What I learned at my first football game

I’ve just been to my first ever football game. It was Tottenham vs Leicester City in the FA Cup out at White Hart Lane. After a year and a half of living in London I feel ticking this off the to-do list was a biggie — even though I don’t really know a thing about football.

While I wasn’t exactly disengaged from the game, considering I don’t know what a forward or an offside is, I guess it was inevitable my mind would wander. And while it’s probably a worrying sign, my mind went to my work.

Initially I think it was the stark lack of branding on the field that kicked this train of thought off. Before I could help it I began examining various elements of football which struck me as outstandingly unique forms of branding. And while I tried, I couldn’t think of a single other brand that could claim the same thing.

Before I start, this isn’t a list of ‘things brands can learn from football’. I’m not sure these are even lessons, more observations. Anyway, no matter what you tell brands they should learn from something, they never bloody listen.

  1. Family Loyalty

My boyfriend is a Tottenham supporter because his Dad is. Where his Dad’s original fandom came from, I’m not sure. But considering they’re both from NZ as opposed to England, the strength of their commitment to Spurs is pretty remarkable.

However, this passing of the Tottenham supporters’ baton from father to son (and daughter in this case) isn’t unique.

If anything it seems that the team that you support is the trunk of the family tree. During the game I tried to think of any other brand that enjoys such a solid lineage of support. The closest I came was perhaps schools or universities, but even then it’s not really the same.

2. Product Packaging

This is a bit of a weird one, but the thing I find the most nuts when it comes to football club loyalty is the product is constantly changing. And when I say product I mean, the players.

Players are sold between teams all the time, yet this doesn’t seem to affect club loyalty.

I tried to think of an analogy for this and guess it’s a bit like buying a Kit Kat, opening it up and realising it’s a Crunchie, then the next year buying a Kit Kat and it’s back to being a Kit Kat. Same packaging, but the product changes.

You’d not find many brands able to get away with that without complaint but it’s part of the gig with football clubs.

3. Singing Men

I’d been warned of this.

You know you’ve got a powerful brand when grown men will stand and sing (many of them alone) to a chant or song in honour of their team playing. While it’s not exactly choral decadence, if you’ve ever tried to coax a tune out of a grown man in any other circumstance, unless there has been copious alcohol and you’re playing The Eagles or something, you’ll find it’s a tall order. However, at the Lane today it was song after song after song.

Name me another brand that can trigger this behavior and I’ll strike it from the list, but for now, singing men has become a new KPI for brand loyalty.

4. Sacred Space

I said that the lack of branding on the field (pitch? field?) was what sent me down this whole branding x football black hole. And after considering it a bit, this is not unique to football. Tennis, for example, doesn’t plaster sponsors all over the court. However, I guess with the closest comparison to football (field wise at least) being rugby where field logos are rife, the absence of advertising jumped out.

With grass, and games that get a lot of air time, it’s very easy to sell field space as media. But according to my boyfriend (who was probably puzzled by the timing of this question which came amid roaring cheers immediately after Tottenham scored) it’s just not really done in football.

While this could be more of an eyesight thing than a ‘sacred space’, to think that there is an opportunity for external brands to slap their logo somewhere, yet not being given the opportunity to do so, is quite unique nowadays. Something I’d say football clubs share with very few other brands.

5. Spurs 4 Life (literally)

I’m talking tats. I don’t care how many times Amazon gets your delivery to you on time, that you’d never wear anything but Chanel, or if the Miracle Mop really has changed the way you mop forever — I bet you hand over fist you’d never ink up your loyalty.

This afternoon I counted 7 Spurs tattoos. And we weren’t even in the rowdy section.

Again, tattooing a brand’s logo isn’t 100% unique to football clubs. It’s common for Olympians to get the rings after competing in an event, and in NZ a lot of people have the Silver Fern tattooed on them which acts as a bit of a catch all symbol for the country, but very specifically to sport and our national rugby team.

However, when you zoom out a bit, we are talking about a local football club. When you look at the actual area that belongs to a club, you’re not even talking about that much space. To a certain degree I can understand the silver fern thing, that’s a country. But with a football club, you’re literally talking about a few suburbs.

Perhaps there is a lesson in there for brands. Evidently, you don’t need millions of people on your side to create a movement.

When I first started in advertising, my MD told me there was nothing like the loyalty of English football fans. Being from the north himself, he had some funny (and downright scary) stories to prove it. But it wasn’t until I saw it today that I really think I understood.

There’s a power to the way football fans see their teams and no matter how rubbish they play, they’ll still support them to the end. I’d even go as far as saying there are some fans who would die for their local club. It’s an unreal level of brand loyalty, one that perhaps only religion could claim to match.

In fact, of anything I can think of religion is probably the only one that could also house those same 5 points. Which makes for a strong point for the pull power of English football clubs.

By the way, I didn’t spend the whole game with my work brain turned on. The game ended 2–2 with Tottenham dominating in terms of possession. If I’m honest Leicester was pretty damn lucky getting their first goal in at all. Their second goal was slightly more deserved with a momentary lapse in defense from Spurs, but all things considered it should’ve gone in the home team’s favour. It was only with a successful Tottenham penalty in the last 5 minutes that tallied things up and will see the teams face off again once more. A good call making a couple of subs with 15 minutes to go. That Harry Kane. He’s one of our own.

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