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Beyond Match Day: Evaluating the English Premier League’s Fan Engagement Standard (FES)

Fan Engagement Standard (FES) (Copyright (c) Premier League, 2023)
Fan Engagement Standard (FES) (Copyright (c) Premier League, 2023)

Fan Engagement 


Fan engagement, defined as the emotional and psychological investment fans have in a team or organisation (Funk et al., 2001), is integral to successful marketing strategies. Unlike brand engagement, which is transactional, fan engagement involves a personal and emotional connection demonstrated through metrics like social media activity, game attendance, and merchandise sales. Recognised as vital for sports teams, brands, and entertainment entities, fan engagement aims to cultivate loyalty, enhance the fan experience, and drive revenue through increased ticket sales, merchandise purchases, and sponsorships.

Several models, such as the Model of Fan Satisfaction (Madrigal, 1995), Sportscape Model (Wakefield et al., 1995), and Fan Attendance Model (Kahle et al., 1996), have explored different facets of fan engagement. The Sport Interest Inventory (SII) by Funk and James (2001) and the Sports Fan Motivation Scale (SFMS) by Wann and Melnick (1995) provide frameworks to measure individual sport interest and understand underlying motivations of sports fans, respectively.


Fan Engagement in Football


In football, fan engagement surpasses mere spectatorship, embodying active and emotional involvement with the league, clubs, and players (Bennett and Satchell, 2009). Success in fan engagement strategies relies on reciprocal relationships, where clubs actively involve supporters in decisions and foster a collaborative approach. Emotional investment in football clubs correlates with on-field performance, matchday experience, and marketing effectiveness, influencing engagement levels. Engaged fans contribute significantly to clubs' financial success, purchasing tickets and merchandise, and act as brand advocates, expanding the fan base.

Beyond financial gains, fan engagement enhances fan well-being, fostering happiness and satisfaction through a sense of community. Football clubs play a pivotal role in nurturing this community through various events, social media interactions, and forums. Prioritising fan engagement ensures the creation of a vibrant and dedicated community supporting the club through various experiences.

English Premier League (EPL)


Founded in 1992, the English Premier League (EPL) is the pinnacle of English football, contested by 20 clubs. It boasts global viewership, generating substantial revenue from broadcast rights, ticket sales, merchandise, and sponsorships. Historical success is marked by clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal. Fan engagement is paramount for creating an electric matchday atmosphere, financial sustainability, and enduring success. Engaged fans contribute to revenue streams, enabling investments in player development, infrastructure, and league growth. Loyalty and emotional connections lead to sustained support, fostering long-term relationships, and attracting sponsors eager to align with the league's popularity.

Importance of Fan Engagement for the EPL


Fan engagement elevates matchday atmosphere, with passionate support and camaraderie, contributing to financial sustainability. Engaged fans attend matches, purchase merchandise, and attract sponsors, supporting club and league growth. This engagement fosters brand loyalty, fan retention, and a competitive advantage over other leagues, enticing sponsors and expanding revenue streams. The EPL's commitment to fan engagement ensures a dynamic and enduring football experience, underlining its significance in the league's continued success.

Fan Engagement Initiatives and Practices


In the English Premier League, initiatives and practices for fan engagement concentrate on nurturing community, interaction, and rewarding experiences. Clubs aim to forge deeper connections between fans and the league, elevating the overall fan experience. Essential initiatives include regular fan-club interactions through forums, meet-and-greet sessions, and Q&A sessions (Parnell et al., 2020). Ongoing efforts to enhance the matchday experience involve pre-match entertainment, halftime shows, interactive fan zones, and stadium facilities upgrades (Dolan and Connaughton, 2015).

Moreover, digital platforms play a pivotal role in actively involving fans, leveraging content creation, and facilitating engagement. Clubs utilise platforms for fan competitions, user-generated content campaigns, live chats, and exclusive behind-the-scenes access (Stavros et al., 2019). Additionally, community outreach and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives deepen the connection between Premier League clubs and fans. These include player appearances at local schools and hospitals, charity partnerships, and community development programmes (Collins et al., 2017). Community engagement programmes further strengthen ties with local communities, encompassing initiatives such as community coaching, charity partnerships, and environmental sustainability programmes.

