THE challenge of Middle East football leagues is to provide a more rounded and holistic experience, one that appeals to family and community, a recent study jointly conducted by Doha-based Josoor Institute and consultancy firm Deloitte and Touche has found.
“It should be one that upholds family and community values so that actively following your local team becomes a natural part of family and community life,” the study titled ‘Middle East Football Engagement’ said in its report.
The study aimed to prove or disprove the hypothesis that football fans across the Middle East passionately followed the major European leagues, but the same level of interest was not present in local leagues due to lack of quality matches.
An online survey was undertaken across 10 countries in the Middle East region — Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE.
And it was found that more than half of the region’s football fans go to local matches. However, the majority of them attend only a few games a year. A significant percentage of fans (29) said they went to their first football match with family, but just eight per cent of fans wanted to do so again, with a vast majority preferring to turn up with friends.
The reason for this is found to be the lack of a family-friendly match-day experience. The respondents also highlighted stadium infrastructure as well as services and match atmosphere as the main factors requiring improvement.
The study also said online platforms commanded a significant share of fans’ attention, with majority of them following games on YouTube and Facebook.
The timing of the study is important as the UAE is set to host the Asian Cup in 2019 and Qatar is getting ready to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy Secretary General Hassan Al Thawadi said, “Josoor Institute undertook the unique research project that examines the motivation, intensity and loyalty of football fans in an attempt to understand what motivates people in the region to pursue their passion for the game.
“Josoor based its research on data collected from football fans in 10 different countries around the region because following a model of international clubs doesn’t necessarily guarantee success for stakeholders in the Middle East.”
While stadium facilities in Qatar are among the best in the region, match experience needs to improve and satisfy everybody. The survey’s finding that television was the most preferred way for Middle East fans to follow the game is very much true in Qatar’s case, with the telecast offered by the state-owned channels enabling them to catch the action live in their drawing rooms. It often results in a poor attendance at the Qatar Stars League matches.
The Qatar Football Association wants its clubs to be smarter in budgeting and cost control, and economically more self-reliant from now on. In order to do that, the clubs must increase their sponsorship, merchandising and revenue from ticket sales.
Internationally, digital and TV subscriptions, team or league merchandise and pay per view are the main income generating areas, but the survey found that 39 per cent of fans in the Middle East have not purchased a team or league-related product, including game tickets, over the past year.
The percentage could be much higher in Qatar, where several clubs do not have a strong fan base. The lack of financial engagement with clubs suggests even those existing fans could be passive. It can be seen as a significant market opportunity for all stakeholders as well as media. With proactive measures, the passive fans can be made active and more engaged.