”.
From a Loyalty perspective, sports clubs are the envy of industries across the globe – they have the most loyal fans in the world. So, is it any wonder that they are leaders in true Loyalty innovation?
So how do sports clubs, and other companies, make the most of this incredibly powerful, lifelong dedication that fans around the world have?
And how are they continually exceeding their fans expectations – and driving continued and even deeper loyalty?
Emotional season tickets
Let’s look at how to encourage existing fans to stay ‘loyal’ through sports brand loyalty.
We all can acknowledge that not every fan can be a season ticket holder of their beloved football club – Manchester United for example – has millions of fans beyond Manchester and indeed the UK.
Many years ago, sports fandom was simply attending sports grounds or watching matches on the TV. Now, fans engage in online discussions in real-time, follow transfer and team news in-app and watch team TV stations and podcasts dedicated to a sport or indeed an individual club.
Fan clubs are almost as old as sport itself. But they’ve become so much more sophisticated in recent years and continue to innovate and cultivate a real culture and community – just look at the rise in fantasy sports clubs!
For instance, the Chelsea Supporters Club which is in the middle of a user experience overhaul has a number of Loyalty Tiers. It’s free membership gives everyone access to offers, newsletters and exclusive competitions – which truly strengthens the emotional connection between the club and its fans. Then for their paid tiers members gain access to exclusive on demand content, match programmes and match ticket pre-sales.
Chelsea Fan Club members can accumulate Chelsea Reward Points which are redeemable at the club’s online store, sports grounds and beyond. These points aren’t just transaction based – they’re also rewarded for engaging with the brand – with interactions such s logging into the website daily, sharing content to their social media platforms and more – all designed to drive what we at Chilli Pepper call the Holy Grail of Loyalty – Participation!
Further afield, in Canada, the Winnipeg Jets hockey team offers deeper rewards to its members. Getting to games early, shopping at merchandise stands and investing in a season seat are some of the ways to earn points. And these points can be redeemed on almost anything – watching the team warm up from the team bench, VIP trips and NHL events.
It’s an established Loyalty Programme, but according to Jim Ludlow, President & CEO of True North Sports & Entertainment, “a truly leading edge Programme for us that will benefit and appeal to all Season Seat Holders, Wait List Members and Registered Share Partners.” The Programme’s north star was to reward and thank these fans for their passion and unwavering loyalty.
What’s so incredible with both of these Loyalty Programme/Club examples is the incredible amount of fan data which is unlocked from such Programmes. They enable a club to track each and every match day attendance, online purchase and participating sports outlets. These Loyalty Programmes have the power to inform their teams of the most popular merchandise, which competitive matches generate the most social media buzz or web traffic and even how far fans are willing to travel to watch their favourite team play & absorb the incredible match day atmosphere.
Nurturing sport year round
Loyalty Programmes help to maintain interest in a club all year round, keeping interest and this feeling of community through newsletters, competitions, previews and even when the home venue is used for non-sporting purposes. For example, American ice hocky team, the Panthers, inform fans of musical gigs/events that are happening in their stadium off-season.
Sports fandom is a strange, but truly wonderful phenomenon. Recent years have shown the new ways that clubs have strengthened their bond with fans, deepened their relationship and funnelled that passion into new and innovative ideas.
The AS Roma Fan Token and has won awards for its ingenuity and sincerity by rewarding AS Roma fans with special benefits for being part of their Loyalty Programme. Members can use their Tokens to influence and vote in club-related decisions. The more a fan engages and interacts with the club, the more tokens & ultimately say they have in their club. Talk about listening to your fans!