A Supporter Is Not A Customer

Without the supporters who come to see the game, who pay for the ticket, watch the game on TV, pay for the channel, who buy the merchandise, etc - without them, there is no professional sports


Supporters – without them there is no professional sports


Earlier this month I was invited by the Israeli F.A to speak about the “50+1″ German model of club ownership. I would like to share with you my opening statement to the F.A committee that discusses club ownership in Israel.

Here is that opening statement.

I want to start by emphasizing what is the most important asset in pro sports:  The supporter.

Without the supporters who come to see the game, who pay for the ticket, watch the game on TV, pay for the channel, who buy the merchandise, etc – without them, there is no professional sports.

Now, I would like to talk about the supporter him (or her)self.

In Hebrew, the words “supporter” and “love” are very similar. It’s not a coincidence.

The supporter, like a person in love, wakes up in the morning, and the first thing he thinks about is his club. The last thing he thinks about when he goes to bed is his club. He cares about what his team is  doing at any given moment. He checks news about it all the time. More than anything, he wants to feel like his team loves him back. When his team loses, he may go through the next day agitated. Maybe even  the entire week. When his team wins, he can walk around with a smile
on his face for a week.

A supporter is not a customer, even if that’s what many club owners and football administrators would like us to believe.

Arsenal fans – the team have a monopoly over their hearts

A supermarket customer can go to a different supermarket if prices go up. The supporter simply can’t do that. His team has a monopoly over his heart. A supermarket customer does not tattoo the logo of the supermarket on his chest; A customer would not ask to bury himself covered in the supermarket’s logo; If the supermarket reports losses, the customer will not go into a customers’ forum to speak about its situation and how it could be fixed. A supermarket does not have customers driving hundreds of miles to make a purchase.

Simply put, a supermarket does not have a living, breathing community  around what it sells. Brain scans have found that a fan’s love for the team is located in the same area of the brain where one’s love for another human being is found. The shopping list you take to the supermarket is, surprisingly, not there.

This passion a “customer” has for his team is the basis of the football industry – an industry like no other.

A lot of club owners are saying that “the only role of the supporter is to support”, but that’s not true. A supporter’s role is to love, and he wants to get something back from his team in return.

There is a limit to how much love you are willing to give without feeling loved back. This feeling may lead to anger and hatred. Those who say that “supporters are here just to support” do not understand the football industry.

An attachment to The English Taylor Report stated that one of the biggest causes of fan violence were their feelings that they had no control over their team, their subject of love. Therefore, in order to to get some sense of  control, violent acts were committed by fans. That way, they could at  least be in control of something.

The thing is, this is not just a matter of control and love. The desire of a supporter is not exclusive to one person – it is shared by many, and  these passionate men and women create a community around their  object of shared love – the club. Their club. This community is large and diverse – there are accountants, lawyers, doctors, construction
workers, students, children and pensioners. This crowd has an enormous ability that could be harnessed for the benefit of the club they all love, but tell them that their job is to merely support and you just might lose them.

Christian Seifert, the Chief Executive Officer of the Deutsche Fußball Liga, says that the secret of the Bundesliga success is that “the supporters are our mainpartners, our center of operations – everything we do stems from the fact that they are the main pillar of our operations. Without them there are no operations”.

I think that a lot of football countries forgot this axiom. In Israel the authorties and club owners completely forgot this, and that’s why Israeli football is at it’s lowest point ever.

If you want to change things for the better, the best first step will be to understand that the supporter is the most important thing in professional football.

After that we went on to speak about the “50+1″ German model.

And here is one of the greatest sights in sports:

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One Comment

  1. luka added these pithy words on March 8, 2012 | Permalink

    long live the green brigade.long live Melbourne Knights & its M.C.F.

4 Trackbacks

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  3. [...] Soccer Issue argues that a supporter is not a customer. [...]

  4. [...] MatBB’s wrote an interesting to-do list for our future owners, it got me thinking. Fans are the most important resource that an owner can harness. And it’s this secret that could revive Leeds’ fortunes after a decade of failure. Talking about fans, and the importance of them, has been done far better, plenty of times. But reading over an old article from February, by Ouriel Daskal on soccerissue.com, it could have been a direct letter to Shaun Harvey and Ken Bates. The article is called ‘A Supporter Is Not A Customer‘. [...]

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