Furthermore, fan loyalty programmes, offering exclusive offers, merchandise discounts, priority ticketing, and access to exclusive events, contribute to fostering loyalty and recognition among supporters (Kunkel et al., 2020). Membership programmes and rewards systems have gained popularity, offering benefits like discounted tickets and merchandise, creating a sense of belonging and encouraging repeat attendance (Lock and Filo, 2019).


Fan Engagement in the Digital Era


The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted fan engagement in the English Premier League (Golombisky et al., 2021). Suspension of the EPL and matches played behind closed doors led to reduced matchday revenue (KPMG, 2020). To address this, clubs adapted engagement strategies, primarily through digital platforms (EY, 2021). Virtual matchday experiences, live streaming, and behind-the-scenes content kept fans connected during the pandemic. While clubs have met the immediate challenge, the long-term impact on fan behaviour requires further research.

In the digital age, clubs face both opportunities and challenges. Social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, facilitate communication, content sharing, and interaction between clubs and fans (Parnell, 2018). However, the abundance of marketing messages poses challenges for clubs seeking to stand out (Gerrard, 2020). Engaging fans through social media positively influences satisfaction and behavioural intentions, extending the EPL's global reach (Kaplan et al., 2010). Social media metrics, such as likes, comments, shares, and followers, gauge online brand engagement (Phua et al., 2017).

Mobile apps offer fans access to news, scores, and interactive features like polls, quizzes, and games (Horne et al., 2019). Providing exclusive content and personalised features, mobile apps contribute to brand engagement by tracking interactions and customer reviews (Brodie et al., 2013). 

Challenges in Fan Engagement


Achieving fan engagement presents challenges for English Premier League (EPL) clubs in the digital age. The competition for fan attention, especially in a saturated digital landscape, demands innovative strategies to maintain engagement (Lock and Filo, 2019). Changing demographics, with younger fans preferring online content and older fans favouring traditional forms of engagement, require clubs to appeal to both demographics (Doyle et al., 2017).

Criticism regarding prioritising commercial objectives over genuine fan engagement raises concerns. Sponsorship deals, merchandising, and ticket prices can create a perception of exploitation, challenging the affordability of matches for fans (Buraimo et al., 2020). Diversity issues within clubs, both on and off the pitch, contribute to a sense of exclusion among underrepresented groups (Hayhurst and Kozulj, 2020).

Transparency concerns, particularly in financial operations and ownership structures, erode fan trust and hinder a sense of ownership and belonging (Chadwick and Hamil, 2017). The recent European Super League (ESL) controversy highlighted this lack of transparency, leading to fan backlash and the introduction of the English Premier League Fan Engagement Standard (FES) as a response (YouGov, 2021).


Premier League Fan Engagement Standard (FES)  


The Premier League Fan Engagement Standard (FES) represents a comprehensive framework instituted by the English Premier League to elevate fan engagement practices across all clubs. Its primary objective is to instil consistency, quality, and innovation in fan engagement initiatives, fostering meaningful connections among fans, clubs, and the league (Premier League, 2023). The FES is underpinned by five key themes: leadership and culture, listening, collaborate and participate, share, and learn and improve.

Fan Engagement Standard (FES) Core Themes (Copyright (c) Premier League, 2023)
Fan Engagement Standard (FES) Core Themes (Copyright (c) Premier League, 2023)

Structured around these themes, the FES underscores the pivotal role of club leadership in cultivating a fan engagement culture. Clubs are urged to listen to fan views, particularly on heritage assets, in a structured and timely manner. Collaboration with supporters, including the establishment of a Fan Advisory Board, is encouraged to facilitate meaningful dialogue. Theme three emphasises regular touch points with club leadership via structured communication, fan panels, or working groups. Transparent decision-making, timely information sharing, and continuous learning are integral to the FES evolution (Premier League, 2023).


Objectives of the Premier League Fan Engagement Standard (FES)


The FES strives to promote consistency in fan engagement practices across Premier League clubs. By establishing common standards and guidelines, it ensures a uniform level of engagement for fans regardless of the club they support, creating a cohesive fan experience throughout the league. Additionally, the FES aims to elevate the quality of fan engagement initiatives, encouraging clubs to develop innovative practices beyond standard expectations. This focus on quality ensures fans receive engaging and rewarding experiences (Premier League, n.d.).

