Title Page Acknowledgments Table of Contents List of Tables List of Figures

Title Page
Table of Contents
List of Tables
List of Figures
Glossary of Terms
Title: To what extent are current marketing methods missing out on an older generation of fans? A case study into Hibernian Football Club.
The sole purpose of this research is to understand if current marketing methods are missing out on an older generation of fans, particularly with a case study focus on Scottish Premiership club Hibernian Football Club.
The research conducted will explore the idea that important demographics within football supporter fanbases are being missed out due to the marketing of the sport and by examining Hibernian Football Club this could expose a wider problem that exists within football. By exploring the existing evidence in the field and tailoring to my own research through first of all a quantitative approach by acquiring data from Hibernian Football Club on season ticket holder age demographics to then using a qualitative approach to support the quantitative work completed through the use of semi-structured interviews in order to fully understand if current marketing methods are fulfilling the needs of present older generational Hibernian fans. The reason for using season ticket holders is to get a real understanding of the magnitude of fans that are from an older age demographic but by assessing these supporters who are already heavily involved in the club and devote a great deal of time to the club is the exact typology of supporters that I believe will give the most honest and affective results.
This research aims to develop a core understanding of the underlying problems that many people may not know exist but in turn will benefit many people who feel strongly about the subject in order to have a better outcome in the future. A study like this with a focus on Hibernian Football Club has never been completed but by making the reader aware of the underlying problems that may exist within marketing to specific age demographics it could assist football clubs with best practice moving forward.
The world is increasingly growing older, in the United Kingdom 18% of its population are over the age of 65 and 2.4% are aged over 85. In 2016 it was recorded that there was 285 people aged over 65 for every 1,000 people aged 16 to 64 (Office for National Statistics, 2017). In many sectors this offers an opportunity and insight into a marketing field that may not have necessarily been considered by many marketers. A large proportion of Britons are over the age of 50 and comprise two-thirds of the country’s disposable income (Kobayashi, 2019). In the field of marketing strategies, there tends to be more of a focus on the Generation Z population. “Demographers generally say the first Gen Zers were born in the early to mid-1990s through the mid-2000s” (Fromm & Read, 2018). The findings that will be discussed throughout this piece of work will aim to show that Gen Z and other demographics are a targeted generation for many organisations, however a significant demographic can often be overlooked:
“We as an industry are falling over ourselves to understand millennials. We attack the pursuit of dissecting Generation Z with vigour with relish. There isn’t seemingly the same enthusiasm for those older consumers who have more money, more time, and more need for products and services across more categories” (Parsons, 2019).
These initial findings have prompted an examination into the idea that important demographics, particularly in an older generation of football fans have been missed out, and tailoring this to Hibernian Football Club. The older generation otherwise known as “Baby Boomers” refers to the drastic rise in birth rates that was noted following the end of World War II” (Barr, 2020). Landon Y. Jones (2008) states that the age demographic lies between those born from 1943 to 1960. With just 9% of Premier League fans being under the age of 24 it could be said that the older generation have been described as ignored, when it comes to being marketed properly (Barnes, 2007). This problem identified does not only have a profound effect on football and sport in Scotland and the United Kingdom however can have a much more in-depth effect to marketing strategies in companies from all sectors. Ted Leonsis, the principal owner of various sporting teams that compete in the NBA, NHL and WNBA stated that, “If you lose a generation, it destroys value and the connective tissue” (Maese, 2020).
By choosing to adapt the research findings to Hibernian Football Club, it will not only help the club understand its fans more precisely, but it will also flag up the need for attention for other clubs on the broader problem of missing out important age demographics in marketing. Extensive research has been conducted into Hibernian Football Club’s age demographics of season ticket holders and also the marketing strategies that the club has and the platforms that are utilised in order to reach their fan base. This shall then be analysed to further understand if important age demographics have been missed out or could be capitalised on.
This research project will set out to answer the following key questions in order to discover exactly what the problem is and to what extent are older age demographics being missed out:
Research Question 1: Are an older generation of fans being missed out due to current marketing methods at Hibernian Football Club?
Research Question 2: Does this research expose a wider problem that doesn’t only exist in Hibernian Football Club but could also exist in many other football clubs?
Research Question 3: What benefit would football clubs gain from targeting different age demographics within fan bases?
Research Question 4: What does the future hold for football supporters due to the modernisation of the game?
The History of Football
Known as soccer in many parts of the world, football has numerous forms in which balls were kicked around and handled by opposing teams in a pre-industrial society (Walvin, 2014). Sources have identified that the sport was first introduced in England dating back to as early as 1170 when an account claims that youths were heading to the field for a ‘game of ball’. In the 1300s, the appeal to the game in England increased through the interest from Edward II but became increasingly concerned that the sport was distracting people for getting ready for war against Scotland. Nonetheless, football re-emerged and continued to be played particularly in people from working class backgrounds who the saw the game as an opportunity to rectify their grievances and come together with people of similar backgrounds (Sky History, n.d.).
At the turn of the 18th century football’s appeal transcended the class divisions by becoming a popular sport of choice in public schools which proved to be the turning point for rules being established in the game. It is thought that public schools in Britain played an important role in developing the sport of football (Simkin, 2020). However, it was not until 1863 where there was clarification on the exact rules and codification of the sport, established through the Football Association (Curry, 2019).
Whilst there has been a great deal of debate recently regarding what football club was founded first including Crystal Palace Football Club who in 2020 claimed that the club was founded in 1861 rather than when they reformed in 1905, though it has not been proven if this is exactly correct. However, despite the claim from London club Crystal Palace, Notts County Football Club are undisputedly the oldest professional football club in the world, formed in 1862 and being one of the founding members of the Football League (Aladay, 2020). Many other clubs were founded around a similar time including Stoke City Football Club in 1863, Nottingham Forest Football Club in 1865 and Scottish club Queens Park Football Club in 1867.
1.2 The History of Hibernian Football Club
Hibernian Football Club were founded in Cowgate area of Edinburgh in 1875 by a group of Edinburgh-based Irishmen (Wright, 2017). Within an 80-year period, the club had developed from the overcrowded slums of the Cowgate into becoming the first British football club to compete in the European Cup in 1955. Not long after the club was founded, they rapidly became an integral part of Scotland’s sporting scene and were successfully crowned national champions after winning the Scottish Cup in 1903 (Hibernian Football Club, 2021).
Described as the ‘golden period’ in the club’s history, during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s in which the club impressively secured three championships in 1948, 1951 and 1952. The club’s success has been known to come down to the heroic and still celebrated forward line nicknamed the ‘Famous Five’ being Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond. As the club delved through the years into the 1960’s Hibernian entertained the likes of Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid on home soil in Leith and managed to overcome Barcelona 3-2 in at home in 1961 after a 4-4 draw at Barcelona stadium, Camp Nou (Hibernian Football Club, 2021).
The club is full of rich history from defeating Italian giants Napoli to winning the Scottish Cup in 2016 after an 114 year, dramatically defeating Rangers Football Club in a last gasp minute goal by captain David Gray to send the trophy back to Leith after many years without having their name on it. The supporters of the club took to the streets signing the clubs famous anthem ‘Sunshine on Leith’ sung by Scottish band The Proclaimers. There were over 150,000 supporters that lined the streets of Edinburgh the following day to celebrate the clubs victory (Hibernian Football Club, 2021).
The History of Fans in Football
Literature Review
2.1 Current Marketing Methods
2.1.1 Marketing to an Older Generation
Most companies have a marketing strategy. A marketing strategy can refer to a particular business’s overall game plan for reaching prospective consumers and turning them into real life customers of their products and services. This can include, value proposition, key brand messaging or data in the form of demographics (Barone, 2021). However according to Lazer (1994) information regarding demographics, which is the backbone of critical information for marketers, is often disregarded or discounted. This leaves the question as to what particular marketers focus on when generating a marketing strategy if it doesn’t constitute age demographics.
Many marketers face questions such as: “What is the market potential? Who are the actual and potential customers? Where do they live? What changes are occurring among households, families and lifestyles? What is the fastest growing market?” (Lazer 1994). These are just a handful of questions that are used in order to generate marketing strategies in many industries however there is not enough emphasis and time spent on particular strategies when it comes to age demographics, particularly in those of an ‘older generation’. “Brands are ignoring or irritating a vast swathe of the UK population by failing to target over-50s effectively, which is a massive missed opportunity given they have far greater spending power than younger consumers” (Tesseras, 2019).
If brands want to have a fully comprehensive marketing strategy, there needs to be more consideration into certain age demographics which could not only be an academic success but it could also be great for society as a whole, involving all age groups in marketing and bringing society together not just the popular marketing age group that is considered to be the younger generation. In Figure 1 below from Statista, it shows the mean annual disposable income in the United Kingdom in 2019/20, by specific age demographics (Great British Pound).
