FC Goa may not have had a great campaign in the recently concluded 2021-22 edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) where they finished in the 9th position, but they made all the right noises off the pitch throughout the season, particularly on social media.
The recent campaign by the Gaurs called 'Forca Fans Feb' made 3 million organic impressions. In a season that brought in a considerable distance between fans and the sport due to COVID-19, FC Goa were able to bridge this gap successfully through the 'Forca Fans Feb' campaign among other things.
In an exclusive interaction with The Bridge, Parul Soni the principal consultant at FC Goa opened up on the idea behind 'Forca Fans Feb'. Here are the excerpts:
What led to the idea of 'Forca Fans Feb' - a whole month dedicated to the fans of FC Goa?
Our fan clubs are our lifeline. There's the FC Goa fan club and East Lower Army - and together we've evolved the relationship from conversations off the pitch, to engagement and advocacy on it. We'd already celebrated this milestone with our squad announcement at the start of the ISL. It was a planned outreach thereafter, as our strengths on the pitch in a bio-bubble situation flagged with recurring injuries and covid cases. They chimed in to send messages of support and hope. And so, as the season drew to a close on a dismal note, Forca Fans in Feb gave us the fillip we needed to keep the conversation football-positive going into a hectic off-season period. Things are never lean at FC Goa.
Entirely organic with zero marketing dollars spent, we got 3 million organic impressions pursuant to conversations, over a hundred posters whipped together by the fans spinning off from those featuring them on matchdays, age and gender no bar, unprecedented access to players like Dylan Fox and Ivan Gonzalez, our ardent fan Omkar Honovarcar taking over our Instagram for one day to 200k people watching and regular contests and giveaways for our fans to celebrate them, as they do us.
For the European and South American superpowers, fans play a pivotal role. Do you feel Indian clubs have woken up to the need to engage fans? How far are we lagging behind?
Obvious to state, that cricket is still India's mega sport and there's a gaping chasm between cricket and everything else. Drawing parallels between football fan culture in India vis-a-vis European and South American, is premature. We are fairly new with a professional league in the first place and at a high level, the concept of fan engagement is in its nascent stage.
And that makes this space an exciting one, ripe with possibilities and learnings. At FC Goa, we've quickly brought in relevance by aligning football to more mainstream, accessible talking points like pop culture and trends. From there on, there's a strong narrative that we're evolving consistently where everyone loves Goa and Goa loves football, FC Goa at the intersection of that dialogue. This plays out in our storytelling. First, The Durand Cup was spinning off from the launch of "Money Heist" season 5, a professorial approach to putting together the nuts and bolts of a squad on a mission and then on to putting together the women's squad, a special league of agents synced in with the launch of the Bond film "No time to die". They, in turn, passed the baton of mission football right back to the men's team in the run-up to the ISL and the fans converged. An undercurrent of the community regardless of age, gender and capability run through. And a literal extension is the platform of Road2Goa, Goa's biggest DIY football festival where our fans and we swap places. All this makes Forca Goa.
We're supporting this narrative through our tech-driven approach to marketing - first ratifying the strength in numbers with our YouGov study which tells us categorically that FC Goa is loved by 98% of football fans in the state and beyond with 33mn out of the 165mn football fans in the country being ours. Our partnership with Proem, our CDP, builds on that with databasing, funnelling of data and creating cohorts and profiles of fans. With time, we expect to use our learnings to build new IPs and experiences where they may jump in and activate their own, and help us shape the future of the sport, sustainably.
With the ISL games being conducted behind closed doors, what were the biggest challenges that you faced in fan engagement this season and how did you overcome them?
In-stadia experiences sustain the sport. And when there are no games, it bleeds the sport dry and not just one club. This is faced by all football clubs here, and even in mature sporting markets where there's more proliferation regardless of sport, this still holds true. So, our challenge was to keep the conversations going online even when offline engagement had to be minimal. Starting with the squad announcement that saw our team travel 300 km across the state to shoot with fans at the start of the ISL, to using moment marketing with Money Heist when our strengths flagged with recurring injuries and covid cases in the bio-bubble, to going out amidst fanfare, with Forca Fans in February, with zero marketing dollars, we attempted to travel the distance. Despite a negative outcome on the pitch, we've managed to rally our fans going into the off-season like never before, including record highs in hitting non-follower accounts across platforms beyond the 3 million impressions.
At the end of the ISL, we launched Road2Goa, a DIY pilot football festival for football fans and amateur players, with age and gender no bar, and with only 3 weeks of amplification with near-zero spending again, we have nearly 450 people registered and ready to hit turfs around the state. This is really encouraging.
How much do sponsors look towards integrating with fans? Or are the associations completely based on traditional TRP based?
Traditional TRPs are still the biggest pull and understandably so. However, parallel development is increasingly centred around the fans. At FC Goa, a big part of our engagement with and deliverables committed to sponsors is driven by storytelling with the fans at the centre.
A case in point is the BTS of the ISL squad announcement with our fans that was made possible through driving across Goa in the Tata Punch. We localised their presence, but broke the standard trope of leading with car features and instead created a story for both the sponsors and the fans, local influencers and the community. We will continue to collaborate with sponsors leading with narrative instead of ad hoc content deliverables that don't stick. Our data-driven approach on top of this will aid us in creating cohorts of audiences for sponsors. After all, FC Goa fans our not only highly engaged with respect to football but have a wide variety of interests, are of a liberal mindset and have a higher spending profile, 33% higher than the average football fan in the country.
With the season now over and looking ahead to the next, one can certainly expect FC Goa to come up with more ways to engage with fans. Can you shed some light on the club's work in this regard?
Road2Goa has already kicked off. The next few weekends will see fans on the pitch playing the beautiful game across key turf venues across the state. They're open for one and all to come to watch. The Little Gaurs League for our younger fans is already well underway. Our efforts at the grassroots to raise the consciousness of football as a change agent - all you need is a ball and an open space to universalise play for all kinds of people, regardless of age, ability, gender and needs - through our Forca Goa Foundation's work with The Owl House carries on. We're scaling our efforts to refurbish grounds across the state with Fields of Dreams after the success of Salvador do Mundo which is not just a training ground for our athletes, first and developing, but also the wider community. A few grounds are under refurbishment already for this year. Carlos Peña's signing was a big talking point, as will future signings ahead. It's never an off-season at FC Goa and it is in this vein, that we will continue to co-opt our fans and extended community in many ways, including non-followers of football to cement it a cultural mainstream in India.