Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

Fan Drain Due to Brand Identity Loss. Evidence from Romanian Second League Football

Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

Fan Drain Due to Brand Identity Loss. Evidence from Romanian Second League Football

Article excerpt

Introduction

After thirty matchdays completed in the Romanian second tier football league (2016/2017 season), the highest overall attendance at a game in the entire championship was witnessed on the 24th of September 2016 in Suceava, when local side Foresta defeated Dacia Unirea Brăila with 4-0, in front of 4,100 people. What once was commonplace - fans coming to the stadium to cheer for their home team - now seems odd. Even crowds of 2,000 or 3,000 people only gather on an exceptional basis. During the aforementioned interval, no sell-out crowds were witnessed ("sell-out", in itself, being a grandiose word-choice, as in most cases admission is free of charge), and the usual attendance figures range between a handful of tens of people and a few hundreds of them.

This article examines whether second division football clubs in Romania can increase match attendances by enhancing their brand meanings, through improved brand performance in what concerns customer service. It does so, at a time when Romanian football witnesses an unprecedented loss of stadium-goers. The decline can be easily observed both at top-tier league games, as well as at lower division matches. While first league football has been historically associated with the crime-de-la-crime of Romanian clubs, second tier (Liga 2) matches also had their slice of the cake as many of the clubs playing in the lower league(s) were highly representative for the local communities. Even though they might not have enjoyed live top-class football, the fans of second division clubs still used to find their way to the stadiums to cheer for their local teams in what Romanian popular culture came to label and to remember in the collective awareness as "matinee footballthe usual kick-off for Liga 2 matches was and, in many cases, still is 11 a.m.

Despite strong local allegiance, match attendances in Liga 2 have witnessed hefty downfalls. The average attendance in Liga 2 during the last five seasons (between autumn 2011 and spring 2016) was 985 fans per game (and this considering that big parts of the crowds were attracted, thanks to several traditional clubs relegated from the first division, such as Rapid Bucharest or Craiova). A closer look at the numbers, graphically displayed in Figure 1, indicates that only one season was situated above the mean (2013-2014 with an average of 1150 fans), whereas the rest was placed below average, with a minimum of less than 500 spectators per game: 951 fans in 2011-2012, 781 (2012-2013), 495 (2014-2015), 921 (2015-2016).

This "fan drain" - supporters walking away from the terraces - can be a result of several combined determinants. Research literature has largely compelled these determinants into football influencers and socio-economic influencers (Falter, Perignon, 2000). Football influencers include variables, such as league position, goals scored or win-loss ratio (Simmons, 1996), while socio-economic influencers include alternative leisure activities, disposable income, or TV broadcasting (Allan, 2004). On a global scale, it is widely acknowledged that, throughout the years, professionalization and commercialization have changed the landscape in which supporters relate to and consume football (Merkel, 2007).

However, in the particular case of Romanian football, one of the reasons with high impact on declining attendances is the identity loss of football brands. Identity is what distinguishes a brand, what makes it noteworthy and what helps it stand out from the crowd of competitors. It is the unique touch that influences fans to follow a particular football club and not any others.

Unfortunately, during recent years many traditional football clubs (Universitatea Cluj, FC Argeş, Gloria Bupau, Farul Constanţa, Rapid Bucharest, Oţelul Galaţi, Dunărea Galaţi, Ceahlăul Piatra Neamţ, FC Bihor Oradea, Oltul Slatina, Poiana Câmpina, FC Caransebeş, FCM Baia Mate, Unirea Alba dulia, MinerulMotru, Callatis Mangalia, Sportul Studenţesc) were dissolved due to mismanagement and financial problems. …

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