Fan Engagement and integrated strategies: from sports companies to retail companies

Fabio Lalli
11 min readFeb 25, 2018

According to the Englishman Godfrey Harold Hardy, the reductio ad absurdum, much loved by Euclid, is one of a mathematician`s best weapons. And numbers, we know, are and will always be in competition with words. Also, and above all, when it comes to marketing. Without numbers, words are of no use, some say. Yet, without the right words, there are no numbers. They don`t convert, to put it as many others do. And so, starting from a mathematical concept, I want to try to describe, perhaps somewhat absurdly, a parallel in line with the times and with the evolution of Sport Industry.

Managing Juventus in the last decade is profoundly different, even compared to the early 90s. Today we are a large company, with a turnover of around 350 million and about 700 employees. Ours is no longer of a recreational dimension, but that of a large company, in one of the few sectors currently expanding. In the last six years, we have gone from a loss of 90 million to financial stability and the approved three-year plans have always been respected. The club is well placed to meet the challenges of the next two or three years, we then have to understand what will happen in Italian and European football.”

In this way, Andrea Agnelli explained the evolution of Juventus football club, in an interview with Sky a short time ago. But above all, the change taking place in the whole ecosystem in which the club operates. Football has changed. Sport has changed. It is, first and foremost, a business. Numbers. Without them, the recounting of victories does not exist. And vice versa.

But let’s take a step back, and return to the absurd. Starting from a question: how do, and how will sports companies generate those numbers? How do they target the figures that implement the turnover? What are the opportunities to be seized?

At the centre of everything, a single, great protagonist: the fan. The fan 4.0. Around which the strategy is built. In order to organize internal management and the external relations system. Ready to support the egocentrism of modern fans. This explains the reason why sports clubs are and will increasingly be more assimilated, among others, even to retail companies. I`ll try to demonstrate this, however, by taking the reverse route.

Let`s suppose, absurdly, as Euclid teaches, that a company like Original Marines, which I mention because it is a case that I am familiar with, being a client of IQUII, operates as a football club. My aim is to highlight how the dynamics are not so different and how the work on the logic of Loyalty, Engagement and InStore Experience, is mappable in the area of sport as Membership Loyalty, Fan Engagement and Digital Arena.

Know-how and two-way directional equivalences. Two models with many overlapping aspects.

From Loyalty to Membership Loyalty: the construction of Fan Identity

What does a company like Original Marines do, in the modern era, if it does not put the customer at the centre, make them a participant, until they become a real fan? Maybe, in their case, working to the mammy target 25–40. She who makes the decisions at home, so to speak, on the needs of her children. It is no longer just a matter of designing models, clothing items, then producing them, distributing them and selling them. It is a question of demonstrating, to the chosen target, how those garments represent values. Involving. Impassioning. Up to the creation of an in-store experience. Creating new customers who are fans. Fans so involved that they bring their children on set, en masse, as happened with a recent company initiative, in order to try and be chosen to represent the feelings of that brand.

But how is this achieved? Producing content, to attract attention, to have people`s time, to get to their information, to their interests. To their data. And being able to be more and more precise in the production of subsequent content, in a virtuous cycle that has the objective of loyalty. Loyalty for which they are willing to pay, to feel part of something. To feel unique.

Loyalty is a reflection of the desire to purchase products or services again and again from the same company. And it is the result of a positive experience. Fulfilling. One which goes beyond mere possession. In the age of hyper-connectivity, the road that leads to the satisfaction of needs — to loyalty — increasingly passes through digital touchpoints. In the MyOriginal App — for example — Original Marines wanted to condense the meaning of the entire brand loyalty experience, aiming to enable the customer in the cycle that goes from registration to the use of points accumulated through coupons. Offering, during the journey, other services. Like the possibility to take advantage of the loyalty card, of personalized offers and discounts, to access catalogues and products online as well as push notifications that — thanks to geofencing functions — let users know when there`s a store nearby.

