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Southampton FC: ‘We want to engage with our fans like a brand, not a football club’

Southampton FC readily accepts it can’t match the commercial clout of the bigger Premier League sides but thinks achieving a single customer view of its fans rather than a glut of sponsorship deals is the way to eventually turn it into a heavyweight.

It’s a lofty ambition for a club that returned to the top flight in 2012 after a seven-year absence. However, the board’s plan to progress sustainably rather than rapidly ensures that the team’s progressive on-field play is translating to how it pushes CRM to monetise supporters in a way that they feel they’re not getting short-changed.

“We need to consider ourselves as brand and not necessarily as a football club,” said James Kennedy, Southampton’s head of marketing. To do this, the club has been working with data-driven sports agency Two Circles to build out a robust CRM strategy, spanning not just its email and ticket offering but also its social channels, hospitality data and retail.

A key aspect of this is blending ticket data with that gleaned from shoppers at the club’ store, both online and offline. The move came off the back of last season’s ticket campaign that saw sales jump 19 per cent – the highest in 10 years. “We think we can roll it out and achieve similar success in retail,” said Kennedy.

“But we’re also confident that we can offer better value for current partners and potential ones by doing the work we’re doing and offering bespoke opportunities and bespoke campaigns so that they can talk to the right people. We want them to be partners as oppose to just sponsors.”

The strategy hinges on the club’s ability to essentially connect the dots between touchpoints like email data, purchase data and online behaviour. Traditionally, at no point would these consumer interactions be integrated into the system, with brands preferring to stick with one platform like Facebook, for example.

The sum of all these activities is to create what Kennedy calls a “genuine single customer view” of Southampton fans. Many clubs “talk a good game” when it comes to this, he continued, but we’re “reengineering the way our teams talk about the customer as well as “understand that it’s not just about the data”.

It’s a stance the club is building its international footprint around. While it lacks the brand reception of an Arsenal or a Chelsea on a global scale, Southampton is using alternative marketing tactics to tap the league’s popularity in markets like the US and China. The club was named the fastest growing football brand in the world after rising in value by 89 per cent in the past year to $183m, according to the Brand Finance Football 50.

“We were the first club to use Snapchat and that opened up America for us. We were also the first football club to use Vine and have used geo-filters for our kit launch,” said Kennedy. “We’ve got ambitions as a club to be bigger and better. I think we need to be better digitally and understand our customers and our data will really help that and be a key tool for us.”

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Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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