Figure 1: Mean annual disposable income in the UK in 19/20 by age group in 1,000 GBP (Statista, 2021)
As highlighted in the graph the age group with the highest annual disposable income is the 45-54 age group with a total of £42.85 and then next in line is the 55-65 age group with £40.35. The 75-84 age group is higher than that of the 18-24 age bracket and may come as a surprise to many marketers who target the younger age group rather than the ‘older generation’ known as the ‘Baby Boomers’ ranging from ages 61 to 78.
A third of the United Kingdom are over the age of 50 and control two-thirds of the country’s disposable income, truly highlighting how much of a benefit they could be to certain businesses, but they are still being treated as a ‘niche’ audience, with no explanation as to why (Kobayashi, 2019). According to a report from Saga (2016) over 50s contribute more than 6 trillion to the economy in the United Kingdom with a total wealth being the equivalent to £6.2 trillion, which is a staggering 70% of the total amount held but households in the UK. With this is in mind, the marketing strategies developed by certain organisations should be having more of a focus on knowing exactly what their market consists of through spending power, growing markets but also certain age demographics that fit their target market as only 5% of all ad-spend is targeted on the over 50s audience (Kobayashi, 2019). Not all companies target market will be an older generation however, it is evident that this certain generation are being missed out at a significant rate.
Figure 1.2 The key themes that exist when exploring to what extent an older generation are being missed out
With these key themes in mind in Figure 1.2, we can identify that they are certainly not in isolation and that they all carry a common theme in that the older generation/over 50s market is being sporadically disregarded and not thought about by many organisations, even as such that this market has a tremendous amount of disposable income, and also that a large portion of the population consists over an age group in this bracket. From the information gathered we can answer the question that is: ‘To what extent are an older generation being missed out due to current marketing strategies?’ It is clear that an older generation are being missed out in a wider scope, whilst there will be organisations who do target an older generation correctly it is of belief after conducting this review that from an overall perspective, in the United Kingdom marketers and businesses are failing to target this market correctly and concisely.
2.1.2 Gen Z Marketing
Every company, business or organisation has its own target market and the thought process behind certain strategies. However, these strategies should certainly not focus on targeting everyone, or you’ll inevitably end up targeting no one. It is practically impossible to have a successful digital marketing strategy if you haven’t thought about or segmented your audience into certain sectors (Hyped Marketing, 2020).
Generation Z which “Demographers generally say is that the first Gen Zers were born in the early to mid-1990s through the mid-2000s” (Fromm & Read, 2018) has taken over from Millennials in 2020 and is deemed to be the new target market. With most if not every person from the Gen Z demographic, having grown up with a smart phone and social media and therefore is less likely to be influenced by direct more traditional marketing techniques as they have built up immunity by constant exposure to the digital world (Keyworth, 2021). However, this has left many marketers at a crossroad in terms of moving with the times in order to capture an audience like Gen Z or even Millennials:
“We as an industry are falling over ourselves to understand millennials. We attack the pursuit of dissecting Generation Z with vigour with relish. There isn’t seemingly the same enthusiasm for those older consumers who have more money, more time, and more need for products and services across more categories” (Parsons, 2019).
With many industries caught up in the process of trying to reach out the Gen Z population, many organisations may actually not realise what they are missing out on when it comes to marketing to an older generation. In turn, they may discover that the older generation could be a more suited generation with more spending power, time and a need for the products or services that a particular organisation could provide.
Looking at it from a marketer’s perspective when marketing to a Gen Z age demographic; it can sometimes be nothing short of a challenge for many professionals working in marketing when they are not from that age bracket. There are certain aspects that differentiate the behaviours, attitudes, motivations, opinions and communication methodologies of those aged between 13 and 19 to the Gen X segment – which is anyone aged 40 and above – that set them poles apart (Lang, 2019). According to Kasasa (2021) the average person from the Gen Z category received their first mobile phone at age 10.3 years and have grown up in a hyper-connected world relying on their mobile devices as a means of preferred communication and on average spend three hours a day on these devices. However, that is not to say that an older generation does not use social media or use their mobile devices any less as this is the modern world that we live in. Moreover, it is understanding exactly the wants needs of consumers from these age demographics in order to the get the best result:
“Notoriously cynical and, rather unsurprisingly, untrusting of their Gen X forebears communicating with these teenagers is a minefield, leaving in its wake a cemetery of misplaced adverts, ill-judged products and cynically rejected politics.” (Lang, 2019)
This begs the question that when marketers chose a certain segment or age demographic, are they truly understanding of their markets wants and needs or are they completely misunderstanding this in some instances, and believing that they know their market but really, they don’t. This proposes the idea that instead of stereotyping an age demographic, extensive research should be done in order to truly understand an organisations target market, instead of basing it off the fact that a Gen Zer will act in a certain way and a Gen Xer will act in another way, whereas people can be from all walks of life with different opinions, interests, behaviours and communication habits. This in turn will help yield in the correct people into your brand and won’t leave many disinterested or passive.
Figure 1.3 What makes your generation unique? (Pew Research Center survey, 2010)
In Figure 1.3 it highlights that every generation/person has different interests and characteristics. The Figure shows from the survey taken out by the Pew Research Center exactly what these interests entail but also could act as a prime example of what an organisation could start with when deciding what marketing plan or what demographic to focus on.
2.1.3 Marketing Methods within Football Clubs
Within football clubs’ consumers can be segmented into different categories when it comes to marketing practices or even in a general sense. This can be categorised demographically, culturally and socially and the value of a lifetime loyal fan is likely to be much superior to that of a passive supporter (Tapp & Clowes, 2002.). However, the use of demographic segmentation particularly within a football club’s fan base helps organisations discover its target market more concisely which in turn can increase retention and devotion (Score and Change, 2021).
Many factors are put into place at football clubs when it comes to marketing of ‘the next generation’ and the thought process behind this is to turn youngsters into lifelong fans by marketing specifically to their age group right from the start (Score and Change, 2021.) This is something that many football clubs partake in and it is completely acknowledged as to why this is a method many decide to utilise because after all having lifelong fans is something that is so important to every football club. With this marketing method in mind, this can leave many problems for other age demographics, resulting in certain age groups being left out completely due to the focus on ‘the next generation’. For smaller clubs like Hibernian Football Club, with a stadium capacity of 21,421 and according to (Hibernian, 2021) having 250,000 fans turning out to see the Scottish Cup winning parade, the marketing departments can be small and therefore it makes it difficult to market to certain people without leaving a certain age demographic out.
With the ever-changing world that we live in, sports marketing also had to change as soon as a drive focused on digital marketing moved away from traditional forms. It used to be that football clubs didn’t need to do much in terms of marketing and getting in contact with supporters to encourage them to support that particular club as it was almost guaranteed for the top performing sides that thousands of people would show up to watch them regardless of the marketing (Murdoch, 2019). This tradition is something that has mostly surpassed and could be put down to the rise of digital content and that the relationship that a club has with its fans has completely altered. Modern practices have provided a platform where fan activities and opinions can be easily accessed which has meant that larger sized clubs have had to alter their marketing practices however for smaller sized clubs, including grassroots football clubs simply do not have budget to carry out the modern marketing requirements (Murdoch, 2019.)
As football clubs have to change with the times and have different business focuses, they move into a period where they are almost deemed as media organisations:
“As football clubs become more like media businesses in their own right, the way they make money is changing from a typical sponsorship model towards one more focused on content creation and distribution.” (Joseph, 2020)
With many football clubs changing the way they make revenue and the way they are organised this begs the question as to what affect does this have to certain consumers of that club. Will an older generation be captivated and enthralled by ‘content created and distribution’ or will this focus more on an up and coming market who has grown up with said activities.
Taken from literature on, ‘Football’s Digital Transformation’ by PwC, it states that it is a prerequisite in getting an effective crowdsourcing initiative by taking a cue from the younger more tech-savvy generation to increase engagement for football club’s (PwC, 2014). Here is another example of literature of the belief that the younger generation will be the main focus for football club’s when it comes to marketing and by examining this philosophy it will allow myself and the reader to better understand why such an emphasis has been generated on this age group which has left important demographics to ponder.
Figure 1.4 taken from PwC (digital natives will be the dominant force in economic activity)
As seen in Figure 1.4 it highlights their opinion that digital natives will be the dominant force from now and in years to come and that traditional consumers will be completely outnumbered. However, becoming completely digital focused and thinking that it is the only way forward could in turn be a complete catastrophe and in a recent interview with The Washington Post (Maese, 2020) Ted Leonsis said that if you lose a generation it demolishes the value and connective tissue and would it be possible to lose a whole generation just because of the mere fact that we didn’t give them the access to the products and services that they wanted? By making a football club’s products and services more accessible for all age demographics I believe that it would create a football club which would not only be successful for their consumers but would invite other potential customers to get involved and support that club. In turn they would not be ageist and would be trying to make it a game for everybody and not the select few who fall under a certain category. From a commercial and business perspective, having all age groups involved in a football club will potentially open up the market to more opportunities and success.
