Strategic Club Marketing – A Few Experiences from the Ghana Premier League
This article will draw largely from my personal experiences as the lead marketing guy when my former company was the headline sponsor of the local league and as such it might be a bit blunt.
Over the years, a lot has been said about the standard of the local league with the majority of the blame laid at the doorsteps of the GFA. Nevertheless, I believe that a chunk of the blame ought to be laid at the doorsteps of the Clubs!
From my experiences, I observed up close how clubs had no regard for strategic marketing, brands/image management, community engagement and strategic stakeholder management. There were a few exceptions and that’s why I have massive respect for Kudjoe Fianoo who as CEO of AshGold practically took personal responsibility to ensure the sponsor’s brand was well represented at Len Clay.
In order not to make this a technical marketing article, I’ll discuss the issues under the following headings:
- Brands Management
- Negative Noise
- Digital Marketing
- Community Engagement
- Stakeholder Engagement
The next article on this topic will be a bit more technical and will adopt a tri-component attitude model to discuss strategic football marketing.
This entire article can be about brands management because all the other critical pillars of modern football management can be described under a comprehensive branding strategy.
From my perspective, the fundamental essence of a brands strategy will be to build a distinct and compelling image about your club in the minds of your target audience to own their heart and minds.
I believe that unlike traditional products and services where people may buy a product because they believe the product is the best, with football or sports, people may support a team not necessarily because they believe the team is the best but for other emotive or aspirational reasons.
The elements of a brands strategy can be described in very simple terms using what Davidson (1997) describes as the “branding iceberg”; things people can see and things they cannot see about the brand.
What can people see about a club?
How the club presents itself through every point of engagement; Jerseys, kits (technical team inclusive), website, social media accounts and engagements through (creatives and copies), stadia, team buses, stadium branding, media representation etc.
It was sickening to see that clubs were not even well kitted. Over the years, I am sure we have all seen local teams playing matches with worn out jerseys etc and they don’t give a hoot! No uniformity in how the football team, including the technical teams are kitted and represented.
Clubs just don’t care but the root cause is the lack of a professional and strategic marketing approach to club management which may also be driven by the underlying motives for setting up clubs. For some club owners, club football is about grooming and farming players abroad for that windfall. Simplicita! And club marketing is all about appointing a spokesman to be jumping from one media house to the other.
What can’t you see with your physical eyes?
What you can see is largely driven by “unseen hands”, like the level of strategic thinking, systems, structures, processes, technical know-how, financial investment etc.
At this stage, let me also pay tribute to Herbert Mensah. When he became CEO of Ashanti Kotoko, his level of thinking in terms of marketing strategy was light years ahead and many years after he left the scene, many clubs have still not learnt any lessons from his blueprint. Let me add that from afar, I see clubs like WAFA, Dreams FC and “new entrant” Legon Cities making some commendable moves. As a marketing practitioner and a lover of football, I have deep seated respect for Herbert Mensah for the manner he drove belief, unimaginable affection and elicited massive support for the Kotoko brand. I never missed any edition of the Kotoko Express and Kotoko Car stickers sold like cocaine! Herbert had a comprehensive understanding of Strategic Club Marketing and it will be great to have it documented.
That’s what Strategic Club Marketing should be about; engineering crazy love for your team. It’s about crazy love because sports in general is driven largely by emotions.
This should not be a topic at all, it should be part of brands strategy, but I have isolated it due to the grave impact it has on the league.
My experiences indicate that many club officials and executives adopt a more emotive approach to media engagements and are more willing to run to the media with negative news. To put it more bluntly, there’s that wanton fixation with negative news. And of course, the media feeds on sensation and drama so they love those sound bites and stories. At this juncture let me also salute the likes of Joy Fm and Citi FM. From my experience, these radio brands are usually more fixated with driving positive content around the league and I was grateful for the support.
The mistake these Club Executives make is that, when they go on radio to propagate negative noise, everybody listens to the negative noise; including sponsors and their top executives so when they do that, they are cutting their noses to spite their own faces!
Such attitude makes the league unattractive because no Corporate Brand likes negative news. No one!
I can write a whole thesis about the attitude of some media houses as well, but I’ll leave that out to not generate any needless controversy that’ll detract from the object of this article.
Years ago, I did a cursory analysis of clubs with functioning websites and it was sad! These clubs just did not care! The bane of all these can be traced to the reason people set up football clubs and the “owner-manager” approach adopted where club owners set up clubs and do not put in professional systems and structures to run the clubs like corporate entities.
