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The importance of fan focus groups

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Laura Stubbs, senior strategist at Rippleffect, discusses the importance of engaging with fans when shaping a new digital product.

In the past year, we’ve held fan focus groups at four professional football clubs, as well as at a wide range of other sporting organisations and brands. These have informed the digital road maps we have developed to guide their online transformation.

Why do clubs need focus groups?

By communicating with fans face-to-face in the first instance when analysing your club’s digital presence, you’ll immediately see your digital offerings through the eyes of your fans. During focus groups, we speak to a range of fans spanning a club’s supporter base, from avid season ticket holders and owners of fan social media accounts to distant fans and occasional match-goers, ensuring that we capture a comprehensive view of the attitudes surrounding and perceptions of a club’s digital channels.

Speaking to fans directly is the best form of feedback that you’ll get - fans are passionate, and they want to talk. All of our sessions have led to constructive and helpful feedback about fan’s expectations and frustrations about, and their hopes for, their club’s website, social media and other digital channels.

These comments become solid evidence to inform later decisions, negating the need for guesswork or assumptions. Focus groups don’t always reveal anything shocking or groundbreaking, but even when they support views or ideas already held by a club, having undisputed confirmation and being able to point to these views as gospel is invaluable.

Why do fans need focus groups?

Focus groups give fans a voice. They show fans that the club cares about them, and about their views and opinions. The fans feel engaged with, and that they’ve not been left in the dark.

In the world of football business, with fans wary of clubs trying to make money out of them, involving them in the first steps of forming decisions around your digital offerings reminds fans that those digital offerings are for them, first and foremost.

How to get fans involved

There are several key things to consider when encouraging fans to take part in focus groups. When organising and recruiting fans for sessions, it’s integral to be clear in informing them exactly what’s required of them, how the focus groups will work, and what they will cover.

It’s important to keep in mind that participants are giving up their time, so reward their commitment to the club. Rewards that clubs we’ve worked with have used have included vouchers for the club shop. This forms an incentive but avoids the idea that you’re buying a fan’s time.

To recruit fans, we have found that it’s best to use the channels that are most effective at engaging fans in general, whether that be via social media, email or post. We support clubs in this, as well as in ensuring that groups that include a wide range of ages and genders are gathered.

Challenges focus groups can bring

Be prepared for fans to use focus groups as a forum to air grievances, which may or may not be relevant. These should never be dismissed - it’s important to take note of their issues, and not remove their opportunity to speak out. Once these issues have been aired, and the focus of the session has returned to digital, we’ve found that fans are much more open in discussing the matter at hand.

Rippleffect is an experienced sports digital agency that works with clubs including Arsenal FC, Everton FC, Liverpool FC, Aston Villa FC and Stoke City FC.

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