Beech, J., Chadwick, S., and Tapp, A. (2000) 'Surfing in the premier league: key issues for football club marketers using the Internet', Managing Leisure, 5 (2): 51 — 64.

Sports clubs are increasingly using [what the authors call the] net, but they often under utilise their sites.  This is probably not just the result of technical problems, but rather old marketing techniques.  There are some good examples though, above all with American sports clubs, who commonly feature pages for fans (featuring simulations, keep fit tips and buddy pages).  Those sites are much better integrated into marketing strategies, and feature information on pricing, various promotions, links to sponsors and so on.  Football clubs in the UK need to do this as well.  Sports fans do use the net and they want to identify with their teens, and they have an unusual intensity of brand loyalty.  There is some potential for interactivity to develop this brand loyalty.  Opportunities include a chance to do more online secure tickets selling, to offer walkthroughs video clips or even live action.  Sites could provide information on fixtures, player profiles, details about sponsors, quick updates, and online chat.  Getting surfers to sign in would mean there was a chance to track them and build up a customer database.  It would be possible to engage a range of fans, browsers as well as the committed, and thus to build a fan base.  Virtual marketing would be required, however based on information and interactivity.  It would be possible to further segment the market.  Generally, football clubs need to add value to the actual commodities that the cell, using multimedia and multi sensory devices.  Electronic Marketing will also reduce the cost of physical sales and marketing.  It would open up access to those who cannot attend, including dispersed fans.  The only problem is that computers tend to be dominated by white males, and there might be some initial conservatism.  Virtual marketeers would face a challenge to first of all provide and then compete.  They might wish to promote websites through existing networks and stadiums.  In general, they should deliver a sense of stake holding, and empower fans. [All rather interesting, and this should be a good read for those designing sites for universities and colleges as well, but the authors are right in the middle of a couple of tricky issues, concerning the nature of virtual fans—see Guilanotti –who tend to be more fickle and instrumental, and there is the whole disenchantment issue].

The existing websites of premier clubs were analysed over a five month period 1998 to 99 [well out of date by now then].  The sites were more complex than they had realized.  Eight regular viewers known to the authors were recruited to code the content using a standard pro forma with 31 questions and six headings [presumably as in the table of findings on p.56].  The authors resolved any incompatibilities and did random checks [a really feeble research design then, especially if they are going to generalise, as they do about fans].  They found:

Four clubs have no information about ticket sales and only two let fans buy them online.  There was more effort put into merchandising.  This might be because clubs wish to manage ticket sales from match to match, or perhaps to restrict them to loyal fans [the first tension between loyal fans and TV fans?]

Merchandising was more common, but there was some detailed variation

Corporate hospitality was advertised for all but three clubs

Few clubs offered affinity cards, but this seemed to be growing

Some clubs offered domain names and screensavers, but had a curious marketing strategy in hoping that screensavers would annoy rival fans

There was some information for supporters in the form of club news, news about players fixtures and match reports, away travel details and the club’s history: the latter tended to be ‘terse’,

Unrealised possibilities including the use of cookies, gathering information directly and indirectly and providing feedback.  Only a few clubs had click of all links to outside organisations.  Only seven promoted community or junior activities.  There were connections with other products including the products of sponsors, but this was not very systematic.  When it came to ownership, clubs ‘were generally shy’ (58).  10 clubs promoted supporters’ organisations, and all but six offered chat rooms; all but eight provided live audio links. Only 12 clubs mentioned their sponsors, and, ‘in several cases’ it was not even clear who the sponsor was.  Although Carling sponsored the premier league that year, only seven clubs mention them.

Overall, clubs were not meeting the needs of fans, there were lots of incomplete sections or errors, slow downloads, unstructured pages.  Sites faced competition from unofficial [they noticed those at last!].  There was a growing trend to offer a standardised websites using a company called Planet Football [what happened to them?] [Note lots of generalisations about fans, based on eight reviewers!]

So [and this section is called ‘observations’!].  All the clubs seem to have sites and they do provide for quite a lot of access, according to site counters [remember them?].  However, Internet Marketing has been little studied, it tends to be poorly developed and not linked to marketing in general.  UK clubs could learn from American ones about adding value and not just duplicating non electronic content [and so could UK universities!] Clubs seem to have a limited idea of marketing, seeing it as raising revenue rather than adding to experience [ah yes, the experience economy and all the disenchantment it brings with it].

Clubs tend to be Anglo centric and even local [that tension between real fans and virtual fans again].  They should consider both fragmenting the market, but above all tracking their visitors to build up databases.  They should attempt to encourage engagement to rather than just providing information.  At the moment, unofficial sites do better, and offer live broadcasts, e-mail updates, chat rooms and even video highlights.  Why should a club offer a professional site?  [Quite so—there is no commercial agenda with fan sites, and they’re always going to be better able to communicate with real fans].  What football clubs failed to realise is that the net can empower ‘both the supporterf/customer and the club itself] (62).

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