Bohemian FC was a club on the brink of going bust not too long ago. They were on a day to day quest simply to survive which put long term strategic thinking & marketing on the back burner until some sort of stability could be achieved.
Debts of €6.5 million had been built up as they chased the dream of European Football and full time professionalism. Of course, the collapse of a property deal once valued at €65m didn’t help matters either.
Fast forward to 2019 and Bohs are flying high both on and off the field. They’ve cleared their debts and through the first 5 league home games, the attendances averaged 3,211 which is up +44% on last year and are 3rd in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division on time of writing.
The turnaround of the club owes a lot to it’s long term strategic plan which has local and national marketing initiatives at its core. They have generated a real community spirit in their Phibsborough home and created a club identity that couldn’t be further from what the likes of the Premier League provides. All club related marketing follows a specific theme that represents the ethos of the club.
This is the story of Bohemian FC, the people’s club.
One of the key players in this story is Daniel Lambert. No, he’s not the clubs star striker, or flying winger, he is the clubs Director of Commercial & Marketing.
I read an article on SportsJOE recently where Daniel really hit the nail on the head when it comes to marketing. It seems so simple now but for so long the league was stuck in a rut until Bohs led the way.
“The key part of the plan was to try and establish a vision of what Bohs was. A lot of clubs in Ireland make the mistake of – and the FAI do this all the time – of trying to market the league through its football.” Said Lambert when talking about the vision for the club.
“If you’re just going to market League of Ireland football, you’re going up against Sky Sports and the machine of the Premier League, which you just won’t beat.”
“In my opinion, and in the club’s opinion now, it’s a mistake to try and market a core football message so we looked at the club and asked ‘what are Bohemians about?’.”
At Future Proof Media, we always say to our clients that it’s not always about the product your selling, sometimes it’s about establishing who you are and creating an identity for your brand that people can relate to and support. From what I can see that is exactly what Bohs have done.
Cause & Purpose
The Bohemian Football Club has been a member-owned club since its foundation in 1890. The club is there to serve the community, and that is something that Bohs do better than most. While a lot of companies talk the talk about giving back to the community and in some cases blindly throw money at it, Bohs walk the walk.
The club are renowned for their work off the pitch in battling racism and bigotry of all forms, facilitating people housed in Direct Provision to attend their football games and actively working with the inmates in Mountjoy Prison along with many more worthy causes.
What all this does is gives the brand a purpose. The purpose is to help the community, and in return the community trusts and believes that the brand cares and is not just out to cash in on them.
A lot of modern marketers constantly push the latest gadgets, gizmo’s or innovations in digital media but sometimes it’s important to bring it back to basics before you layer these elements in.
To expand a bit more on the above section let me take you through some of the different projects, amongst others, that the club are involved in.
Depending on the size of your business, these may seem like a lot of work. I am not suggesting you go out and copy this model exactly but their are certainly nuggets you take away and implement to help grow your brand footprint within the community
“We don’t work in the community to tick boxes or feel good about ourselves, Bohemian FC is in and of the north inner city of Dublin and it is our duty to work in that community.” Said Bohemians president Chris Brien in The Irish Times.
The Bohemian Foundation
The Bohemian Foundation is a charitable organisation that runs football events for local kids, pensioners and those with intellectual disabilities as well as football and comedy related projects in the nearby Mountjoy Prison.
First team players visit Mountjoy prison once or twice a week to train and coach inmates in preparation for the Conway Cup, a triangular tournament involving inmates and local sides. They also visit schools and help provide a safe and fun outlet for any at risk local people.
The Foundation runs its own initiatives but also collaborates with Dublin City Council and others in a range of activities towards the shared objectives of improved health, well-being, community development and social inclusion. These include, The School Completion Programme, The Irish Prison Service, The Garda Youth Diversion Project, Age Action, Special Olympics Ireland and St Vincent de Paul.
Age Action, Special Olympics Ireland and St Vincent de Paul.
The More Than A Club Initiative
The project, run alongside the Welsh social enterprise Vi-Ability and funded by the European Regional Development Fund, aims to strengthen clubs’ community links.
Through the project Bohemians recognise and utilise the powerful attraction of football and the value of their own club brand locally to promote social good. The project works in partnership with key agencies and groups with an interest in community development to deliver important social programmes. It has seen the club evolving as a more valuable community entity and becoming more relevant to people locally.
Again, this just strengthens the clubs reputation and get people to fall in love with the brand from an early age.
St. Kevins Boys Player Pathway Programme
This is a strategic partnership that is beneficial to both clubs while providing young players from the area a direct route of progression through to first team League of Ireland football.
The new agreement see’s both clubs enter a joint team, into the SSE Airtricity U-15 League and another joint side entered the U-13 league in March this year.
