Following on from Nick’s post last week on the lack of challenger thinking within football as a sport, and the implications of this for the national team, I’d also suggest there’s a real lack of challenger thinking and behaviour within football as a business too.
Football clubs traditionally win support because of the locality of the club to where you live or were born, because it’s the team your family supports or because of their on field success (note the jump in the number of Chelsea shirts seen
in London post 2004) .
Whilst these reasons to support a team are always going to be important to a club in attracting fans, a club adopting a Challenger mindset would suggest that there are other ways too.
Why could a football club not gain a following by sharing a mindset or a particular point of view about the world? Or by creating a ‘monster’ within the game to go up against? Challenger Brands often rally behind a particular mindset and a way of thinking rather than appealing to a demographic – so why not a football club?
Two clubs who have perhaps adopted this concept are FC St Pauli of Hamburg, Germany and FC United of Manchester.
St Pauli supporters have long since rallied against fascism and racism – and the club, rather than ignore this fan-behaviour have instead made this ideology and point of view central to the identity of the club, projecting those values wherever possible; from their visual iconography, to their sponsorship decisions, to the music they play in the stadium as the teams run out. This unusual approach has given the club “Kult” status and yet they enjoy fame and a worldwide following that far out weigh the club’s resources and the town’s local population of just over 27,000. To date they have around 400 supporters clubs around the world and around 20 million supporters across Germany.
FC United, the club set up by Manchester United supporters in protest to the Glazer family’s ownership of the club, also have a strong point of view about the world and a monster within the game they aim to take down. FC United stand against corporate greed, commercialism within football, and the spiralling debts accrued by Manchester United since the Glazers bought the club.
Like St Pauli, FC United now have a cult following within football and their self-proclaimed “punk football” embodies the rebellious ethos and spirit that has driven supporters and the media to take such keen interest in the club. Again an interest that far out weighs the club’s resources and success on the football pitch (they currently play in the 7th tier of English football).
So the theory works. It would be great to see more club’s be bold and brave, look within their DNA and find what it is they stand for, what it is they stand against and what cause they should be fighting. I’m sure they would make a few friends.