Could communicators have helped Bury FC?

On Boxing Day 1992, I attended my first football match. I remember vividly the ritual of travelling to Burden Park to watch Bolton Wanderers for the first time and the excitement about seeing a team on the up.

Let’s not forget the other 'd2c' - direct to community, says Philip Honour
Let’s not forget the other 'd2c' - direct to community, says Philip Honour

This was the Bolton of John McGinlay and Andy Walker. They played exciting, attacking football and I remember being gripped from the first to the 90th minute as Bolton beat Wigan 2-1 in front of a crowd of nearly 12,000 fans. A few years later they were in the Premier League, on the way to a new stadium and a staple of the top flight for years to come.

Having moved to Ramsbottom, the bus trip to Bury was a lot more straight forward and I ended up spending more time at Gigg Lane just in time to see Bury reach the old Division 1, now the Championship.

I was there when they closed the Cemetery End and when they went back down to Division Two, now League Two. I saw some great players like Dean Kiely, Chris Lucketti and David Johnson help Bury punch above their weight in what was a special few years. Not just for Bury but for North West football as Blackburn, Oldham and Wigan rose through the football league.

It cannot be overstated how important all these clubs are to the local communities.

It’s not just the game, it’s the pre-match rituals - the quick pint before kick-off, the walk from the tram. The snatched conversations at half time. They are home to family birthdays and graduations. A place for young people to hang out and build friendships. A place for families to celebrate the life of a loved one through spontaneous fan-led minutes of applause.

As communicators - in situations like this, with the possibility of expulsion from the English Football League amid financial turmoil, there is not much we can do. It’s so far beyond a crisis that can be managed, and the fans and players now just have to sit and wait.

What we can do though is become advocates for communities and institutions which mean so much to our customers.

It is about looking past the obvious success stories and the Premier League and taking a punt on a partnership that on paper might not be as attractive but could be a hugely effective tool to connect brands and businesses to local communities. It’s recognising and remembering the special place that clubs hold in people’s lives and becoming their advocates, defenders of community spirit.

As our industry continues to pivot towards purpose-driven campaigns and we talk more and more about direct to consumer communications, let’s not forget the other 'd2c' - direct to community, and let’s appreciate the important role football clubs can play in this strategy.

And, if brand and businesses support increases and sponsorship can flow more freely through the lower leagues, perhaps we can avoid another situation like the sad stories of Bury and Bolton FC.

Philip Honour is associate director at Porter Novelli

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