Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Official Supporters Clubs: The Untapped Potential of Fan Loyalty

Academic journal article International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship

Official Supporters Clubs: The Untapped Potential of Fan Loyalty

Article excerpt

Executive summary

Over the past century, soccer has evolved into a global sport with a steadily increasing number of players and supporters. A recent study estimates that there are over 240 million registered players worldwide and fan participation in the billions (Terrel et al, 2005). Through the success of tournaments such as the UEFA Cup, the Champions League and the FIFA World Cup, as well as cross-border transfer of players, professional soccer clubs enjoy local and increasingly global fan support (Sportfive, 2004).

This fan support drives all the major sources of income for clubs as it directly or indirectly affects ticketing and merchandise sales and broadcasting fees, as well as income from advertisements and sponsorships. The overall income of clubs has grown rapidly in recent decades, with an estimated turnover of 11 billion [euro] in Europe alone in 2004 (Deloitte, 2005). To recruit and retain top players and to succeed in local leagues as well as international competitions, professional soccer clubs are exploring more and more options to maximise this income.

Considering the importance of the relationship between a soccer club and its supporters, it is interesting to note that clubs rarely manage this relationship proactively and that relationship marketing strategies, similar to customer loyalty programmes CLPs), are rarely deployed. The formation and management of supporters clubs has typically been outsourced to private entities, which has resulted in various smaller, independent supporters clubs being affiliated with each soccer club. As well as fragmenting the club's fan base, this outsourcing impedes the active management of the relationship between the fans and their club.

This paper seeks to demonstrate that official supporters clubs can be leveraged to increase profits and obtain other less tangible long-term benefits through proactive management of the club-fan relationship. The established concept of a membership fee at an independent supporters club would allow the club to generate an additional guaranteed income stream. Replacing various smaller and independent clubs, an official supporters club could serve to heighten the stadium atmosphere by improving the distribution of merchandise such as flags, scarves, jerseys and songs as well as fan activities and fan involvement in club-related projects. Furthermore, an increasing percentage of ticket sales to loyal fans in the supporters club (e.g. right of first refusal for tickets) could strengthen game-day support for the team. Finally, personal information about ticket buyers and perhaps a limitation of tickets per buyer may offer better control over fans in the stadium and result in greater stadium security.

This web-based study of 493 respondents provides insight into specific preferences and willingness to pay WTP) for supporters club memberships and the segment-specific design preferences of existing members of the German national soccer team supporters club. The analysis shows a considerably high average WTP of 34.78 [euro] and identifies the right of first refusal for tickets as the most preferred service. This is particularly interesting for profitability reasons as the right of first refusal for tickets would come at relatively low cost to soccer clubs.

This study advocates the establishment and management of official supporters clubs by soccer clubs primarily as a means of leveraging fan loyalty to increase revenue, but also with a view to achieving ancillary benefits such as improving the stadium atmosphere and strengthening security.


Professional soccer is big business, with an annual turnover of approximately 12 billion [euro] (Freedman, 2004). However, there is general consensus among experts that the potential to exploit the existing revenue sources in European soccer is shrinking, at least in the short term. This is underlined by the fact that the 2003-04 season exhibited the lowest revenue growth figures for the top five leagues (England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain) in the past decade, with the German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1 even experiencing a decrease in revenue of about 5% relative to the previous season (Deloitte, 2005). …

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