Southampton FC Head of Marketing: “Data should be an important part of every club’s marketing strategy.”
When we think about social media in sports, the use of digital in sports, as well as new trends in these fields, we immediatelly think of United States, and their sports institutions, franchises, even college sports. But, there is a football club in Europe, in England to be more precise, that is not afraid to experiment and try out new things, follow, or even start new trends in this area. If you really don’t know by now, I am talking about Southampton FC. In the past few years, they have started doing things a bit differently then before, and they’ve changed their approach to marketing to a more creative and entertaining one, and the results are showing it was a right way to go. They’ve won national and international awards for their work, and the’ye engaged their fans in a way that no one has done it before. While attending the Sporto conference in Portorož, we’ve had the opportunity to talk with James Kennedy, Head of Marketing at Southampton FC, and the man behind this success story.
All the senior management people at Southampton FC are essentially marketeers, and they want to grow Southampton FC as a brand.James Kennedy
Overtime: Let’s start from the beginning. How did you end up in Southampton FC?
James: Well, I worked for John Lewis, largest retailer in the United Kingdom and after that I worked for the European Golf Tour. I always wanted to work in sport. I found that sport was quite old-fashioned, and the way it marketed itself was too. For example, football clubs always needed to have a football in their posters, golf tournaments always had to have a golf ball, etc. You don’t have to do that. There is a way to do more. And when this job came up, as a sports fan, I couldn’t say no. And it (Southampton FC) is a great place to be. My colleagues at some other football clubs in the Premier League do not work with the same passion as I do because at most clubs, it’s all about business.
Overtime: We wrote an eBook about the use of Snapchat in sports marketing, and actually mentioned Saints’ Snapchat account on more then one occassion because you were the first club in Premier League to use this entertaining new platform, and you even used Snapchat to launch your new kit for the 2014/15 season. Can you tell us why you decided to use Snapchat?
James: At the moment, we cannot compete with the biggest clubs in the Premier League financially, but we will get there. But, if we can be the first to do something, or be more creative in doing something, that is the story for us to tell. The reason we used Snapchat very simple, we said “Let’s just try it, let’s see what happens”. And the result was that it opened a much younger market for us. When we realized its potential, we started getting clever in how to use stories, filters on matchdays, and stuff like that. We had fun with it! Snapchat is my personal favorite platform to have fun with. And my advice to anyone using Snapchat is to have fun with it, it’s the only way.
When we used Snapchat for “Show your stripes” kit launch campaign, we wanted to see how we can give people a chance to wear the kit before they sell it, and Snapchat was the obvious answer. Campaign ended up being much bigger then we originally thought it would be. We “created” Barry about two and a half weeks before the kit was actually going on sale. The clock was ticking. The reason we think it was such a success is because Barry is not really about football players or football kit, Barry is a character. You don’t have to like football or Southampton, but because you like Barry, you might like Saints a little bit more, and that was the logic behind the campaign.
Overtime: You did not use Barry only for the kit launch campaign, you can say that he (in the process) became a part of Southampton family. You used him in a clever way to introduce the people who work in the club, and get them a little bit closer to your audience.
James: For me, that is a difference maker, and that is where we do stand out as a club. I don’t think, and I may be wrong, that any other football club in the Premier League would have that kind of access to the players, to the training ground, etc.
And even from the players’ perspective, they are incredible football players and they are very professional, but they don’t really want to be actors, that is not in their “job” description. And that is where Barry jumps in because he is the focal point of every video, he makes it easier for the players because the camera is not on them.
Overtime: You mentioned earlier you cannot compete with bigger clubs financially, but from the outside it looks like you are investing a lot of money in what you are doing. You’ve just introduced a new amazing website that must’ve been a big investment, and you always put out lots of creative content on all of your channels. I am guessing Southampton does not invest as much money in marketing and digital as the top 5 or 6 clubs in the Premier League. How much does this financial difference affect what you do?