Now, ‘our’ Original Marines Football Club, if we can call it that for a moment, needs to translate this experience, in apps, in the offer of ticketing services — with the possibility of buying online — but also in the advantages of a dedicated fidelity card for fans, with discounts and personalized offers for merchandising purchases. However, the most important step would be to look in particular at the type of relationship with the consumer, who would take on a completely different identity.

No longer a customer. But a fan, first, and then a member.

This is why we no longer talk about loyalty, but about membership loyalty, that is, loyalty aimed at the change from customer to fan and member, and so a profile that chooses to take advantage of a premium scenario.

When I speak of membership loyalty, I think, above all, of the need to build what I define as fan identity and, consequently, member identity. In the comparison/relationship between sports brand and fan it is important that the latter builds their identity — as a fan — in sync with that of the club, so as to share its values over time.

Identity. Not a word I chose at random.

In our language, it has a double meaning. On the one hand identity, in fact, as that set of characteristics that distinguish the person: name, eye colour and, for a fan, the colours of the team they support, its icons, its myths. On the other hand, identity as a connection, absolute equality: which corresponds to the need of the fans to feel part of something bigger. Fan identity is built around these fundamental aspects:

  • identification with the team, for which the fan experiences success and failure, as if their own;
  • a greater sense of camaraderie and connection with those who share their passion.

The sense of belonging is a very powerful lever and represents a value that the brand experience should help to recreate along with the fan — through membership subscriptions and personalized packages — to assuming the member identity, to feel, that is, a special fan. Unique. At the centre of attention.

From Engagement to Fan Engagement

What marketing first built on categories, therefore, today aims to do so on the individual. The segmentation of the market, the identification of the target, has shifted to the search for the custom-made consumer. But how? Here too, technology, the new tools, have had a fundamental impact on the change of paradigm. Data, the ultimate goal, is achieved by bringing the audience, as much as possible, into contact with the company channels, understanding their preferences.

Within its own strategy, Original Marines has recently launched an app dedicated to newborns and the relationship between parents and children, which came about in the context of our long-standing partnership with the company, which has led in the last two years to the realization of the MyOriginal project, focused on the creation and integration of the brand’s digital services (app, loyalty program, eCommerce, CRM and legacy systems) into a multi-channel experience.

The NewBorn app is part of a broader strategy that aims to structure a touchpoint ecosystem able to offer increasingly vertical and personalized content to its customers, with the aim of:

  • increasing the contact points in the customer journey of consumers: not only during shopping but also in important moments in the parent-child relationship;
  • improving the knowledge of its users: to offer products and services more in line with their specific needs;
  • acquiring new customers through multiple vertical channels, connected and integrated with each other.

The development of increasingly vertical applications, in fact, and the growing predisposition of users to the use of digital products and services, is transforming the approach with which companies define their own touchpoints.

In the multi-channel project, which we are pursuing with Original Marines, the shared approach is oriented towards the creation of an application ecosystem with the aim of increasing the offer of digital services from the brand, which are at the same time defined on the specific target audience and on vertical experiences and needs (loyalty, mCommerce, points of sale, free time).

This type of approach makes it possible to develop new services independently, strengthening the relationship with the user without impacting the brand’s core model and without temporal or functional constraints deriving from other applications of the ecosystem. The creation of an Enterprise App Ecosystem (EAE) therefore has a positive influence on:

  • product life cycle;
  • user experience for users;
  • behavioural activation and engagement dynamics;
  • positioning strategy of the different applications;
  • analysis of behaviours, data and information in a more widespread way.

Original Marines Football Club could and should apply this legacy, for example, according to a strongly integrated strategy based on the structuring of a system of vertical touchpoints that, in the field of sport, can be focused on:

  • the history of the team, perhaps also leading to the recruitment of a more mature and attractive target from previous generations of players, coaches and managers. But above all, on the construction of the identification process we spoke about earlier;
  • the data and statistics of the team, of the athletes, for the tournaments in progress and for all the previous ones. Becoming a source not only for the fans but also for media channels;
  • daily information from the camp, constantly updated;
  • business information, intended for the business area and its partners;
  • entertainment, with the production of content of different types and formats according to the channels chosen for dissemination;
  • the online sale of clothing, gadgets and anything else produced with the company emblem;
  • customer care, creating another channel that is always active, for all the needs of supporters.