When targeting marketing strategies in football clubs to their supporters many organisations are left with the difficult task of trying to completely understand the different types of fans that exist. Studies into demographics of fans within sport state that youngsters no longer display the same level of interest in football as past generations did (Digital Agency, 2021). It therefore highlights a problem from the research found; in that many marketers are spending a great deal of time in marketing to a younger generation, but many ‘fans’ from that generation may not be interested at all. This therefore highlights the response that maybe marketers should be focusing on real ‘supporters’ who are known to have a general interest in the club rather than ‘fans’ who have not even been identified and associated with yet.
Fan typologies can come under many different factors and not all fans are the same and can be motivated in varying ways (Fillis & Mackay, 2014). In Figure 1.5 below it shows the different types of fans that can occur in a football club and highlights that the four spectator categories are supported by two antagonisms being ‘hot-cool’ and ‘traditional consumer’. This graphic taken from the journal: Supporters, Followers, Fans and Flaneurs: A Taxonomy of Spectator Identities in Football (Giulianotti, 2002) shows the four quadrants that represent the type of supporters that can occur, which maps the historical fluctuations and social alterations practiced by spectators in their relationship with their football clubs.
Figure 1.5 Supporters, Followers, Fans and Flaneurs (Giulianotti, 2002)
The reason for extrapolating the graphic from Giulianotti is that I believe that it segments fans into such a specific way that it would allow for a football club to understand before starting market research exactly what they can look out for and what they could expect. By implementing the ‘traditional/consumer’ part into the graph it highlights the time and effort created by a supporter and how this is measured. The traditional supporter tends to have more of a devotion towards a particular club or have a more local and popular identification with the club whereas the consumer supporter will have more of a market focused relationship (Giulianotti, 2002), this in turn allows the researcher to understand the graph in more depth.
Throughout the literature assessed there is a clear gap in the findings. There is a huge attention on the younger generation when marketing to football fans, with many club’s trying to capture the supporters from a young age which personally I do believe is a great methodological approach however this leaves a huge market out and a market which could extrapolate huge possibilities. This does not intend to suggest leaving out the attention put on the younger generation completely as that should always be in a football club’s plan however the older generation or other demographics has endless possibilities.
2.1.4 Social Media in Football Clubs
Social media is described as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.” (Kaplan & Haenlien 2010) User-generated content otherwise known at UGC is any form of content that would be published or created by a consumer of that brand and usually forms in a non-paid environment (Gallegos, 2016).
Social media within football clubs is something that has transformed the sport and changed the way in which football clubs operate. Most if not every professional football club will have social media platforms and will have someone employed at the club to run these particular channels. Football clubs have been left but with no choice to change and keep with the times in order to yield in fans who would expect there to be a social media presence. This is a societal aspect and something that has become a norm all over the world. Social media benefits football clubs, fans and players by giving them the opportunity to strengthen their messages to interact with fans in the most powerful ways, it also gives football clubs a platform to listen to their audience and therefore educating them on what to do going forward with marketing purposes or even day-to-day tribulations (Fenton, 2020.)
With social media, fans can now connect with supporters in completely new and innovative ways than before (Gadhia, 2015). Social media now plays a huge role in the lives of sports fans around the world. Elite sport organisations are moving towards an entertainment company model, changing the way in which they operate to be more attractive to fans from anywhere in the world (KPMG, 2019).
Taken from KPMG’s Football Benchmark Social Media Analytics tool, Figure 1.6 highlights the social media performance of 1,000 clubs, leagues and sports competitions on the social media channels being Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. The graph highlights just how popular and important social media is in a football club’s marketing strategy with football acquiring four of the top ten most followed sports competitions including the Champions League with a total of 141 million followers across all channels. Nowadays even a player with a higher following on social media might have a higher value on the transfer market (KPMG, 2019).
Extrapolated from Statista on the ‘Social network profile ownership in the United Kingdom 2015-2020 by age group’ it states that:
“Those aged between 65 and 74 years or older are the least likely to have their own profile, the share of people in that age group on social media however this increased from 35 percent in 2015 to 59 percent in 2020” (Tankovska, 2021a).
Whilst some people might have the assumption that the older generation do not use social media at all, they might be completely wrong and that, “the monthly number of Facebook visitors aged 55 years or older grew by 2.4 million from March 2016 to 2018 and there were 400,000 fewer visitors aged from 18 to 34 years old (Tankovska, 2021b.)
Examining the transfer of the world-famous Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid to Juventus, it gave the Italian club a tidal wave of followers on their social media platforms, particularly Instagram which increased by 3.5 million followers in the first month (Lewis, 2018a). This therefore examines the question that has Ronaldo’s digital influence completely transformed the ideology of fan allegiance and does this mean that the nature of football fandom has completely altered? (Lewis, 2018b). Simon Chadwick who is a professor at Lyon Business School discusses the ever-changing landscape of football fandom and how it has transformed due to the digital environment that is coherent in today’s society:
“There’s something in the way in which the social and digital environment has enabled fans to challenge the existing ways of being a fan and perhaps therefore it’s breaking down the barriers to fandom that previously existed.” (Chadwick, 2018).
Football fandom has completely changed due to social media and certain people who call themselves as fans quite regularly nowadays don’t even support a team, but they follow a celebrity like player and this is something that did not exist in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s (Lewis, 2018c). When delving into the older generation and the way in which they support a football club, it is completely different to the way in which the younger generation follow their team and a football club needs to recognise that. Social media doesn’t work for some businesses even regardless of how hard they try (Bateman, 2017) however understanding your audience is critical to create real connections and generate successful results (Triton, 2021).
2.1.5 Chapter Conclusion
There are varying marketing methods that football clubs tend to utilise in today’s world; with many exploiting the digital age in many different respects, from social media to footballers creating brand identities. However, this chapter highlighted the need to look at all age demographics in more detail, showing that many football clubs are focusing on the ‘Gen Z’ population, and are trying to influence youngsters to support their club from an early age. Nonetheless, this could create a very niche market for any organisation by only focusing on one age demographic and that in turn could mean that a whole market is not utilised properly and forgotten about.
In order to be effective, it is vital to comprehend the demographics of an organisations target market however it is important to understand that demographics in itself is not enough (Atkinson, 2006a). The marketing campaigns that attract a younger generation in the hope that they will remain loyal customers for decades are ineffective and the brand loyalty that currently exists in today’s world is minimal (Atkinson, 2006b).
2.2 Old vs new
2.2.1 The Modernisation of Football
The sport of football has drastically changed over the years, and some will argue for the better, but others would state for the worse. There are fears among the supporters of football clubs that there is beginning to be a huge divide between the clubs and their fans, fears which many football clubs seem largely unaware of (Harverson, 1998). Generated in Figure 1.7 it takes a look at Harverson’s (1998) ideology of what football organisations believe and the contrasting view from the spectators of the sport.
What football organisations believe
What the supporters believe
“Football believes that it deserves enormous credit for smartening up its act: rebuilding its stadiums, developing new commercial activities, striking lucrative broadcasting deals and attracting exciting foreign talent to British football.”
“An increasingly vocal element in the football community is beginning to express its unhappiness with what has been done to their sport. In their eyes, commercialisation of the game has gone too far.”
“With the clubs’ pursuit of greater profits, exploitation of the fans has increased.”
“The influence of television has become too powerful, with the broadcasters, rather than the league, often deciding when and where clubs play their games, irrespective of inconvenience for the fans.”
“The conversion of clubs from private companies into publicly-owned, stock market-quoted leisure businesses has forced clubs to put the interests of shareholders and their dividends before the interests of supporters.”
“The hundreds of club fanzines throughout the country have also given voice to the fans’ sense of frustration, while activism, in the form of the growing influence of national and local supporters’ organisations, is on the rise.”
Figure 1.7 Harverson’s comparison of football organisations thought process vs the fans
There are many other common themes similar to that of Harverson’s approach, (Scudmore, 2002) who was the Chief Executive of the FA Premier League from 1999 to 2014 describes football as:
“Football is not a business but a sport dependent on excitement and speculation. The game’s finances have always been precarious. Clubs have always spent more than they earned. Teams have always been on the verge of bankruptcy. And there’ll always be rich men ready to pour more money into clubs just to be part of the game.”
The vast sums of money invested into the game from television company Sky has transformed British football entirely, described by (Bower, 2002) as a “Sky television bonanza” and the way the sport has rapidly changed resulting in an older generation of fans being appalled by the new culture.
