This article is the first in a series that isn’t purely focused on Selby Town FC. Instead, my aim with these articles is to look at non-league football as a whole, offering advice and commentary on how a non-league clubs can look to try and improve the size of their fan base.
As a disclaimer, I have not worked for any non-league clubs, and don’t sit on any committees. I’ve also never managed a club, and certainly haven’t ever played for a club. These articles are written from the point of view of a fan only. So what am I trying to achieve, and what can I possibly add to the topic if I don’t have first-hand experience of it? Well my theory is that the real world experience I have – through employment and my own work with businesses I’ve owned or helped to run – can be applied to any business which relies on customer support for its success.
So please read on, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in either the comments below or you can find me on Twitter at @townofmylife
When embarking on writing this I had to take a number of points into account, the first and most important was that I had to remain realistic about the resources available to a non-league club. Any club or business has the potential to achieve great things if they have the right amount of time and money invested in it, however for most non-league clubs this investment is very hard to come by. Combine this with the fact that most clubs are run by volunteers whose free time has to be managed around other day to day commitments, and this makes any kind of promotion or activities away from match day extremely difficult to carry out. That’s not to say that promoting your club is expensive or time consuming, but it needs to be organised and managed properly in order to make it as effective and efficient as possible.
The other consideration I had to take into account was being realistic to what a club can achieve and with that in mind; I’d suggest that clubs should set themselves a target before they embark on any new promotional activities. So for example, if a club has a regular attendance of around 100, it wouldn’t be realistic to expect to double that attendance to 200 in a short space of time. I would suggest that you look for around a 30% increase and aim for that. It might not sound a lot, but if a club pulling in 100 each week can turn this into 130, this would bring in an extra £150 a week (based on £5 entry) plus any benefits gained from additional programme sales, food, drink etc. That kind of money can make a huge difference to a club, and it also gives you a solid basis to build upon for the future.
So work out your average attendance, set yourself a realistic target, and let’s get started…
I make no secret of the fact that I am a huge supporter of the football programme. I know some see a programme as financial restriction forced onto clubs and I understand that viewpoint, but I think they are an essential part of the match day experience, and if they are used correctly then they can actually be of real benefit to the club.
For some clubs, it is difficult to find the time and/or money to make a new programme with news and features each week. This then leads to basically the same programme being rolled out each week with only minor changes which is likely to put people off purchasing a copy. Yet gaining extra content for your programme is much easier than it might seem. @nonlgeprogs for instance occasionally has free content written specifically to be reprinted in football programmes. You might also be able to glean content from other publications such as @thebootifulgame, why not ask the guys there if you can republish old articles from previous issues in return for promotion of the magazine? I’m not saying this is possible as you’d have to speak to the publication, but it is an example of what you could do to try and think outside of the box to gain content. (Note: Always ensure you gain permission from any publication to use their content, never just reprint it without consent).
Another great idea that I saw recently was @grundongraphics using a ‘Golden Ticket’ system in a @safc match day programme. The basic idea is that hidden inside one programme is a ticket which can be exchanged for a prize by the person who finds it. @safc used it to give away a team shirt, but it doesn’t need to be a physical prize, why not offer a free ticket to the next game for the person who finds it? Most people watch a match as part of a group, so giving one person a free ticket ensures they come back the week after to claim their prize, and at the same they will bring others with them who will all be paying for their tickets. It also helps to increase programme sales as people are eager to win the prize, and also gets people talking which ultimately is the aim we’re striving towards.
Another easy way to gain content for programmes is to reuse content from your social media you’re your website, all of which I will discuss in the next section.
Nowadays if a club isn’t making the most of social media then they will struggle to gain those extra followers which will help make a difference on match day. If we want non-league football to grow we need to make sure we’re bringing in new fans of all ages, and social media is a great way to do this. The biggest problem with social media is that people think it’s easy, and I see many make the mistake of believing that by putting on a quick picture or comment it’s enough to achieve success (spoiler – it’s not!). There is a big difference between using social media, and using it effectively. Just having a Facebook or Twitter account isn’t enough, and although social media success takes time, it is hugely beneficial.
If you are only going to have one type of social media then I would go with Facebook. Traditionally the most popular, Facebook will give your club a ‘face’ on the internet where people can find out more information on upcoming matches as well as giving them an opportunity to interact and discuss the club with other fans. The biggest problem facing clubs on Facebook (as with most clubs on social media) is their lack of content, or at least quality content.
