On December 9th, Italian soccer club AS Roma advanced to the Round of 16 of the Champions League, the global sport’s biggest annual tournament. And while that represents the club’s continued good fortunes on the field, the team made another significant play the day before when it launched a new site and digital platform. What makes this so unique is that the site was designed based on feedback and ideas from the club’s supporters, used Reddit to get supporters’ feedback, and features curated content submitted by Roma’s most creative fans.
Since 2012, the club has been under the watch of American Jim Pallotta, the club’s president and chairman, who has embarked on an ambitious reorganization of how the 88-year-old club does business. The team’s head of digital, Paul Rogers, joined Roma in January from English Premier League club Liverpool, and says that while many sports teams talk about getting fans involved in the business, not many actually do it. Here, Rogers outlines Roma’s strategy for engaging and using fans’ ideas to make the club’s digital platform better.
Rogers says that the idea to really use and integrate fan feedback and supporter ideas was a natural one, and that Pallotta has made no secret of the fact that one of his many goals for AS Roma is to become the most digitally connected sports team in the world and to do that, the team needed to create something its fans would want to engage with.
“I think there’s a growing disconnect between what many sports teams think fans want, or what they think they can get away with delivering, and want sports fans actually want,” says Rogers. “This digital generation no longer wants to be passive consumers of content. They don’t want to be broadcast to or told what they can and can’t consume. It’s the same at any music concert or festival. It’s not enough to just watch a band, people are making their own content and then distributing it themselves on social media. And it’s not just on social media, either. Every football club has some pretty sophisticated fan-produced sites, blogs, podcasts and social media accounts operating alongside them, and they exist because these fans saw a gap in the market that wasn’t being serviced by the clubs themselves. We didn’t want to fall into that trap.”
The simple question for Rogers and his team was why a new website if the content wasn’t what the fans wanted? and what better way to do that than to get them involved in the content itself. “The fans are now creating a lot of the content that appears on the site, from photography, written features, opinion columns, graphic design and even art work,” says Rogers. “Can we please everyone? Possibly not, but we believe the approach we’ve taken gives us a better chance of success and is more likely to come closer to satisfying the ever-increasing demands of our existing and future global fanbase.”
Part of the club’s process for getting that valuable fan feedback was going to where the fans gathered, and one of those places is Reddit, a destination infamous for backfiring on brands. But instead of officially teaming up with Reddit, Rogers said it was important to go in independently and not make its presence feel forced on anyone.
“The only brands getting killed on Reddit are the ones who don’t understand the platform or their place in it, or they are being less than truthful about their intentions,” says Rogers. “Reddit is not a place for us to go and try and market to fans. Right from the start, we understood very clearly we were visitors or guests on a platform ‘owned’ by the people who use it every day. We went there to ask for help. We were very open about what we were doing. We had nothing to hide and we made no promises. We simply said, ‘We want to launch a new website and we want to know what you want and what you don’t want. If you can help us, great. If you can’t or you don’t want to, we get it.’ The response was very positive and actually very helpful. Were we surprised? Not really. If you’re honest with people and treat them with respect, you generally get the same in return.”
Fan culture is something that exists whether a sports team acknowledges, engages, or uses it at all. With its new digital strategy, Roma is trying to take the passion of its supporters that is already out there and give it an official stamp of approval.
“We think we can make some fantastic content ourselves, but we’re not so arrogant to believe that others can’t also create great content that our fans will want to consume,” says Rogers. “Our job right now is to help curate that content, because there is simply too much out there for anyone to consume, and to provide an easy way for fans to access it. Ultimately, we want to use this platform as a showcase for the creative talents of our supporters and what you see now is just the beginning.”