A piece of Ajax: how the Dutch club put fans at the heart of its 35th championship win

AFC Ajax won the Grand Prix and the ‘Sports or E-Sports Experience of the Year’ category at The Drum Awards for Experience. Wanting to bring fans closer after a difficult year, it dedicated its championship trophy to them – and literally gave them each a piece. Here, the team behind this innovative entry explains how the idea came to life.

The pandemic hit Ajax and its fans right in the heart. The 2020-2021 season was largely played without the presence of the club’s supporters in its home, the Johan Cruyff Arena. But in spite of the empty stadium, Ajax knows it has the unconditional support of its fans all year round - on social media and near the stadium. The club knows this was a contributing factor to winning its 35th national championship.

This made us think – we wanted to return the favor. We saw two challenges:

National challenge: How could we include our partners and season ticket holders in the 35th title win? And how could we strengthen our bond with the fans and thank them for their loyalty?

International challenge: How do we build interest in Ajax among football fans globally? In other words, how does this idea contribute to Ajax’s Second Love strategy: to become the second love (after their favorite club) of every football fan around the world.

This is important because global visibility and appreciation of Ajax leads to a greater reach, a higher commercial value and more pride among fans in the Netherlands. Where competing (European) clubs have more resources, Ajax uses creativity to reach these people.

Objectives

  1. 100 million impressions through earned media

  2. An earned media value of 2 million euros

  3. 1 million views of the video content

  4. 90% positive feedback from football fans

  5. 50% growth in followers on social media channels compared to an average period

Strategy

The success of Ajax is the success of its fans, even if they’re not allowed to be physically in the stadium due to Covid-19. That’s why the club decided to dedicate the 35th national championship to its fans with the hashtag ‘#XXXVoorjullie’ (#XXXForyou). This campaign theme is proudly displayed throughout Amsterdam and across our social content.

Ajax decided not just to say it, but to literally share the prize with the fans.

How? By melting down the precious trophy, the top prize in Dutch football, into more than 42,000 little stars - a reference to the three championship stars on the chest of the Ajax shirt. This way every season ticket holder and business relation would receive a unique piece of the trophy.

Or in other words: A Piece of Ajax.

The idea is as simple as it is powerful. This project stands out because nobody would expect Ajax to actually do it. It gave season ticket holders goosebumps and garnered worldwide admiration. The campaign is a sports world first. Never before has a club shared its trophy with the fans in this way – anywhere.

Execution

Stars

For the melting of the stars, Ajax recruited de Tingieterij in Alphen, the maker of the trophy for the Eredivisie champion since 1985. They melted the trophy down, supplementing the metal with pure tin, after which the stars were cast and polished. Each star weighs 3.45 grams, containing some of the real championship trophy. Finally, each star was packaged in a smart black box with Ajax branding and ‘XXXV’.

Logistics

Ten days after Ajax won the league title, the 42,390 stars arrived in fans’ mailboxes. The package also included a letter from Ajax, thanking fans for their support during a difficult year.

By making strict agreements with supplier PostNL in advance, guaranteed exactly when the stars would be delivered so we know when to go live with the online content.

Content

Ajax then announced the campaign on its website and social media channels. The scenic hero video stars Ajax players Tadić, Gravenberch and Martínez, as well as the popular technical director Marc Overmars. The song in the video is a modern remake of Amsterdam by Maggie MacNeal, with the appropriate lyrics ‘Amsterdam, the city where everything’s possible’.

To confirm the authenticity of the campaign, we created a making-of video and an Instagram slider, explaining the casting process step by step. The non-Dutch Ajax players all shared a picture with A Piece of Ajax, increasing the reach in players’ home countries such as Brazil, Morocco and Mexico.

PR approach

Ajax does not have the budgets to reach football fans worldwide with a paid media strategy. That’s why we must be creative to earn attention. With a personalized and tailored earned media approach, an influential (inter)national media network is involved in spreading the story. The result? Within 24 hours, media from 150 countries wrote about A Piece of Ajax.

Impact

Culture

To melt the championship trophy for stars, you need balls and flair. There is only one club in the Netherlands where this is part of the culture. Where such ideas are not only conceived, but also implemented. That’s AFC Ajax.

Capturing the spirit of the times

It has been a difficult season for Ajax, but especially for the club’s supporters. They were not allowed to be present at matches or even at the championship party. By dedicating and sharing the 35th national title with the fans, we made them a unique part of our success. What started as a big disadvantage - not being in the stands for a season because of Covid-19 – became turned into a small but very special advantage and reward.

All this happened shortly after the biggest and richest clubs in Europe - not including Ajax - announce the arrival of an exclusive ‘Super League’, without consulting the leadership of national leagues or clubs. Since the apparent reason was earning more income, this went down badly with fans.

That’s why this was an important time for Ajax to prove it puts its fans first.

Results

The campaign has set a new standard both nationally and internationally and has been named by fans and sports marketers alike as the ‘best campaign in sports history’. Ajax made the news in 150 countries with a total of over 1,600 publications.

Our earned reach was no less than 3.7 billion (3,600% above target) in print and online publications, and over 900 million impressions via social media. The total number of views on the video content reached 12.1 million (1,100% above target).

This not only generates an earned media value 500% above target, but also 37,500 pleasantly surprised season ticket holders, 24 proud partners, 12,00 happy business members and 450 glowing employees.

The stars quickly become popular. Within hours of the launch, there is a rush to buy the championship stars on Marktplaats, eBay and Catawiki with bids of up to a thousand euros.

Football fans around the globe are embracing the idea: as much as 99% of the reactions were positive. The campaign not only struck the right chord with Ajax’s season ticket holders, but thanks to its gigantic reach, it also ignited love and appreciation internationally for Ajax.

This resulted in an average growth of 1126% in new followers across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube (compared to the average growth rate). With almost 10 million views on Twitter, the hero video tweet even became Ajax’s highest-scoring tweet ever.

This campaign was a winner at The Drum Awards for Experience. To find out more, including which competitions are currently open for entry, visit The Drum Awards website.