Sport Management and Fan Development
There is nothing like the thrill of being in a packed stadium, participating in the collective energy created by hundreds of thousands of fans as they shout encouragement, cheer in excitement, gasp in horror and rise to their feet in exultation at a last-second game-changing score.
What few people realize is that the thrill of fandom doesn’t happen by accident.
What Happened to the Fans?
Today’s increasingly mobile society has created a fracture in what it means to be a sports fan. Whereas once you would simply “root, root, root for the home team” (as the baseball anthem goes), now you might choose to be a fan for any number of reasons. You like a particular player, you love a good underdog story, or you follow the career of a certain coach whose work you respect.
In addition, the industry as a whole has suffered from the effect of constant scandal in just about every sport, both in the college and professional arenas. From cheating to social misconduct and everything in between, the industry has lost much of the idealism that used to characterize professional sports, and with it the love of their fans.
For this reason, leaders in every athletic sphere have been encouraging the creation of a new role in their sport management departments: the fan development manager.
What Is Fan Development?
Fan development simply means directing efforts to draw and maintain a fan base, usually around a specific sports team but sometimes also to the sport as a whole.
It involves heavy use of social media marketing, as well as event planning and strategic pricing of sports events, all with the goal of capturing the imagination and engaging the participation of fans.
In the words of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, “The investments we are making now in new media and database marketing are direct efforts to deepen the relationship with our avid fans.”
Who Can Become a Fan Development Manager?
A fan development manager largely serves a marketing role, but they must bring a lot of creativity to the table, informed by a deep understanding of sport management techniques and issues. They must be able to point out the value of development initiatives to franchise executives who, as sports marketer Troy Kirby writes, “when it comes to generating ideas…tend to run into trouble when they cannot see past doing something related to the sport.”
The fan development manager might be tasked with a wide variety of directives: guiding an update of a team website, helping to design and market new merchandise, creating and managing clinics or camps for young athletes, representing the franchise at community events, and much more. Passion, energy and enthusiasm are critical traits for someone in this role to possess, along with the insight afforded by a master’s of science in sport management.