FAU researcher examines how football clubs inspire fan loyalty
What makes football fans loyal to their club and how do they see the increasing globalisation of the football industry? Daniel Maderer of FAU’s Department of International Management examines this in his latest study. The first results have been published recently.
Football is big business. Sponsorship deals, ticket sales, merchandising, TV broadcasting rights – the money comes from a multitude of sources. Football clubs have become football companies, but without a loyal fan base, there wouldn’t be any success stories to tell. Just like other big companies, successful football clubs try to open up markets abroad, i.e. to win new fans. For instance, many English clubs tour through strategically important markets in Asia during the preparation phase, while the French Super Cup takes place in the US and the Italian Super Cup is held in China. Which strategies for winning fans are especially efficient is something Maderer wants to find out with his study.
He interviewed more than 10,000 fans in Europe, North and South America and Asia. The goal of this study is to compare the attitudes of fans in already developed football markets such as England, Germany or Spain with the attitudes of fans in markets that are still developing, such as the US, China and India. Maderer is interested in whether brand loyalty in both groups is based on the same criteria and how fan markets abroad can be opened up without neglecting the fan base at home.
The collected data give insights into what gives a club its unique character that helps it to draw and retain fans. For instance, the logo is important for the club’s recognisability according to fans in all surveyed countries. A new logo would therefore presumably have negative consequences for the club’s rapport with fans. The Malaysian owner of the British Premier League club Cardiff City, Vincent Tan, for instance, changed the club colour from blue to red and had a dragon instead of a bird adorn the logo in order to better market the club in Asia. However, this led to fierce protests from domestic fans.
German fans are generally sceptical of globalisation
German fans, according to the results of the survey so far, have a significantly more negative attitude towards the globalisation of football than fans from other countries. German fans are mostly interested in the German league, domestic clubs and especially their ‘own’ club. They prefer to watch matches with domestic clubs and players. Fan friendships with foreign teams, international fame and contracts with foreign sponsors are things the German fans consider to be less important than, for instance, their Italian and Spanish counterparts.
Most fans worldwide welcome club websites in several languages in order to address fans abroad. However, there are also internationalisation strategies employed by football clubs that fans in the established football nations generally reject. For example, there is hardly any approval among fans for changing kick-off times to facilitate broadcasts in other time zones; likewise, fans are not keen on important league matches taking place abroad. Of course, the fans in new markets see this quite differently, as they, too, would like to see live broadcasts of the matches of Bayern München or Manchester United during the day. Fewer fans from Germany than from any other surveyed country liked to watch preparation matches abroad.
But not only differences between countries were examined in the study. A comparison of German fans, for example, showed that fans of the German top clubs, such as Bayern München or Borussia Dortmund, have significantly more positive attitudes towards the globalisation of football than the fans of the smaller German clubs.
Just as in regular companies, one of the central challenges of internationalisation in football clubs is finding a balance between globalisation and national adjustment. Now the ball is in the court of football clubs as well as football associations to reach satellite fans on the one hand and to retain local fans on the other. Maderer’s study aims to help them reconcile the two.