James: One of our values is “Doing things the right way”, and what that means is when we have money, we invest it wisely. That is, for example, why Southampton FC instead of spending a lot of our money on player transfers, we spend it on the training ground. Because that is better for the club in the long term. We had a fairly good budget for our website, sure, but that was the right place to invest the money in the long term. And we did spend some money on a few campaigns, but from a creative point of view, I don’t believe that you need a lot of money. For example, campaigns with Barry really didn’t cost a lot of money…a cameraman, lighting technician, director and a few people from my staff have done a great job. Another example is Snapchat…everyone has a cellphone, and it doesn’t cost anything to make a nice story. I am not a believer that you need loads of money to create stuff. On the other hand, you might need money to build platforms to promote the stuff you create.
Overtime: How difficult is it to get the players involved? Or even get the coach to agree to everything you want to do? As you said, this is not a part of their jobs, and some of them do not feel comfortable participating in these types of activities.
James: It is not difficult when everyone is on the same page. We have a player and staff meeting once every two weeks or once a month, we look at their schedule, and then we organise campaigns in a way it does not affect their schedule. We would never do anything that affects football because football comes first. We are also very lucky because we have a culture of the club where the players understand what I need to do, and they are happy to do it and help our cause. Not always, but most of the time they are. Our players understand that, for us to grow as a club, we need to bring more partners in. Partners don’t want just their logo on a press backdrop, they obviously expect more. If you explain this to the players, they get it. “Do this and this and that” approach to players will always be less effective. Another important thing to say is that if you produce good content, they are happy to be in it. Quality of content is really important to get the players involved.
people in Marketing and Media departments at Southampton FC
or more people only in Media departments at some of the top clubs in the Premier League
Overtime: You mentioned data analysis as one of the most important things when creating a marketing strategy. How many clubs in the Premier League really rely on data for marketing purposes?
James: I believe more and more do. I think some put more importance on it then others, and some may have tried to do too much too quickly.
Years ago, advertising was different. The lady on the TV would hold a broom in her hand and said “You want this broom, this broom is for you”. What is happening now is the fan is telling us what he/she wants. And we have to create what he/she wants. But I can’t know what is it our fans want unless I know the data behind them. People that do not get on this quickly will fall behind. If you don’t have the manpower to get it done yourself, find someone to do it for you, because data should be a very important part of everyone’s strategy.
Overtime: To conclude our coversation, what are your short or long term goals and what do you think about trends in digital?
James: Our short term goals, from a marketing point of view, is to get our new website where we want it to be. We are really happy with where it is now, but there are a few tweaks you learn after you actually launch it. From a club’s point of view, in the next few years we want to try to get to the next level, to the Champions League. When and how can we get there, and what are our plans for when it happens. We have to be realistic because we’ve had 7 years of going upwards, but there will be a point when this will stop, and taking a step further will be much more challenging. The club is doing everything it can so if we eventually take that step, we will be ready for it.
As far as trends in digital go, I am really interested to see what will happen with Twitter. Will they further extend their 140 characters format or not? This might dictate where we will go next. Will we go to long form content all over again or not? I personally think that consumers are going to get savvy and demand more quality content.
While listening to James speak to us about Southampton FC, I noticed he spoke about the club and everything he is doing in the club with a lot of passion. It’s obvious he loves sports, he loves Southampton, and he loves his job. And this is a privilege – to do what you love for a living.
Besides this, one thing that caught my attention during the interview, although I’ve heard it a million times before is “don’t be afraid to try new things”. And this is so true. Southampton tried to do many things differently (first in Premier League on Snapchat, completely different marketing campaigns with Dr. Barry Gale, etc…) and they’ve succeeded! I mean, what’s the worst thing that can happen? You fail and try something else.
We wish him and the Saints all the best in the future, and are looking forward to getting more content from their inexhaustible pool of creativity.
Overtime Sports Marketing
If you have any questions about sports marketing, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org