Football Club and Fan Relationships Better in Lower Leagues, Staffs Uni Researcher Suggests

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LOWER league football clubs are maintaining better relationships with their fans than in the Premier League, a Staffordshire University researcher suggests.

The warning signs are evident at all clubs: fans are the lifeblood of any team and they need to feel included

LOWER league football clubs are maintaining better relationships with their fans than in the Premier League, a Staffordshire University researcher suggests.

Dr Jamie Cleland, Senior Lecturer in Sports Sociology and a former Coventry City goalkeeper, has conducted large-scale research into the interaction between clubs and fans in different leagues.

And recent events surrounding Liverpool Football Club and its change of ownership have backed up the conclusions of his research, Dr Cleland said.

“The warning signs are evident at all clubs: fans are the lifeblood of any team and they need to feel included,” he said.

“The dangers of not taking account of this have been clearly shown in the disastrous experiences of Liverpool under George Gillett and Tom Hicks, and possibly also the negative publicity that the Glazers have incurred at Manchester United.

“Even at a club the size of Liverpool, fans remain hugely influential. It’s no secret that the two owners have endured a difficult time with the club’s supporters and this is now spreading to the wider media.”

Dr Cleland’s research involved over 1,000 interviews and questionnaires with club officials, fanclub and fanzine members, and local media professionals throughout the Midlands.

These were focussed on four football clubs, including: Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Coventry City and Northampton Town.

Dr Cleland’s research concluded that relationships between clubs and fans had changed in recent years with the creation of more media sources, marketing and commercial departments, and greater opportunities for fans to get more actively involved.

Despite these advances, however, lower league teams are still maintaining better two way communications with their fans, he said.

“This professional approach means very little if clubs do not communicate effectively with their supporters and look at ways of including them more.

“Not surprisingly, there were differences in both the amount of internal sources available to communicate with supporters and the number of employees whose responsibility this was at each club in different leagues.

“Even though the media focus on the Premier League for news and information, it’s actually lower league clubs that are found to have a better relationship with supporters, possibly as a result of the greater need to retain them.”

Dr Cleland’s research has been published in Soccer and Society and The International Journal of Sport Communication. It is also due to feature in Media, Culture and Society in March 2011.

Notes to editors:

  •     Dr Jamie Cleland is available for interviews. Please contact him directly on 07814 464253 or j.a.cleland(at)staffs(dot)ac(dot)uk.

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