Earlier in 2021 many football fans were shocked by the announcement of the new European Super League, which aimed to revamp football and create more matches, and in turn create more revenue for the sport. According to (The Super League, 2021):
“The formation of the Super League comes at a time when the global pandemic has accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model. Further, for a number of years, the Founding Clubs have had the objective of improving the quality and intensity of existing European competitions throughout each season, and of creating a format for top clubs and players to compete on a regular basis.”
This might be the view from the European Super League however it was welcomed by extensive negative press and a coming together of fans disputing that it should never go ahead, described by football fans in Italy as the “death of football” and in Spain as “a selfish, egotistical proposal designed to further enrich the already super-rich” (Guardian, 2021a). The plans had been in place for many years, but many supporters never believed that it could ever go ahead, from once a working-class entity to now a movement controlled by the rich, this was something that would completely change the game as many fans know it and in turn leave many supporters pondering to continue being a football fan.
Nonetheless, it didn’t take fans long to stand up for what they believe in and as (Vrooman, 2007) once said, “The world’s game unifies us all, and that is the beauty of it.” Manchester City was the first British club to pull out of the European Super League projection closely followed by Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham (BBC, 2021). It will go down in history as the period when European football was saved, and this was largely down to the fans who protested against the club’s planning on joining the league (Gaurav, 2021). Was this the element that the owners of the clubs didn’t want to lose out on business or was this the idea that the owners wanted to keep the fans happy and most of all that they wanted to listen to them as after all they are the most important asset to have when overseeing a football club.
Florentino Pérez who was the ringleader behind the idea of the European Super League, stated that a massive reason behind his unique plan was that, “Young people are no longer interested in football” (Pérez, 2021) and that football in the modern day is “Simply too long and complex, too confusingly un-shiny for those aged 16 – 24.” Young people are the driving force and the thought process behind the plan not the supporters who have been there since the start, who have been there for countless years, and this loyalty has been rewarded with nothing (Ronay, 2021).
In May 2016, Leicester City Football Club became the Premier League Champions, much to many people’s surprise as they were deemed as relegation candidates before the season kicked off and it was the club’s first top-flight title in their history (James, 2016). However, this came at more of a surprise not only because they were outsiders from a footballing perspective but because Leicester City were a club from outside the financial super elite who managed to secure a major trophy, something that is unheard of (Delaney, 2020a).
Taken from (Delaney, 2020)’s investigation in Figure 1.8 into the true rise of super-clubs alongside the phenomenal rise in money has seen:
‘Invincible’ seasons in Italy, Portugal, Scotland and seven other European leagues
A first German treble
A first Italian treble
A first English domestic treble
Three French domestic trebles in four years
A first Champions League three-in-a-row in 42 years
The first ever 100-point season in Spain, Italy and England
13 of Europe’s 54 leagues currently seeing their longest run of titles by a single club or longest period of domination.
A second Spanish treble
Figure 1.8 (Delaney, 2020)’s investigation into the true rise of super-clubs
Figure 1.9 Swiss Ramble Scottish Premiership Revenue Totals Graph
Figure 1.9 Swiss Ramble Scottish Premiership Revenue Totals GraphThis is something that was unmanageable for decades and something that many clubs struggled to do. Whereas in modern football we are seeing common trends appearing in that the bigger more monetary powerful clubs are dominating in their leagues to only leave the other existing clubs to ponder. Taking a look at Celtic Football Club’s reign in Scotland which only recently changed after their arch rivals Rangers Football Club were successful in ending their bid for a tenth league title in a row, something that Celtic stopped Rangers from doing in 1998. Since the SPL (Scottish Premier League) or as it is now known as the Scottish Premiership, there has only been two teams that have won the title and that is the Glasgow giants being Rangers and Celtic. A huge factor to this is because the two clubs have much bigger revenue streams compared to others in The Scottish Premiership, mainly due to the investment opportunities that they receive.
Looking at Figure 1.9 taken from (Swiss Ramble, 2020) shows the Scottish Premiership Clubs revenue from the 2019/20 season. As seen in the graph it highlights the sheer difference in revenue from Celtic Football Club and Rangers Football Club with Celtic having the most revenue being £70 million and Rangers closely following with £59 million. Nearest to the two Glasgow rivals is Aberdeen with £14.3 million and Hearts (Heart of Midlothian) with £12.4 million which is a huge difference from Celtic and Rangers, a whole £57.8 million difference from Celtic and Hearts.
We have seen his trend in many other leagues around the world too for many years now and Javier Tebas the president of La Liga expresses his concerns with the upmost seriousness:
“We have to stop the trend now. The gap is growing exponentially every season. It’s now or never. We can potentially destroy the world ecosystem of football.”
2.2.2 The Impact of COVID-19 on Football
The COVID-19 outbreak has affected all aspects of the population in different ways and is a crisis that is unlike anything anyone has experienced in the 75-year history of the United Nations (Untied Nations, 2021). Not only has it killed 153,000 people in the United Kingdom (GOV.UK, 2021) and 4.25 million people worldwide (Worldometer, 2021) but it has also had a detrimental effect for many industries with the total percentage of businesses currently trading being at 71% in the United Kingdom (Office for National Statistics, 2021).
It has had a negative effect throughout the football industry and has created a completely different atmosphere meaning that players and fans have had to adapt in varying ways and also for the football clubs from a business standpoint who have had to rethink their business models in an effective and timely manner in order to thrive in a post COVID-19 world (Deloitte, 2021). All matches and competitions came to a halt in Scotland on the 13th of March 2020 and it was the exact same date that the Premier League and EFL postponed their matches to further notice. This caused devastation within the football industry, and a real uncertainty for many clubs, with no real forewarning as to when they would be allowed to play again. During the crisis Hibernian Football Club along with a long list of other football clubs, highlighted the ongoing impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, recording an operating loss of £1.4 million resulting in a net loss of £1.2 million in the season 2019/20 (Hibernian Football Club, 2021a). This highlights the need for fans to get back in the stadiums and focus on a successful season ticket campaign and in Hibs’ instance an efficacious run in Europe (Hibernian Football Club, 2021b).
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only resulted in football clubs running at a loss but it has put the future of many clubs in jeopardy. Fleetwood Town Football Club who compete in League One in the English Football League (EFL) warned the government about a financial crisis trouncing the EFL. Fleetwood’s Chief Executive Steve Curwood stated, “The government have got to step in now and support football clubs” after a total of eight teams have failed to make payments (Sky Sports, 2020). However, it was the Premier League who helped out the EFL after agreeing a deal of over a £250 million bailout package for EFL club facing financial challenges due to the pandemic (Sky News, 2020). The United Kingdom Government nevertheless had confirmed that a £10 million emergency fund support package would be put in place in order to help clubs – approximating to over 850 – in steps three to six of the National League system and also has announced that a £300 million Sports Winter Survival Package will be implemented in order to help those major spectator sports severely impacted by the pandemic (GOV.UK, 2021).
However, with football being cancelled or being played behind closed doors for such a long period meaning that fans are either not watching their club at all or watching it from a television screen, what does this do for football fandom? (The Guardian, 2020) took a look into how fans feel regarding the situation and if some fans are excited about the return of live sport. One fan stated that, “I won’t be as passionate as before” whilst another explained, “Without sport on, you’re left with the brutal realities of the real world.” The harsh reality is that football and sport is such a big part of many people’s lives and in some instances when it’s taken away from them it can have negative effects. It is a time where people get together, it is a time where you might spend time with your family, or it might just be a general release for some people. Looking at it from an older generations perspective and not having something to keep you entertained, or it only being available on the television could mean that a lot of people lose their interest as it is not the same compared to seeing the sport live. Football clubs have been using social media to keep supporters entertained but for a traditional fan, that could potentially not be satisfactory to their needs. Regardless if there is a pandemic going on or not sport is important economically, it is important physically and it is important mentally (Forbes, 2021).
As the world famous (Stein, 1967) once said, “Football without fans is nothing, if you play a football match without fans you’ve got nothing, it could be the greatest game in the world but if there’s no people there to watch it, it becomes nothing.”
2.2.3 The Traditional Media Outlets
Traditional media signifies forms of mass media that have a particular emphasis on delivering news to the public or to a targeted segment of the public (Lawlor, 2018a). Traditional media generally initiates a wider audience pool whereas today’s media outlets including social media tends to allow for a more targeted distribution (Lawlor, 2018b). It didn’t take a long period of time for the traditional media outlets such as Radio and Television to be replaced by their contemporary and interactive equivalents (Öngün, 2016). But why would this be the case when companies have used the traditional methods for many years? These methods shown in Figure 2.0 by (WebFX, 2020a) show the ‘Traditional Media’ versus the ‘New Media’ methods.
