Should football clubs put a higher value on their supporters?
How often do we hear players and managers say how important their fans are to them. The twelfth man can be instrumental in creating waves of optimism, noisily encouraging changes in tempo and motivating players to ignore their late game fatigue. A goal possibly the result of behavioural contagion: fans to players and back. Programme notes written in the manager’s name usually give a name check to the fans. “You really got behind us……and certainly played your part in helping us grab a late equaliser” exhorts Brighton and Hove Albion’s manager Oscar Garcia’s in his 4th January programme notes referring to a last ditch goal in the previous game.
And yet, given most models of ownership, the fans are very undervalued and alienated from the heart of the club. Notwithstanding the odd rain soaked placard of dissent enlivening a local news report, the fans of British clubs compared to the entrenched priviledge of some Italian ultras is nothing. The final say in any particular struggle will bend to pressures higher up the food chain than the supporters. But the decision making big cheeses at clubs ignore fans at their peril. Simply, fans deliver a significant buck to the bottom line and their stadium filling future attendances whether 2000 or 50000 are built into cash flow forecasts and balance sheets. The presence of the fans is intrinsic to the financial value of any club, advance season ticket sales essential to any season’s plans.
It is said, usually by besieged chairman, the supporters have the ultimate power: they could stay away. This would be so if clubs were selling petrol, books, cereal or products that are available elsewhere. However Doncaster Rovers, a random example, have a monopoly on being Doncaster Rovers. If you follow Donny or any other club there is no competition, no cut price better run version to support. Perhaps the Premier and Football Leagues should be referred to the Competition Commission for not providing alternative versions of all clubs. This is one reason Football avoids being simply a business.
So let’s go back to the twelfth man concept. If clubs value their supporters as much as they say, should they not reward them for success on the field? They take the pain of defeat and relegation and still come back for more. If the club is not prepared to cede some of its ownership to fans then they could institute a win bonus scheme of some sort (money off next ticket and any other benefits going)The fans would be more connected to the team and more motivated to sprinkle more of their twelfth man gold dust. This would lead to better atmosphere, more success ,more supporters and so on. A virtuous circle.