Start of, what is hopefully, a long-term cooperation between West Ham United and Hajduk Split
This article focuses on the small market issue Hajduk Split has within Croatia’s border and considers West Ham United’s interest in expanding their target market through their recent partnership. It is crucial to know that Hajduk’s ownership structure is based on socios model in which fans have majority ownership and elect the board of directors.
The goal of the interview with Hajduk’s Head of Marketing, Aljosa Basic, and Head of Public Relations, Ante Bilic, is to get an inside look at pros and cons of the socios model on each of their departments. The model itself has a greater potential for long-term fan loyalty (which Hajduk’s fans are well known for) than other types of ownership structures. This then gives a big task to the management to use this potential by effectively conversing fans into the customers.
Considering that not many people around the world have heard of Hajduk before or just don’t know much about the ex-Yugoslavian countries today, I point out the unique things about Hajduk that even the biggest clubs could learn from.
Q: The fact that Hajduk is the people’s club, organized as a socios model*, positively reflects on the club’s marketing. Is there a negative side and how do you deal with it?
A: Just like any model, socios doesn’t exclude the negative side, the hardest bit in our case is how to reconcile unrealistic expectations with real state and possibilities. The fan engagement is surely a good long-term model but our fans often make conclusions without having a clear picture on how things really are – in other words– don’t have all information from inside the system and create a picture often blurred by strong emotions they have for the Club.
* Some of the biggest clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona are socios clubs. To find out more about ownership structures in football, look here.
Q: You signed a partnership agreement with West Ham United recently. What is the marketing aspect of this deal and is West Ham trying to expand their target market on our region, not only because of Slaven Bilic but also for Hajduk’s huge marketing potential in the region? How does Hajduk plan to use this for their marketing?
A: Initial talks about long-term cooperation were done with West Ham in London, with first meeting lasting 4 hours, I was under an impression that they were pleasantly surprised with all activities we’re doing in the Club. Many additional questions are open, we plan to define the majority of it before they visit us. Surely, it is planned to include the city of Split as a majority owner, along with local state, and national tourism in this project. It is extensive and challenging but I believe we can pull it off to please all fans, especially with the Club’s long-term growth interest. We can’t go out in public with more details yet.
Q: The release of Hajduk Izzy keyboard caught interest of bigger clubs, what are your next steps in the technology sector? Are you considering creating your own app?
A: We spoke to a few “developer” companies but they all asked for certain financial support in the form of Club investment, without a guarantee of not only making profit but even returning the invested. Unfortunately, we are still limited because marketing revenue needs to be created with minimum investment and expenses, and that is really not easy, especially in Croatia. Accordingly, our marketing budget doesn’t consist of resources designed for investing in the projects. Regarding Aspida, the company behind one-of-a-kind club keyboard in the region, they developed an app for free believing that this partnership would ease their way in reaching out to other clubs financially superior and ready to invest in projects like this.
Q: Do you consider yourself to be successful in the conversion of passive fans into customers? Same question goes about the active, hardcore fans?
A: We aren’t successful enough – fans’ awareness is not at the level of clubs in EL, for example, when we were guests at West Ham, 90% of fans at the stadium had current official club jersey. Unfortunately, we still need energy, time, and resources to raise awareness of a wider fans corpus that by buying official club products they directly strengthen their team, which then gets them better players, great games, and significant victories. It is estimated that we are just at 20% conversion success so I hope to see an exponential growth soon as fans motivate each other. The importance of this for Hajduk is even greater considering there is over 800 official products that are mostly available in the market – we covered all types of goods, from clothes, footwear, beach supplies, souvenirs, confectionery, dairy products, alcohol and soft drinks, products for kids and infants, and many more…
Q: Your marketing heavily relies on co-branding with companies from different industries. Thirty co-branding partners either distribute products themselves or through your fan shop. Some of those products are now selling directly in the stadium during the games. Aside from this, what else do you do to enhance the game-day experience for fans and offer them a greater value than just watching a game?
A: Game day experience significantly depends on functionality of the stadium itself. When our stadium was built in 1979 it didn’t predict commercial content, special sectors, hospitality areas and other things most of the stadiums have in Europe nowadays. At that time esthetics were prioritized the highest, which still keeps the stadium as one of the 20 prettiest in the world. As we often wish to introduce new content inside the stadium, we have safety issues as we are narrowing down the evacuation corridors or we simply don’t have the infrastructure needed to support certain hospitality projects. Regardless, we will keep trying to upgrade (improvise) the current state as much as possible but it will never be at the level that club deserves and needs currently.
Q: The promotional video for Hajduk Pipi is a great example of advertising co-branding products. Can we expect more of the same to help new products break into the market through the use of Hajduk’s communication channels that are mostly stronger than those of your cobranding partners?