Figure 2.0 (WebFX, 2020) ‘Traditional media’ versus ‘New media’ methods
These ‘traditional methods’ have been successful for years but as the needs and wants of many customers evolve, marketing and media has no choice to evolve too (WebFX, 2020b). The question is why are these methods important to note and understand from a business perspective? Organisations have to understand the ‘New Media’ in order to keep up with market trends but also to understand that these media methods might evolve but it is also important to acknowledge that the ‘Traditional Methods’ have worked for years and some of these methods might work more effectively than others, especially towards certain demographics. Whilst the value of ‘New Media’ is unquestionable, ‘Traditional Media’ has huge benefits which shouldn’t be ignored (Noble & Cramer-Krasselt, 2014).
In Figure 2.1 taken from (Ofcom, 2020)’s ‘News Consumption in the UK: 2020’ table, it shows the ways in which different demographics utilise different news platforms, including Television, Internet (any device), Radio, Newspapers (print only) and Newspapers (print and website/app). It clearly highlights in the table that ‘Traditional Media’ including Television, Radio and Newspapers (print only) are still heavily relied on especially from age group 65+ showing at 92%. It also shows within Males, Females, ABC1’s and C2DE’s a high percentage ranging from 74% to 76%, clearing indicating that Television being a ‘Traditional Media’ method is still very important to a wide range of demographics.
Figure 2.1 News Consumption in the UK: 2020 by Ofcom
It is important to understand that traditional media is still integral in today’s world; it is essential for conveying messaging through branded content making it immediately recognisable for all ages (Democracy, 2020a). Newspapers, magazines, radio and television in its original form will always be identifiable to anyone of any age demographic, as it has been established for many years and decades, including newspapers dating back centuries (Democracy, 2020b).
2.2.4 The Commercialisation of Football
Bhasin (2019) describes commercialisation as the accumulative term for production, distribution, marketing, sales, customer support and other essential functions needed in order to carry out successful commercial activities. However, the broader aspect of commercialisation entails production, distribution, marketing, sales, customer service and anything else key to achieving the commercial success of the new product or service introduced.
In England in 1992 the English Premier League was founded, and this was the real introduction into the commercialisation of the sport in the United Kingdom, Scotland closely followed not long after in 1998. The sport has seen vast changes throughout the years but more so in the 21st century and one of the most noticeable changes and characteristics is its strong links to commercial enterprise (Slack, 2004). (Slack, 2004) continues to explain exactly what has been utilised to encourage the commercialisation of the sport through stadiums and arenas bearing the names of organisations that use capital to buy the naming rights of venues, sponsorship logos appearing on certain athletes clothing and equipment, media companies investing large sums of capital on rights to broadcast events and advertisers paying for the promotion of their products or services in commercial breaks during half-time or breaks in between play, all for the intention to gain profit. This is supported by former President of UEFA (Platini, 2008) who stated, “It is becoming more important to make a profit than to win trophies.”
However, with commercialisation of football you have positives and negatives from whatever side you look at it. According to (BBC, 2021) “sports benefits from commercialism” due to increased revenue helping participation numbers of athletes and as technology becomes a progressively significant element to sport, funding is even more crucial. (Conn, 2020) conversely explains how the element of commercialisation of football has developed a new aspect to the spectators involved in the sport compared describing it as a “new age”.
“Footballs popularity has mushroomed, it has entered mainstream popular culture, it is still heavily watched on television and the grounds are full. Yet many people who used to support clubs all their lives now find they cannot afford the new escalated prices. They, and teenagers and younger people in particular, have been alienated from this brave new age.” (Conn, 2020)
Football in the past thirty years has seen drastic change and many will argue for the better and many will argue for the worse. Football averages a worldwide audience of more than four billion viewers per season and comparing the viewing figures of the Champions League final compared with the NFL Superbowl, it now surpasses it (Kennedy and Kennedy, 2012a). In 2015, 380 million people watch the Champions League final compared with the Superb Bowl being 114 million (Blizzard, 2021). In turn (Kennedy and Kennedy, 2012b) states that due to the huge viewing numbers that football, and the Champions League obtains, UEFA which is European footballs governing body, receives over €500 million in broadcasting and sponsorship deals.
As seen in Figure 2.2 it highlights the revenue growth of the ‘big five’ European leagues including England, Italy, Germany, Spain and France from 1995/96 to 2007/08 really emphasising an important period of time for commercialisation of football. Every single league has been on the rise revenue wise from the 1995/96 season and there is only minor changes going downwards, but the vast majority has staggering influxes, especially in England. However, revenue is not all that is sufficient for a football club to survive, in fact there are many more facets to make a club ‘successful’. A closer look into the state of European top-flight football highlights a much bleaker outcome. (Kennedy and Kennedy, 2012) reveals that is one that consists of debt, bankruptcy, a loss of competitive balance, and the element of fan exploitation. Due to the richness generated in the game it has produced sensational athletic talents and showcased live games in remarkable venues however this comes with an accompaniment of instability fluctuating throughout football.
Not only has it created problems financially for the football clubs, but it has also created an uneasy and uncontrollable affect within the spectators, left with no choice but to invest more money into football if they want to carry on watching it and supporting it. (Perryman, 2015a) supports this by stating the commercialisation of football has spiralled out of control with ticket pricing being astronomical compared to previous decades and says that the Premier League used to invest in areas that mattered including, changes in class, gender race and location of fans however this was abandoned quietly. There is no question that football needs money in order to survive, however there is no evidence that anything will reach the sporting end of the game and instead clubs with huge sums of capital, rich players and their agents will carry on getting wealthier and will continue to forget about the rest (Perryman, 2015b).
An important question that needs answered is that has football become too commercialised and therefore as a result has it completely missed out on many core values that football was once founded upon. The commercialisation that has occurred according to (Saward, 2020) would be welcomed by many if the financial benefits it brings were shared equally among fans and owners alike however this isn’t reality. (Saward, 2020) continues to reiterate that the proposals including the European Premier League and the Project Big Picture only expand on the idea that owners do not respect the traditions that football fans have and adore, but the fans will continue to hardheartedly prioritise lining their own pockets over anything else.
2.2.5 Chapter Conclusion
In the ‘Old vs New’ chapter it looks to examine the modernisation of football comparing older media outlets with the new more modern techniques utilised which comes in many social and economic factors including commercialisation and the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is evident from the literature that has been sourced that there is a mix of beliefs when it comes to the modernisation of the game and commercialisation of the game and what works and what doesn’t. However, it is consistent throughout that due to these factors football has changed dramatically and is no longer the game it used to be. It is looked at as more of a business now and a money-making machine and quite often the fans are not thought about, with astronomical ticket prices for games, to football clubs and players acting as brands resulting in never ending profits for certain clubs. However, this leaves the fans and supporters having to spend more capital to watch their team than ever, whereas a vast majority of the time the people who are running the clubs are thinking about their own pocket and not the important demographics that exist fundamentally within a football clubs’ history, traditions and background.
Football clubs have been operating like this for many years now so it doesn’t come as a surprise to many consumers however the truth has always routed from commercial expansion and taking their money, the owners do not care who you are, where you reside, what you do as long as you can love the club enough to part with your cash (Reddy, 2021).
Research Methodology
Research design
This research project was conducted using a combination of both quantitative and qualitative approaches, due to the nature and the aim of the study, which looked to examine if marketing methods currently utilised are missing out an important age demographic being the ‘older’ generation of fans, with a particular emphasis into Scottish Premiership team Hibernian Football Club, which required specific data collection for the needs of the project.
By having both sets of data collection it allowed the project to have two different angles highlighting the problems from a factual standpoint and also from the opinions and feelings of supporters. Having the two together gave the research a much more solid grounding and looked to achieve more confirmation and verification that there may be a problem within the marketing techniques utilised when thinking it about it from an age demographic perspective.
The quantitative approach was utilised by acquiring data from Hibernian Football Club on season ticket holder age demographics and the reason for using season ticket holders is to get a real understanding of the magnitude of fans that are from an older age demographic but by also assessing these supporters who are already involved in the club and devote a great deal of time to the club is the exact typology of fans that will give the most honest and affective results. This approach enabled a much more rounded outcome of the whole club and an outline of the age demographics of fans at the club, which is factual and precise. Using any other method for this part of the research could have been inconsistent and not precise enough for the needs of the project.
Also integrated into the research design is qualitative research methodology through assessing the views of many fans from an older generation. The older generation otherwise known as “Baby Boomers” refers to the drastic rise in birth rates that was noted following the end of World War II” (Barr, 2020). This shall be conducted in a semi-structured interview style by asking relevant questions the individual to assess what the common theme of the supporters are throughout the discussion. The reasoning behind this is to understand how the supporters from the ‘older generation’ think and also why they think that way, tailoring it to the research conducted in the field that an older generation of fans are being missed out and then assessing it with the data collected on age demographics of the fans provided by the club. There will be twelve supporters interviewed from the ‘Hibernian Supporters Group’ who are season ticket holders of the club.
