Moving the customer back from social media to the club’s channels is a challenge: Arsenal's Juliet Slot

The chief commercial officer of Arsenal FC explains how the football marketing world is evolving, the role of marketing and commercial teams in transfers and recruitment, and more…

Sep 01, 2022 09:41:00 AM | Article | Raahil Chopra Share - Share to Facebook

Arsenal Football Club has made a great start to the Premier League season and is currently sitting on top of the table, with five wins out of five.
The club that’s always looked to promote youth talent on the field, took that philosophy one step further by appointing Mikel Arteta as the first-team manager in December 2019. 
Earlier this year, the club partnered with Extramarks, a player in the EdTech sector to establish a connection with the youth audience in India. 
We caught up with Juliet Slot, chief commercial officer, Arsenal FC, to learn more about this partnership, whether the club looks at marketing opportunities when they are signing a player, the Indian market, and more…
Edited excerpts:
In India, when children are growing up, it’s usually a choice between a career in sport or education. Given this background, what is the reason behind the whole tie-up with an EdTech player like Extramarks? 
The reason for this partnership is two-fold. 
We were looking for a partner in India firstly, and secondly, we are interested in the sector because we view it as an interesting proposition for taking elements of our brand internationally. 
The audience that Extramarks focusses on is the youth and everyone wants to reach this generation which can be potential supporters of the club. Extramarks and its leaders have a very strong alignment with our brand in terms of what they want to do and what we want to do. The most important thing about a partnership is when the brands can come together and be greater than the sum of the parts. And that's what we've found with this partnership. We are doing more than we planned and we'll be sharing details soon.
You mentioned that you were looking for an Indian brand to partner with. Has there been interest from Indian brands and you have not agreed to partner with them in the past?
I’ve only been at Arsenal for eight months, so I don’t have that answer. We used to have a regional office in Singapore before Covid and so we had people on the ground in the market. We shut that office because of the challenges we had during Covid. Now, we're beginning to look at our core markets and work on how we then grow our business in those markets. 
India has been a really big market for us. We had unbelievable growth even before the partnership with Extramarks on our social media followers in India. We have also seen growth of our supporter clubs, which are now 10 times greater than they were before. So, we knew that there was a real sense of excitement around the club in the country.
You mentioned India as a core market. Would it be in among the top 10 markets in terms of importance for Arsenal FC?
Yes. The Premier League recorded 155 million Indians track players from the league. It's also the most watched football league in the country.
For Arsenal, in particular, 70% of the club’s supporters from the country are between 16-34 years old. They are highly educated, and over-index on brand loyalty. So, when I've got these numbers, it becomes part of the top five (outside of the UK) core markets. I've got the USA, some African markets and parts of Europe in terms of priority as well, but in terms of scale and size, India is in the top five for sure.
One of the other driving factors is we've had significant fan base growth over the past years. What that demonstrates to me is that without us doing anything, we already have a supporter base from which to grow. 
I have a very small marketing team and so one of the things that partnering with a brand in a country like India helps with is to take the Arsenal brand to the country. I can't put in a 20-30 member strong marketing team in India at the moment but what I can do is work with Extramarks and then potentially some other brands on bringing Arsenal to India and the Indian market digitally in the first instance and then bringing some players in the market.
The numbers are huge, without an Indian player playing in the Premier league. Do you think if an Indian player makes it to the Premier League, the fan base will grow substantially?
Yes. That’s what we have seen in the past. One of the reasons Arsenal has such a strong supporter base in Africa is because Arsene Wenger (former Arsenal manager) started signing players from the region over 20 years ago. 
The challenge will be finding those players in India, but they will be there. 
Players help fan base growth. While you work in the commercial team, are there recommendations from the team to the recruiting team/scouts to make certain signings from a part of the world where you can attract more fans and help with marketing the club?
We buy players to win leagues. 
Having said that, signings from different parts of the world do help. For example, when we got Takehiro Timyasu (Japan), we started looking at the marketing possibilities in that market. Some of our sponsors that had the country as an important market immediately got excited about what they could do too. 
I'd love to say that I have that weight (to influence transfers) but we don't. It's not in the ethos of what Arsenal does. We look for players for the right fit for the team, and the culture of the team. If you bring in a player just because of where they come from, that's not right.
Your last stint with a football team (Fulham) ended back in 2004. In these 18 years, how much has football marketing changed?
When I was at Fulham we just started talking about databases. Now at Arsenal, it's my number one priority to improve and grow our database infrastructure for a single customer view.
And then, obviously social media, which is transformative. But with this change, we have seen the loss of what I would say is ‘control of the message’. Back in the day at Fulham, everyone came to our website to learn about what was happening in the team because there was no social media. Now, rather ironically, everyone is working out how they can develop that direct supporter relationship rather than on social media that we've all spent years trying to build. Social media platforms are really important to us to reach global audiences but I’m trying to bring our supporters closer to the club through our channels. 
The final change is that football was not as global 18 years ago. I worked for a much smaller club back then, but the Premier League in itself is a much more global proposition now. Therefore with that size comes the opportunity and the responsibility to market your club. I believe very strongly that we are stewards of the club, but the club belongs to the supporters. 
You mentioned that supporters are growing. But could that growth be faster, if the club was more successful on the pitch? The FA Cup aside, the club hasn’t won a major trophy since 2004...
Winning gives you a platform for sure. We probably would have been bigger. What I can tell you is that we are extraordinarily big despite having not won more trophies and all I see is the opportunity that gives us. We have a supporter base estimated at 630 million people around the world. If I get that to 730 million, it’s fantastic. But I'm focused on how I can get more of the 630 million people to become closer and more engaged with the club so that we can have a stronger relationship with them. 
If we win the Champions League and the Premier League, that’s an accelerator to all the things that we're going to do. But we’ve got a fantastic and loyal supporter base. We went for our pre-season tour to the USA and I sat in a stadium in Orlando with 61,000 people of which two-thirds were Arsenal fans. When you look at these kinds of numbers and support, it's very humbling. 
Other than the pre-season tour you mentioned, how can you keep the global fan in touch with the club? For instance, how can a fan from India interact with the club?
For physical interactions, they’d have to come to the UK. If they don’t get a ticket to the game, then they can go for a stadium tour which includes the museum. 
On digital, I'm trying to grow what we do from a content point of view through our platforms. Success for me would be that a person in India wakes up in the morning and the first thing he/she does is open that Arsenal app and see what information and news that we've served up to them that is relevant to them and makes them feel like a member. We don’t want them to see something written by somebody else on a social media channel. I want them to see what we're telling them.
What are the challenges in the football marketing space? 
The challenge is how to engage a global audience digitally and make them feel part of something. From a marketing point of view, even now we have competition for the space, you know, even though everyone loves their club, and they got a lot of other things in information and other things to be thinking about. 
Then there’s competition from other Premier League clubs that are all really brilliant and great at marketing. We have the challenge to try and grow our audience keeping those in mind.
Brands face issues retaining customers. Is retaining a fan a bigger challenge than bringing in a new fan?
I'm not looking to massively double our audience right now because I don't have anywhere for them to go. So, I'm looking at investing in data, tech, infrastructure and content, and kind of putting the house in order. And once we got the ecosystem right, then we’re going to start to grow. 


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