Whenever you post something on a Facebook page, a small amount of that Facebook page’s followers get to see that post. In the past everyone would see it, but now the amount of people that see it (without specifically visiting that page) is limited by that page’s reach. To put it simply, the more people that interact with your post, the more people will get to see it, and also the more chance that future posts will be seen by a larger amount of people. So for example, if you put up your club’s team sheet for that Saturday’s match, and no one comments on it or hits like, then it’ll reach only a few people making it a bit of a wasted effort. If your team sheet receives a number of likes and people also comment on it or share it, then the amount of people that post will be shown too will increase which will give it more of an impact. So in other words, taking the time to post quality content which people are interested in and will interact with is much better than just going through the motions and putting on random photos or comments just for the sake of it. Quality always beats quantity.
So how can you improve the quality of your posts? Here are a few tips:
- Use videos where you can as these are always a winner on Facebook. Keep them short and snappy, no one will watch a video that lasts minutes, keep it down to 30 seconds at most and make sure the opening seconds grab the viewer’s attention.
- Demand interaction from your followers by asking questions or using polls. Ask questions such as ‘what was your favourite moment from last week’s match?’, or ‘who would have been your man of the match?’ in order to try and encourage people to comment.
- If you are thinking about making changes to the club in some way, use polls to ask your followers what they think. Maybe you are thinking of changing the menu in your club bar, or maybe you want to expand your merchandise in the club shop, either way ask your followers what they think to increase interaction and also to help shape the club in the way your fans want.
As well as encouraging interaction, make sure you’re posting regular content – at the very least you should be posting once a day. 1-3 posts is an ideal amount with maybe a few more on a match day if you’re giving some kind of commentary on the game. 1-3 posts sounds like a lot but Facebook offers a scheduling service which means you can write a large number of posts in advance and then schedule them to appear on certain days at certain times. So if for example you have an hour or two free on a Sunday, why not write all your posts for the week then and schedule them so you don’t have to mess about during the week whilst you’re busy?
Knowing that you need to post quality content is fine, but how will you continually come up with new content? Here are some easy ideas:
- Player profiles – speak to your players and get them to write one paragraph on themselves. Who they are, the positon they play, when they signed for the club, and a little bit about what they do for work, how they got into football or even hobbies and interests. This is a really easy way of gaining content which helps to bring people closer to the club. Fans want to know more about the people involved with the club and this is an easy way to do it. This content can also be reused in the match day programmes, why not feature one player profile in every issue of your programme? If you can get a photo of that player too then that is a full page of your programme filled for at least eleven issues!
- Behind the scenes – again, fans want to know more about their club. The more people know about the club the more they feel closer to the club and those involved. Email a short interview to the chairman, the owner, the manager – even the person who makes the teas! Every interview helps to give an insight into the club and sheer amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. And as above, this can be also used in the programme – that’s another page of interesting content sorted!
- Editorials – have a weekly comment by an individual within the club – the manager is probably the best person for this. Have them talk about the previous match, what they look forward to coming up, and who they think are playing particularly well at the moment. We’re talking one or two paragraphs that’s all. It isn’t a great deal of work for anyone, and of course anything you have can be re-used in the programme!
Twitter can be tougher than Facebook, but it can bring the club a massive amount of promotion when done properly. Like Facebook, Twitter needs to be used regularly to benefit from it, tweeting only on match days is okay (and many clubs – Selby included do a great job of match day commentary), but most clubs are let down by the Twitter use for the rest of the week. In most cases this is down to time – or a lack of it – but time doesn’t have to be an issue, as like Facebook, tweets can be scheduled. It isn’t quite as easy as scheduling a Facebook post (which you can do via the Facebook site or app), as in order to schedule a tweet you would have to download extra software, but there are a range of easy to use solutions for this, some paid and some free, so if you do have limited time I’d certainly recommend looking at these. I’d be more than happy to help you find the right one for you, just ask!
Twitter should be utilised differently to Facebook. The reason I say this is Twitter is a tool of communication that is much more immediate than Facebook, and it allows you to easily speak directly to your fans and other people that might be interested in the club. The main piece of advice for Twitter is to use it often, and don’t just post updates on there, use it to interact directly with other clubs, players and fans. The more people see your presence online, the more they are likely to start following you. Of course gaining a follower on Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean they will turn up on match day, but it all helps to increase awareness of your club.
As with Facebook, posting regular content is important in order to build up your online presence. It doesn’t have always be something completely original, as you can reuse posts that you have put on Facebook. Generally you will find that people that use Facebook or Twitter are quite territorial and stick to the one they prefer, so just because they use one doesn’t mean they will use the other.
Most clubs have a website of some kind, many through www.Pitchero.com which is a fantastic online tool for creating great looking websites. As well as being easy to use, Pitchero sites in my experience perform well in search engines so if someone happens to search for your town or club you will always appear at the top of the rankings. I have found that a lot of clubs do have a website, either via Pitchero or by another means, but most are massively underused and clubs aren’t making the most of them.
Here are a few pointers:
- Keep it fresh – add new content regularly, at least daily if you can. You need to keep giving people a reason to visit your site and if it is rarely updated then people won’t bother to look.