By also tailoring it to Hibernian Football Club in a case study approach it will look to help assist the club with its marketing strategy by exploring the idea that a large portion of their supporters are not targeted and utilised properly. This in turn could not only help assist Hibernian FC with their marketing going forward but could also act as a catalyst for other clubs who have a large portion of their fan base in a similar age demographic.
Acquiring pre-existing data
The acquiring of pre-existing data from Hibernian Football Club consisted of getting in contact with the club and speaking to them regarding the goals and plan for the research study, whilst outlining exactly what would be needed from them in order to successfully carry out the study. This included requesting the season ticket age demographics of fans in order to further comprehend the exact percentage of fans that were from an ‘older generation’. This was provided and segmented by the club as follows: ‘Child/Youth season tickets (0-17), Adults (18-34), Adults (35,54), Adults (55-64) and Seniors (65+) whilst also having 396 students ranging from 18 – 55.’
This was provided along with a ‘Segmentation by Age’ chart that the football club has in order to further analyse the age range of fans combined with segmenting with where they live and where they are from. This came in the form of: ‘Total Sample, Leith/Edinburgh Diehard Supporter, Wider Scotland Diehard Supporter, Leith Edinburgh Keen Supporter, Wider Scotland Keen Supporter, UK/Outside UK Fans and Interest Only.’ Whilst it is interesting to understand exactly the background of the supporters it is more viable for the purpose of this study to concentrate on the age demographic segmentation and therefore the graph will be utilised in that respect however will not be used when it highlights the supporters background.
Semi-Structured Interviews
The qualitative research methodology consisted of twelve online interviews with a range of different individuals who all have a strong interest in Hibernian Football Club, which was done on purpose through the ‘Hibernian Supporters Group’ in order to reach the most passionate and ‘die-hard’ fan base that the club holds. Judgement sampling was implemented to recruit the participants in the study, as this a non-probability sampling technique where the researcher selects certain people to be sampled based on the existing knowledge or professional judgement (Alchemer, 2018a).
Using judgement sampling allows for a researcher to go directly to the target population of interest and also increases the relevance of the sample (Alchemer, 2018b). It also is deemed to be very efficient and suits the study due to it being very specific and rare to find (Moss, n.d.). The recruitment of the participants came from reaching out to Hibernian Supporters Group directly and then by explaining the intentions of the project and that it was looking to speak to twelve different participants. The author made sure they were briefed correctly before taking part in the study and ensured that it was in line with ethical approval and in order to qualify for the interview the participant must fall under the category of being aged 55 or above and a season ticket holder of Hibernian Football Club.
The semi-structured interviews contained open ended questions in order to allude to the participant resorting in giving a yes or no answer, therefore utilising questions starting with ‘to what extent’ and ‘how much do you’ will allow the participant more of a chance to delve deeper into the question. The questions consisted of some general questions in order to get solid background information of the candidate, demographical questions relating to their age, behavioural questions in order to understand why the participant acts in certain ways and also emotional related questions discussing memorable moments in order to discover how fond they are of the football club.
Data Collection
In order to ensure the safety of the participants with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all the semi-structured interviews were conducted over Microsoft Teams. The interviews were conducted between the period of Wednesday 11th August and Monday 23rd August 2021 and were recorded in order to transcribe the interviews in an efficient manner and were all saved in a password secure folder on a laptop. The semi-structured interview questions can be seen in the Appendix for an insight into exactly the type of questions that were utilised.
The data collection from Hibernian Football Club was conducted through phone calls and was passed via email in order again to be safe with COVID-19 protocols and also to ensure efficiency in receiving the data as soon as possible.
Procedure and Materials
In order to carry out the study and research ethical approval was obtained from the UCFB Research Ethics Committee and a copy of this under reference code LC050821AT can be seen in Appendix __.
Many materials, equipment and apparatus were utilised in order to fulfil the needs of the study including:
Interview Schedule (Appendix __)
Participant Information Sheet (Appendix __)
Consent form (Appendix __)
Participant debrief sheet (Appendix __)
Laptop for Microsoft Teams interviews (Appendix __)
Maybe another?
Following the completion of the data collection, analysis was conducted in the form of coding to understand patterns and themes that were common throughout. This allowed assumptions to be generated but also explored common ideas already explored in the literature review to give a clearer understanding of the problems that could exist in this field.
Data Analysis
In order to better understand the research questions examined concerning the marketing techniques utilised when looking into an older generation of football fans at Hibernian Football Club, a thematic analysis was employed using Braun and Clarke’s (2006a) six-step procedure. Using this method is a way of examining qualitative data with a particular emphasis on interview transcripts (Caulfield, 2019a). It will allow a closer look into the common themes, topics ideas and patterns that show up repeatedly (Caulfield, 2019b).
Figure 2.3 Braun and Clarke’s (2006) Six-step thematic analysis procedure
By utilising Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six-step thematic analysis procedure it will allow consistency when looking at the results generated from the interviews and by having a step-by-step function it will ensure that no section is missed from transcribing the audio initially to extrapolating the audio in order to open for discussion and clarity relating back to the research question or literature.
The semi-structured interviews were designed to answer the research questions in the most appropriate manner utilising an inductive approach with open ended questions in order to get the most out of every participant. An inductive approach tends to provide a broader, more expansive analysis of the entire body of data (Braun and Clarke, 2006b). Using an inductive approach is more suited to the outcome intended for the research project whereas using an deductive approach is useful for narrowing down a particular aspect of the data that could be illuminated from pre-existing data (Braun and Clarke, 2006c). Whilst both, an inductive and deductive approach could be utilised, it is important for this research project that a more rounded approach is used in order to determine varying common themes which may come from different places as shown in the literature review.
Thematic analysis offers an extremely flexible methodology that can be tailored to the needs of many studies, which provides a rich and comprehensive complex account of data (Braun & Clarke, 2006; King, 2004). However, it is important to understand that when deciding on what analysis to use that there might not always be solely advantages that exist in the methodology and that it can sometimes come with disadvantages. In this instance whilst thematic analysis is flexible, the flexibility can result in inconsistency or lack of continuity when evolving themes taken from the data in the research (Holloway and Todres, 2003).
Furthermore, to ensure the research questions are tackled in the correct manner it is important to analyse the pre-existing data that was provided from Hibernian Football Club in order to understand contradictions between quantitative results and qualitative findings and also reflects of participants’ point of view (Wisdom and Creswell, 2013). Using mixed method approaches can give a better insight into the problem and yield more wide-ranging evidence (Emerald, 2021).
The pre-existing data used in this study shows clear numbers and figures highlighting exactly the season ticket age demographics for Hibernian Football Club and in order to analyse the figures the author will compare these with the thoughts and opinions derived from the semi-structured interviews, almost using it to give the data gathered more grounding and body.
4.1 Semi-Structured Interviews
In this section it will present the results of the conducted semi-structured interviews whilst also showing the season ticket age demographics in the factual figures provided from the club from season 2019/20 and season 2020/21 and also showing an in-depth graph showcasing the segmentation by age to give a more rounded feel to the demographics at the club. As stated previously the research aims to unearth if current fans from an ‘older generation’ feel left out due to the current marketing methods at Hibernian Football Club, in turn potentially exposing a wider problem that not only exists within football clubs but also in society.
After completing twelve interviews with the selected participants, all interviews were transcribed, thoroughly read consecutively to ensure no themes were missed out and coded accordingly. The key themes conversed into codes have been collectively put together to highlight exactly what they are, taking influence from Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six-step thematic analysis procedure stating researchers may use tables, templates, code manuals or mind maps, the author will utilise a table to effectively explore and showcase the crucial themes extrapolated from the interviews.
In the table shown in Figure 2.4 it is broken down into five sub-headings showcasing varying topics that the participants raised and also coding them with the interviewees conferring with that particular theme.
Figure 2.4 Table on the key themes raised by interviewees
As shown in Figure 2.4 there are themes raised by the interviewees that are similar to each other and by showcasing the exact quotes from the participants it shows exactly their opinions and beliefs on a certain topic. By looking at the five main themes identified in more detail it will allow the reader to understand a broader look at the issues raised and to make sure that nothing is left forgotten about. As seen in Figure 2.5 in the ‘Matching subsidiary ideas/themes’ section it explores themes taken from every interviewee matching to the main themes identified relating to the quotes from Figure 2.4. This coded with I1 to 112 meaning Interviewee 1 to Interviewee 12.