A number of current Republic of Ireland internationals have graduated from both clubs; former Bohs boys Stephen Ward and Matt Doherty while Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady both played in the famous tangerine shirt of St Kevin’s giving kids local idols to aspire to.
Club History & Musical Links – Creating a brand Story
When creating this plan for the future one thing the club never did was forget its past. Bohemian FC has an incredibly interesting brand story and it’s not something they are afraid to shout about. You might have only started your brand in recent years but there’s still a story behind how and why you did it, this is what will make you more appealing to your target market.
Brands that tell authentic stories engage people on a deeper level. This is what makes stories so powerful, they are memorable and lasting. A prospective customer will make a decision on whether to buy-in to a company based on its brand narrative. It makes sense, then, to consider your brand story and how it goes beyond the “you-buy-we-sell” principle and opens the door to connect authentically.
Dalymount park has an extensive musical history and Bohs regularly bring that to life through their marketing initiatives.
“Dalymount Park was graced in the 1970s by Thin Lizzy and the Boomtown Rats, in the ‘80s by Bob Marley, Meatloaf and Black Sabbath, and in the ‘90s by Faith No More, Sonic Youth, Ice Cube and the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” reflected Daniel Lambert in a Hotpress article showcasing their new away jersey design which later had to be scrapped due to an image rights issue.
It’s all well and good having a great story and brilliant ideas about what your brand is, but without effectively communicating this with your target market you may as well forget about it.
Bohemians have created incredible content that is specifically designed to connect with their followers through the various marketing channels. These are not straight up ads or sales videos, they are pieces of art that will firstly gain attention and in turn generate valuable revenue through ticket and shirt sales.
Here are a few examples:
John Cummins Poet – Linking History & Community
Selling The Dream
In marketing, you will constantly hear the saying “Your not selling a mattress, you’re selling a good night’s sleep”, well that’s just what Bohs have leveraged here. They are not selling a ticket, they are selling memories that will last a lifetime.
Behind The Scenes Storytelling
Below is the trailer for an upcoming mini documentary that was produced around the Dublin Derby of Bohs V Shamrock Rovers. It is the biggest day of the year in LOI Football and we can’t wait to see the finished product.
Events & Offline Initiatives
Bohs market themselves as more than a football club, and that they certainly are. The have a steady stream of non-football related events going on, some of which are to raise money for the club and some of which are to raise awareness of political and societal issues but all of which create more touch points between the club and it’s fans.
The Big Bohs Gig
The Big Bohs Gig is an event taking place in Vicar Street on the 19th of May to raise money for the stadium redevelopment. It will involve a host of top acts all giving their time for free to the club including Natty Wailer, Brush Shiels, PJ Gallagher, and Eric Lalor. The world premier of the new Bohs v Rovers documentary we discussed above will also take place on the night.
As a fan owned club it gives it’s supporters a chance to come together away from the stadium and give back to the club that has given them so much.
The James Connolly Festival – Struggle Against Racism and Fascism Event
Here’s another upcoming event they are hosting, an event highlighting the struggle against racism and fascism. Not really what you would expect from a football club!
That’s exactly what makes Bohs so special, they don’t just see themselves as a football club and stick to football. They have a voice, an influence, and they will use it.
This free event is running the Members’ Bar in Dalymount Park, from 7p.m. on Tuesday 7th May 2019 for what is sure to be a lively and informative event.
The BFC Sticker Album
Another fun and engaging initiative for young fans is the BFC Sticker Book. This gives kids the opportunity to get to know the players, what they look like, and create a memorable item that they can collect relating to the club.
Sometimes we get bogged down with engagement stats of likes, comments and shares on social media but these things are fleeting. Why not take it off line and create lasting brand integration?
We all remember our premier league sticker album and that ‘shiny’ we could never find. Maybe young Bohs fans will have the same memories.
The Match Day Experience
All of the marketing ideas we discussed above are what drive people to Dalymount Park but it’s the match day experience that keeps people coming back. This is the same with your business. Execution of your marketing will bring people to your store, but it is the quality of product/service that will keep them coming back.
Dalymount is an old school stadium with an old school atmosphere. It’s a throwback to how football once was in wonderful old stadium full of character and a sense of history. The fans will sing from the first minute to the last with the stands full of banners, flags and red flares giving it one of the best atmospheres in Irish football.
It’s not only on the stands where you will feel the buzz but also at half time and in the bars.
This video speaks for itself!
All in all, we can see Bohs turnaround is remarkable but it is something we can all learn from in business. Sometimes we need to take a step backwards and look at the bigger picture before we can take that step forward.
Bohs have developed a brand identity, activated heavily in the community and embraced modern communication methods while always staying true to their roots.
They have created a buzz and a culture around their brand and marketing, maybe you can too?