University of Edinburgh study reveals off-field data to help the Scottish football industry post-Covid

Scottish football is undoubtedly a real pillar of connectivity, both locally and internationally,something that is not always grasped, understood or capitalised upon by the ScottishGovernment or maximised by individual football clubs, and we can and want to help both dobetter, writes Professor Grant Jarvie

The Scotsman's annual Data Conference will take place this Thursday
The Scotsman's annual Data Conference will take place this Thursday

Football clubs and sport maximise the use data for on-field performance. They need to approach the use of off-field data in the same way. The Academy of Sport and the Bayes Centre partnership at the University of Edinburgh can help.

Covid 19 exposed all areas of public life, including Scottish football. The football habit was broken, clubs were worried about fan engagement, lost revenue and season ticket sales.

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A study led by Professor Jarvie of the University of Edinburgh in partnership with Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs and Motherwell football clubs has traced fan engagement and mapped the localities of season ticket holders.

The number of views on Scotland's YouTube channel doubled during the Euros.

It also provided data on the international engagement resulting from the recent European Football Championships matches involving Scotland and Hampden.

It showed 36 per cent of the season ticket holders across the four clubs resided in either the most deprived or second most deprived postcode districts. At the same time 37 per cent of season ticket holders, from the four clubs, resided in the 20 per cent most affluent areas.

Scottish football crosses the wealth divide. Covid 19 did not respect local or national boundaries and disproportionately affected certain neighbourhoods while furlough and in many cases loss of jobs threatened available disposable income that might have been spent of football.

The decision to offer free season tickets to those who had purchased a season ticket the year before is but one example of a club understanding the Covid context, the issues in the community and this being reflected in the new season ticket offer and pricing.

For the Scotland vs. Czech Republic match, the number of views increased on matchday, but then immediately decreased significantly after match day.

Those who walk through the turnstiles remain local and, in some cases, very local i.e., within the vicinity of the stadium. 90.94 per cent of Aberdeen season ticket holders come from AB postcodes; 88.84 per cent of Hearts and 88.51 per cent of Hibernian season ticket holders reside within EH

postcodes while 79.88 per cent of Motherwell season ticket holders reside within ML postcodes.

92.3 per cent of Motherwell season ticket holders reside with Motherwell or Glasgow postcodes.

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EH4 (NW Edinburgh, Cramond / Blackhall / Craigleith) is in the top postcode for both Hearts (5.79 per cent) and Hibs (7.03 per cent of sales).

Football supporters are known for their loyalty. This impact is economical but there is also a social dimension. Football clubs are cultural institutions and important in the meaning making of places, a sense of place pride and a focal point for the community.

This is perhaps showcased in the relatively distance decay of season ticket purchases the further you move away from the football stadium. Any disconnect between a football club and its community has social implications around social capital, wellbeing, and happiness.

Football clubs thinking of re-locating stadiums need to think this through because it is not always the case that re-location works for those coming through the turnstiles.

Scottish football is more heavily dependent upon gate receipts (48 per cent) than any other UEFA member.

Five Scottish football clubs have asked accountancy firm Deloitte to grow their commercial income.

The extent to which clubs can grow the supporter base, provide fans what they want and increase revenue necessitates understanding fan engagement and satisfying the consumption of football both inside and outside of the stadium.

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Clubs have considerable international reach as do the Scottish national teams.

International relationships need to be constantly worked at if the desire is to grow and engage this audience. The benefits include minimising the risks associated with an over-dependency on a specific income stream such as gate receipts.

In one five-week spell one club had an international following on you tube across 21 countries.

Hibernian have regular followers from Australia, Ireland, USA, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, Poland and New Zealand. Regular followers of Aberdeen are from Germany, USA, Australia, Ireland, Canada, Austria, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine, Spain and the Netherlands but also Nigeria and United Arab Emirates.

When it comes to the national men’s team Scotland’s regular weekly viewings during the European Championships extended beyond Europe.

If Scotland is ambitious about foreign policy and international relations the political parties need to recognise the tools that they have, and football is one of them.

The Scottish Government is currently revisiting its national international engagement strategy it should find a space and resource to maximise football as a significant tool that it has at its disposal. Imagine, for example, if the football and the sport reach was greater than the diaspora reach?

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Nor is building and sustaining relationships with fans an activity that occurs just in the stadium or just around matchday or during the season. Something that applies to both the men’s and women’s game.

Opportunities exist to grow meaningful conversations with and extend the football family through social media and digital platforms is a 24/7 – 52 weeks a year activity.

Whether it be local or international, the club or the national team, men or women the pandemic has not gone but has created a set of circumstances which has forced Scottish football and society to reflect about what is important.

This needs to continue in an informed way.

By doing so further safeguard’s footballs future while offering financial, economic and political benefits to the people of Scotland through football.

Data has informed Covid decision making. It can help secure better football futures by helping football clubs in Scotland and the national teams further understand who and where their audiences are and what they want.

- Professor Grant Jarvie is the founding director of the Academy of Sport at the University of Edinburgh

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The Scotsman Data Conference 2021 - a joint venture between The Scotsman and DDI - brings together experts from a range of fields and is built around four big themes: data and climate change; data and future pandemics; data and tourism and economic recovery; and data and social/financial inclusion.

It will take place on Thursday, 30 September.

To find out more, visit the event’s website here.