Fans can play a key role in executing a club’s commercial and stadium strategy if they are brought into the fold, according to Markus Nilsson, deputy CEO of Hammarby Fotboll in Sweden.

The club, which competes in the Swedish top-tier Allsvenskan, launched a ‘Fan Lifecycle Department’ to give supporters the chance to propose and develop operational initiatives.

The department allows fans to contribute towards ticketing, which accounts for more than half of the club’s income, as well as CSR and communications campaigns and, with Hammarby being 51% owned by an association featuring supporters, there is a significant focus on the customer.

However, Nilsson told TheStadiumBusiness.com that there is no reason why clubs that do not have supporters as shareholders cannot engage them in vital development and commercial strategies.

Such fan-facing initiatives have helped Hammarby to register a 170% increase in attendances since the club’s move to the 30,000-seat Tele2 Arena in 2013 – the third largest increase for a European club moving to a new venue over the past 10 years.

“I think it could be applicable for any club, although you need patience and endurance,” he said. “When I arrived at the club in 2013, we really needed the supporters to help us as we were in a pretty poor financial situation.

“You have to remember that some supporters, in their daily lives, will work in a commercial or media environment.

“We have grown significantly and that has been a challenging transition as at one point we were worried that we could be losing those core fans, because we were getting too big.

“But we are listening to them and they are engaged with various parts of the club, including a Merchandise Advisory Board.”

Nilsson added that the current challenge is to encourage fans who may have attended in the past – or those who attend just one game per season – to come to Tele2 Arena more often.

“We still have 4,000-5,000 empty seats at every game so at the moment the focus is engaging fans who we know we have,” he added,

“In another five or 10 years we will grow. We have a geographic part of Stockholm that is mainly Hammarby land.”

Image: Holger.Ellgaard