Crowd-pleaser: why consumers are more valuable than quick cash grabs

Consumer interest keeps companies alive. It’s why I’ve become a little confused when organisations – specifically consumer ‘brands’ – pander […]

Consumer interest keeps companies alive. It’s why I’ve become a little confused when organisations – specifically consumer ‘brands’ – pander to the wrong parties; predominately by forgetting the interests of their primary stakeholders in favour of quick cash grabs.

Australian football (soccer, if you like) is facing the repercussions of this misguided approach.

It’s been a rough summer for the A-League, where falling crowd figures and embarrassingly low viewer numbers provide a fairly accurate insight into the discontent of fans. Even the most well-supported clubs are dealing with poor attendances. Having enjoyed five rather successful seasons, the league has now returned to a less desirable state. While I’m no expert on Australian football history or the demise of the National Soccer League (NSL), it appears that now, like in the past, the powers at play are overlooking their number one stakeholders – the fans.

Why? Memberships and ticket sales are important, providing a consistent and largely predictable revenue stream; it’s rare to see major fluctuations here. But fan dollars aren’t quite going to keep a club afloat – not in Australia, at least. It’s the TV deals and sponsorships which bring in the big bucks, and subsequently fund the clubs’ payrolls. But while this is critical to the survival of today’s football franchises, without an audience, there’s nothing left but a few people kicking a ball in a park. That’s when it becomes a balancing act, but, unfortunately, Australian football seems to be looking one way rather than both.


Look no further than this season’s ‘Star Wars round’, an initiative which landed the sport some funding, and was expected to attract families, hopefully converting them to new members. It didn’t. The concept appealed to many, but it didn’t align to football culture, leaving many confused by an unsuitable mesh of themes in yet another poorly-attended round. The promotion didn’t resonate with fans like previous seasons ‘Yoshi’ campaign which focused on what is important to supporters: supporting a team.

More prominent examples of ‘forgotten’ stakeholders can be found in the gaming community, where the potential for big bucks has generated a ‘pay to win’ culture, with in-game purchases becoming commonplace across many popular titles – in some cases, to the extent that splashing cash meant an advantage over those who elected not to spend further. The launch of Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo III saw an iconic brand transform into a pixels-for-cash exchange with the inclusion of an in-game auction house; in short, it gave those players who wanted to pay for superior items an unfair advantage, while those who didn’t were stunted in their progress. After a significant backlash, Blizzard removed the feature so the game would be about playing, rather than spending. Electronic Arts recently mirrored Blizzard’s mistake through microtransactions in Battlefront II, again giving an unfair advantage to players who spent big cash. Turmoil ensued.

You’ll be hard pressed to find an organisation that can keep everyone satisfied, however neglecting ‘the little guys’ has long-term consequences. The A-League now finds itself on the brink of its least successful season to date – we may even see empty seats during the finals series which has been selling out (or close to) for several years. The governing body and clubs will spend the off-season attempting to repair the damage they caused in hopes of winning back those who once populated stadiums. Meanwhile, Electronic Arts has established a poor reputation, likely to impact its future game launches. It now has to convince its community – one that notoriously never forgets – to trust it with its upcoming titles. These examples illustrate a widespread disconnect that consumers are feeling when engaging brands across many sectors; now it’s over to those organisations, which have to figure out how to boost their balance sheets while making their most important asset – the consumer – their top priority.

By Nermin Bajric, Senior Consultant, Watterson