Firstly, how important is marketing in the English professional football to fill up the stadiums?
There are many ways to answer this question, but it is very important. It is something that we take very seriously here at Arsenal and we have a very large marketing department. Our primary concern is filling the stadium, because until you can fill the stadium you can’t do other things around the world and even in the UK, because you’re obsessed about filling the stadium. Why is filling the stadium important? Because the matches of Arsenal will be shown on TV and you see a full stadium. Fans who would love to watch a game of Arsenal realize that it is quite hard to get a ticket and that fuels demand. It encourages the fans to join our official membership schemes, which is the only way to get a ticket of Arsenal. So the whole cycle keeps spinning around. The biggest risk in our business model is if we start seeing areas of empty seats in the stadium. Why is that a risk? When people see the match on TV they think it is obviously easy to get a ticket at Arsenal. So perhaps they think: Hmm I try next week to get a ticket or maybe it’s not such a good experience. This is the reason why we are obsessed about keeping that stadium full. Since moving from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium ten years ago, we got to a position right now that we can say with a high degree of certainty that we will always sell that stadium out, which is great. We will never ignore the filling of the stadium, but now we can focus on other things like: how can we engage with fans internationally, how can we make our membership scheme even more attractive beyond tickets, how can we service our partners better, how can we attract new partners with the help of the data we get. Besides that, partners want a sold out stadium, fans want a sold out stadium, the players want a sold out stadium. It’s the core of our model.

Yes, and do you think marketing is the biggest secret behind the filled stadium?
Marketing at a football club is very interesting. This is my first job at a football club, because my background is all consumer goods. So I worked at PepsiCo and Coca Cola for example. In all of those jobs as a marketer you have the opportunity to influence the product. So when I worked at PepsiCo I worked on Doritos. Then you look at data that is coming back from the trade. You can see that the consumers maybe don’t like the flavour. So as a marketer you can adjust that flavour, you can add more cheese, take some heat out or make it more crunchier.

The curious thing about this job is that I have no influence about the product on the pitch. So I can’t say to Arsenè Wenger (coach of Arsenal FC) that having a Chinese player would do great for us in China. We have no control over the product on the pitch. Clearly the product on the pitch has a big influence on the whole club. When the team is performing well it’s like you have the wind in your sails, because the fans feels positive and the media feels positive the team are feeling positive and it all starts going in the right direction. This business reacts immediately on a positive result. Traffic to our website, traffic to our ticketing destination, interest in memberships, traffic to our retail department all goes growing when we win. When we lose it goes bad for a while. So it’s a combination of team performance and solid marketing and manipulation of data.

Okay, and besides data, how do you fill in the marketing mix at Arsenal FC? Think about product, price, place and promotion.
It is a little bit different again, because of the category we’re in, but also the position we’re in about selling out the stadium. So we have no flexibility on price offers because we don’t need to. So you might see other clubs who are struggling to fill up that stadium, offering half season tickets, bundles if you buy the ticket against team X, you can come also to the match against team Y, and when you come to the FA Cup match, you can come also to the next Premier League match. Fortunately we don’t have to do that, so price attempt to ticketing is off the table. At Arsenal we made three price categories for A, B and C matches. Why? Because, for the A-games, like against Tottenham Hotspur, we can fill that stadium three times for any price really. But when we play against an unknown club at a Tuesday night, it’s a lot harder to sell out the stadium. That’s the reason why we launched a C-category. Then you can come to the stadium for twenty-five pounds. This opened a whole new segment for Arsenal, because fans who come to the C-category matches, were never able to come to the stadium for higher ticket prices.

We promote in other ways, so we have a scheme called member rewards. So people who are signed up to our membership scheme can actually sign up then for a variety of rewards, so that might be the opportunity to win Olivier Giroud’s boots or a match worn shirt or all the way up to go to Paris and watch the game against PSG and whatever it might be. So that’s how we promote and how we add value to the membership scheme.

If we talk about product, it’s easy. We can’t touch the product on the pitch, but we can do a lot of marketing collateral. And so we always make sure that the stuff we are producing and sending to our fans is always of the highest quality, because that is what they expect on demand on the pitch, so we have to follow that up off the pitch with the quality of the stuff that we do.

Sounds good! Can you give me an example of a successful marketing action of Arsenal FC last year?
Yeah! Let’s talk about Stadium Tour business. The problem with having a massive asset like the stadium, is that it is a really expensive thing to run. We’re not a multisport stadium, so we don’t have rugby or any other kind of sport in here. And we rarely have anything other than Arsenal first team football. So our match days in that stadium are 30 days a year maximum. So the rest of the 365 days we’ve got an empty box over there which we need to fill up. We have a big conference meeting and events, banqueting business, the reds are all our hospitality spaces, but I’ll illustrate this with our Stadium Tour business. So most football clubs open their stadium for people to walk around and have a look. We’ve always had that business running and it’s being quite a static business. Why? Because we were capacity constraint. So we had to take small groups with a guide through the stadium to places that you normally don’t see. That was great and it probably was turning over about  a million pounds a year which is not bad, it’s a bit of revenue. But we always felt that in a big city like London and a big club like Arsenal there was a far greater opportunity out there, but it required us to change our model. So looking around at other football clubs and other industries for inspiration and looking at museums, how museums drive numbers into their spaces. We saw the trend increasingly for audiovisual guides and increasingly video guides and apps for museums and we thought: What can we learn from the museum industry? So we approached a company who do audiovisual guides and now they created us a handheld audiovisual, what they call a media packer and it walks you around. You can take your own time, it’s available in nine languages, it’s got video commentary and audio commentary, it tells you where to go. And what that created was immediately to lift the lid on our capacity problem, because now people just turn up, they wander around. If you want to do it quickly, you can do it in half an hour. If you want to take your time, you can do it in a hour and a half and you’ll still be a great experience. Opening up to foreign languages, opening up to no booking, you can just walk up and go on it, has always doubled up our Stadium Tour business in less than eighteen months. That business is now worth three million a year so now the organization is quite interested in it, because 3 million goes quite a long time to descend a player on the pitch.

