Welcome to the third edition of our ‘5 on 5’ special. In the first two editions our guests were sports professionals and sports writers. This time around, we proudly present to you 5 experts in digital and social:

Jim Lucas – Digital Communications Manager at Southampton FC, England

Jose J. Villaluenga – Director of Communications at Gran Canaria Basketball Club, Spain

Luca Gonano – Digital Manager at Carlton Football Club, Australia

Marc-Henri Hamard – Head of Marketing and Communication at Montpellier Agglomération Handball Club, France

Adam Hulme – former Multi-Media Officer at Queens Park Rangers FC, England

Now that you know our starting lineup, here is what they had to say about digital and social in sports. 

Social media guidance is a must for young athletes

Do you educate your players about social media? At what level do you start? Do you have guidelines or user manuals about social media for your players?

Jim: Players begin education with Southampton FC from eight years of age, and guidance on social media is provided at various points during this process. As social media grows more and more important, we are aware of the increased attention on our young players so we are always keen to provide guidance, advice and assistance to youngsters using the platforms.

Jose: Most of the players ask for help to use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and we gladly help them because the image of the players is something really important nowadays. Every season the players know more and more about social media, so we start educating majority of them in a medium level. We have internal rules for communication, including their personal profiles, but nothing too special or different than what we have in the general communication manual.

Luca: We start educating our players from the moment they are drafted. They are spoken to on the night of the draft, then have an hour-long session on their first day at the Club. Social media guidelines are handed to them every six months and we encourage a one-on-one review of each player’s social media activity at the end of every season.

Marc-Henri: There is no specific social media training for our players. But we follow their social activity in order to control our global communication. I think we will supply them with some form of guidelines in the next year.

Adam: We do educate our players and start media training within the academy each season. All club staff has social media guidelines and we work with members of the first-team regularly.

Club owners must realize the importance of digital in today’s world

Many football clubs are run like old-fashioned businesses that mostly don’t see digital as an important source of income. Why do you think that is, and could that be changed?

Jim: I think more and more clubs are treating digital as a key influence on their decision-making processes. At Southampton, we now look for evidence of digital value in all commercial decisions – from marketing campaigns to the acquisition of potential sponsors. Traditionally, digital platforms may not have provided clubs with direct income streams but more and more teams are beginning to identify and embrace the secondary benefits that a robust and innovative digital strategy can bring – for example, a digitally-engaged fanbase is more likely to respond to marketing campaigns than one that has been ignored.

Jose: I think some football clubs have an outstanding use of digital, but the problem is that right now no one knows  how to make capital out of Twitter or Facebook regarding to their companies. The image rights and TV contracts are a big business right now in football, and they normally use social media to interact with fans, not to make money, because the big money is not there at this time. I think all of working in this area are still learning if we can do business using social profiles.

Luca: Our Club has had a monumental shift in thinking over the last three years. Whereas digital was once seen as a cost centre, our Board has invested heavily in resourcing our department appropriately, and we’re now seeing some really strong results.

Marc-Henri: There is a specific situation in handball. Our sport can’t compare to some more popular sports such as football on classic marketing fields. Handball needs to be a digital marketing leader. Digital marketing is the perfect to Big Data’s issues. For example, our digital marketing is based on a powerful CRM system, especially created for sport clubs. We have done a lot of work to create a digital universe around our club : official website / sponsors website / mobile app / social media / partnership with Vogo App (application made for live experience) and we’re thinking about the development of a video game.

Adam: I’d disagree. Most football clubs do see digital as an important source of income. I think this is evident with the majority of clubs that have invested within their media and marketing departments up and down the country.

Sell on a platform your fans follow regularly 

Which social networks did you find most useful for ticketing and merchandising?

Jim: We find that Twitter is the platform which works best when it comes to spreading information about ticketing and retail offers and updates. From a retailer’s point of view, we are investigating the possibility of joining Pinterest – especially now there is an e-commerce element to the platform.

Jose: Mostly Facebook because they have several apps that facilitate both matters. Ticketing is very easy on Facebook with the calendars and events you can manage. On particular occasions, Instagram could help with merchandising because it is growing and it is more visual, but more like back up, not as a main social network for ticketing.

Luca: Facebook is still our bread and butter, but we are quite strategic with what we post, where, and when. We have had a lot of success with Instagram when trying to market items of merchandise more suited to our younger supporters.

Marc-Henri: Facebook seems to be the most useful but I think this is only the first step of the development of ticketing and merchansiding on social media.

