With the dust settled on the first FIFA Club World Cup to be held in the UAE since 2010, the tournament’s organisers have been busy reflecting on its successes, as well as the areas for improvement. The Local Organising Committee (LOC) won’t have to wait long to implement any changes, with the competition returning to Abu Dhabi in December 2018.
The inclusion of Real Madrid in the final line up of teams certainly gave the FIFA Club World Cup’s audience numbers a significant boost, with games involving Los Blancos – who came from behind to beat Al Jazira 2-1 in the semi-final before a 1-0 victory over Gremio to raise the trophy – inevitably selling out.
Beyond the allure of Real Madrid, the LOC worked tirelessly behind the scenes to drive up attendances for all matches, a difficult task given a number of the teams competing – including Mexico’s Pachuca and New Zealand’s Auckland City – could not call on a large pool of expat fans and did not have the universal appeal of a club like Madrid.
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It required an innovative approach and led to the introduction of several key initiatives. The LOC worked with FIFA to challenge the traditional model of fan engagement, something viewed as a somewhat passive marketing tool that can successfully generate awareness but rarely influence ticket sales.
“Having hosted the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010, we were aware of the challenges with getting fans to attend matches that didn’t feature their favorite teams, and therefore had to find alternative solutions to revolutionize the approach to getting fans to attend all matches” LOC Director of Marketing and Communications, Ahmad Al Qubaisi told Sport Industry Insider.
The FIFA Club World Cup LOC were determined to change this and convert engagement into attendance, with two Mobile Roadshows travelling up and down the UAE to 68 different locations (45 in Abu Dhabi, 11 in Al Ain, 11 in Dubai, 1 in Sharjah, in the eight months leading up to the tournament.
The roadshows set up shop in malls, schools and universities, football academies, residential communities, corporate offices, cultural celebration and large events – giving the FIFA Club World Cup plenty of exposure amd taking the tournament to more diverse locations. Some of the most successful events came when the LOC engaged football legends, including Mikael Silvestre, Eric Abidal, Ivan Cordoba, Michel Salgado and local Al Jazira players Ali Khusaif and Romarinho.
The key to their success was gamification. Inspired by NFL Combine, participants were faced with 12 skill-based games to test areas of football including power, dribbling and accuracy. Those who took part had their personal results saved and through a bespoke mobile app they could track where they ranked based on a variety of classifications from age to country of origin.
“Typically when fans participate in actions, they play without any feedback to the purpose,” Taylor Agisim, Head of Experiential and Community for the LOC, explained. “We developed an Android and iPhone app to enable each fan to capture their results and compare their results against friends and their communities against your age group, gender, country or origin and even favorite team fans.
“In doing so, we were able to re-target each fan to reward their performance and challenge them to become the Ultimate Heroes of each challenge. The activities were designed to be accessible to all ages, gender and skill levels, engaging even non-footballers who set top scores.
“Notable examples were events with the Dubai Police to bring the Mobile Roadshow to the People of Determination community and at the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Open where UAE national team football players competed against top LET female golfers. Ultimately, the top performers were rewarded at the venue with prizes, autographs and meet & greet opportunities with football legends”
A focus on linking engagement with match tickets saw the LOC transform the traditional model of a free activations, based on increasing awareness, and launched a Ticket Voucher program as part of their Mobile Roadshows. Participants paid AED 20 to attend the activation and received a voucher for the same value that could be traded in for a ticket at the lowest price category. It led to a significant uptake in tickets, particularly for the earlier rounds.
Agisim added: “Our approach to fan engagement was on fans’ active participation to compete and showcase their own football talent, which was linked to a ticket purchase for early-round matches. This proved to be invaluable as we managed to convert an additional 15,000 fans or 70% of fans who purchased a Ticket Vouchers through the Mobile Roadshow to attendance the early-round matches”
“The success of this model has inspired FIFA Partners to further collaborate with the LOC to engage the UAE community. Visa were the first sponsor to recognize the opportunity by developing the Visa Dugout to show the Top 50 Goals of the history of the tournament and create exclusive access for their cardholders.
“Presenting Partner of the tournament, Alibaba developed a bespoke activation using elements of the Mobile Roadshow at the stadium called the Striker Zone and plan on showcasing their technology by advancing the development of the Mobile Phone app for the next tournament and using this as a case study to activating other global sponsorships including their partnership with the Olympics. Adidas, Mubadala and Etisalat also engaged fans utilizing the platform.
MOROCCAN MAGIC IN ABU DHABI
Another obvious achievement of the LOC was the successful engagement of the Moroccan community, who attended Wydad Casablanca’s matches in their thousands. Reaching out directly to the Moroccan ambassador to the UAE, and in turn Moroccan businesses, helped increase awareness and was effective in boosting ticket sales.
“The success of Fan Engagement started with developing deep relationships with each participating community.” LOC Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications, Reeva Bains, said. “This started with meeting the Ambassadors of each country and being introduced to the business leaders in the community.
“In this case, the largest Moroccan companies participating in the Community Leadership patron program to purchase over 3,000 additional tickets and transportation for the Moroccan community living in the UAE to support their country and the team.
“This created incredible atmosphere that makes football matches fun to witness to see how each culture celebrates and cheers for their teams. For both the FIFA Club World Cup 2018 and AFC Asian Cup 2019, we will leverage each community national pride to drive full stadiums.”