Op-Ed: Why The FA is uniting its platforms to take advantage of the digital age

19 May 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

Following the launch of England Football, Paul Brierley, CRM & Membership Lead, The FA, explains how the organisation is capitalising on this brand shift, and a changing membership market, to drive growth and fan engagement.  

The England Football launch earlier this month brings real value and opportunity for football players, coaches, volunteers and supporters through the services that revolutionise how The FA delivers football in the digital age. These tools create more chances for people to play, coach and support and better reward people's passion for the game.

The final point references My England Football, the new, free rewards programme that recognises the enthusiasm of England fans, grassroots players and volunteers. My England Football offers money-can't-buy rewards, including the opportunity to play on the Wembley pitch, meet England players and watch them train, priority tickets and behind-the-scenes access to events. Plus, a host of FA and partner discounts and offers. 

Now, you might be wondering why we chose to launch My England Football alongside and at the same time as the new brand for the grassroots game? 

Well, our insight tells us that there are 20 million active England supporters, which swells to 30 million during international tournaments – so we are about to embark on a key acquisition period that only comes along once or twice every couple of years. 

This ebb and flow around major events, plus the staccato cadence of the International football calendar, creates a challenge when trying grow a contactable fan base; how to capitalise on the peaks and retain engagement in the troughs? 

The additional challenge when creating a membership proposition like My England Football – and this is relevant to all sports – is making it broad enough to serve all audiences. From those casual followers during major events, to fans that follow home and abroad, and all those in between. 

This question guided our strategic approach, which was clearly focused on increasing direct relationships across the entire English football market. Like all entities that are looking to create direct-to-consumer propositions, the successful delivery will help drive greater engagement, a better service for partners - providing more opportunities to connect personally at scale - and, most importantly for England Football, a way to move the dial on participation.  

Research and insights play a critical role in proposition development and audience segmentation. Whilst its tempting to dive head-first in to qualitative and quantitative testing, using existing internal data can offer tell you a lot about your fans and how they interact with you.

For example, from our active number of England fans, we were able to determine that it was only a very small percentage that have attended an England game in the last two years. We also know that that less than 10 per cent of active England fans play affiliated football, with far more playing casually.

We were able to ascertain that 18 million England fans have no physical relationship with The FA and, other than web and social visits, no digital attachment either. This shows the scale of the opportunity.

Once you know and understand the audiences you are targeting, you can focus on the right brand strategy and a benefits proposition that will attract each of those segments to register. For The FA, the existing free England Supporters Clubs and Lionesses Supporters clubs had served us well, providing a strong base of fans over the years. But the schemes had a clear ‘attender’ focus, with the main USP being ticket access. 

The launch of England Football provides an ambitious, consumer-friendly brand to align our new membership proposition with, but it also represented a wider audience, inclusive of non-attending fans, grassroots players, coaches, referees and volunteers. 

Research told us, as it is likely to tell most other sport properties, that fans don’t want to feel recruited. It also proved the need for a bespoke benefits package per audience and identified the importance of key assets, in our case Wembley Stadium and our National Teams. Importantly, it confirmed that one simple membership brand has most resonance, with the name ‘My’ testing twice as high for affinity than the second highest in the study. 

Simplicity is a key factor both in terms of mechanics and structure. Looking at membership and loyalty programmes in mature market sectors, many are simplifying their offerings. From fashion retailers like ASOS, to supermarkets like M&S and Morrisons, they have either abandoned complex points-based rewards schemes or simplified the redemption mechanic. 

Through research, insights, testing and development we feel we have a product that truly serves all England Football audiences, as well as our commercial partners who get better visibility and participation in their products.  

Through My England Football, we've got the likes of Nike, LG and BT rewarding our fans and building a relationship with them. There's also an affiliate programme with a direct revenue opportunity for partners and also a discount for our members. 

Clearly, England Football and The FA benefit hugely from the size of the football audience, the assets available to us and the quality and breadth of our commercial partners in helping to provide attractive rewards. However, history tells us that the perceived benefits alone are not always enough. 

By going through a full-cycle insight-led development process it provides confidence that we have created a membership platform that really does meet the needs of the modern fan. For us, the true measures of success will be engaging more fans, more regularly, but also helping to attract more people to the game and keeping them involved as active participants.  

That’s an aim that should be familiar to all sports bodies, leagues and competitions as we look to grow our fanbases.