New SAP Emarsys research explores fan loyalty, and what retailers can learn from the world’s most popular football clubs 

London, May 08, 2024 — New data shows football fan loyalty extends beyond the pitch, with football supporters typically 11% more loyal to brands and retailers than non-football fans. That’s according to a major new study from customer engagement platform SAP Emarsys. 

The research, which includes data from over 5,000 football fans worldwide, explores the power of fan loyalty in marketing and was commissioned to highlight the ongoing partnership with SAP Emarsys customer, FC Bayern

The new data shows that football fans are not only more loyal, but also stay loyal for longer, with 55% continuing to support retailers after sales end, compared to just 39% of non-fans. Football supporters are also more likely to splash out on gifts, with the average fan spending £90 more on Christmas presents last year. 

Despite being more loyal, SAP Emarsys’ data also shows that football fans are less persuaded by discounts and rewards (46% vs 52%) making them a difficult crowd for marketers to reach through traditional loyalty tactics. Previous SAP Emarsys research indicates that 60% of UK consumers like the option to communicate with brands via different platforms, highlighting the importance of an omnichannel approach if clubs are to meet expectations. 

Rather than financial incentives, football fans are more likely to stay loyal to brands with a strong heritage (31% vs 27%) and ethical values (30% vs 26%) In fact, a brand’s heritage was the most important factor for positively impacting loyalty among football fans, with 45% ranking it as their top priority. 

As Sport Psychologist, Stuart Holliday explains, “Football fans, and in particular die-hard fans, feel that they are not just part of the team. Research has shown that fans believe they are the team, and that the players on the field represent them. Effectively, the team has been internalised as a part of their self — the ultimate form of loyalty.” 

“This goes some way to explaining why fans are less incentivised by discounts, and more by heritage, ethics, and history; they’re not being sold to, but experiencing an interaction with a brand that they feel represents them. Crass sales tactics offend them, as it’s not the way that their club — in some ways, themselves — should behave.” 

That’s not to say, however, that football fans don’t appreciate opportunities to reduce costs if they’re a part of authentic brand engagement. Half of football fans (54%) spend more with brands if they have a loyalty card, while 47% want to see more personalised offers in exchange for their support.  

With football clubs selling merchandise not only at stadiums, but also on the high street and online, they need to work to maintain a true one-to-one connection with fans. The key to this lies in a value exchange; in return for their monetary and time investment, fans increasingly expect a whole-day experience that extends beyond the match. 

This is one reason FC Bayern counts the likes of Taylor Swift among its competitors. Both are experts in engaging their fans with personal stories and emotionally charged events. To cement these emotional bonds, the best clubs have ex-players such as Claudio Pizarro, the 5th highest scorer in Bayern’s history as ambassadors. Football fans love players to be as invested in their club as they are and show their affinity even when their playing days are over, living by the club’s values equally as a player and in retirement. 

This demand for personalisation has been met by some of the world’s biggest football clubs, including FC Bayern, which announced its adoption of the SAP Emarsys customer engagement platform in 2023. As a club with a variety of different revenue streams — merchandise, tickets, museum fees, and more — FC Bayern must take an omnichannel approach to marketing, using insights into fan behaviour to predict, personalise and improve each of its revenue channels. 

Through its partnership with SAP Emarsys, the club uses AI to understand its more than a billion followers, delivering AI-powered personalised experiences to drive fan engagement across all the club’s channels and retail touchpoints. 

Commenting on the power of fan loyalty, FC Bayern Chief Information Officer Michael Fitchner said, “FC Bayern is a club steeped in tradition, but one that is also known for its innovation. With an ever-evolving global fan base of over a billion people, we are challenged to retain our heritage while meeting expectations for immersive, personalised experiences, particularly from new generations of fans. ​ 

Working with SAP Emarsys, we’ve transformed how we do this.  Thanks to our partnership, we harness data and insights to deliver creative, personalised, AI-driven omnichannel fan engagement campaigns. It means we can deliver tailored fan experiences across countries, across generations, and across touchpoints – whether fans are in the stadium or in the digital world. This is how we achieve one of our most important goals: building global, cross-generational fan loyalty, ensuring that fans remain at the heart of our club, and we continue to have a strong 12th man behind us in the future.” 

Thomas Harris, CRO at Emarsys, commented on what marketers and business leaders can learn from FC Bayern’s approach to fan engagement: “Football clubs are among the most powerful brands globally. They have a dedicated fan base that remains loyal regardless of the circumstances. 

“The responsibility lies with the club to provide personalised experiences, offers, and communications that cater to each fan’s individual preferences. Clubs must recognise the unique characteristics that make each fan different and connect with them through their preferred channels at the right time. For a globally recognised club like Bayern Munich, first-party data and AI-powered campaigns are essential to achieving this level of 1:1 engagement. 

“By using contextual data to understand each customer as unique, football clubs can ensure fans feel recognised and valued across all channels. Cultivating this level of customer recognition will strengthen emotional bonds with fans and foster genuine loyalty, leading to a relationship that can span decades and be passed down through generations.” 

About FC Bayern 

FC Bayern Munich is one of the world’s most successful sports organisations on and off the field. Since the club’s foundation in 1900, FC Bayern has won 33 German championships, 20 domestic cups as well as 6 UEFA Champions League titles, making it the most successful German team in history.  

FC Bayern is also renowned globally for its financial success, youth development and supporter culture. The club’s unique ownership structure sees more than 300,000 club members own a majority share, more than any other sports organisation in the world.  

In 2014, FC Bayern opened its first international office in the U.S. to engage with the millions of fans living in the Americas. Following the success of the first international venture, the club opened an office in Shanghai in 2017 and then Bangkok in 2022.  

Since 2005, FC Bayern has been playing every home game in front of the sold-out, 75,000-seater Allianz Arena.