A short time ago, we had a blog post about converting your casual fans into hardcore fans. Essentially, what you want to do is to try to stand out as much as possible while exposing casual fans to what it's like being a hardcore fan. Today, we'd like to dive deeper into community engagement with casual fans to take them to the next level. Taking the right approach to cultivating a strong community is one of the best ways of growing your hardcore fan base.
Your Local Community
Football clubs are, first and foremost, a local attraction. Football clubs are physical establishments within a given space: they need a stadium to practice and play in, and players need to be close by to attend practice. This quality of football clubs may seem like a limitation, but it's a great starting point in reality. Locality is one of the main factors for determining fandom. In fact, as many as 60% of hardcore sports fans live within the same area as their team. Teams that are close to them have a very noticeable advantage compared to those that aren't when it comes to attracting them as hardcore fans.
This is why you should make sure that you are correctly managing your role as a local football club and your local community as a result. Your local community is the bedrock on which you will build fandom and following, and without it, there's little to no hope of extending your brand further in the future.
The first thing you should do is make sure that you are known on the local level. There are several ways you can do this, from something as simple as including your city's name in your club's name, to more complicated marketing and advertising strategies. Whatever you do, you want to connect your brand to whatever place you are located. Think of Manchester United. Their brand is so deeply connected to the city of Manchester that it's arguable that more people know of Manchester United than they do of Manchester the city. Ultimately, you want to aim to have your brand be one of the first things people associate with your town.
To do so, you must engage your local community. We glossed over it in the previous post, but giving back to your community is a fantastic way of extending your brand past the simple limits of weekly matches of football.
The primary way to do this is to promote not only your team but the game of football as a whole. Creating a local culture of loving football will work wonders for your brand in the long term. Overtime's Luka Pauk states that 50% of fans that played a sport from a young age are 50% more likely to become hardcore fans than fans that didn't play the game growing up. This means that it would be a good idea for a club to invest in youth football - organize clubs and matches for younger players, from children to young adults. If you can afford to, give these clubs access to your stadium from time to time. There's nothing quite like playing in your local football team's stadium as a kid to make you fall in love with the game - and your team will be at the center of that whole experience.
Make sure that your local fans feel taken care of. You should make them feel like they are the VIPs of the experience, and they are your "favorites" when it comes to football fans. Obviously, this means fine-tuning your stadium experience as much as possible, but this can go beyond stadium home games. Even when your team leaves town for an away game, you want to remind local fans that you are first and foremost a local team, and while the players may have gone to play a game, the team is very much still at home in spirit. This means organizing live viewing events at local sports bars or theatres and making an event out of an away game, in the same way you would for a home game. A before party, offering food and drinks, and an after-party to celebrate no matter the match's outcome. By doing this, you'll maintain your team's locality, even if the players aren't always playing locally.
Going Beyond Local
Even though securing your local presence within the community should be your top priority, you shouldn't limit yourself to that. With the amount of technology and instant means of communication we have at our disposal, there is no reason not to expand your brand beyond your hometown's spatial limits.
As implied, the most straightforward avenue to go beyond your local limits is by using the internet. Online media gives so many options for branding, and you can choose a number of them to follow. The good thing about online marketing is that it double dips: it engages both local fans and international fans.
The clearest one is having a strong social media strategy. If you build a healthy following on socials (probably starting with your local fans), then your brand will naturally expand outward over time, especially if you do things correctly.
However, social media isn't where it ends. There are many more options available to you, which you should be taking advantage of. Social media isn't always the best place to go when you're a hardcore fan. Social media posts are often cookie-cutter, generalist posts that appeal to a broader range of fans than hardcore fans would always like. Usually, posts are too short, too safe, and too dull for hardcore fans that are craving deep engagement.
A great place to fill this niche is long-form content. Most notably, podcasting is a great way to engage your hardcore fans on in-depth topics they want to discuss. Podcasting has several advantages. They're very non-committal in their consumption. You can easily do other things while listening to a podcast, work, study, work out, do chores, etc. This means that you don't have to be as concerned with your podcasts' length, given that people can consume them while doing other things simultaneously, so podcasts aren't treated as time sinks (unlike, say, long-form articles).
Another option would be to create a place for your fans to congregate, both casual and hardcore. This could be your official team website or an official team app that offers fans of all levels to interact with each other or with the club members themselves. This is also a fantastic way to engage them with content such as games, quizzes, and other interactive media, or offer them a simple way to get their hands on a team kit and take their fandom up a notch.
Remember that cultivating your hardcore fans' community will take time, so don't expect results right away. Keep things consistent, and stick to the plan, and over time you'll see your community grow more and more passionate about the game and your club.