Creating a connection: Why football clubs should invest in media production

Due to the reliance on clubs for the semblance of community that we have come to lack in an increasingly secular society, first-party media produced from within the confines of a football club is becoming increasingly important. We need football for our sense of self, but also for the sense of others — a collective human spirit that we have shed, slightly, as we have evolved. Via media, football clubs can extend beyond the ninety minutes played out on the pitch.

It can be a bleak job, producing media for football clubs. The business of football is driven completely by numbers — mainly the three points that come with winning a match — but also the metrics involved in media production. Unfortunately, it has become alarmingly clear that the metrics used to back investment in media production are often used poorly if not entirely fabricated. The main number is always going to be the number driven by first-team performance and often times success on the field is what drives content production forwards. Often enough, bad footballing teams can simply bail out on content creation as it would seem almost ‘offensive’ to post content at a time when the team is not succeeding.

Regardless, I do believe that all football clubs owe it to themselves to invest heavily in media production and content creation. Marketing, and the brand of a football club are just one consideration, but community spirit and fostering a profitable and happy community should be the main focus of any football club. Without that? Well — you’ve seen what games and matches played at empty stadiums are like. Win, lose or draw, clubs should always create.

Why? Well if we remove all focus on metrics and profitability, content draws fans into the club. It highlights the name of the club and ensures the club comes across as the club it wants to come across as. If a club has a bad reputation, years of work to showcase the actual work of the club can turn that around — and digital & physical content can help accelerate that. However, it needs a holistic approach and backing from all areas of the club. For media production to succeed within a football club, the football club’s purpose must be aligned and it must be clear

Forest Green Rovers are a fantastic example of purpose. A village team, Forest Green were heavily backed by eco-energy tycoon Dale Vince in controversial circumstances. Playing at a ground known as the New Lawn, Forest Green is the first vegan football club. Their name connotes vegetation, their diets are plant-based and the ground is as green-sounding as it can be. While Forest Green will certainly have aspirations of future success in the English Football League, they have another purpose — and that is to be sustainable. Forest Green have a direction for the future in all facets of what they do because of the foundation laid by the club’s owner. In theory, the club’s success on the field doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with the purpose and goal of the club’s ownership and as long as that doesn’t actively hamper on-the-pitch performances, there is enough reason to hold Forest Green up as a beacon of a club with a purpose.

The higher we climb up the footballing pyramid, it can be quite hard to define the purpose of a football club from the outside. What are the purposes of Aston Villa, Burnley, Stoke City and Norwich City as defined by outsiders? It is hard to find football clubs at a high level with an active purpose other than footballing success. There are not many Rayo Vallecano’s, Celtic’s, Bilbao’s or St. Pauli’s circulating. For clubs where we cannot define a secondary or tertiary ‘purpose’ apart from winning football matches, we must assume and assign the banner of ‘community work’ as a purpose. The reason we must put so much focus on content creation and media production is not just to forge and hone the ‘purpose’ but to expose and publicise the purpose and strengthen a connection with fans and supporters.

A number of clubs lack any media production capability and simply perform the tasks as though they were ‘tick box’ exercises. This serves no benefit and the club could save money by scrapping its media production wing. If a club wants to pursue media production to publicise and hone purpose, then it must take the act of media production seriously. It’s not just to make funny tweets that secure a lot of likes, it’s about a serious endgame and working to a set goal. Collating numbers and generating metrics only serves to secure the football club a place in a trap set and defined by venture capitalists much smarter, more powerful and much more threatening than anyone working at the football club. If the sole purpose of the media production wing of a football club is to simply generate content to generate metrics, the only goal — as proved multiple times — will be failure.

To create good media, a football club must back its media production wing and allow it to grow almost independent of the workings of the football club, whilst keeping in tune with the purpose and true goal of the club. This allows the production to take place regardless of coaches, players and managers — more often than not due to the fact that they are temporary fixtures at a club in the grand scheme of things.

Now, if we define the true goal as something irrelative of footballing performances, then football clubs cannot switch off upon bad performances. This means that when it comes to content, clubs do need to own their losses. NFL teams are exceptional at this and are able to twist positives out of losses by allowing access via content to players and coaches post-match. The Cleveland Browns succeeded with this despite failing to win a game for years (plural). The Browns then reaped the rewards that come with relative success and now seem to occupy a fairly enviable position due to winning games and owning a cultural commodity in the form of an incredibly popular Quarterback. If this foundation wasn’t laid, the Browns would have been in no position at all to capitalise on the good faith in the team brought by their success and their players. They’d have been playing catch-up with themselves, but by allowing access to players and by creating a platform upon a foundation of solid media production, they are able to simply hit the ground running and showcase the feel-good nature of the team. Everything has seemed to work out perfectly for the Browns, but without the groundwork laid by the off-the-field team, would their story have been showcased in the same manner? Would it have carried across to international fans in the same manner? Would domestic supporters have been able to relive their positive experiences? Thanks to marketing and media work, the Browns can profit in a number of ways — and that doesn’t happen without that work taking place.

Clubs who are perennial underachievers should not shut-off, because to do so doesn’t just ensure that they are in no position to capitalise when the tables turn but because shutting off ensures that a total disconnect emerges between the supporters of the club and the club itself when things are not going right. Relegation and losses must be viewed as an opportunity through a media lens, but more often than not, it can become a solemn and holistic devastation for the club. A club can not just switch off when the going gets tough, because when things get a lot worse, will the fans be connected to the club at all? It’s totally situational, but I’d bet that clubs who can offer insight, openness and accessibility stand to benefit.

Two good examples are offered in the EFL by Swansea City and Sunderland. Swansea City sticks to a content schedule win, lose, or draw that puts the club, and not the opposition, in focus. With Q&A’s, panels, reaction and highlights, the club does not ignore losses — it digests them and puts content out there for fans. Will Swansea fans take a good and creative content schedule over wins? Absolutely not. Will it ensure there’s some kind of connection between the club and the fans between matches? Yes. Sunderland was able to spin a double-relegation into a positive with the Netflix documentary ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ — which ended with more optimism than it started with despite the club taking a continual thumping in every single episode.

Simply put, content creation is a smart way to bring fans on board and hone purpose. Win, lose or draw, smart clubs can create an everlasting connection between the club and its fans that both parties can profit from.

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thoughts from between the dustbin and the gutter

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James Rushton

James Rushton

thoughts from between the dustbin and the gutter

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