x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Winning children's attention part of marketing strategy

Pro League clubs also want to push attendances higher, but the methods they choose vary widely.

Pro League executives recognise that they must market their product to expatriates and women to push attendances higher, but the methods they choose vary widely.

The Al Jazira and Sharjah clubs, for example, each believe that school programmes are vital. But after that, Jazira are known for high-visibility promotions while Sharjah concentrate on grassroots initiatives such as weekly training sessions for youngsters.

"We don't think we have to market through gimmicks," Tim March, the general co-ordinator for the Sharjah club, said.

"It's not a quick fix. It's not a million dirhams to hit the crossbar. It's the opposite.

"We have our own branded soccer school now, Sharjah United Soccer School. We go out to the schools and provide the coaching, and then the children's contact is with this club."

He said focusing on children to develop a long-term fan base is a model used successfully by English Premier League side Manchester United - "perhaps the most popular club in the world" - and many Bundesliga clubs who boast high attendance figures.

"Manchester United target seven-year-old kids," March said.

"They hold the key to a lifetime of support. Seven is the age when you form the allegiance of a fan, and when you get the kid, you get the sibling, you get the parents."

He conceded that Sharjah will not put up big attendance numbers this season; in fact, the average home crowd of 1,501 is less than 10 per cent of Jazira's average of 15,159 and ranks in the lower half of the league.

March believes, however, that making fans one at a time will produce a lasting legacy. He also said Sharjah only count paid admissions while most of the league's clubs allow fans to enter the grounds at no charge.

Phil Anderton, the chief executive at Jazira, said school programmes are important and a major component of their marketing campaign, and wonders why every club does not have outreach programmes in place.

But he believes that a high-visibility promotion also has a place in making a club known with fans.

Nobody won the promotion promising five fans the chance to win Dh1 million - which drew a record Pro League crowd of 28,164 - but in a half-time contest earlier in the season, two fans split Dh25,000.

Anderton said Jazira, top of the Pro League table at the season's midpoint, have other initiatives in place, including "season cards" which allow fans to sign up for internet updates from the club and receive information such as game times and promotions; he said 5,000 fans have signed up.

Anderton said the introduction of food, drink, big-screen replays and an announcer have all added to Jazira's appeal.

"We have to make sure it is an entire entertainment package because with the high-definition TVs so many people can watch matches from their homes. We have to offer them a larger experience than just the game," Anderton said.

He said much remains to be done, but the club feel progress is being made. "We're pleased to say we're leading things on the field and in the stands," he said.