Football. The beautiful game of football, where millions of people all over the world unite to watch the final match. There is a large European football fan base in the Middle East, with very high influence and investment; however, the regional fan base and interest in local clubs is fairly low in comparison to the support fans have for big European clubs. Walking around Dubai mall you’ll see many people wearing the latest European clubs kit, and rarely see anyone in a local football clubs shirt to represent their support for a team.
I had the opportunity to attend Deloitte Financial Advisory’s inaugural Annual Review of Football Finance – Middle East edition launch with Deloitte’s Global lead for Sport, Dan Jones. As a football fan myself, I was intrigued to hear Dan touch on the different aspects of European football and on what makes the leagues and clubs so successful. I was keen to understand why a region with so much love for the sport had such little support for their regional and hometown clubs.
At the event in Dubai, Dan Jones was joined by panel members, Humphry Hatton (Deloitte Financial Advisory CEO), James Piercy (Sport360), Miquel Pancorbo (Gulf Marketing Group – Sports Division) and David Grisham (Ticketmaster Middle East). The panelists debated on various opportunities and strategies the region needs to adopt to help grow its football leagues. I am no expert myself, however a few of the discussion points from the debate really stuck with me as key takeaway’s to improving the football environment in the Middle East:
#1: Create a strong fan base
Dan Jones mentioned it is crucial for club owners to keep their fans happy. Not only should you keep the fans happy, you need to attract a wider fan base as well. The right level of quality players already exists; it is just crucial to engage fans in attending the matches at the stadiums and enjoy the experience. Which brings me to the second point.
#2: Match Experience
If the fans are happy they will support the club, buy merchandise and attend matches. Football matches are broadcasted live on television, but what a different experience it is to watch the match live. The venue doesn’t matter, a nice stadium is just a nice stadium, it is about the event experience. One technique is to create a family friendly environment in the stadium: a destination for a family to spend a Saturday together watching a match. Even an average match between Manchester United and Watford, you will find Old Trafford full of fans – why is this not the case in the Middle East?
#3 Social Media
The UAE national team, which has been successful over the past few years, could possibly qualify for the next World Cup. Yet, in order to take it to the next level, the team would need to attract a wider fan base. Miquel Pancorbo highlighted how FC Barcelona uses social media to communicate with their fans and build a wider and stronger fan base. Local teams should imitate this technique and allow fans to access their clubs through social media.
Lastly, the football clubs need to create strategic marketing plans. Currently, the matches are at awkward timings with no consistent kick off time to assist with developing coherent marketing activities. The European leagues have an organised and consistent schedule in which matches start. Football clubs in the region should adopt this method as well. The football clubs must allow their matches to be family friendly, and create a simple route for fans to locate match timings and location through various social media channels and their website.
Everything mentioned so far is easier said than done. The quality of players and clubs currently exists; however, implementation is much more difficult. The fans in the Middle East have so much loyalty to various European Football Clubs, maybe it is time that we started to look a bit closer to home.
By Aisha Al Shaya, senior marketing assistant, Deloitte Corporate Finance Limited (regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority)
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