Moreover, the FES inspires clubs to adopt innovative approaches in fan engagement, fostering creativity and leveraging new technologies to enhance the fan experience. By championing innovation, the FES ensures fan engagement practices remain relevant in a rapidly evolving digital landscape. Through these objectives of consistency, quality, and innovation, the Premier League seeks to enhance fan engagement practices, offering fans enriching, rewarding, and equitable experiences while strengthening connections between supporters and the league.

To meet its objectives, each of the five FES themes is linked to a series of commitments, providing a clear framework for clubs to shape their fan engagement strategy collaboratively with fans (Premier League, n.d.).


Fan Engagement Standard (FES) Core Theme Commitments (Copyright (c) Premier League, 2023)
Fan Engagement Standard (FES) Core Theme Commitments (Copyright (c) Premier League, 2023)

Fan Engagement Standard (FES) Core Theme Commitments (Copyright (c) Premier League, 2023)
Fan Engagement Standard (FES) Core Theme Commitments (Copyright (c) Premier League, 2023)

Fan Engagement and FES


While fan engagement and the Fan Engagement Standard (FES) are distinct concepts, they share an intrinsic relationship. Fan engagement represents the emotional and psychological attachment between a fan and their preferred sporting club, influenced by various factors. FES, in contrast, introduces a structured framework for clubs to measure, sustain, and enhance fan engagement. It provides a set of metrics and tools, aiming for a consistent and unified fan experience across all English Premier League clubs.

The Premier League's FES serves as a valuable tool for clubs aspiring to enhance fan engagement. By measuring and identifying areas for improvement within a common framework, clubs can devise strategies for a more engaging and rewarding fan experience. Understanding fans' desires is paramount, and by addressing all contributing factors, clubs can cultivate a more engaging fan experience.


What Can Football Clubs Do Better?


Premier League football clubs can enhance fan engagement through a dual focus on on-field and off-field strategies. Addressing the challenge of fan fragmentation requires innovative approaches to reach diverse fan segments, considering multiple touchpoints such as television, social media, and mobile apps. Rising fan expectations necessitate continuous innovation, especially during less successful periods. The competition for fans' time and expenditure demands a unique and compelling experience. Key improvement areas encompass supporter ownership, reduced ticket prices, increased interaction opportunities, a dedicated feedback channel, data-driven personalisation, establishment of fan clubs, international marketing campaigns, and the integration of technologies like AR and VR.


Opportunities for Better Fan Engagement


Despite challenges, Premier League clubs can capitalise on opportunities by leveraging new technologies. Virtual reality and augmented reality can create immersive experiences, offering fans unique perspectives and interactive elements. Utilising data analytics enables clubs to understand and fulfil fan desires, contributing to personalised fan experiences. The integration of technologies like AR and VR, as showcased by successful collaborations with companies like Google Pixel and Sony, presents opportunities for enhanced matchday experiences. Exploring the potential of AI, as demonstrated by IBM's AI Commentary, enhances fan interaction and storytelling. The adoption of such technologies not only aligns with current digital trends but also offers opportunities to elevate fan engagement both inside and outside the stadium.


Introducing the Sports Brand Equity & Fan Engagement Model (SBEFEM)

Sports Brand Equity & Fan Engagement Model (SBEFEM) (Copyright (c) Barry Crisp, 2023)
Sports Brand Equity & Fan Engagement Model (SBEFEM) (Copyright (c) Barry Crisp, 2023)

The Sports Brand Equity & Fan Engagement Model (SBEFEM) stands as a novel framework meticulously crafted to comprehensively evaluate sports brand strength. Synthesising six dimensions of brand equity with an equivalent set pertaining to fan engagement, the SBEFEM offers an all-encompassing perspective on a brand's stature in the sports industry. This model was developed in response to a discerned deficiency revealed through an extensive literature review, which exposed a lack of a unified framework for sports clubs to systematically scrutinise, evaluate, and elevate fan engagement.

Research conducted spanned a spectrum of studies, articles, and reports in sports marketing, brand management, and fan engagement. Despite a wealth of insights, the absence of a standardised framework was evident. The SBEFEM not only fills this void but also addresses the lack of a recognised benchmark for football clubs. The Premier League’s Fan Engagement Standard, while a necessary introduction, falls short as a direct marketing or academic framework for monitoring and assessing fan engagement from a brand perspective.



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