For professional clubs, engagement represents both a huge opportunity and an increasingly complex challenge.

As football’s popularity continues to soar, the new audience types it attracts need to be reached by clubs alongside the traditional die-hard supporter.

Concurrently, ‘engagement’ has now become such an all-encompassing buzzword for any kind of digital marketing activity that it has lost some of its focus and relevancy. This is partly due to it being synonymous with social media but, while social is an integral part of the marketing mix for a football club; isolated ad hoc campaigns are not the solution for successful fan engagement.

At Reading Room, engagement in football is about building deeper connections with fans. For the likes of premiership clubs, our work has focused on creating a never-ending multiplicity of dialogues that build loyalty and extend lifetime value for mutual benefit for the club, its partners and the fans.

Using data to understand

The critical success factor in achieving a pinpoint, precision-like understanding of fans is data. A 360-degree view of a fan that comes from data is, without doubt, the best route to determining the levers a club can use to assist conversion, commercial or otherwise, at every stage of the fan journey.

That data should come from a comprehensive list of sources too, including website, social and email analytics, CRM, sales records, market insights and fan surveys. In short, it must be transactional, attitudinal and behavioural.

Although the integration of those disparate data sources is still the holy grail of customer understanding, the transition to using data as a principal way of driving decisions rather than a prop to support them, has to be a key focus for clubs and their digital agencies in 2015.

Expanding the range of quantitative and qualitative data analysis, as opposed to a more traditional formulaic web analytics approach, and then tapping into emerging disciplines like data journalism and data visualisation to produce actionable insights in a more palatable narrative format, is therefore an essential step for any club.

Making the connections between those different datasets and the curation of those insights is similar to the way in which media companies are starting to use data as part of their journalistic proposition to football fans. The fusion of content types (e.g. video, statistics, comment and analysis) to create richer experiences for readers and visitors is a great example for any club in blending data to create compelling stories.