The importance of image

A national association's image, as seen by the public and stakeholders, is vital in generating progress. A positive image can boost football participation levels - and attract crucial support from sponsors.

Data from 30 European countries shows that parents with a positive perception of their national association are more likely to take their children to football matches
Data from 30 European countries shows that parents with a positive perception of their national association are more likely to take their children to football matches ©Getty Images

How a national association is perceived by the public and its stakeholders is crucial. A positive image can mean more people wanting to play football, while sponsors are more inclined to back an association which is seen in a positive light.

UEFA GROW research in Northern Ireland showed the Irish Football Association's stakeholders that its image has improved significantly in the last few years
UEFA GROW research in Northern Ireland showed the Irish Football Association's stakeholders that its image has improved significantly in the last few years©Getty Images

“The UEFA GROW image research enabled us to demonstrate to our partners and various stakeholders that the image of the Irish Football Association has improved significantly over the last few years,” says Patrick Nelson, chief executive of the national association in Northern Ireland. “This is an important aspect of our discussions with existing and potential sponsors, as well as the government.” 

Fact-based research
Launched in 2015, the UEFA GROW programme has become the central business development platform for national associations to grow the game across Europe in a systematic and strategic manner. It offers tailor-made consultation services to UEFA’s member associations in the different areas that are most relevant for football organisations.

When a national association decides to join UEFA GROW, the collaboration kicks off with an independent piece of research commissioned by UEFA on behalf of the national association. That research is carried out in cooperation with leading specialists, who use samples representative of the respective countries’ census data to enable the national associations to draw valid conclusions. The research aims to:

• provide an overview of the attitudes towards football in the country (including the image of the national association, the national teams and the various domestic competitions, as well as grassroots and women’s football in general);

• produce a clear picture of how football ranks against other sports;

• understand the reasons for the current status of football in the country;

• identify areas to be addressed in future organisational planning in order to improve the image of football in the country. 

“Listening to the Finnish football family is at the core of our DNA, and this independent piece of research is a great tool for us,” says Kalle Seire, the Football Association of Finland’s head of sales and marketing. “It presents an unbiased analysis of the current situation and gives us the ability to measure how we are developing. It identifies areas of strength, but also areas for improvement. The UEFA GROW image research is an important element in determining our future marketing and overall organisational planning.”

No ‘love brands’
So far, 30 national associations have benefitted from this research, and the data from those 30 markets have generated plenty of positive findings.

For example, football is by far the most followed sport across Europe and is among the three most followed sports in every single market surveyed.

Although the research has uncovered that football has a positive image, this does not necessarily translate into positive perceptions of the governing bodies that are in charge of developing and promoting the game.

The research shows that just as many people say their respective national associations have a positive image (39%) as those who say the opposite (37% believe their national association has a negative image). Equally alarming is the fact that in over one third of the markets surveyed, there are more people with a negative perception of the national association than with a positive one.

These negative views are often driven by perceptions of national associations being out of touch or slow to react, which has important implications for strategic communications planning. This is an important area that needs to be addressed, as negative perceptions of a national association may have a serious impact on key business objectives.

1) Attendance
The research shows that people with a negative image of their national association are significantly less likely to go to matches of the men’s national team. Conversely, parents with a positive perception of their national association are more likely to take their children to a football match.

Participation levels can be boosted by an association’s positive image
Participation levels can be boosted by an association’s positive image©Sportsfile

2) Participation
Respondents with a positive image of their national association are more likely to play football and more often than those with a negative perception of the governing body. Parents – who play a huge role in determining which sports their children play – are also more likely to let their children participate in football if they have a positive perception of their national association.  

3) TV viewership
Respondents with a positive image of their national association are more likely to watch football on TV.

These results underline that the image of the national associations is crucial and show why it is one of the key pillars of UEFA GROW. Each research report is presented to the national association’s top management and, together with UEFA, a clear plan of action is drawn up to address the areas for improvement. The image pillar also sets the tone for additional follow-up support. For example, UEFA GROW is helping national associations to create clear strategic communications plans that seek to improve the image of the associations and help them deliver the right messages to the right stakeholders, while follow-up research can be carried out at a later stage to show whether the implemented changes have been a success.

“The UEFA GROW image research delivered lots of valuable insights for our organisation,” says Elkhan Mammadov, general secretary of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan. “Following the presentation of the research results, we have put together a clear action plan and are now developing and implementing a strategic communications plan with the aim of translating the AFFA’s positive image into more positive perceptions of women’s and grassroots football.”

This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 176

 

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