Teams can outsource their Digital Marketing strategies to agencies but in general all clubs must have a digital strategy to think about how they can engage the target audience online.
Every professional team must have;
- Graphic designers
- Professional photographers
- Copy Writers
- Content Developers
- Social Media Accounts Managers etc
I fell in love with #LegonCitiesFC basically through visual imagery presented on Social Media. As a marketing practitioner, I’ll be rooting for the team and pray they succeed on the pitch as well. I also love their choice of brand name since I see a conscious approach towards aligning the brand with specific communities in the Legon enclave to drive local ownership. Their value proposition is “We deliver” …. I’ll just wish they change this to “We Rock”. Apart from the fact that it rhymes better with their nickname “Royals”, it also signifies some excitement (off and on the field) and might be a stronger proposition than “We deliver” which I believe is a little bit bland. I might discuss in more detail in another article.
In very simple terms, digital marketing matters and it matters more than ever!
All teams must make a conscious effort to engage the local community where they are based. The people must have that emotional connection with the team and feel they own the team.
What type of strategies do teams have towards community engagement?
- Do they reach out to local people?
- What strategy do clubs have to identify and groom talents from the local communities they are based?
- What programmes do these teams have to engage the schools in the localities?
- What CSR programmes do they have in place for their communities?
- What strategies do they have to ensure that the local people own replica jerseys?
- How do they get local people to contribute financially towards the team?
As I mentioned earlier, all of these factors are still linked to having a comprehensive Marketing Strategy, but I am only highlighting the most basic issues.
The basic approach to Stakeholder Management is to use the Power/Interest Matrix to determine these basic factors:
- Who are your stakeholders?
- Which of these stakeholders have the authority to exert the most power over you and also have high interest in your activities?
- Which of them have power but no interest in your activities?
- Which of them have high interest in your activities but no power?
- Which of them have no power and interest in your activities?
These are all food for thought which requires strategic thinking.
Nevertheless, I mentioned this to discuss the issue of sponsor and other stakeholder relationships.
From personal experiences, some of the clubs do not also care about taking care of the sponsor. All some cared about was getting sponsorship money from the headline sponsor and then going to bed without even making efforts to even find alternative source of financial support apart from player sales.
It’s the sponsor’s job to ensure that there’s an agency on the ground seeking their interests but clubs should also not just be interested in the sponsor’s money, they should be interested in helping to maximize the benefits of sponsorship. Clubs should adopt a MORE PROACTIVE and COLLABORATIVE stance in managing stakeholder relationships. For example, if the sponsor’s benefit involves having pitch panels on match days, it’s the job of the club to ensure that the pitch panels are well placed on the pitch, they are stored at the right places after the games to be used for the next game etc. Once again, I doff my hat off to Mr. Fianoo.
The wanton disregard for professionalism is also manifested in the areas of pre and post-match interviews. There were many instances where clubs refused to grant post-match interviews just because they lost a match!
Ticketing Sales & Allied sales issues
I am aware that the GFA is developing an e-ticketing solution to be deployed for all matches. I am also informed that Liberty Professionals has a USSD ticket sales platform. However, these are things all clubs should have adopted ages ago. As I said, clubs did not even care about websites, how much more ticketing platforms or the need to consciously develop sales promotional strategies targeted at the local communities?
From experiences, I believe perception is more powerful than reality and also very difficult to change when ingrained and as such, I am excited by the high level of transparency and responsiveness the new GFA has adopted to deal with issues which can fuel “negative noise” and affect its credibility.
An example is how they handled the Normalization Committee-GLO payment issues with the minimum of fuss and the speed with which they have responded to GBC’s press release about their grievances with TV rights. I am confident that in terms of TV rights, something will be worked out in the national interest.
In conclusion, the efforts by the GFA to #BringBackThelove at the club level is commendable but the clubs should be those dragging the love by the horn through both their local and online communities.
There must be a more strategic and professional approach to club management and club owners should sit back and employ professional marketing/branding teams to develop a holistic strategy for execution.
From afar, I am happy with the efforts of #LegonCitiesFC so far and I hope many clubs emulate them. However, Corporate Branding Strategy is not about just presenting a visual identity; the people, systems, structures, processes, technology etc must all be aligned at delivering superior value and I hope there’s a holistic strategy driving the #LegonCitiesFC agenda.
God bless Ghana Football!
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