Heart of Midlothian Football Club Building Back Better: Research Report

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Abstract



The primary aim: of the study is to support The Scottish Football Industry recovery from Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Secondary aims of the study are:
• To utilize and illustrate Edinburgh University’s capability to analyse data at scale and identify innovative ways to support the Scottish Football Industry.
• To validate and test the need for an independent Scottish Football/Sport Data Laboratory, which would use data to maximise the potential of, and provide a service to, the Scottish football/Sport Industry.
• To support the post-Covid-19 season ticket campaign and launch of the four football clubs participating in the study.
• To evidence aspects of fan engagement with football clubs locally and internationally.
• To learn lessons that will support the resilience of football clubs and prepare the
football industry better for the future.

Football is a pillar of connection in and beyond Scotland.

Football clubs should put the same effort into the use of data to inform business analytics as they do on-field performance.

A further sharing of data between clubs would help Scottish football, recognising the benefits of off-field collaboration and how this can be coordinated in a non-competitive manner.

The capacity and capability of clubs to cater for the fluid needs of the football fan requires strong relationships to be built between fans and clubs, many of our clubs have already established strong community programmes – data awareness can further grow and embed these activities.

It is vital that clubs continue to listen to what the fan base and potential fan base are saying. Clubs need to know in detail if the attitude of fans towards the club’s activities are seen positively, negatively, or in a neutral way.

It is essential that clubs know who the key people, influencers, and brokers of information in their communication networks are, reach out to them and develop alliances. The emergence of social media provides clubs with an opportunity to extend their reach, in collaboration with key influencers.

Clubs that are investing in technology to create virtual experiences or pay per view experience already acknowledge that many of their fans may never visit in person.
Online fan engagement responded positively to ways in which football clubs engage with social issues that matter to the football communities.

Summary Statement: Building back better requires lessons to be learned by: (i) national response teams about the total contribution that football can make, and (ii) football itself. Sport like other areas of public life was unprepared. As about 48% of Scottish football revenues arise from match-day expenditure, more than any other country in Europe, our clubs were exposed to the total ban on football attendance inflicted by the pandemic.


There is a clear relationship between poverty, deprivation, and income on season ticket consumption. This has implications as people start to emerge from lockdowns and life slowly returns to normal.

A lesson from the pandemic has been to recognise the importance of social relationships and networks, particularly within underserved communities. Football clubs are well placed to be at the heart of these conduits of influence but the way in which football clubs recognise the extent of their own networks and the ways in which these networks work, are fluid, require constant work and data, and remains work in progress.

One of the lost messages amongst the impact of the Scotland vs. England match at Wembley and the Euro 2020 Scotland contribution was that families kept apart during the pandemic and, most importantly, generations of families, started talking about great Scottish football moments. The wins here are less important than the fact that football was helping to facilitate conversations, contact, and the social networks that have been affected profoundly by Covid- 19.

Football season ticket consumption and pricing in areas of multiple deprivation needs to be better understood.

In the age of the fluid fan, football clubs need to have a much more nuanced understanding of geography in terms where fans come from and could come from.
The need to remain flexible, innovative, agile, responsive and data informed is a key observation, and lesson from the pandemic for football organisations and sport in general.

Ten Key Takeaways:
1. Clubs would benefit from producing more meaningful online engagement outside of game time.The timing of social media engagement needs to be more of a seven days a week relationship. The production of social media isn’t only a games day effort. Connect is about keeping fans connected on digital platforms before, during, and after events.
2. Sentiment towards the club is driven by conversations and storytelling around social issues that matter as much as scores, fixtures and matchday information.
3. Clubs have significant online international engagement outside of the UK.
4. Clubs should identify, work with and build strong relationships with club specific online influencers and message brokers.
5. The value of player folk profiles as a means of messaging is undervalued.
6. 16% of season ticket holders across the four clubs reside in the top 20% most deprived postcode districts in Scotland, and a further 20% in the second most deprived postcode districts.
7. 90.94% of Aberdeen’s season ticket sales came from the city of Aberdeen itself.
8. 83.86% of Hearts season ticket sales came from the city of Edinburgh itself.
9. 88.51% of Hibernian season ticket sales stem from the City of Edinburgh area postcodes.
10. 79.88% of Motherwell season ticket sales stem from ML area postcodes.

Ten Key Observations:
1. The Scottish football industry, the sports industry and public life in general across the UK was unprepared and significantly impacted by the Cov-d-19 pandemic. There is a big difference between preparedness, readiness and response. The idea that preparedness has a beginning, and an end date is false. Whether it be Sars in 2002, H5N1 in 2004, H1N1 in 2009, Mers in 2012, ebola in 2013, Zika in 2019 and Covid - 19 in 2019 there is a relentless temporal regularity. Preparedness and readiness are a constant, it does not end and needs to be part of the fabric of Scottish society including football and sport as it looks to the future.

2. There is a clear relationship poverty, deprivation and income on season ticket consumption. This has implications as people start to emerge from lockdowns and life slowly returns to normal.

3. A crucial lesson from the pandemic has been to recognise the importance of social relationships and networks, particularly within underserved communities. Football clubs are well placed to be at the heart of these conduits of influence but the way in which football clubs both recognise the extent of their own networks and the way in which these networks work, are fluid and require constant work, remains a work in progress.

4. The timing of engagement with football communities could be more of a seven day a week operation rather than having spikes of activity in and around match days.
• Analysis of Scottish Football sentiment.
• Spatial and demographic analysis of supporters and non-supporters.
• Catalogue of data available to inform a Scottish football data set.


5. A necessity to recognise and embrace change in the future may require clubs to cater much more for fans that may want to consume football but not necessarily attend matches in the stadium to the same extent. One of the effects of the pandemic has been to raise concerns about how safe and quickly fans will return to stadiums or prefer pay- per-view to consume football. A football habit has been broken and it will take time to repair.

6. Football is a pillar of connection in and beyond Scotland The extent to which football clubs in Scotland realise or maximise the extent of their reach or potential international engagement remains a work in progress. All of the four clubs partnering in this study have different but significant international engagement profiles and patterns.

7. The leveraging of Player Folk Appeal has yet to be fully realised. Players are not appearing, as fully as they could, as key content drivers around each club, despite their large followings. This could represent an untapped online resource and in some cases a means of further international engagement and influence.

8. Football clubs have knowledge to exchange. including positive stories to tell. A key finding from the social sentiment and network analyses was the positive way in which football fans engage with clubs about social issues that matter to the football communities. Football clubs need to get much better at exchanging knowledge that connects with fans and communities in at least three different ways: online, offline, and with key partners that can facilitate this such as universities or technology companies.

9. Scotland is a relatively data rich country. The sources of national and local data that inform decision-making processes in Scotland are relatively well developed. Scottish football has access to private, public, and third-party sources of data. Different parts of the Scottish sporting ecosystem collect their own data, but data sharing is an unequal landscape in terms of capability, capacity, and the ever-changing skills.

10. Edinburgh University with investment can provide a data analytics service for the 21st century that could enable Scottish football and indeed other sports to better understand, for example, business analytics and the online, offline, local and international communities and more.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • football
  • COVID-19
  • Scotland
  • poverty
  • inequality
  • health

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