The UEFA GROW programme is helping Europe's national associations connect properly and fruitfully with stakeholders – and the Norwegian FA's digital marketing strategy provides a good example of improved fan engagement.
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Engagement is crucial for national associations to connect with a wider audience and encourage more people to fall in love with football. An association that takes the time to properly engage with its stakeholders can generate a rise in participation and revenues, and an improvement in its image.
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. UEFA GROW offers tailor-made consultation services to UEFA's member associations in a number of different areas.
Importance of engagement
Football is widely regarded as the world's most popular sport. However, in order to maintain that position, it is important for members of the general public to have the opportunity to play and be involved with the sport, from being digitally engaged to watching their national team in action, whether on television or in the stadium.
This is where the national associations are pivotal. They play an essential role in helping to reach out to all members of society to increase the number of people who want to be involved with football.
The digital revolution has given national associations new tools to engage with the public. However, posting blindly across multiple platforms will not bring the desired results. Instead national associations need to be clever and develop digital strategies that target specific social media platforms and social groups. In order to know who to target, the association must undertake detailed research to find out which platforms and content will best serve its interests.
To help make this a success, UEFA GROW is assisting associations with digital marketing and football relationship management (FRM) strategies. FRM is about sending the right message to the right person at the right time and on the right platform so that the target audience is reached.
One association that has been embracing closer engagement with its stakeholders is the Football Association of Norway (NFF).
"The NFF has had a very close cooperation with UEFA GROW in the development of our overall strategy and of the individual pillars," says the organisation's general secretary, Pål Bjerketvedt. "We have learned a huge amount from the engagement work in terms of best practices, case studies and planning. This has helped us in improving and focusing our activities with engagement."
Since its collaboration with UEFA within the field of digital marketing, the NFF has been quick to adopt a top-down strategy, which means that instead of taking an ad hoc and short-term approach, the association is able to target its overall goals in a structured manner.
This has been emphasised by the NFF's strategy of expanding engagement with its regions to boost interest in football. The association came up with a strategy, which was developed in conjunction with UEFA GROW, and is now applying this to the regional football associations, which will, in turn, pass this expertise on to their local clubs.
Building relationships is paramount for the NFF. Rather than focusing on metrics, such as the number of followers and likes they have on social media, Norwegian football's governing body is taking steps to establish lasting relationships.
"It has been important for us to keep the fans in focus, while also finding what is unique for us," says Pearse Connolly, who is responsible for digital services at the NFF. "We have a strategic goal for our fans: 'Make me proud and give me great social experiences.' Staying true to that has really helped."
Players in Norway's national teams are adored by children in their homeland. To increase engagement, the NFF has come up with the idea of showing these stars as 'influencers'. The organisation is involving players from the national teams on social media and is giving the watching public snippets of what goes on in their everyday lives.
"We definitely want to develop a closer relationship between the teams and our supporters," Connolly explains. "Our slogan is #Sterkeresammen (#StrongerTogether), which works far better when the players are deeply involved and feel ownership of the relationship. We are already seeing that the fans are appreciating and reciprocating this involvement."
The collaboration also shows Norway's top stars are human and willing to actively engage with the fans. The NFF now wishes to take this interaction to another level, using e-sports. Ultimately, the NFF is looking at ways to broaden its fan base and is delighted to embrace anyone interested in the sport – either as spectators or as players. Norwegian football's governing body is equally interested in those who play football on the pitch and in those who prefer to play with a game console.
"Ahead of the UEFA Nations League draws we needed to figure out how to reach and engage the 13–30 age group, as they are a very difficult audience to reach," says the NFF's head of social media, Mats Theie Bretvik. "Our e-sports project is one way to reach this target group on their home ground, and a way to talk to them directly by playing with and against them."
Ahead of Norway's match against Slovenia in October, the NFF wants to organise an e-sports tournament which will offer fans the chance to play among themselves and possibly against Norway's international players in the lead-up to the game.
"We know that when people aren't playing football outside, they are consuming football inside, playing FIFA or Football Manager," Bretvik adds. "Why shouldn't we be there too?"
The NFF has shown a desire to actively engage stakeholders across all levels and is not afraid to experiment with new ideas, even at the risk of some not succeeding. A number have proved successful. Prior to Norway's recent friendly against Australia, a promotion on Facebook and Instagram aimed at students and called 'How to catch a Kangaroo' led to an extra 1,000 tickets being sold, while the organisation's digital team are actively searching for the various trends that are influencing the various age groups across the country.
"We will continue to follow the strategy devised in cooperation with UEFA GROW," says Bjerketvedt. "This will be done by making sure engagement remains a priority in order to help deliver our overall goals, from grassroots to national team level. We want to build broader and deeper relations with everyone who follows and participates in Norwegian football. This will help ensure we live up to our vision that football should be enjoyed, as well as creating opportunities and challenges for all."