ENGAGE! – How Clubs Can Win With Football Supporters (Supporters Direct)

New Publication from Supporters Direct

Supporters Direct have recently published a guidance document titled “ENGAGE! – How Clubs Can Win With Football Supporters”. Over the last couple of weeks we have emailed members with a series of extracts from the Supporters Direct document.

This week, we look at the different forms of supporter involvement. Every club is different and some supporters will want to have a high degree of involvement in the running of their clubs. Other clubs’ supporters will want to be be less involved, content to follow their owners visions for their particular club.

Supporters Direct have identified the follow types of supporter involvement:


Fan engagement

 What is it?

Fan engagement is a term that has come to encompass everything a club does to communicate with its supporters and also one that everyone seems to have their own definition of. We will work on the basis that fan engagement is driven by the club and is primarily driven by increasing revenue through communications and marketing and specifically how a club talks to its fans and gathers feedback and information from them.  To date, the term and area of fan engagement has been aimed at more ‘consumer focused’ issues such as the match day experience rather than issues of governance or ownership. However it can, and should be, much more than consumer consultation. If the right individuals are involved, and a relationship built on trust created, it can be of assistance in the strategic planning of the club. 

What is it designed to achieve?

Fan engagement is a means of giving supporters a sense of being closer to the club. Clubs will use fan engagement as a means of generating feedback on a range of areas including the match day experience. 

Do clubs have to do it?

Almost every club will engage with its fans in one way or another, whether that be through social media or having a Supporter Advisory Board. There is no obligation on clubs to embrace fan engagement although some do very well.

What examples have clubs created to engage with supporters?

Fans forum

A public meeting called by the club where typically you’d find a top table of senior executives/directors/football management who take questions from supporters. Although it provides an opportunity for people to ask what they like, the forum set-up makes it hard to get into detail on complex issues and topics can vary dramatically given the number of people attending so the flow of questions and answers often changes quickly. It can also be an intimidating environment to ask questions that might be seen to be more sensitive or ‘difficult’.

It suits ‘meet the manager’ type events, rather than meetings that require more structure. From the club’s perspective it is a useful way to engage with large numbers of fans in one go and can provide a forum that is unselective and appears welcoming to all.

Fans parliament

This model is used by a number of clubs to engage with their supporters. Most commonly a club seeks nominations from across a wide variety of supporter groups and specific areas that the club wants to see represented. It offers the opportunity to discuss and debate a wide range of topics.

It gives the club an opportunity to hear from a wide range of supporters and encourages a sharing and understanding of the issues which affect the fans and the club. Staff across the club, whether it be in football, stadium, ticketing or commercial-related departments can also consult and explain decisions.

Fan Parliaments are an opportunity to improve relationships between the club and fans and can be used by the club to get views and gain greater understanding of the issues that affect fans directly. This information can be utilised when important decisions have to be made. This also provides the club the opportunity to explain why decisions are made or why issues are resolved in a certain way.

An effective Fans Parliament should be an inclusive vehicle with a wide representation of supporters representing the diverse make up of fans including:

  • Recognised supporter clubs.
  • Season ticket holders.
  • Family enclosure members.
  • Fans from minority groups.
  • Members of the ticket priority schemes.
  • Away season ticket holders.
  • ‘Armchair’ or casual fans.
  • Regular hospitality visitors.
  • Disabled Supporters.
  • Premium level season ticket holders.

It is important that representatives of these areas are visible and accountable to the constituents they are representing. Clubs should be aware of the damage to the credibility of any council/board amongst supporters and the wider community if places are monitored, selected or vetoed by the club.

This format provides a more focused group, allowing for more detailed and confidential discussions albeit still appearing as representative. This is perhaps most akin to the customer focus groups that many businesses might invest in. Some topics still don’t suit a discussion in this structure. For example, a detailed discussion on financial performance is unlikely to appeal to all, may lose focus and is likely to be better served by supporters with expertise in this area.

Supporter Advisory Board (SAB)

An SAB is drawn from across a club’s supporter base and can provide a more structured forum for supporter consultation. SABs are club-led often with a member of staff at the club chairing meetings.

SABs will provide a regular channel of communication and consultation in both directions between the club and its fan/community base. It is designed to be inclusive and to represent the full demographic range of the club’s support base, to whom it is accountable. The SAB may discuss the actions of the club board, challenging them where necessary.

The membership of the SAB should include nominated representatives of specific supporter or community groups and other individuals selected after a process of public invitation. Supporter members of the Supporter Advisory Board are committed to using their skills and experience on a voluntary basis to augment the development of the club by working in an open, professional and creative manner alongside existing staff.

In the next in this series, we will look at Supporters Direct ideas on the key principles that the feel should be central to any model of engagement.

The full Supporters Direct document, “ENGAGE!  How Clubs Can Win With Football Supporters” is available on our website and can be viewed here.

We hope that you found the above to be of interest and gives an insight into what forms the basis of supporter involvement in football clubs. We will feature further extracts from the guidance over future weeks and look forward to receiving any comments you may wish to make on enquiries@bwfcst.co.uk


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