I was on the Kop at Liverpool FC’s Anfield last Saturday (6th Feb), when the fans walked out and at that moment in time (77 minutes as that is what the top price ticket would cost) it didn’t particularly feel like a momentous occasion!
I am a member of one of the supporters groups, Spirit of Shankly, that organised the walk-out but I had decided to stay. For good or for bad I had never left my team before 90 minutes and on the day that was going to be the case again. I was surprised at the number of people that walked out,with 25% of the crowd or 10,000 being bandied about.
Liverpool fans are quite famous for being organised: helping to remove previous owners of the club, justice for the families of the Hillsborough victims and now inflated ticket prices. I was surprised how TV pundits picked up on it and backed it and even more surprised at the speed the owners of Liverpool Football Club issued an apology and froze ticket prices for two years. I applaud them for listening and taking action.
But the walk-out and ticket prices were not the only hot topic on the day, the owners have allegedly used the term ‘turning fans in to customers’. With one statement it turns one of the greatest football clubs on earth to something else.
I am sure that it is only the most blinkered of fans don’t realise that football is a business, it is a big business and to compete the football club needs to be commercially astute. Football clubs earn far more money from retail operations, TV rights and various sponsorships than they do from the fans that pay to go through the turnstiles.
However, would football be the same without a crowd at the ground creating an atmosphere? It’s not a scientific comparison, but may be significant that Liverpool were winning 2–0 when the crowd walked out. Then the atmosphere went flat and they ended up drawing 2–2.
I am in some small way comparing football to retail – please bear with this analogy. Can football in theory survive without crowds attending the game? For the big clubs, yes they probably can. There are always far more fans at home watching on TV than actually get in to the grounds. These are the people that can be targeted to buy replica kits, clothing ranges and so on – which is 100% the retail side of football, as fans shop online or even click and collect.
What happens if retailers do concentrate on a similar audience and withdraw from the high street, creating a similar experience to football without fans?
Football is all about emotion, you are born to a team and through thick and thin you follow them. However, withdraw what may be for some people a single journey to experience your team playing live, and the emotional attachment will start to fade and at some point not seem relevant. You become a follower as opposed to a fan!
Retailers do not have that emotional attachment, they have to work harder to get a loyal shopper and it is in-store that that happens. Create the awareness, interest, desire and action, create the interaction and deliver a seamless customer experience to complete the sale and gain the repeat visits.
You can’t use a word like customer or consumer for a football fan, the attachment to your team far outweighs the word. Retailers have the opposite battle as they look to turn customers in to fans, the ones who will put up with the odd delivery hiccup or their favourite item being out of stock, because they have an emotional attachment to the brand.
The high street is where retailers can win this battle. Get it right, and they can create a place in the customer’s heart just as football grounds are where fans should be.
You’ll never walk alone.
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