First thing's first: what makes a casual fan different from a hardcore fan? A casual fan is someone who cares about the sport and watches it but isn't too invested. They may tune in to the game once per week, or maybe once every few weeks when there's a big game, and other than that, football isn't a big part of their life. The casual fan probably (but not certainly) has a favorite team they root for, but it's a very superficial kind of support. They're unlikely to attend games in a stadium, and they might buy a jersey… maybe.
It sounds pretty disappointing, doesn't it? Well, the truth is that most football fans are casual fans of the sport. Given how gigantic football is in terms of popularity, anyone from across the globe, who's got a tv, has watched at least a game or two. Over 4 billion people tuned into the Premier League at some point in 2019 - tuned in. They weren't all following the Premier League, watching every minute of every match, but all watched at least a minute of the broadcast. That's casual fans.
Hardcore fans are much more engaged than casual fans. They live and breathe football. They religiously follow their favorite teams and players, never missing a game. They purchase every season's new jersey. They buy tickets to watch games live whenever they can. They check sports news sites to stay on top of everything. They watch analysis and commentary closely. They follow every club, player, and journalist on Twitter. They like every single selfie Ronaldo posts on his Instagram. That's a hardcore fan.
On the surface, hardcore fans are what every club tends to service as their primary target audience, but it's the causal fans they really want to entice and convert. Casual fans are actually quite critical to a team's success. These are potential new ticket purchasers and eyeballs for the televised games. The hope, is that teams can find a way to bring them into the fold and move them up the fandom ladder. This is the ultimate goal of a franchise; find how to turn your casual fans into hardcore fans.
Expose them to hardcore fandom
The first step to gaining more hardcore fans is to show your casual fans what being a core fan is all about. You want to expose casual fans to your franchise as much as possible. Some strategies you can adopt are:
- Make them aware of you. Pump yourself up, especially on the local level. Local casual fans are the easiest to attract, since proximity works to your advantage, especially when compared to other clubs. You can spend money on local advertising, or hold events that aren't just matches to get more outsiders or casual fans to learn about your club and see what you're about.
- Getting them into the stadium. A stadium experience can really change a casual fan's outlook on the game. Getting them into your stadium and showing them the live experience is one of the best ways to get them more invested in the game and your team. Make sure to promote games and ticket sales as much as possible - sometimes casual fans don't know there's a game happening until it's live on TV. You need to make them aware of the game in advance if you want them to buy a ticket. You can also offer tickets at promotional rates, especially if you're already not selling out, to attract people that were maybe on the fence because of ticket prices.
- Promoting your social media. Ensure that your social media handles are always displayed, so that casual fans know where to go if they're interested. You should be adding these into your ads, in your stadium, on your website, and anywhere you can appropriately fit it. You can also encourage engagement on your social media accounts so that your current followers expose your account to their own followers. Live-tweeting is a great place to start.
- Hyping the right things. Is there a crucial match coming up? Make sure you're making it as well-known as you can. Do you have a standout star player who carries every game and is highly marketable? Turn him into the face of your team. You can strategically choose what elements of your franchise casual fans will be exposed to, and if you choose the right one, you'll have a better shot at reeling them in.
Exposing casual fans to your brand is a lot of work, but it isn't enough. You need to make sure that your brand is worth following. The best way to do this is to distinguish yourself from the boring idea of a football club casual fans probably have.
Of course, the most obvious way to do this is through social media. You want to have a personalized brand that fans, both casual and hardcore, can identify with and enjoy, beyond only playing football. You can even encourage your players to personalize their social media.
A personalized brand doesn't end on social media, however. You want to aim for that same personalized experience in all areas, whether on social media or the field. You can team up with influencers to become brand ambassadors, like with Drake and the Toronto Raptors. Both are local, both widely popular, and the cherry on top is that Drake attends every Raptors game. Getting these social media influencers into the stadium (and putting some spotlight on it) is a great way to show that your social media brand isn't just for Twitter followers.
Capturing your local audience should be your number one priority. Casual fans from outside your local area can come later - locals are more reliable as hardcore fans, since rooting for your hometown team is something you can count on. You can organize local community activities to stand out as a local presence within your area. If you go outside of just playing the game of football, odds are more people will know your franchise and will be more likely to support it.
Give back to the community
You don't want to make all your efforts just look like sleazy marketing schemes to get ticket sales, jersey orders, and some retweets. Having an appealing brand is one thing, but you don't want to treat your hardcore fans like a statistic. If casual fans see that hardcore fans are just another drop in the bucket, then they won't see the value in investing themselves more than they already have. Try to have a more individualistic approach to your fans. You can keep track of who buys tickets and how often they do - if it's a first-time buyer (probably a casual fan), give them a special treat (either at the stadium or a special offer by email). If its a regular stadium attendee (so, a hardcore fan), give them something special too - maybe a fun little penalty shot with one of your players, the opportunities are endless. You want to reward casual fans and hardcore fans so that no one feels left out, and everyone wants to join in on the fun.