Peter Halpin

Football in Ireland 2020 - ‘Return To Football – Behind Closed Doors’

In recent days, the FAI together with the NLEC and the PFAI presented a working document to all League of Ireland clubs and elite panel match officials on a potential return to football in June behind closed doors. Entitled ‘Return To Football – Behind Closed Doors’ - around best practice for the staging of matches when senior Irish football gets the green light to resume action from the Health Service Executive (HSE). This document incorporates all elements around the safe staging of games behind closed doors to ensure the health and safety of players, match officials and club employees and volunteers.

This year will be taken up in the history books as a total crisis. The sanitary, social and economic impact of COVID-19 will be felt globally, not excluding any sector or industry. Our highly globalized world is slowing down, but also national and local markets will suffer losses in the months to come.
Industries whose business model is based on the organisation of events, external sources of financing (for example sponsorship), delivery of non-essential services and high wage pressure will be stressed most. Hence, these are challenging times for the entertainment sector - including the football industry, and especially football clubs. In our beloved League of Ireland or indeed the Irish League, it is no different.
Commercial; The acute shortage of cash cannot be explained by focusing on empty stadiums due to social distancing measures only. Clubs are, in general, small organisations and few people do an admirable lot of work. Definitely in League of Ireland and indeed Irish League football, commercial departments are rather under-staffed. From experience, I found that over the years this led to a “match day to match day” management culture, losing sight of the bigger picture and struggling to intensify commercial operations. Innovation was not an absolute priority.
This changed recently. In a period with less or no income at all coming from ticketing, catering, hospitality, merchandising, licensing, nonmatch day events, business club activities and other commercial activities that bring large groups of people together, it is crucial to tap into and/or develop other sources of revenue.
The most important areas of concern will be: - Activation of sponsorship: a club partner is no longer satisfied with mere visibility. Activation, co-branding and content are king. By investing in long-term collaborations with companies and organisations, partners stay on board. Even in times of crisis.
CRM: development of a platform through which the right people can be reached with the right content at the right time. Engaging the fan base on a daily level will create a stronger connection with the club.
Offer content through your own media channel: in times when clubs can only rely on social media and online marketing to communicate with their stakeholders, it is important to stand out.
The Patreon implemented by Shelbourne FC and followed by St. Patricks Athletic among others whereby the clubs are creating podcasts, video and archive material are super initiatives generating needed income.
Being unique and authentic comes first, this without losing sight of ways to commercialise owned content. E-commerce: selling merchandise in a fan shop is not possible right now, selling online is.
E-sports: it is a growing market and it has come to several football clubs’ attention that this could be an opportunity to build, expand, and grow as a brand. Furthermore, when done right financial benefits are there for the taking.
In short, every crisis - no matter how serious - offers opportunities and possibilities to question one's own organisation. Put short-term thinking aside, live less from match day to match day, and invest sustainably.
Has League of Ireland or indeed Irish League done its job ?; broadcasting revenues are non-existent so clubs are starting to “think outside the box” – would you subscribe €10 for streaming of your local team? –of course providing it is a safe environment for all concerned.
Now it is time for League of Ireland and indeed Irish League clubs to rethink the business model. Let's hope that within a few years we will not look back on this period without seeing the slightest change.
Relying and budgeting on stable and recurring revenue streams should become the motto. Let’s hope this surreal time in our lives is seen by League of Ireland and indeed Irish League clubs as a platform to implement this.
Take care and stay safe!
Peter

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