Unprecedented restrictions were placed on football clubs, players and fans across the UK with reduced fixtures and empty stadiums in Season 2020/21.
The UK Government has officially announced that the 21/22 domestic football season will once again see stadiums operating at full capacity. A significant moment for the game and a return of football as we know it. Or will it be?
While the return of fans is no doubt great news for leagues and clubs, are the fans still the same? Or has what matters to them changed?
What’s clear from both our data and the recent Euro 2020 tournament is that fans’ passion for the game remains the same. However, while restrictions on capacity have been lifted, there is an underlying concern among UK football fans around returning to stadiums.
Over 50% still feel either somewhat or very uncomfortable about returning to the grounds. These feelings are likely exacerbated by media reports about the large number of cases contracted during the recent Euros by Scottish and English fans.
Another key factor according to our research is getting to and from the game. Let’s face it, who wants to be squished into a packed train with thousands of other fans nowadays?
This tells us that despite stadiums opening their gates again, that brands can continue to play a role in bringing fans together; ensuring everyone feels included regardless of whether they have a front row seat at home or in stadium. A great example of this is DHL’s A World United campaign, which last season connected Manchester United fans across the globe. Given so few fans ever get to attend the Old Trafford, DHL delivered the stadium to them. Fans took their seat in a virtual Theatre of Dreams for a chance to win monthly virtual and physical prizes.
Like many people, fans’ personal finances have been adversely affected by the pandemic.
Our most recent data indicates that 1/3 of fans are concerned about their personal finances getting worse, not better in the next six months. We can also see that being financially secure is one of the top three priorities to fans in the UK, second only to spending time with their family. We imagine this is an anxious time for many.
Brands have an opportunity to say to fans ‘don’t worry, we’ve got this’. Price sensitive messaging and promotional mechanics show you care, whether it be flexible payment options, discount offers or free delivery on club merchandise, every gesture counts.
Southampton FC have listened and are offering interest free payment plans for Season 2021/22 so fans can spread the cost of the ticket across a three-month or seven-month period.
The long-standing link between football and fast food may be weakening. Fans have taken time during the pandemic to focus on lifestyle improvements including healthier eating, reduction in alcohol consumption, and less sugary products.
To tap into this shift, brands may want to consider incorporating messaging, promotions or incentives that promote healthier living and lifestyle choices. For example, encouraging fans to be more physically active or reimagining traditions such as half-time pizza deliveries with a new healthier alternative.
The pandemic has affected us all in different ways and football fans are no exception.
While the love of the game and the entertainment it delivers at grounds or in homes remains unchanged, there are subtle shifts taking place in attitudes and behaviours. Brands that are sensitive to these shifts will strike the right chord with our new era fans as we excitedly ‘boot up’ for next season.
Data: GWI 2021