Very nice! But to come back at marketing for the match days, are there planned brand new marketing actions?
The big stuff that’s coming up now is the FA Cup final, what we call a special event marketing. We have to go into that assuming we’re going to win it, because the next day we’ve got a switch the whole thing on. Think about the parade, the celebration, the trophy lift, the retail merchandise. So the FA Cup final is still a month away, it is at the end of this month. We’ve been working on it since before we won the semi-final. So we’ve been working on it now for eight weeks. If we lose the final, then it is a waste of money, but the fans expect a big celebration when we win the game. So that’s one big piece that’s coming up. Another big piece after that is our preseason tour. We have a tournament in Singapore and at the end of July we have the Emirates Cup at Arsenal. There will be played between Arsenal and three other European teams. So there is a big amount of marketing activities, the constant activity we do for our membership, selling out the stadium, Premier League games, FA Cup games, Champions League games, so all of that is on the menu and then we punctuate it with special events. The special events is something that gives us the freedom to something a little bit bigger, different, we might use different media, because selling out the Emirates Cup is not as easy as selling out Arsenal vs Chelsea. So we are going to get harder.

Well, you told me that every match the stadium is sold out. When you look at marketing, is Arsenal the most powerful club, or do you still learn a lot of things from others?
It’s funny, because when I came into this industry 4 years ago I was worried about how seriously football clubs were going to take marketing. I was coming from some great marketing organizations. PepsiCo, Diageo, Coca Cola are world class organizations and I felt it was a risk. And I interviewed with several football clubs and I had that suspicion confirmed. I thought: These guys are not taking marketing very seriously until I came here. In this place, if you forget that we are in football, this place feels like a professional FMCG business, because we take marketing seriously, we take resale seriously, we take hospitality seriously, we take all these things extremely seriously. Four years ago that was incredibly rare in football in the Premier League. Some of the lower teams felt like.. what is marketing, we don’t really understand it. We just go sell tickets and then everything in between. I think now in those four years, I’ve seen Manchester City get very serious and professional in marketing and they do some really good stuff. Even as Chelsea and Manchester United are doing well about marketing. So we are the top four with these clubs. But everyone is raise their game, because everyone is seeing what these clubs are doing about marketing, seeing that it’s working and thinking that has to be the model we have to implement. And actually, I’m seeing a lot more people with my kind of background move into sports marketing. So in my team here, there is no one with a sports background. So we all bring different expertise to the business challenge of running a football club and we happened to have football associated with it. Now we don’t ignore the football, because everything we’re doing from a revenue point of view is to put the best team on the pitch. As I said before we have no control over that, so we have to go back to good marketing principals, that’s the job we have to do.

And what is in your opinion the best kind of marketing to pull fans to the stadium?
Team performance obviously helps on everything. In terms of attracting people into our membership we’ve been demonstrate that we can make membership attractive even when the team are performing well. So until last year it’s well-known that Arsenal hadn’t won a trophy for the last nine years. Our membership scheme has grown every single year of those nine years. So we’re driving the demand and driving the supporters to come to the stadium.

For example, when you go a night out and you see a club where is a queue outside and a club where someone is asking you to come in, you definitely will go for the club with the queue, because that’s the place to be. That’s the kind of strategy adopt at Arsenal. Tickets here are hard to get, but not impossible to get.

Can you give any marketing tips to fill up the football stadiums in the Netherlands?
Just focus on the data, it’s all about data! Even if you think there isn’t an opportunity to get data from fans, there is. So the example we give here is that we run meetings and events business. So we have people from all sorts of industries, all sorts of categories coming in to hold conferences and events at Emirates Stadium. The relationships we have with the conferences organizers is that we get data from the people who are coming in, because even people who aren’t football fans or fans from other clubs are potential people who are attending a game at Emirates Stadium. The first time they come to the stadium they might impressed by the facilities we have. And so they might think: if I bring my corporate guests to this stadium, because this facility is amazing. So we use that kind of remote of data all the way up to sophisticated bits of data and we analyze across our membership base who’s been to how many matches, do they prefer Saturday or midweek matches etc. We can chop our data up in a variety of ways which makes our campaign planning and targeting really specific. So we talk to fans, but what they want to hear about.

That’s interesting. Do you think that marketing will always play an important role in filling up the stadium?
It plays an important role to fill our stadium here at Arsenal. It always will, but now that we’ve got that stadium full, it‘s now playing an important role in other areas of our business. So data is now playing a far more important role in our retail operation, in our hospitality operation, in our international activity, helping partners like Emirates to renew the sponsorship, because we can show them exactly what we can do with our data in the destinations where they travel to. So it’s not unique to football.

Ted van Berkel is 19 jaar oud en geboren en getogen in het Brabantse Tilburg. Momenteel volgt hij de opleiding SPECO sport & marketing/management aan de Fontys Economische Hogeschool Tilburg. Met zijn opleiding hoopt hij later een succesvol sportmarketeer te worden. Voor zal hij zo nu en dan sportprofessionals interviewen. “Elke dag ben ik zowel actief als passief met sport bezig. Sport is mijn passie!”

Twitter: @tedvanberkel