I recently came across a great interview conducted by 10.fi with hockey team HIFK’s managing director Jukka Valtanen (text in Finnish) which discussed a wide range of topics ranging from the importance of community, communication and overall thoughts on marketing strategy. I can’t recommend this text enough, so be sure to check it out – I’ll also leave a link to the interview at the end of this text.
As you can probably guess from the title of this text, this blog post will bring forth some thoughts on the importance of understanding and engaging the community from a sports business perspective.
In the interview mentioned above, Valtanen is transparent with some of the lessons HIFK and he has learned over the years. Whilst discussing the aspect of marketing, I found one quote which in my opinion was completely spot on (and very much in line with what Anchor tends to focus on with its clients when discussing marketing). Roughly translated the quote was “…If ones approach to advertising is to bring in new people, you will end up losing money. It is enough for us to activate our own people”.
Now, naturally sports marketing has to be able to cater to a large demographic, as sport has an ability to engage and touch people in many ways most other things can’t, but Valtanen touched upon one of the most important parts when it comes to communication, namely resonating with the people already interested in the organisation. Building a strong community around your organisation is one of the keys to developing ones marketing and overall message to a wider audience. It has to start from within. If the core group of supporters, be it a more hardcore or casual supporter base (or even both), are engaged – it can have great effects on the interest a team can generate outside its core audience.
"It's enough for us to activate our own people”.
So how does an organisation engage its community or say develop the organisation to match that what might be expected from a modern sports team when it comes to communication? Again, it comes down to activating ones own people – the community. But where to start?
Well, the first step is naturally to address the organisation’s need to understand what drives its audience and what the audience’s interests and possible wants are. I’ve been surprised to learn that quite a few Nordic sports teams have never properly made an effort to actually analyse/examine what it is with their organisation that makes their fans support them. Sure, being a local team in a city in which you have a history of being “the team” is one answer which an organisation can use to explain why people follow them, but let’s face it – that’s hardly an answer that gives you much insight.
The easiest and most cost-efficient way to understand an organisation’s core audience is by talking with the fans. An organisation can gain highly valuable insight in its fanbase by e.g. having season ticket holders take a survey about different aspects of the organisation. A common misconception here is that an organisation needs a huge marketing team to actually improve its communication, but that is hardly the case. With a properly well thought out survey tailored to answer these questions (e.g. Anchor’s tailored Organisational Analysis), an organisation can tap into the key drivers of the fanbase which helps in developing potential content and also helps the organisation tailor its communication to suit the fanbase in a better way.
Also, let’s not forget that properly understanding your audience makes it easier for an organisation to attract potential sponsors and develop longer lasting commercial partnerships, as it makes it easier to tailor ones offering to suit the needs of an interested sponsor, but more on that in a later blog post.
People naturally want to be around cool things, and while being “cool” can definitely help when trying to attract new fans – I’d argue that strictly focusing on exclusively trying to communicate “cool” things is both
a) exhausting from a content creation perspective; and
b) probably not the sole reason why a fanbase stays loyal (or people becoming fans in the first place).
I’d argue the most important aspect which unfortunately many teams neglect (or fail to capitalise on), might that of successfully communicating the sense of belonging (which the 10.fi interview also recognises).
By understanding that leaning heavily on the sense of belonging and that emotion is one of the most important feelings a sports team can deliver, an organisation should communicate in a manner which comes off as both caring and sincere towards the fans, be that by highlighting longstanding fans, community outreach (e.g. the use of CSR). That doesn’t mean that an organisation can’t be cool, cocky or even provocative in its communication, but there has to be a clear overarching narrative that resonates with the “us” feeling of the team’s followers. This is what makes a sports brand strong.
In many cases, it’s not to that the people in charge of a sports organisation are unaware of these things either. There might be a gap in knowledge of internal ways of working that might hinder the clubs’ ability to properly resonate with its fans or even a lack of strategy when it comes to marketing and communication. From a sport business perspective, the second alternative is far worse as it puts a club in a disadvantageous position to compete with its divisional rivals (from a sports business angle) and also other sports teams as well.
The interview also touched upon one quite common theme most semi- and professional teams are probably not so unfamiliar with – namely the thought process which goes something along these lines “How can we focus on the building something long term when we can barely get by on a monthly basis?”. Quite understandably this is a valid question and a multi-faceted one at that. As stated so many times before in this blog, there are no easy answers and solutions when it comes to balancing day-to-day work while simultaneously developing internal procedures when the resources available are limited. It’s always easy as an outsider without proper insight to look at an organisation and call them lazy or even incompetent – you see it in media and hear it from fans all the time. However, I’d argue that most organisations are doing their absolute best with the time, know-how and resources they have. A better question which could be asked is whether an organisation has the courage to actively push to disrupt their own ways of working (once a decision to do so has been taken) and perhaps try something new.
Link to the original interview: https://10.fi/haastattelussa-jukka-valtanen-hifk/