Main key themes identified
Matching subsidiary ideas/themes
Social Media is difficult
Technology amongst an older generation can sometimes prove to be difficult. (I2)
It is not user friendly for the older generation. (I11)
The older generation have not grown up with it and now expected to use it in order to keep updated on Hibernian F.C. related services. (I8)
Lack of engagement
The older generation have been left out when it comes to engagement. (I7)
Engagement is hard to grasp and is hard to define as it doesn’t exist for over 50’s. (I4)
A loyalty and devotion to the club
Being passionate about being from Edinburgh and supporting Hibernian F.C. (I5)
Reliving fond memories at Easter Road throughout the years. (I8)
Keeping traditions flowing by buying the Hibernian kit every single year. (I1)
Frustration with the club
In lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the older generation have found themselves unsatisfied with the game as a whole. (I5)
Marketing is aimed at younger fans not older fans and it is something that everyone has noticed. (I12)
The need to keep things simple
Older people have more time and more money to spend but the club don’t realise that are overcomplicate certain things. (I10)
Things change but football doesn’t need to, Hibs doesn’t need to as we are a local club. (112)
Figure 2.5 Showcasing the subsidiary to the key themes identified
Whilst there were key themes explored in Figure 2.4 it was important to note exactly the thoughts and opinions of all the interviewees that was related to the research in Figure 2.5. The data shown clearly highlights that there is a reoccurring theme which is that the ‘older generation’ feel that the club could do a lot more in trying to engage with their age group, resulting in many of the supporters feeling left out and almost forgotten about. Whilst the supporters feel this way, that doesn’t affect their loyalty and devotion as it suggests that no matter what happens they will always be a supporter of Hibernian.
One question that managed to spark conversation in an emotional but also passionate way was question number nine, ‘How much do you feel like people from your age demographic are forgotten about in anyway in football or in Hibernian?’ In particular the response from Interviewee 5 was particularly noteworthy:
“It is frustrating as I feel my generation has been forgotten about and the focus is on the younger generation whereas I think there is more supporters from my age group in the crowd.”
The reason that this response was noteworthy and important is the fact that it addresses the element that the ‘older generation’ of fans at the Club feel “forgotten” about and by expressing it in the way in which the interviewee did it shows that this really could be a underlying problem that needs addressing.
4.2 Pre-existing data
Likewise, what can be examined is the quantitative results showcasing the exact age demographics that exist within season ticket holders at Hibernian Football Club. Provided by the club it allows the author and reader to examine the findings to see exactly how many people from the ‘older generation’ invest their time and money into being a season ticket holder at the club, which can be seen in Figure 2.6 for the 2019/20 season and Figure 2.7 for the 2020/21 season with the exact age ranges and numbers.
Figure 2.6 2019/20 season ticket numbers and ages Figure 2.7 2020/21
With a particular focus on the ‘Adults (55-64)’ and ‘Senior (65+)’ section as the ‘older generation’ as stated before according to Landon Y. Jones (2008) can be anyone aged at 61 and over due to the birth dates of ‘Baby Boomers’ as they are otherwise known being born from 1943 and 1960. As shown in Figure 2.8 and Figure 2.9 it highlights the exact percentage that the ‘Adults (55-64)’ and the ‘Senior (65+)’ takes up compared to the other age groups from the 2019/20 and the 2020/21 season.
As seen in Figure in 2.8 and 2.9 the ‘Adults (55-64) & Seniors (65+)’ section takes up the vast majority of the percentage being 35% in both seasons, compared to the closest age demographic totalling at 25% for the ‘Adults (35-54)’ section in the 2020/21 season. This relates to the research questions and topic as it highlights exactly what season ticket age groups are more involved in the club and shows that the ‘older generation’ has a huge involvement with Hibernian Football Club.
In the discussion section of the research assignment, it will be examined using the five key themes raised by the interviewee’s in the semi-structured interviews that were conducted. By doing this it will mean that every angle raised can be examined in more detail comparing it with the pre-existing data demographics that were provided by Hibernian Football Club in order to delve deeper into the meaning and relevance behind the results.
5.1 Social Media is difficult & Lack of engagement
A recurring theme that was not only evident in the results but has been shown through the literature is that older users still find it difficult to grasp and comprehend the purpose of social networking sites and that there is a number of barriers that prevent the ‘older generation’ from using social media (Griniute, 2014). 9 percent of seniors at the age of 75 or over have a severe visual impairment and 18 percent have severe hearing limitations in the EU (Eurostat, 2018). Health aside, according to No Isolation (2021) knowledge about technology is incredibly important to capability, and lack of this is a factor that stops the ‘older generation’ from participating in social networking with as many as 77 percent of this demographic reporting that they would require assistance in how to use a smartphone or tablet.
According to Watkins (2019) social media provides an excellent opportunity to enhance and maintain the fan-team relationship however if a large majority of a football clubs fan base and in particular for this study, Hibernian Football Club come from an ‘older generation’ age demographic and do not use social media networking at all, the question then lies with, are the football club ‘maintaining’ any sort of relationship at all with a large portion of their fanbase?
A study released by IMG Consultancy (2014) concerning what role social media plays in the life of a football fan reveals that fans from the ‘older generation’ are a lot less connected than those from a younger audience, showing that those aged between 50 and 64 have much lower levels of brand engagement being at 15% on Twitter and 34% on Facebook. One stand-out factor showed that it wasn’t the case that social media is entirely for the younger generation but more so that the actual brands themselves do not look to target an older age demographic with their content marketing and their social media enterprise.
Similar to the study from IMG Consultancy, the findings shown in the results section from this study has portrayed similar themes from the semi-structured interviews and the pre-existing data conducted. Interviewee 4 echoed the theme shown in IMG Consultancy’s study:
“I hope they can improve their marketing to my generation and have more of a focus on us a bit more as I feel like it’s been that way for a number of years now and really, we are the most loyal customers at the end of the day as we have been around for years and years.”
With the results generated from the study and the literature found it is clearly evident that brands and in particular Hibernian Football Club need to work harder on focusing and spending more time on tailoring their content and engagement techniques on every age group, especially to an ‘older generation’ as the club holds 35% of their fans from that demographic. Furthermore, this was echoed throughout many of the interviews and not one single Interviewee was happy with the way the club engage with them, stating that there is too much of a focus on social media emphasis and not enough on traditional media outlets which would be more suited to their needs. Interviewee 3 restated what had been previously said, in that social media is not suited to a great portion of their generation:
“If you had asked me this question about a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to answer it as I never use social media. I did have Facebook however that was just to keep in contact with my granddaughter which to be honest I didn’t really enjoy, and I did really struggle to use it as you know my generation aren’t used to that.”
With the modernisation of football increasingly on the rise, it is a fear that due to the transformation and in particular the growing influence of social media, this could result in football’s demise (Richardson, 2017). Losing a great deal of fans due to social media and the game’s modernisation could in turn be detrimental, we have already identified that many supporters of Hibernian F.C. from an older generation do not positively warm to the idea of making sure social media is fundamental in a football club’s marketing plan. In turn many supporters who are against it, understand that social media might be important for many people including the likes of the younger generation however, it may not be suited for others and something should be done about that. Interviewee 1 mirrors this opinion by stating that football is changing and believes social media is a detrimental factor:
“I understand that the game would modernise at some point, but I didn’t expect it to completely change. I love football always will, but I know people who have fallen out of love with it and I don’t want that to happen to me. I think it’s got a great deal to do with social media, which Hibs use a lot, and I get that some people use it a lot, but I think it’s a bigger problem across football that football clubs don’t realise. They see it as a benefit using it, but a lot of fans here see it as a negative.”
Furthermore, Interviewee 11 emphasised the problem echoed by the other participants stating that the lack of engagement is not only evident from Hibernian Football Club when it comes to marketing to their age group but believes this happens across the board due to the way the game is now in the modern day:
“It’s not a Hibs problem, I think Scotland is nowhere near as bad as down south (England) and in other parts across the world. It’s like it’s a game designed for a younger generation now, it has got too complicated, I enjoyed the game more when it was played in the more traditional sense and not all about the media and money.”
5.2 A loyalty and devotion to the club
From the findings examined from the semi-structured interviews and the season ticket age demographics, it showed a clear loyalty and devotion to the club. Many fans did dive deep into the negative side of things and what they are not happy about but when asking them the questions from Question 10 and Question 12 of the semi-structured interviews many were pleased to delve into how much the club meant to them. Interviewee 2 showed a commitment to the Club that many people might be surprised at and others might find desirable:
“I feel as if no matter what the club do, good or bad towards my age group I will still be a passionate Hibs fan, it’s in my blood.”
This answer to the question from Interviewee 2 shows a real fanatical element to the Hibernian support. A fanatical fan is a supporter who follows and supports their club “through thick and thin” (Szymanski, 2009). This is something that you might see more in a traditional fan base and something that could be almost expected when interviewing an ‘older generation’ of Hibernian Football Club fans.