A: You can expect to see them if a partner is ready to invest. When the club strengthens financially, we will be able to finance these projects ourselves to increase the sale of official club products.
Q: After you announced that Hajduk’s pasta will be available in the US market, do you plan to continue expanding your market through current or future products? Croatian league’s greatest issue is the small market and to make Hajduk competitive it has to be lifted on the global scale. What are you doing about that?
A: That is a task for our partners in all projects while the club serves as a support but all activities regarding distribution and placing the product are partner’s obligation as that is their basic business. If partner wants to place the product outside Croatia, we always offer help through our fans, ex-players/coaches that left their mark abroad and are willing to help.
(and counting) official members of HNK Hajduk Split in 2016
Q: Can we expect that Hajduk will have waiting lists to become a season ticket holder just like Borussia Dortmund? In 2015/16 club sold about 20% of stadium’s capacity. At the same time, number of club members exceeded the stadium capacity and considering members have a first option to buy tickets, how would you deal with the situation if every single member requested their ticket for the next game?
A: That would cause “sweet worries” for the club and there is a number of clubs in the world that dealt with this situation successfully pleasing the fans and club’s interest. We hope it will happen to our club in the near future.
Q: In comparison with the rest of “big 4” from ex-Yugoslavia (Dinamo Zagreb, Partizan Belgrade and Red Star Belgrade), Hajduk has the least followers on Facebook and Instagram, 2nd most subscribers on YouTube channel, and the most followers on Twitter. I noticed these numbers are in direct correlation with the number of total posts (except for FB as there is no information). What is your strategy for social media and digital marketing?
A: Communications and PR department changed its crew at the beginning of the new season. As I came back to be the Head of PR after leaving in February 2015 we have created and defined a strategy parallel to our everyday activities. We analyzed the current situation and proceeded to further develop the department that was chosen as the Best Press Organization in Croatia for 2013. The fan base is extremely broad and social media communication is dispersed on unofficial pages as well.
Q: Is there a certain strategy for two-way communication on social media?
A: All of the constructive questions are answered in the shortest time possible. Hajduk leaves room for active participation of fans in replies to comments on Facebook. If we notice a mistake and are able to officially respond, we engage in discussion. Fans are supposed to experience Hajduk as their own but sometimes they need to keep in mind that some information cannot be published until the conditions are met in order to protect club’s interest.
Q: Even though your website has an English version, you don’t post on FB or Twitter in English but just share the articles in English from the official website. Is this club’s strategy because most of the fan base speaks Croatian?
A: According to first analysis of the previous period, websites and posts in English are more effective exclusively during the period when club is playing in European competition. Hajduk’s fan base, regardless of being dispersed around the world, mostly speaks or is familiar with the Croatian language. But this segment is planned to further develop in the next period as well.
Q: Do you have certain rules that players need to obey on their personal profiles? Can the club engage players to be active on media and to post interesting content to visualize what goes on behind the scene?
A: Players and coaches, just like any other Hajduk employees have rules regarding everyday communication with public. The club already started with activities by PR department that bring each player closer to the fan or someone that is yet to become one. The entire two-way communication is managed through PR department.
Q: Where did the idea about “Ćakula” come from? Except for its great benefits with member relations, what are other pros (and cons if any) of this unformal meeting and getting feedback from those that live Hajduk?
A: Idea came from cooperation of Hajduk and “Nas Hajduk” (“Our Hajduk” – organization for club members). I think there’s no negative side to Ćakula. Clear and transparent operating of each Hajduk’s segment is a goal for every fan and employee of the club. Employees from our club’s sport segment and higher management practically initiate their attendance as they are eager to answer members’ questions.
* Ćakula (chitchat in English) is a meeting of fans with Hajduk’s higher management to discuss issues in and around the club. It is one of the greatest tools for fan engagement. To find out more about fan engagement tools, click here.
The most recent data published after the interview suggests that Hajduk’s marketing revenue is greater than almost all of Croatia’s team sports combined. I believe this gives a better perspective on what Hajduk means to people and what Hajduk’s marketing is doing – especially considering they still have a great chunk of marketing potential unused. On top of that, Hajduk has been underperforming for 10 years now.
Since they can’t attract large masses through sport success, the importance of marketing and PR has never been more crucial for club’s wellbeing. On the other hand, we have Real Madrid who’s won the UEFA Champions League twice in last 3 years and has been leading the highest marketing revenue tables for years.
The business side of sports has never been so important as today. We even see players getting bought/sold for business purpose rather than playing qualities. Hajduk continues to live thanks to its great history dating back to times when football was more of a people’s game and the club itself played the Yugoslavian league which was a much bigger market than what they have today.
Finally, the question remains: even though Hajduk is showing many signs of progress, can the club ever become a part of the elite with the status quo?
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