Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The model Football fan!

Hi all! Been ages since I last blogged. I don't want to lie that I have been busy, because I have just been plain-ass lazy the whole time. But now, I really have to tell you about something I noticed. This has got to do with how normal people in my part of the world become crazy football fans of teams they hadn't heard a mere year ago.

Thanks to the models of buyer-behavior that I have been intently mugging up for my marketing exams, and thanks to the fact that I am down with para-typhoid and utterly bitter at having to sit at home while my friends are all out on a batch trip, I thought up a model to explain how I (and many other people I know) became a hard-core football fan. This model can be used by football clubs and sports goods manufacturers alike to increase the penetration of football fanaticism in countries like India, as this is where the next wave of growth is likely to come from.

There are multiple stages in this model, based on the timeline and affinity with football:
1) Unbeliever
2) Curious Joe
3) Cat-on-the-wall
4) Flirt
5) Evangelist

As the name suggests, an unbeliever does not believe football to be a sport worth his time. He changes the channel whenever there is a footsie match, thinks that 'offside' and 'onside' are sides of the cricket pitch, thinks a striker has to be used in a carrom board, and cannot understand how away games are more difficult("Its the same pitch, isn't it? How can the home team have any advantage?!!"). The Unbeliever can be divided into the old hags and the young 'uns. The oldies are a waste of time, but the young unbelievers represent the best scope for expansion for football, because they can be turned rather easily. For the young unbelievers, the strategy to be adopted is Awareness(like the infancy stage of a product launch). World Cups and European cups represent an ideal opportunity for raising awareness(My awareness of football happened in the 1998 World Cup). At these times, when everyone around is talking about the game, unbelievers naturally move to the next stage. Other ways of moving to the next stage include word of mouth marketing(through peers and opinion leaders), football games on PC or consoles and local football tournaments.

Curious Joe
In this stage, the unbeliever starts to search for information about the game. He is most likely to turn to the member in the gang who is already at a higher level. At this level, the stars of football are the most important people. Clubs will have to follow a strategy of branding their players to capture mind space among people in this level.

The allegiance of cat-on-the-wall football fans are with individuals rather than clubs/countries. When a star moves clubs, so does the allegiance of the fan. Clubs like Real Madrid have used this to great advantage, building a galaxy of stars and garnering a not-so-loyal following among fans who have just started watching football at the club level. At this level, the fans will not really support any club, but will claim to support many clubs in different leagues, because of the players that these clubs have. Sometimes, they might even support rival clubs in the same league. This is the period fans will start to stay up in the night to watch the champions league, and the team which wins trophies during this phase will become more important in the next stage, as will having friends who are evangelists of a certain club.

Despite the word used to describe the fan, this is exactly the phase a majority of fans find themselves in. It is a period of transition, and comes with a lot of baggage as far as fans are concerned. In this phase, fans will start supporting a single club, and in the process, start learning more about the history of the club. The club that they choose to support depends on multiple factors. For example, rebels will choose Liverpool , conservative ones will choose Chelsea, people who like a proven track record will choose Manchester United while people who love flair will go with the gunners. Of course, all of this is tempered by the peer group choice and the success of the club, but individual characteristics is the most important factor. In this stage, clubs will have to take up a reminder strategy, using PR and soccer news sites to the optimum level. Fans love news about their club, whether it is good or bad, so the clubs need to keep giving it to them.

This is the phase all clubs want their fans to be in. It is a natural progression, and every flirt will one day become an evangelist of his club. This is the phase when clubs can start harvesting on the fans, as they will be willing to pay for their clubs. Strategies for fans at this level include having holiday packages which include champions league match packs, tour of the stadium etc. Clubs can also increase exposure by reducing T-Shirt costs, as when more fans buy the club T-shirts, they are more likely to influence flirts and cats-on-the-wall to convert to club fans.

Clubs need to start looking east. This is especially true for the EPL, since it has a unique time advantage over the La Liga. The La Liga followed a similar strategy to capture the South and Latin American market, with the result that most of the young players coming out from there wanting to play for Real or Barca. The next gem could be from India, and the "Big Four" would better sit up and take notice. Even if a gem isn't formed here, the millions of pairs of eye-balls are reason enough for clubs to try increase penetration in this part of the world. I know of enough evangelists here, and have personally seen plenty passing through the various stages. Given a prod in the right directions, I would have a lot more company on matchdays!