When looking at the season ticket age demographics the club had a total of 10,883 season ticket holders in the 2019/20 and 10,198 in the 2020/21 season, showcasing over half the capacity of Easter Road in the 2019/20 season and just under half in the 2020/21 season, with the capacity being 20,421. Physical attendance and viewing the game on the television or on the internet are all forms of sports consumption and behavioural measures of loyalty (Bauer et all, 2008). Hibernian currently sit in 4th position in the ‘Average home attendance of football games in the Scottish Premiership in 2019/20’ chart ahead of eight other Scottish Premiership teams according to Statista (2020) with a total of 16,747 attendances which can be seen in Figure 3.0.
With fan attendance being high for Hibernian compared to the eight other clubs sitting below them, it shows a dedication and loyalty which Interviewee 1 mirrors:
“I’ve been a supporter for coming up to 45 years now and they’ve always been there and have always supported them along the way I would definitely say I’m very loyal and I’ve had a season ticket now for 35 years.”
With this passion not only oozing through the whole interview with Interviewee 1, stating his devotion and loyalty to the club it was replicated by saying how long the participant has had a season ticket for. It raises the question regarding the Club and how taking advantage of the assets that are the fanatical fans should be a top priority as through thick and thin the supporters will always be there, and in this instance being 35 years. The ‘older generation’ of Hibs fans have likely all been supporters for many years and if it was anyone who deserved to be in engaged with the most it would be that age demographic, who have been at the top of the most loyalist fans that the Club holds.
Frustration with the club & expressing concerns with gentrification
According to the participants that took part in the study it is clear that Hibernian Football Club has underestimated the importance of the fans from the ‘older generation’. There is a huge portion of the fan base that come from that age demographic, 35% in fact from the current 2020/21 season and from the 2019/20 season. Understanding that the digital age is upon us and that it is important for many demographics including the ‘Gen Z’ to have a digital marketing plan is essential however this is not to say that it is suited for everyone. Online and social media marketing aren’t the only ways to market to an older demographic, in fact offline marketing may be more effective and suited in some cases, including: Magazines, television, newspaper advertisements, radio etc. (Gyant, 2018).
Interviewee 9 referenced how the current marketing methods at the club are not designed for his age demographic and the loyal fans that exist within it, and believes that it is more focused for the younger generation who may not even call themselves a fan:
“Hibs don’t think about us. I think I can talk not only for the Hibs supporters from my age group, but I can talk for most Scottish football fans across the board who are my age. The clubs nowadays are focusing in bringing in the younger generation of fans to support their club, which is great but in the process of the loyal most important fans in my eyes are completely overlooked.”
Before conducting this project, the expectation was that there would be fans from the age demographic of the ‘older generation’ who had the opinion that marketing methods that Hibernian utilised were not aimed and directed for that age demographic and therefore exposing and highlighting that there was an important demographic missed out. However, after conducting the 12 interviews, the expectation was not that every single Interviewee would passionately believe this is a huge problem not only for Hibernian but across the board in Scotland, the United Kingdom and in some instances across the world as Interviewee 6 underlined:
“Hibs is a more traditional club, when you compare it to the likes of the footballing giants in England, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal etc. or even in Spain with Barcelona or Real Madrid you have a lot of fans all over the world who are not from that particular place but when you compare it with Hibs, we will still have that core Edinburgh support and I’m sure always will. The way the modern football is going though, I feel sorry for the bigger teams and the fans who have supported them through thick and thin as they are almost being taken over and this is a huge problem for my generation, they despise it.”
Interviewee 12 reiterated that it might not be a problem only for Hibernian but for the sport as a whole, saying that times do need to change however people don’t like change in football.
“People move with the times; things are lot different nowadays compared to the way they are when I was growing up and no one should be surprised at that. However, the supporters of the game don’t like change and neither do I. Football should be kept simple and when it becomes complicated it loses its appeal.”
The frustration when delving deeper into the reasons why the supporters feel the way they do really did shine through, emphasising that fans of an ‘older generation’ don’t like change and they want to keep things simple. They almost see modern football as an enemy, something that is taking their beloved game away. There are subcultures that have developed off the back of fans being against the direction of the way the game is going, including ‘Against Modern Football’ (AML) which is a subculture of the football supporters who are opposed to the direction in which football has moved in and the members yearn for change (Kelly, 2019a). Many supporters across the globe have grown frustrated with the direction the sport has taken and are hitting back in search of the sport that they once knew (Kelly, 2019b) including Interviewee 3 who explained passionately why he is involved in this movement during the interview:
“This is something I have felt passionate about for years now and that’s why I joined the movement AML. The members feel the exact way I do which is that football has gone too far, it has completely changed, and we need to get our game back to the way it was. It upsets a few of us older fans and that’s why I do it.”
Additionally, after speaking with Interviewee 3 it was of my belief that he did not only expose the problems that exist within Hibernian Football Club but exposed a wider problem that doesn’t only exist within one club but exists in the game worldwide. This is important for the marketing departments of football club’s or even from the people that run the football club’s to really take notice as to how their fans feel, I believe that it is not a coincidence after interviewing these set of fans at the Club that they all had themes that supported one another. The era of the football consumer simply became an opportunity for the people that own football clubs to monetise fans’ loyalty, without in turn giving supporters any input in the future or director of their clubs (Medium, 2019). When football changed into a consumer led sport that is where the problem may lie, and as (Goldblatt, 2014) said, “Football is the people’s game – and it’s time we tackled its excesses.”
The need to keep things simple was a common theme expressed through the opinions and beliefs of the participants, which led to themes relating to that of gentrification in football. Gentrification exposes the displacement of diehard fans or natives of a certain area or team to only be replaced by a more educated or affluent, middle-class demographic or supporter (Norval, 2018a). This is something that from the participants interviewed expressed that they were completely against and according to Interviewee 6 is a “worst nightmare scenario”:
“The sport is definitely becoming more of a middle-class sport, with ticket prices being more expensive than ever and even to watch it on the TV is extortionate. When I was a kid it was so easy and to be honest you would only see people from working-class backgrounds at the game, but that’s how the game started and when it changes hands there’s definitely something not right about that.”
Whist gentrification might not be a negative thing when concerning a certain city as it might have changed due to the council putting emphasis on it in order for it to improve, it can have negative connotations when regarding a football club. With ticket prices on the rise, the loss of atmosphere in stadiums and the feeling of isolation among the problems concerning gentrification it is the working-class pride and identity that takes a hit the most (Norval, 2018b).
Throughout the project it presented few limitations that indicate the need for further research in this field. The initial gathering of pre-existing data from Hibernian Football Club highlighting the percentage of fans from an older generation that are season ticket holders presented the semi-structured interviews in an interesting light due the demographic being in the majority of the participants age group.
By conducting the interviews via Microsoft Teams in order to protect the participants in the best way possible, this came with its challenges. As the semi-structured interviews were with an ‘older generation’ of Hibernian fans it meant that the project relied on the participants being able to use technology correctly which took up more time than intended. In the future, this project I believe would work more effectively if the meetings were done in person as I believe having the human interaction and not having to rely on technology could really help the project and participants involved. However, all 12 interviews were successfully completed, and all questions were asked and answered with no participants health put at risk.
This project could be done purely in a qualitative approach however having the pre-existing data was crucial in showing and backing up exactly what was said in the interviews.
7.0 Conclusion
Examining the current marketing methods in order to find out if they are missing out on an older generation of fans has now been drawn to a conclusion. The research title and research question has shown that the topic is under-researched due to the mere fact that not enough emphasis has been placed on the older generation when it comes to developing a strong a fully comprehensive marketing strategy in football but also in various business sectors:
“Marketers are currently putting all of their eggs in the millennial basket and forgetting that they are not the only generation with money and spending potential.” (Miles, 2019).
With this quote as reference, it can be concluded that the ‘older generation’ of football fans are being missed out due to the marketing strategies utilised at Hibernian Football Club, but this project has exposed a wider problem that lies within football in that this is not a one-off scenario with Hibernian but something that exists frequently. Further research will need to be conducted to understand fully how much of a wider problem that is, but this study has highlighted on the surface something that definitely exists.
The mixed method approach that was conducted was crucial to first of all understand the facts of how many fans from an ‘older generation’ of season ticket holders existed and then combining this with the interviews allowed the study to understand the real background of the problem and how deeply rooted the problem was. Keeping the questions open ended allowed the Interviewee to reveal a great deal of information that was beneficial in uncovering exactly how the supporters felt. Before the study the expectations were that there was an underlying problem that existed however after conducting the research it has led to the conclusion that the problem is a lot broader than first anticipated.
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