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Asian football fan clubs cry out for live digital experiences during shutdown

Liverpool FC soccer fans Hong Kong. (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images)

  • European football clubs have faced a challenge continuing to engage Asian fans during the pandemic
  • Asian fans are hungry for live digital experiences organised by their favourite teams
  • Clubs have been opening up OTT streaming services for free and making charity donations as part of engagement efforts

European football clubs have spent decades nurturing their overseas fanbases. Shorn of their central connection to their teams – coverage of live games – in the last few months, how have those fans been bearing up? SportBusiness spoke to European football fan clubs across Asia to find out.

We asked them four questions:

  1. With the absence of matches, have fans in Asia-Pac remained engaged with their teams?
  2. What have teams and leagues been doing in terms of keeping you engaged?
  3. How do you rate their efforts?
  4. What else do you think your teams could be doing to keep Asia-Pac fans engaged?

The fan clubs were eager to emphasise they understood the difficult situation their favourite teams were in, and mostly praised their efforts to remain engaged with them. But they made clear they craved more live connections with the teams, with the most common suggestions being for more live, in-person and digital experiences.

Some of the responses have been edited for clarity.

Mia san Vietnam fan club – Bayern Munich fan club

“In quarantine time, FC Bayern fans in Vietnam have remained engaged with our team in many ways,” a spokesperson said. “We usually follow the club’s media channels – website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – to stay updated about the club.

“Our club and the Bundesliga have updated information daily to keep the connection with fans.”

The spokesperson reported that Bayern Munich and the Bundesliga had published content focusing on tackling Covid-19: “How to wash hands…advice for fans to stay at home and keep safe.” Fans were encouraged to share videos, photos and community activities related to efforts to tackle the coronavirus. Bayern Munich-branded face masks have been sold, with the profits raising funds for the fight against Covid-19. 

The FCBayern.tv online OTT video channel, which usually requires a subscription to access, has been opened up for free for fans during the lockdown, showing content such as classic matches.

The fan club spokesperson said: “I think FC Bayern has had many efforts to connect with fans and implement their CSR strategy during the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine time. I rate that highly.”

Their suggestions to keep fans further engaged included online chats with players and – further down the line when travel resumes – a visit to the Asia-Pacific region by players.

Manchester United Fan Club, Kolkata

Asked whether the fan club had managed to stay engaged with Manchester United during the shutdown, the spokesperson said, “Yes, [although it has been] a little difficult. We have kept ourselves engaged by going through old matches, highlights and reliving old memories”

They added: “We have been updated regularly on training sessions, resumption of league matches and all the important news…There have been many old matches streamed based on fans’ votes and special videos have been streamed for us.”

Manchester United is working with the club to make a donation to an NGO in Kolkata that is helping tackle the pandemic. “This is one way of assuring us that we are all part of a big family…

“We are all in an unprecedented situation and keeping that in mind, we believe Man Utd have done a great job in keeping us informed and updated.

“The gesture to involve us in making the generous donation shows the respect our club has for the fans.”

The fan club’s recommendation for what else Manchester United could do to keep them engaged was live online sessions where they could have exchanges with figures related to the club. These “would be a really nice thing for us who often sacrifice our sleep to watch our favourite team play”.

Red Kangaroos Australia – Bayern Munich fan club

“Our fan club is the most active when we’re playing. We noticed that people were less engaged once everything was put on hold, and now that we’re back in business the forum is booming,” the fan club spokesperson said. “Everyone is VERY eager to have our sport back, most of us are sports fans and the lack of sports activity has driven us absolutely crazy. However, since the announcement that the Buli (Bundesliga) will resume, everyone is jumping back into the swing of things.

“I would say the engagement remains very strong and I can 100-per-cent guarantee that when it is safe to do so again, we will have big turn-ups to watch some live games together. I’ve also talked to our friends from other SEA (Southeast Asia) fan clubs and everyone celebrated when they announced that the Buli would be back.”

The spokesperson said the early return of the Bundesliga was “an amazing opportunity for the Buli and the clubs – a great way to showcase what we’re all about, as people are sports-starved and looking for anything to watch”.

The spokesperson praised Bayern Munich for having been “in constant communication with our fan club, keeping us posted on the latest developments, news etc. They have also tried to send a football around the world and get people to take quick snapshots from home with it and share on social media.” The signed football had not, however, made it to Australia at the time of writing.

“The main point from the club was to lead by example and focus on safety. This message has been communicated very well and I can’t think of anything they could have done better.”

When it came to what Bayern Munich could do to improve its connections with fans in the region, the spokesperson said: “They must come play here. Stop going to mainland China, stop going to the US, COME VISIT SOUTH EAST ASIA AGAIN. Last time in 2017 (when we played in Singapore) it was a massive success and the market here is absolutely ripe. 

The spokesperson noted the traditional challenge in Asia of live matches being broadcast at night time. “One of the biggest issues clubs face with SEA is that promoting there relies heavily on TV broadcasts, and it’s difficult for them to grow a market when your games are live half way through the night. There’s nothing we can do about this.”

The spokesperson added that Bayern Munich’s online store for Asian fans was largely designed for mainland China users, and so was not popular with fans from other parts of Asia.

Juventus Club, Singapore

“We have kept engaged with our local members daily through our chats and occasional video conference calls, which we also did with members from Juventus Club Japan and Indonesia,” the fan club spokesperson said.

The club took part in Juventus’s #DistantiMaUniti (distant but united) video campaign, which raised money for the fight against Covid-19 in the badly-hit Italian region of Piedmont surrounding Turin.

The fan club also made donations in a fundraiser by Juventus player Federico Bernardeschi, which raised €80,000 to help set up new intensive care units and acquire portable lung ventilators.

Juventus provided fan club members with a one-month free subscription to club channel JuventusTV, “which was good as all of us are at home and can watch exclusive videos from the club,” the spokesperson said.

They continued: “The club’s effort in raising funds for donations was fundamentally important. It is an example to all. Furthermore, the video campaign and JuventusTV did bring joy to us fans.”

The spokesperson said it was would have been “difficult” for Juventus to do more for the fan club in the current situation. The number one desire of the fan club is a visit by the team to Singapore in the pre-season. “Once everything has settled down, we would love to welcome them again during the pre-season in the future. It will be another great opportunity for us local Juventus fans to come together with the amazing fans from around our region.”

Official Bayern Munich Fan Club, India

This fan club did not just rely on Bayern or the Bundesliga to provide content during the lockdown, but created some of its own too – getting Phil Bonney, an English-language commentator for the Bundesliga’s world feed, to do an Instagram Live Q&A session with its members.

The fan club spokesperson said Bayern and the Bundesliga ran a campaign asking fans to send in pictures showing them wearing their jerseys, which were posted on their social media channels as ‘fan moments’. Both Bayern and the Bundesliga streamed archive matches on social media platforms including YouTube. Bayern also live streamed Fifa video game matches between some of its current players, “which was great to watch”.

The spokesperson said that the engagement efforts on behalf of Bayern “were good, but more innovations could have been done”. They suggested live social media streaming sessions allowing fans to interact with ex-players, with country-specific hashtags. This would “serve two purposes – firstly it would keep your fan engagement high, secondly it would attract even neutral fans in a country like India”. The spokesperson also said that merchandise prizes were highly valued, and competitions on social media to win them would be popular.

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