Very few industries impact the economy and society as strongly as sports. As an industry, sport contributes £39 billion to the UK’s economy. It contributes both directly (jobs creation) and indirectly by creating a healthier population and reducing crime. More so, there are studies that highlight the fans’ desire for their teams to champion social causes.
When the pandemic started to engulf the world in 2020, I was busy working on my research project at university.
My topic? Transformative Services and Value Creation in Sports!
Two years and several lockdowns later, it seems a good time to evaluate my research and the framework I proposed against the evidence at hand.
The question then arises, have sport organisations been doing enough and have they played their part in positively impacting the society?
Firstly, in my opinion, transformative services are rarely created in isolation but are influenced by external factors. I captured this in a ‘value creation’ framework, depicting how societal factors and the capabilities of the service provider have an important influence on the creation and perception of a value proposition.
For instance, the role of sports as a vehicle for community welfare was reaffirmed during the Covid pandemic, with clubs up and down the country providing essential support for vulnerable families in their communities. From donating essential supplies and converting their stadia into vaccination centres to video calls from players and virtual engagements, clubs chipped in with whatever they could.
Even the ‘Taking the Knee’ movement was reflective of the increased awareness of racial discrimination in the society. Arsenal FC’s ‘No More Red’ campaign is another prime example of the social factors influencing the club’s actions.
Similarly, the awareness of the need for equality and the importance of women in society and sport, led to various campaigns and services designed by clubs all over the globe.
FC Barcelona have proven to champion this cause with their ‘More than Empowerment’ movement. This aligns with their value of being ‘More than a Club’ and reinforces influence of organisational context and values on the services it designs- an important component of my research driven framework.
Yes, the values and vision of the club play their part, but can positive impact be made by collaborating with fans themselves?
Academics term this as ‘co-creation’ and it’s a powerful means to create and sustain value.
The final game of Real Betis FC saw 19,000 soft toys thrown onto the pitch, as requested by the club, to be donated to kids on Christmas. A perfect example of value co-creation for the benefit of a social cause.
However, it does challenge the effect of context in my framework as Real Betis were not champions at that point nor were they winning at HT. They are not the biggest club in Spain either, but it shows how involving fans in the value proposition almost negates the other factors.
Clubs tend to collaborate with fans mainly during the delivery of the service or to market it. But, it is highly important to involve them in the design phase as well. This creates a high-quality value and ensures authenticity and trust among the fans. Sports organisations, especially football clubs, tend to ignore that and face delivery challenges and negative feedback.
So, the question I ask the clubs is how involved is your fan base in creating the campaigns that ultimately are for their benefit? If not enough, it might be time to change your perception from being a service ‘producer’ to a ‘facilitator’ by acknowledging the co-creative role of your fans.