The State of Fan Engagement: Eredivisie (NL) edition
Fan engagement is a term which has undergone many changes in definition over the years. The term still often gets hijacked for purely commercial purposes. But as I often state in presentations, fan engagement is not a partnership activation technique but is more like academic Yoshida describes: a ‘non-transactional’ concept allowing fans to express ‘external identification’ with an athlete, team of club [source]. Following this academic approach, it is important to remember what’s at the heart of fan engagement: the bonding elements of identity and meaning, the ‘why’ fans want to connect their identities to that of a club or team and why they openly share this ‘brand preference’ whenever they can.
Luckily, the industry discourse around ‘fan engagement’ is heading back to its original meaning thanks to the fantastic work of club staff around the world working day-in-day-out at their clubs to ‘make the marriage work’. In this blog post series, I handpick and describe these cases from football grounds around the world. This first edition will kick off in my home country The Netherlands, as fantastic things are happening here that don’t always get the attention of the wider football family. Where I believe it should.
FC Utrecht’s Wall of Fans
Following Dortmund’s example of ‘Die Gelbe Wand’, where opponent teams have to face an intimidating yellow wall of 25.000 fans, FC Utrecht has adopted a similar initiative. With the introduction of ‘safe standing’ on the fanatics stand this summer and the seats that had to be taken out to be replaced, the fans and the club have taken advantage of the situation by painting all the concrete red, FC Utrecht’s club color. This to improve unity of the stand and obviously to intimidate the opponent facing these fanatics. But the best part? The fans have painted this stand themselves. To me, this is a fantastic solution by letting fans adopt a new initiative and to engage with this project. Never underestimate that fans are willing to stick their neck out if the club asks for their help.
AZ’s stadium roof disaster and the ‘away-days’ to The Hague
On the 10th of August 2019, AZ Alkmaar escaped from a major human disaster. After a heavy storm, a part of the AZ Alkmaar stadium’s roof collapsed and fell on the stands below. Luckily, nobody was hurt, but as a consequence the club now had a huge problem: where to play the next 2 home games in 5 and 7 days from now?
Shortly after, the ADO Den Haag stadium opened up their doors to AZ to play these 2 home games at their stadium. With 2 Cup Finals in AZ’s recent history, the club immediately dusted off its Cup Final protocol to arrange the logistics to get 8.000 fans from Alkmaar to The Hague and making it feel like a home stadium
AZ quickly arranged a free shuttle service from Alkmaar to The Hague, helping many fans to find their way to The Hague stadium under these exceptional circumstances. And to make sure this experience went as smoothly as possible, a Supporter Care team walked around on-site helping fans with queries about this unusual trip.
🎥 Aftermovie#AZinDenHaag pic.twitter.com/m8iFe0sOFI
— AZ (@AZAlkmaar) August 16, 2019
Thanks to quick actions by the club’s administration the ADO Den Haag stadium transformed into an AZ-branded stadium including a sea of fans, leading to a 4-0 victory for the Europa League game. To me this is a fantastic example how the club made the most out of a terrible situation, helping the fans where possible facilitating them in supporting the team, leading to a 4-0 victory in what was later described as ‘a sea of red home fans’.
FC Twente honoring its fanatics
FC Twente, the Dutch club who won the 2009-2010 Dutch Eredivisie title, is both loved and hated by fans around the country. Last season the club relegated under terrible sportive results following years of financial deficits and management issues, but got promoted back up to the Eredivisie one year later. To celebrate ‘being back’, the fans created a major banner covering both the main stand and the fanatics’ short stand. Obviously it took a lot of work producing these banners, which the club didn’t wanted to go unnoticed. As token of appreciation, the club printed a photo of the tifosi-campaign and handed it to the fanatics. A great token of appreciation from club to their fanatics showing the mutual love in this marriage.
🔴 Als blijk van waardering gaf FC Twente vandaag de Ultras van Vak-P een aandenken aan hun gigantische sfeeractie van afgelopen zaterdag.#FCTwente pic.twitter.com/gQY8SCt1Y7
— FC Twente (@fctwente) August 8, 2019
Feyenoord’s memorial banner
Feyenoord Rotterdam is a club like no other. Despite a lack of sportive successes in recent history, the fans are an incredibly important part of the foundations of the club. The fans are loud and often complain, but still they will never be disloyal to the club. A Feyenoord fan is a fan for life. But also after life has ended, Feyenoord fans still remain part of its supporters community. Traditionally, during the first home game of the season, Feyenoord fans honor their fellow fans “who are no longer with us” with a minute of silence before the kick-off.
With this, Feyenoord confirms Yoshida’s premise that supporting a club is more than just a stadium visit or purchasing merchandising. It’s part of a culture and the position that Feyenoord has in the local Rotterdam community will make many clubs jealous.
Opdat wij nooit vergeten #feyenoord #feysou pic.twitter.com/03Cw4cKWPk
— michel kruythoff (@bliek1) July 28, 2019
If you have seen any examples at your league, club or national team that are worth mentioning, please send them to me on Twitter via @BasSchnater.