Football Loyalty

By Ko de Ruyter and Debbie Keeling

Living in Leicestershire we have been front-row witnesses to the greatest sports sensation of the past decade, one that got Gary Lineker to strip down and present Match of the Day in his underpants; Leicester City Football Club won the Premiership. Although we have a combined experience of nearly 50 years as loyalty marketing researchers, we are not to proud to admit that, amidst all the excitement, we have learned a thing or two about loyalty. 
A first take-away is that Leicester fans are not afraid to physically express their allegiance to the Foxes. We have certainly seen our share of both football and corporate logo tattoos, but the larger than life pics of manager Claudio Ranieri and striker Jamie Vardy across backs, bellies and other body parts have been a reminder how deeply engrained (literally) football loyalty is. 

A second, and perhaps subtler, lesson has been that loyalty can be divided. We are Manchester City fans, but the rise of Leicester City has pointed out the option of a second love. At the Etihad, Manchester City’s home ground, fans stayed to applaud Leicester players and manager off the pitch, despite the fact that they had just humiliated their team. This is in line with recent research that shows that single-brand loyalty is rapidly eroding in favour of multiple brand loyalty. Customers often partially defect and as a result there may be a much higher ROI in trying to increase customers’ share of spending with your brand instead of trying to maximize customer retention intentions. Brand loyalty is a team sport!

Foxes go from relegation candidates to champions in 2015/16's fairytale story

Foxes go from relegation candidates to champions in 2015/16's fairytale story

Fan survey

Inspired by the celebrations, we wanted to know how far such a loyalty bond could be stretched. We surveyed 200+ fans of a club that was fighting relegation in the championship league, while struggling financially. We asked them whether they would be willing to buy non-tradeable shares in the club, despite its deplorable performance. The answer was an overwhelming yes! We found that the key factor driving this financial support was a sense of giving back. So, in case you decide to crowdfund your next innovation, ask for a little help from your fans. If you appeal to their sense of reciprocity, we guarantee that their financial support will come bundled with lots of actionable ideas and an increased life-time value.   


Lifelong Loyalty
by Vanessa Aves

My stepdad was born and bred in Leicestershire and joined his local football team, Leicester City, in 1954 at the age of 18, playing in the position of ‘wing half’ (better known nowadays as mid field). He played on and off for the club for the next four years alongside Gordon Banks, one of the greatest ever goalkeepers. In those days, football was an amateur sport, so my stepdad also had to hold down a "proper" job as an insurance salesman in between matches and training. Sadly at the age of 22, a knee injury forced him out of league football.

Ironically despite playing for Leicester, he has been a lifelong Manchester United supporter! Now aged 80 he says: "I became a Manchester United supporter when I was a boy, around the age of 8 years old, as my friends at school were Man U supporters and Manchester United was the team of the moment. I have supported them ever since. That’s the key to football loyalty. Once you become a supporter of a particular team as a child, then you are a supporter of that team for life. Nevertheless I am absolutely delighted that Leicester have done so well – seeing them win the Premiership brought back a lot of fond memories from my youth playing for my local team.”