Some of you may wonder why I have chosen Reading Football Club for this article. Well it has been my hometown for the last 10 years and I’ve been following the team for a large proportion of that. I was there at the Madjeski Stadium watching the big screen when they were promoted from League 1 after playing away at Brentford…. great memories.
Since then the club has played in the Premier League for two seasons and this year ended up a comfortable mid table (after a very shaky start) and went on an FA Cup run that included the scalps of West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool before bowing out to Aston Villa at the quarter-final stage.
Despite this I have found myself drifting away from the club as the prices went up and work/home took up more of my life. I keep meaning to go to games but just not made it down to the stadium for a game.
Reading Football Club
The club has a bright future ahead of it; a good young manager in Brian McDermott, a young talented team, a prudent and wise Chairman and a modern stadium with the hotel, training ground and all the facilities a team needs. The income streams are in place for merchandise, events, conferences, hotel stopovers and sponsorship.
The Thames Valley area is one of the wealthiest in the UK and with the likes of Microsoft, HP, Nokia, Vodafone, Oracle and Dell on the doorstep so sponsorship should be an area in which the club should prosper.
To give you an idea of the clubs local reach before I delve any deeper. The nearest football clubs of note are Swindon Town and Aldershot. Beyond this you are travelling into London hence why the majority of Reading locals support Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal.
In terms of Social Media the club does not have any official presence. Not on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube…. not even a fans forum on the man www.readingfc.co.uk website.
There is a fair amount of unofficial activity going on with over 5,000 fans following the Reading FC fan page on Facebook. That is a large number of people that are showing a great interest in the club, want to talk about what is happening and want to engage with the club.
Add this is to unofficial players fan pages of Noel Hunt, Shane Long, Sigurdsson and Matejovsky this brings the Facebook activity for Reading FC up to almost 10,000! That is not a small, inconsiderate number considering the average crowd at the Madjeski was 17,408 for the season just gone.
There is obviously a life away from Facebook where more activity is going on. If you search YouTube for Reading FC content this brings up over 9000 results. This is another sign that the fans want to engage, show their experiences from their point of view. On Flikr, the photo uploading site from Yahoo, there are almost 2000 photos from fans that have been added.
A quick look at that other major social media platform, Twitter, shows that @ReadingFC and @Reading_FC have already been taken by fans. With almost 1,500 followers between them with little content being offered this is another place in which the conversations and updates are taking place.
What should Reading FC be doing?
The first point is always to listen first, which is what I have started to do with in the section before. You have to look at where the fans are, what they are talking about and how best it is then to engage with them.
It is not about just adding a Facebook and Twitter page with your club RSS feed plugged in because everyone else is on it and it seems the thing to do. Without a strategy in place that ensures the aims of the business are being serviced by this new marketing media and that it dovetails with the other marketing and PR activity the club has planned then the chances of it being a success are reduced.
Content is something the club is not short of, as with all sports organisations. You have players, training sessions, events, awards, journeys to games and much much more. Fans want to see what is relevant to them – not players rambling about their inane thoughts but them talking about football. They want to feel part of the club, see/hear what is happening behind the scenes, the chance to win prizes and ask questions.
One of the keys is to give the power to the fans…. a scary thought I know and an issue that crops up time and again within sport in the UK. The fans are going to talk about it anyway, so instead of hiding away and pretending nothing is going on why not participate in it? You can’t control the conversation but you can be part of it; give them a platform to use, listen to their suggestions, answer their questions, offer them content and exclusives.
- How much would Reading fans love to listen to a live chat before a game with Shane Long and interact using UStream or Vpype.
- Be able to follow the twitter game updates if they are away from the TV or radio via their mobile.
- Hear what key executives and players are doing via Twitter and Blogs. How much of a hit would Sir John Madjeski, manager Brian McDermott and Director of Football Nicky Hammond on Twitter! Look at what Tony Fernandes does with Lotus F1.
- Have some player interaction through Facebook with their own fan pages with pictures, video and messages to their fans…. Nadal and Federer are two of sports biggest stars and use Facebook brilliantly.
- Invite key twitter/bloggers to games and bring them closer to the club. It is publicity and with more and more sports content online you want to encourage insightful positive comment/reporting.
- Acknowledge fan twitter pages and blogs who offer great content and post links to them from the main site. Manchester City has a page dedicated to their fan blogs, something that I am sure has caused more positive publicity and built new bridges.
- Drive traffic back to the club site by creating stories around product launches, season ticket dates, game ticket offers and player appearances to encourage sales from Facebook/Twitter.
- Use the platforms as an additional sponsorship activation tool to acknowledge sponsors, run competitions and inform of offers. Liverpool have over 1.2m Facebook ‘likes’ which be the cherry on the cake to any sponsor coming in and can access this additional area.
And you can measure it! There are many tools out there, both free and chargeable, that can help in making sure you are where the chatter is and making positive moves towards your goals and many more hitting the market all the time. For free you can use Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, YouTube Insights and Swix (whilst in beta phase). Or use paid for searches such as Radian6 for a more detailed analysis dependent on your budget size.
Bring the fans closer
When I used to work for a cricket club one of the constant issues with fans if the feeling of being left behind, that no-one was listening to them. Social media gives you the tools and opportunity to bring them in and nip any arguments, negative reaction in the bud. Sometimes you have to stay silent but most whisper campaigns can be silenced by a quick tweet or message. It can make some ones day to have a reply from their favourite player or their club – it makes them feel special, included and leaves them with a positive experience…. which they will tell their friends about and the ball starts rolling.
If you can bring in the capabilities and content already out there on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flikr and blogs then this will become a major fan interaction, sales and marketing tool. It is not a quick fix but can grow the fan base, create more positive associations, increase sponsorship sales values, help focus advertising spends and much more.
I hope that the club wants to learn more about the possibilities and make a decision to look at these new areas and how they can benefit the club as a whole. The 2010/11 season could be the best one yet for the fans and the club….. on and off the pitch!