It's an interesting time for football clubs right now, with new markets opening up and the growth of the women's game.
Southampton FC is an historic brand, founded in 1885. But how can a team convert the next generation of fans when distractions abound? And how can it continue to draw its own sponsors?
I chatted with Saints' director of marketing and partnerships Sarah Batters to get inside the club's media and marketing strategy.
1. Capturing kids, the next fans
OG: What is your fan engagement strategy, and are you excited about particular channels?
SB: "A big focus for us at the moment is growing our junior audience ... How do we reach those children when you can't advertise to children? ... I'm excited about new technologies and the opportunities within Web 3.0.
"What are the kids doing, where are they? They're playing games in Roblox and in Minecraft. What is our role in those platforms, to be there and engage with them at that time?"
2. A platform for partners
OG: How do you work with sponsors, and have you changed your approach to gambling sponsors in light of increasing regulation?
SB: "The challenge at the moment is looking at, 'How do we set ourselves apart?' More and more, potential sponsors and partners are looking at ... integrating more deeply in our sustainability, diversity and inclusion agendas. ... The most exciting conversations I have are with brands that want to do things differently and that are open-minded to activate a partnership differently and also create meaningful change.
"We all come from either client-side marketing or agency backgrounds. So we can offer kind-of consultancy to brands ... rather than the traditional tick-off-the-asset-list for sponsorship.
"(Gambling) is a very hot topic right now - we have a betting company on the front of our shirt. ... We also partner with a number of companies around responsible gambling. ... Emerging industries will probably fill the space - crypto would be one."
3. Ads grow the fan footprint
OG: What is your approach to buying your own advertising?
SB: "Our ad buying and and commercial strategy is framed up within our regional growth strategy. ... A football club would normally get a 50 kilometre radius of their natural fan base. Unfortunately for us, half of that's in the sea. ...
"So we need to push up more into the region. We've identified four cities in Hampshire as our real focus - Winchester, Basingstoke, Salisbury and Andover - as that's where there is a Saints affinity and where we want to grow. ...
"Whenever we do a campaign such as our kit launches, we make the most of out-of-home and also very targeted digital media to those areas, but personalising it and making it relevant to those areas.
4. Growing women's football with brands
OG: At The Sun, we have been covering women's football since 2019. What's the story at Southampton?
SB: "We are, behind the scenes, offering absolute parity to our men's and our women's teams. ... Last season, we had 400 season tickets ... We have moved the the team to St. Mary's and we sold over a thousand within a week. ... Seventy percent of them haven't actually been to a men's game, so it's a completely new audience for us - it's not something we necessarily expected.
"I feel like there's a place that brands can really help make an actual authentic impact in the girls game. .. If we partner together, what can we do together to grow the game?
"We're growing and building a dedicated marketing team for the women's club team. We have a dedicated media team for the women and we are in interview processes for our first marketing hire whose role will be solely the women's team."
5. Working with media
OS: How do you use in-house talent to be a media owner, and how do you work with publishers?
SB: "We've got the successes of players such as Gareth Bale, Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prouse ... it's our point of difference in the league. Developing that further and ensuring it's an essential part of our brand is really important.
"A lot of our media coverage ... is in that area, understanding, 'What is the Southampton way?' ... So we give insights to media outlets on areas that are behind the scenes ... our training ground and our black box analytics and how we are identifying the talent of the future...
"What we can do differently to media publishers is really explore our personality ... We create our own content in that space. ... You see other sports probably adapting quicker than football. ... In football, we have to adapt to the attention span - the way that younger audiences want to consume football is changing. We need to understand what that is and how do we use our brand in those spaces."