The author of a new fan engagement course has commended South Bend Lions’ impact in the community over the past 12 months after using the club as an example of best practice in an online program provided by Spanish giants FC Barcelona.
UEFA mentor Mark Bradley has written the Certificate in Fan Engagement course running at the Barça Innovation Hub, which began in 2017 and has rolled out several programs that collate leading ideas and initiatives to share understanding in different areas of the sports industry, taking inspiration from FC Barcelona’s motto: Mes Que Un Club (More Than A Club).
Released this Fall, the course utilizes Bradley’s industry expertise as the founder of The Fan Experience Company, and someone who has helped clubs and leagues around the world improve their relationships with different supporter groups for over 20 years.
“Fan engagement is about recognizing that there is an emotional and psychological element as to why people become attached to that club,” Bradley explained to host Don Moore on the River ‘n Roar podcast. “Then think, what else would they get attached to?
“A lot of people believe that the concept can only exist with clubs that have been around for 50, 60, or 70 years; that it’s not possible to do it with a new franchise in the States or a new club that you set up in Europe. But I disagree; you just need a different way of thinking.
“What I’m doing the course for is not to say, ‘Come and have a look at what Bayern Munich do, or Manchester United’, it’s about all the clubs on the planet – the 95 to 97 percent who only survive because enough people come through those turnstiles.
“People have got to not waste this moment. Stop making excuses not to take a fan engagement course to promote your club; use this hiatus to reset your whole idea of what the club stands for, and for me, it’s not about the football team, it’s about the movement.”
Listen to Mark’s interview on River ‘n Roar in full:
In the course, Bradley references the club’s interaction with the community through digital platforms and its partnership with the South Bend Community School Corporation, alongside examples from MLS franchise Philadelphia Union and several European teams.
“South Bend Lions were operating at an emotional level where they were trying to get people to buy into the club, not because it was going to be a winning team, but because of its values and what it stood for,” continued Bradley. “Developing an identity before anything else really interested me.
“I also liked the idea of celebrating those first people in the community that really connect with the club – having the limited-edition scarf that would only go to the first fans so that in many years in the future, someone’s grandad sits them on their knee and they say, ‘Grandad, what’s that scarf in the glass case?’
“In terms of the connection with the Barça Innovation Hub, I had the perfect opportunity to say, ‘Have you ever thought there could be a different way that non-elite clubs could use digital to connect with people?’ So, there [South Bend Lions] was my example.
“I’m really confident that South Bend Lions’ future is not just going to be successful in terms of building that community connection and becoming self-sufficient and sustainable, but also as a model for other start-up clubs in North America and other parts of the world.”
The feedback Bradley and the Barça Innovation Hub have received from the fan engagement course suggests it is already making an impact in the soccer landscape.