Further integrating them with:

  • the use of live events, which allows: access in real time to the services offered by the sports club (merchandising, ticketing, etc.), interaction with the area (transport, food, tourism),relationships with other users (user generated content, real time);
  • the experience in the Stadium, focusing on Mixed Reality, and at home, with Virtual Reality, increasing the scope of the system and generating new, infinite possibilities;
  • everything related to the new eSport scenario: because soon, rest assured, anyone can be bought from your favourite team, if they can help them win in front of a television audience. Imagine the attraction among the millennials? The expectation in their system of relationships? The result in terms of content generated by the users themselves, on social networks? It`s no longer the future. It`s the present.

Data, ever more vertical. Targets, ever more specific. Spaces to sell. To monetize.

That’s why the CRM programs for this type of company are so similar. That’s why social media becomes strategically relevant in the same way. That’s why companies have become and will increasingly become media companies. That’s why athletes, who are becoming more and more Sport Influencers, the fans, all become media in turn. The need for contact, on the one hand, to generate business. The need for contact, on the other, to satisfy the thirst for information and the egocentrism of the modern era.

In Store Experience and Digital Arena

Mobile is the glue for all other digital industries […] but mobile is also the digital gateway for the real world to join in this global metamorphosis of human behavior.” Tomi Ahonen

Once the current frontiers of communication are traversed, every brand knows it is media: this awareness changes the way of dealing with customers and changes the way customers deal with the brand, opening the door to a “dialogue” in which the parties confront each other in no uncertain terms. Content, news, information, videos, images, surveys: the more a brand can disintermediate and make contact with its audience, the higher the level of engagement will be. And, in this sense, the greater the demand for content, the more important the initiatives to be put in place to create the need and, consequently, lead to new requests.

Initiatives for stores, for example. Initiatives for the stadium, in equal mode.

In fact, on the sidelines of the digital world, there is still space for stores made of bricks and mortar, as demonstrated by the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, or Vistaprint. Real stores represent, for companies, the opportunity to test products and services, check prices and the public perception of them, monitor the actions of customers in regard to the choice proposed and more. The omni-channel client, the 4.0 client, however, requires the inStore experience and the online experience to be coordinated: for example many, while in a store, consult their smartphones to look for products and compare prices on the web. For this reason, some stores offer the possibility of integrating the two experiences by completing purchases through digital devices instead of paying on the spot. Even 4.0 fans are accustomed to moving around according to multiple channels and the inStadium experience is, from the point of view of involvement, the key moment on the path to loyalty.

Book your seat, watch a replay while you are in the arena, monitor the offside line which appears on the pitch thanks to new technology, as well as actual statistics with the numbers visible on the field, buy the match ball with which the team has just scored, get caught up in the emotion of the moment and buy your hero`s shirt during the game, order a meal for the interval and see it delivered to the numbered seat. And still: take advantage of geolocation and, in real time, inquire about subway times for after the event, to be able to return home comfortably or, alternatively, get information on museums, monuments or restaurants open after the match.

InStore experience and inStadium experience are live events — although of different nature and scope — and in both cases the online and offline experience must be guaranteed before, during and after the occasion.

Content, always content. And still content. From content to personalized content. To the point of becoming exclusive content. With technology and various tools to enable new experiences and behaviours.

Many words, in short, in various formats. To generate data and make numbers. To multiply them. To monetize. Also, because as we have seen, there is not so much difference between Original Marines and Juventus.

And that`s not so absurd.



Fabio Lalli

CEO ICONICO | Founder MTVRS, IQUII | Advisor | Speaker. Focus on Retail, Finance, Sport, Loyalty Gamification, MixedReality, SpatialComputing, AI, and Metaverse