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It’s still game on for fan engagement at Everton Football Club despite Coronavirus

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman March 23, 2020
Despite the suspension of Premier League matches due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the work of staying in contact with supporters via personalized messages continues at the Merseyside club.

Everton FOotball
(Everton FC)

The rapid spread of Coronavirus may have brought the English football season to a crashing halt, but across the country, Premier League clubs are upping their outreach efforts to support the most vulnerable members of their local communities.

At Everton Football Club on Merseyside, staff have already been calling up local people who are self-isolating, in order to check how they’re doing and offer assistance such as delivering groceries or picking up prescriptions. On Thursday (19 March), the club announced it was committing £50,000 to a new ‘Blue Family’ campaign, which will be managed through its Everton in the Community charity, and provide local people with food parcels, gas and electricity vouchers and mental health advice, among other services and support.

Much of the outreach work now underway at Everton is driven by data about the club’s local fans and supporters, held in its Salesforce Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, according to CRM manager Danny Harris. That’s how he and his team were able to provide contact details for all season-ticket holders over 70 years of age, for example, so that colleagues could put in a call to them last week.

This is a fairly simple use of Salesforce, compared to many others at Everton, he says - but it’s one that could have significant impact in the current crisis. In the weeks and months ahead, there’ll doubtless be plenty more opportunities to use Salesforce to stay in contact with the Everton FC community. Last week, club CEO Denise Barrett-Baxendale promised as much to supporters in an open letter:

Over the past week, I have spoken to a lot of Evertonians who are worried about the virus outbreak - but who have also been quick to point out the Everton-shaped hole in their lives because of the suspension of matches. And so, in the coming weeks, and for as long as there is an absence of match days, we are committed more than ever to providing you with content, to staying in touch and to keeping you informed.

Business and philanthropy

There is of course, a business side to Everton’s fan engagement work, as well as a philanthropic one. More engaged fans and supporters attend more home games and buy more club merchandise, bringing revenue to the club. Personalization is a big part of the engagement effort, says Harris:

While the overarching aim is to bring fans closer to the team and closer to the club, the reality is that this means different things for different plans. There are some fans who live locally and attend the game every week and there are those elsewhere in the world who may never visit our home ground of Goodison Park. So it’s a case of us speaking with them in ways that make sense for their particular context. We don’t want to preach to the converted, nor do we want to bombard people with information they don’t find relevant or interesting. We need to tailor their experience.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud is a big part of this, helping Harris and his team identify timely opportunities to send the right content to the right fans. That could be the announcement of big club news based on their stated preferences, such as last week’s Blue Family launch or a new player signing. Another example is birthday message videos from players to fans, which generate an open rate of 45% and lots of positive social media feedback, says Harris.

One particularly tangible example of the contribution that fan engagement makes to revenues is the annual campaign to get around 31,300-plus season ticket holders to renew, which typically involves more than 130,000 emails and 12,000 text messages.

For the 2019/20 season, Harris and his team used Salesforce Marketing Cloud to personalize emails, based on the category and location of fans’ current season tickets and highlighting the potential savings they could achieve by renewing. According to Harris the result has been positive: 

We exceeded our renewal target and hit a new record. Email open and click-through rates out-performed previous season ticket campaigns, resulting in £1.64 million worth of email conversions, compared with £1.06 million for the previous year. Our season ticket retention rates are always good, but we hit a new high of 96.7%, with many fans renewing a lot earlier.

Welcome home

As with other sporting fixtures and tournaments around the globe, right now there’s no way of telling when Premier League matches will resume and when Everton fans will return to Goodison Park. But even with matches suspended, it will be important to maintain fans’ anticipation and excitement around the Club’s move to a new home, scheduled for 2023. The proposed £500 million stadium will increase seating capacity from 39,000 to 52,000, which means Everton will need to sell a lot more season and single-game tickets.

Work for the new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock is expected to start in the final quarter of this year, although again, it’s not clear how coronavirus could impact the availability of labour, for example, for construction firm Laing. Either way, fans will want to be kept up to speed - just as they have been throughout the process, says Harris:

It’s been very fan-focused from the start, from releasing designs and getting feedback on them from 40,000 people across the city of Liverpool, to putting in planning permission and keeping audiences informed about that. All along the way, we have reiterated to fans, via our messages, how important it is for them to get behind the project, to give their views, and to respond to surveys, because this project is a massive deal for everyone - not just for the Club and its supporters, but for the city of Liverpool as a whole.

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