- Link to your social media – often I see social media and websites being running completely independently to the point where they don’t even acknowledge the other exists. On your website make sure you have links to all of your social media – there is no excuse not to have this! And on your social media, make sure you are constantly linking back to your website to drive traffic there. Remember, your website is the best place for any potential customers/fans to learn about your club and to find out information such as fixtures etc and so you should be always trying to get people to visit the site. Previously I mentioned how to create great content for your social media, why not trying posting that content onto your website in full, and then offer snippets of that content on your social media to grab people’s attention and get them to click through to your site? When it comes to match reports, make sure you are using your social media to get people to visit your website to read match reports. I see sites sharing match reports written by umpteen different football websites, but never sharing the match report on their own website even though their own report is generally better than they find on other sites!
- Advertise – this is made more difficult on pre-built sites such as Pitchero, but if you have your own site why not sell space on that site to sponsors? A banner at the top of the page or a couple of smaller adverts placed in a prominent (but not annoying) place can bring in additional revenue for very little work. The busier your site is the more you can charge for this space, so it is in your interest to get as many people as possible to visit your site so that you can then approach potential advertisers and let them know that if they advertise with you they will get X amount of people viewing their adverts.
As you can probably tell, to get the best from your web presence you need to be organised and communication must be strong between all of those who are in charge of it. It’s okay to have different people running your website, Facebook and Twitter, but if they aren’t talking and coordinating their efforts then they aren’t getting the benefits which they could be.
This is a great one to think about as not only does it provide excellent publicity for the club; it also helps to raise money for fantastic causes. There are different ways of approaching it, you could approach multiple charities yourself, or, why not look at writing an article for your local newspaper asking for charities to come forward if they are interested in the club supporting them?
You could help a number of charities, or you could choose one to have as your ‘charity of the season’. I know money is tight and any fundraising would have to be alongside money made on the gate and bar, but why not consider the following:
- Adverts in the programme – easy to do and content to help fill your programme. After a fund raising event any articles can also be reprinted in the programme so people can see what you’ve been up to.
- Collection boxes – use them in the bar and/or having someone walk around the ground prior to after the match collecting. If the charity has a costume/mascot even better.
- Organise a penalty shoot-out tournament for before the match or at half time. Get people to donate to try and have a go at ‘scoring past our keeper’.
- Hosting raffles or quiz nights in the clubhouse – you’ll gain money from the bar plus publicity, they will gain money from people taking part in the quiz etc.
Of course all of this fundraising should also be followed up with articles in local papers, and don’t forget to feedback everything you do via your website, social media and match day programmes. Another consideration should be local colleges, can you club house offer a place to display students art work? Can it be worked into their coursework in some way? Think photography, art, history etc.
Get involved in the local area, during fun runs or charity bike rides have a club team with that team wearing your colours. Think about how you can use your ground and its facilities to take part in events occurring in your town or city. This can particularly work well if you think about the historical nature of your club, with many clubs having been around for many years and being a home to a great deal of memorabilia and photos of times gone by. How can you turn a celebration of your town into also a celebration of your club’s rich history? The most important thing here is to take photos, write up an overview of what you did along with how much you raised and send it to your local paper – they will print it.
Look at what groups exist in your local area and think about how you can make use of them. Your local library is a great place to find out more information as they often have info boards in their entrance which advertise local groups and meeting times. As an example, could you invite a local photography group to take photos of the match in order to practice their hobby and get experience of sports photography? Could you let a group make use of your club house?
Schools and Colleges
Speak to your local schools especially the P.E. department and try to arrange trips for the kids to your ground. I know not every non-league team has a ground like the San Siro, but many of the kids will be excited to visit a football ground and chances are most may never have been to see you play a game. Give them a tour, let them sit in the manager’s box, give them a drink in the clubhouse, and if you can, let them have a kick about on the pitch – even a penalty shootout (don’t forget to ask them to bring their kits!). So for the sake of an orange juice and a small amount of time to show them around and organise everything, you might have some fans for the future. Also consider giving them a free ticket to take home for their parents, if the tour was fun the kids will run home and demand they are taken to a match and with a free ticket the parents won’t be able to resist!
Make The News
Local newspapers have a lot of space to fill with not a lot of stories to write about. They love anything that will take the pressure off so create a competition, free family tickets and a programme or something. Even better have the free tickets for a specific game and then get the newspaper to come down on the day and take a photo of the winners at the match for even more publicity. Anything that will get you off the back pages and into the rest of the paper will instantly make gain you extra publicity – you would be surprised just how few people know that your 100 year old club even exists or how to find it.
So that is the end of the first part in this series, let me know if any of it helps or if you have great ideas that would be good to share!