As we all watched (or played a part in) this week’s transfer deadline day. There was a sad moment for me as a Tottenham fan (keep reading…it's not all about Tottenham!). Dele Alli’s departure from Spurs didn’t signal to me the end of his time at Spurs, but a moment where Spurs fans moved one further step away from being connected with the club. As his powerful exit video (that he made) showed the connection with the fans, was stronger than the video created by the club. Whilst it was unusual for a club to make an exit video, they would normally have been applauded for the effort, but that was overshadowed by his own. Many Tottenham fans will be the first to admit that Dele’s time was up, but the hole left will take time to heal. With Kane’s actions in the summer the two heralded English talents at Tottenham have left their fans with a hole to fill.
As more empty seats appear at the Tottenham stadium and a small fan protest at the training ground about ownership, the club faces a huge challenge to lose the “it’s about profit tag” and to represent the fans ambitions. Something that Tottenham try so hard to do, their amazing community work, constant messaging about the players and interactions (training photos, videos, fun games etc…)
But what happens if even with all this noise, people don’t seem to care. As Tottenham fell foul of the dreaded “Legacy fan” comment at the end of last season. The disconnect widens, with only results on the pitch making a difference. Dele’s video made it harder to look at the squad and personalities and for fans to instantly fill a void.
So, why do I care about this (other than following the club), how does it effect lower league and non league clubs?
The clubs we work with we have a firm focus on the need to focus on the fans. Engage them, get them to know the directors, the managers, the players and the volunteers. Creating a community locally that will inspire people to attend and instantly feel welcome. The hardest challenge for any club is getting a new fan into the walls of a football ground. The stands at most clubs look amazing from the inside but act as huge barriers of uncertainty for those unfamiliar with what’s inside.
We know that all our clubs rely on the fans that come. We might dream of money from TV coverage, but fans attract sponsors… and they pay the bills and build the squad.
So what are clubs doing at these levels to create those connections. Player interviews become the norm, after match videos with the managers and man of the match, match highlights. All spread across social media in a timely fashion. As each club strives to look professional and manage the perception of their club to those that may be falling out of love with the elite game.
But to really progress this needs go one step further back to creating those real genuine connections and building community. I’ll often be found stating is difficult for a club to go down and very hard to get promotion. As you head into non-league, as clubs of various sizes, budgets and attendances fight for where they believe they can belong. So with fans often knowing come the end of the season they will be in the same division, what keeps them coming back? For me, it’s that connection between the fans and the club environment… the community that all clubs create around them and how wide that halo effect can become.
Across the leagues we can see teams with new owners and investments being made into challenging for a change in their current position. But all too often these big budgets seem to be met with less engagement and reduced attendance.
With more money coming into the various steps that’s a great thing to help our clubs survive and go again. But if the moneys there but the fans aren’t, as owners of the club they we need to wonder who they are doing this for?