Adam: Twitter is probably the easiest for fans to find out the latest ticketing and merchandising news, sales, events etc.

Good CRM data helps you develop good digital strategy

What do you think are the most important things you can get out of good CRM data? Is it better to focus on the local market or worldwide?

Jim: In general, CRM allows us to learn more about the people who are accessing our platforms and to provide them with a personalised digital experience. Football fans are looking for recognition, so an advanced CRM database allows us to tailor our messaging based on an individual supporter’s profile and history. This means that we do not need to choose to focus our efforts on either local or international supporters, as we can target them with completely different offers and information.

Jose: Here in Gran Canaria we have experienced a remarkable growth of our fans because of the new arena, so the CRM data is very important to know our new fans. When we had three or four thousand fans, some veteran employees could recognize the majority of them. Facebook allowed us to know more about these old fans, and also let us know the concerns and interests of the new fans and improve our quality service. We have fans all around the world every season, but we have to focus on our island’s market because we still are a small company. Number of people who show interest in us is growing, but the market is not big enough to analyze data at this time.

Luca: Age and location play an important part in our social media strategies. We are always trying to target specific groups when we post, so knowing who and where our supporters are is vital. We are still predominantly focussed on the Australian market, but plans are in place to introduce our club to international markets in the next 12 months.

Marc-HenriOur goal using the CRM is to be more powerful on the local market. There is a lot of competition in the French market and especially in Montpellier where you can find rugby, football, volleyball or basketball teams!! We need to become strong on our market and then we will look to reach further.

Adam: Our CRM Manager covers this area.

Sponsors want to be included in clubs’ digital communication

What is your policy for including sponsors – and how much – in your digital communication?

JimWe tailor our sponsorship packages for every partner. There are the traditional opportunities, such as adverts on our homepage, but we prefer to include them in our social content plan at relevant moments – for example, promoting a betting partner in the build-up to a big match as part of our pre-game content.

Jose: The sponsors are having more and more interest to appear in our digital communication because we have grown exponentially in the last years. We especially work with our newest sponsors in this aspect. The reasons are to improve their image and let people know which companies have invested in Herbalife Gran Canaria. When I arrived to the club they have only had the magazine for advertising. Now we can use our new website and more than 100.000 social media followers. This gives us more options when negotiating with new potential sponsors. 

Luca: We had a number of new sponsors join the Club at the end of 2014, which has meant sponsor-driven content has increased 1400% in 2015. Digital has become an integral part of our sponsorship team’s pitch to prospective partners. I’m proud of that, but, obviously, it’s not sustainable without the correct resourcing, and I truly believe that this is the greatest challenge digital departments face moving forward.

Marc-Henri: More and more sponsors want to share their experience in our digital communication. But some of them don’t know in which way they want to go. If your sponsor has a real digital strategy, it’s easier to activate on our website / mobileapp / social media ….

Adam: This varies on the sponsor and what they wish to achieve through their deal with the club. For example, AirAsia (our main shirt sponsors) are owned by our chairman Tony Fernandes so they take a massive interest in the football side of things.

BONUS QUESTION – we’ve recieved many questions regarding what should clubs with a smaller budget have on their mind when thinking about digital. Here is what our experts had to say:

Jim: Ultimately, a small budget should be no reason why a club cannot engage its supporters through digital platforms. My main piece of advice would be that, where you cannot invest money, invest time – answer supporters’ questions and spot opportunities for spontaneous conversations and content.

Jose: When I arrived to Gran Canaria as Communication Director three seasons ago my first concern was to bring the players and their routine closer to our fans. As a fan of a team I want to know the day by day of my favourite players, their sense of humor, what music are they listening before a game, etc. Small clubs have to take advantage in closeness with the fans and be original. The complicated thing right now is to innovate because big clubs are improving too much on social networks since they realized the importance of them and they have one or more people exclusively working in social. We have less money but thousand of ideas.

Luca: Work out who you’re trying to communicate with and do all you can to get it right. There’s no point in trying to please everyone, so work out who the core audience is, learn what it wants (this can only be done through trial and error) and speak to them in an honest, uncontrived manner.

Marc-Henri: The first step is to be sure not to mix up digital communication and digital marketing. Are your actions turned to develop a business? If there is no possibility to activate some marketing, your digital system will sleep. You need to educate your fans to consume in your digital environment.

Adam: Different football clubs have different philosophies but I do think one point that should be heavily prioritised is ‘content’.

I would like to thank you all for answering my questions, and good luck to you and your respective clubs in conquering the digital world.


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