How Fan Clubs Fit Into the Internationalization Strategy of European Soccer Clubs

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via LaLiga

On Saturday, February 17, United States based Eibar FC (Eibar USA) and FC Barcelona (New York Barcelona Peña) fan clubs came together to watch the LaLiga fixture between the two sides. The watch party took place in the heart of New York City, where New York Barcelona Peña already exists. More interestingly, Eibar USA came in from all around the country to attend. Yes, you read that right. About 25 Eibar fan club members traveled to New York City from all over the country to support their team in a match against LaLiga giants FC Barcelona, with New York Peña.

Eibar USA president John Sager talked about how the watch party went.

“It went really well. We had the watch party with the New York Barcelona Peña; they invited us to the pub that they watch their games at. We had about 25 there in our group and Barcelona had a big group and they were welcoming and really nice. The game was pretty exciting even though Eibar lost 2-0, it was probably one of their best-played games.”

Sager became invested in Eibar when he learned their story about how they made it to the top flight but didn’t have the economic sustainability to remain there. So he, along with many others, became a shareholder in an effort to help them raise capital. Ever since then, the club has grown on him and he is now a fan for life.

A little background on Eibar FC…

Eibar is such a unique case study. Coming out of a city of just 28,000 inhabitants, they were promoted to LaLiga back in 2014. In their first season in the top flight, they struggled to find form and finished 18 out of 20, which resulted in relegation, or at least it should have.

Fortunately for Eibar, Elche was facing steep economic issues that resulted in them moving down to the Segunda Division, which allowed Eibar to retain their spot in the top flight.

Following that near relegation scare, they have steadily improved over the years, coming in fourteenth in the 2015-16 season and tenth the season after. Now, they are currently ninth in the table with a genuine shot at Europa League play next season.

They have developed an attractive, yet simple, style of play that has drawn fans from all over the world. But, as Johan Cruyff said, “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.” While their style should be predictable and defendable, they still manage to outplay teams and win games.

Out of all LaLiga clubs, they have the third highest television audience in Japan. This is largely due to the signing of Takashi Inui in the summer of 2015. At the time, he was the most expensive signing at the club. Additionally, the Eibar USA fan club has 70 members all over the country with 25 other fan clubs worldwide.

A large reason for their success comes from their sustainable business model. Rather than being a team where the top clubs send loan players to, they find quality players to sign to three to four-year contracts. This has created much more quality and an opportunity to compete at a high level. They also have the smallest stadium in LaLiga, which has the potential to create a wildly difficult atmosphere for opposing teams to compete in.

Internationalization Strategy

LaLiga, as well as other European leagues, are constantly competing for fans in the United States. Being that MLS is completely separate from European football, soccer fans in the States often support an MLS team and a European team.

That being said, fan clubs in the United States are beyond valuable to the LaLiga brand and they have taken notice. Only 15% of the New York Peña fans are from Spain, the rest are from the U.S.

Rebeca Díaz González, International Business Development at LaLiga, talked about how important these fan clubs are.

“LaLiga wants to be close to their global fan base and this is part of our national and international strategy. In the U.S. there are around 40 official Fan Clubs from 11 different LaLiga clubs. Most of the fans are local fans. Soccer is growing in the U.S and so is LaLiga’s fanbase in the U.S. Encouraging the growth of fan clubs is key, fans help us spread the passion for LaLiga. Through LaLiga delegates worldwide we are in communication with the fan clubs and we keep them updated with local activations in the market and digital contests to win money can’t buy experiences in Spain. BeIN Sports, our broadcaster in the U.S., also prepares peña care packages for special matches to encourage fans to keep watching.”

Additionally, LaLiga recently created a digital hub called Aficiones Unidas where all fan clubs and fans worldwide can access useful information and find a fan guide. For fans looking to attend a game in Spain, they can use the website to plan their whole trip depending on the game they want to see.

González also mentioned that engagement and visibility on digital platforms are instrumental for the fan clubs. In order to stay in the loop, LaLiga is in continuous dialogue with the fan clubs, and they keep them informed of all the activations they do in the market.

Given the dedication put in by these fan clubs to follow their favorite teams, they deserve the attention from LaLiga. They play a huge part in growing the beautiful game on a global scale and should be recognized for doing so.