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Digital Marketing in Sport: Volunteering at Altrincham FC

Who do you support, mate?”

“I’m an Altrincham fan.”

“Yeah, but I mean who do you really support?”

An occasional, but incredibly tiresome exchange. For some it is almost unfathomable that a person can primarily support a Non-League football club.

They say you’re supposed to follow the team your dad does, so that led to me becoming infatuated with the National League North club from a very early age.

Living within such close proximity to Moss Lane encouraged him to take me along every other Saturday afternoon. With a football ground on our doorstep, why wouldn’t he?

Fast forward twenty-or-so years and I’m still ever-present on the terraces, it’s just that I have now joined the ranks of volunteers that make the club tick.

social media at altrincham fc

Fans for Diversity 2017. Michael Ripley Photography.

See, Altrincham are a club that rely upon countless hours of unpaid work to run efficiently, and I contribute to that by managing their digital marketing channels. They’ve got voluntary bar staff, groundsmen, youth coaches, stewards, announcers and so on.

My responsibilities at the club include:

  • Regularly updating the social media channels with club updates, including ‘live-tweeting’ match day coverage and Instagram Story content
  • Delivering awareness and engagement campaigns through social media
  • Assist in updating and maintaining the club website
  • Promoting club events
  • Reporting on key social and web analytics

The role became vacant at the beginning of the 2016/17 season and I jumped at the chance to showcase my ability, which I guess you could describe as embryonic at this point. Working in partnership with a colleague who possesses a background in brand management, we immediately set about auditing the club’s digital persona.

Massive credit has to be given to our predecessors who laid the foundations and ran some great campaigns in the past, pulling in some huge crowds for big games. It made our job a lot easier picking up the reigns and taking their great work forward.

Rather than starting from the ground up we had a platform to build on.

altrincham fc

Altrincham celebrate scoring away at Chester. Jonathan Moore Photography.

 

The aim has always been to convince the average Sky Sports watching fan to get off his couch and on to the Golf Road End. We figured what we needed to task ourselves with was connecting Altrincham to these people through social media, and if we could motivate them to get to a game then we were doing our voluntarily roles properly.

Early success came when Altrincham were named Club of the Round during the 2016/17 Emirates FA Cup campaign.

The FA invited participating clubs’ marketing teams to apply for the award, supplying a written summary of the marketing work undertaken for their previous FA Cup fixture.

We were judged to have used the most innovative mix of digital and print media to promote our home tie against Matlock Town.

The prize included a showcase of the FA Cup itself, and the iconic piece of silverware was present at the next home game against Bradford Park Avenue for fans to take photos with. We also received two tickets to the final which were raffled, five new Nike training balls and £500 of paid social media support from the FA.

fa cup club of the round trophy at altrincham

We also got a neat little trophy!

 

We continued to leverage Twitter’s viral potential, particularly within the football community, to generate more exposure for the club. The more times we could successfully do this, the more conversation we would generate about Alty.

It was decided that we would refresh the club’s online tone of voice. We oversaw a transition away from the safe, text-book delivery of news to a tone almost borne out of self-deprecation. The thought process here was to position Altrincham as a football club that didn’t mind poking fun at itself, one that didn’t take itself too seriously when the moment was right to do so.

We had no real social strategy aside from this, although things have become a bit more professional since then. We just wanted to try and make the club seem as modern, interesting and engaging as possible.

By injecting some much needed life and personality into the way the club communicated with their fans, and the wider footballing world, we were re-positioning Altrincham as eccentric and entertaining.

When Altrincham parted company with then-First Team Manager, Jim Harvey, the opportunity was there to remind the footballing world that we will not be accepting applications based on video-game accomplishments.

Rock-bottom of the National League North, we saw fit to announce the end of our title charge after the leaders grabbed another three points.

We’re always on the hunt for reactive content and we regularly jump on opportunities to cement that entertaining tone. Social listening plays a big part in our strategy here and we constantly keep an eye out for mentions of ‘Altrincham’ or news relating to the club.

Aguerwho? Simple tweets pay dividend when the club name is mentioned alongside names that hold such weight amongst our target audience.

A word of warning, don’t try and clickbait Altrincham.

It’s all great stuff, posting tweets that get big numbers – but they’re flashes in the pan. What we also needed to establish were consistent features and chunky campaigns to drive consistent engagement from our core support.

The creation of a six-aside Fantasy Football league was a huge success. Fans could create a team of their favourite players using an available budget. It generated conversation around fixtures and had over 150 sign-ups by the launch of the game.

https://twitter.com/altrinchamfc/status/983042332940529664

This was followed by our #FootballManagerManager campaign, where we became the first club in the world to officially appoint a Football Manager player to play the game as them.

We generated an online buzz when we announced that interviews for the role would be held via Twitter Direct Message, and that’s exactly what we did.

We ‘interviewed’ 20 Football Manager YouTubers with varying audience sizes and content styles, eventually deciding to work with content creator Loki Doki, who introduced Altrincham to his subscriber base of over 40,000 people. The Rise of the Robins series totalled well over 1,500,000 views on YouTube.

Our work alongside Alty’s Inclusion & Diversity team has seen us nominated for a National Game Community Award by the Football Supporter’s Federation.

You may have come across our most recent project in support of Football vs Homophobia’s month of action.

The initiative saw Alty become the first team to take to the field for a competitive game in a kit based solely on the LGBT Pride Flag, as opposed to our traditional red and white. It reflected the club’s unswerving commitment to inclusivity and diversity, as a club at the heart of its community.

The match worn shirts were auctioned after the match, and replica kits went on sale with orders flooding in from across the world.

All proceeds from the auction were donated to The Proud Trust, an LGBT+ youth charity who are rebuilding the LGBT centre in Manchester. Profits from the replica sales will go towards future Inclusion & Diversity initiatives.

The reach of the campaign was astronomical and exceeded expectations, with the story gaining coverage from the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, BBC, ITV, Sky Sports, BT Sports and much more.

FA chairman Greg Clarke said last year he was aware of at least two gay Premier League players, adding that he was “personally ashamed” that neither feels safe enough to come out to the public.

Sexual orientation shouldn’t matter in sport but unfortunately it still seems to. The hope was by making a significant, rather than a subtle statement, we could open up further discussion and remind everyone that Alty are a Club who welcomes all.

altrincham lgbt shirt

We ran with the hashtag #footbALL throughout the campaign. Michael Ripley Photography.

 

There’s still so much more to mention.

We’ve generated £4,000 in prize money for the club via Marathonbet’s Non League Challenge, launched football’s first WhatsApp news delivery service straight to fans’ phones, and attracted support in the form of main stand sponsorship from the prominent social media football betting community Footy Accumulators.

The partnership with Footy Accumulators includes regular content collaborations with Checkd Media and there are some very exciting projects in the not too distant future, including a behind-the-scenes documentary following the senior squad’s progress.

Things have progressed quickly on from 2016. What was an exciting chance to try a new line of work has led to a full time profession in a fast paced industry.

If I didn’t volunteer my time, I wouldn’t have discovered my potential to do this for a living and I remain very thankful for the opportunity.

If you want to learn more about my work at Altrincham you are more than welcome to get in touch with me on LinkedIn.
Similarly, if you would like to learn more about how digital marketing can impact your business then feel free contact us here at Pixel Kicks.

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