Kevin Miles – FSF CEO
Stewart Dykes – UEFA consultant
Martin OHara – Doncaster Rovers Supporters Trust
Under Article 35 of UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, football clubs across Europe were required to appoint a Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) in time for the 2012/13 season to ensure a proper and constructive discourse with their fans. The introduction of this UEFA licensing requirement constituted a new landmark in club-supporter relations and emphasises the importance UEFA attaches to dialogue and communication between football clubs and supporters.
UEFA is now working closely with Supporters Direct, offering training and information designed to facilitate the introduction of this new SLO requirement. It centers on improving communications between the various football stakeholders and providing a focal point for supporters to organise themselves better and feed their insights into club decision-making processes.
There can be no doubt that the role of the club SLO is a very challenging one. But, with the commitment of all involved – from governing bodies, clubs and supporters to the police, stewarding contractors, local authorities and transport companies – we are convinced that, over time, SLOs will become a vital feature of the European game and contribute to an even better match day experience for one and all.
UEFA have designated the roll out and ownership to local league governing bodies. Many, to a large extent, have adopted this regulation, but they are predominantly from the top divisions within the aforementioned countries. There are however cases where this has been more widespread in its interpretation, most notably in Italy where 111 clubs have adopted the role. Some national teams have also adopted model, notably Royal Belgium FA. There is no current mandate from UEFA on how to implement the model but they are keen to share models of best practice. For example, the Swedish FA held a comprehensive, two day workshop with the League FA, fans and SLO’s, making full use of the training tools provided by SD/ UEFA. This was incorporated into an electronic SLO match day reporting system, completed by the away SLO with respect to the overall match day experience: fans, police, club problems or issues and how improvements can be made. This has led to a real demonstrable improvement in operation between the clubs, which has culminated in the attraction of 1million Euros of sponsorship to fund the SLO project. This is very much seen as good corporate social responsibility and something positive associated with the game of football.
The Session opened with a film prepared by Stewart featuring Thomas Wienmann; an SLO from Borussia Mönchengladbach. He provided an insight into his role, touching on areas of communication with fans, club philosophy and utilisation of club’s official match day programme to get key messages across to supporters. Thomas stated:
“The SLO should be a fan, as they really understand what is to be a football supporter”
The key message was it is necessary for clubs to understand how fans feel and how they work, what merchandising they want, issues with sponsors, canvassing roles and understanding key safety issues. He also highlighted how fans feel about good governance and why fans should work together for the benefit of both sides; feedback is very much key to the role. The film itself showed various examples of Thomas liaising with the football club, fans and stewards with reference to safety issues.
There was also a big emphasis on the planning of games, meeting club representatives, police and SLO’s of away clubs. Thomas hastened to add that meeting the police is not something practiced at every German club and is relatively a new initiative. They felt that, as an organisation, they were very much leading the way.
In England & Wales, the SLO role applies to all 4 divisions in England and the top tier in Wales. The approach in the Premier League is a mix of Customer Service and Customer liaison. They are currently working on their own version of the SLO handbook with the emphasis being on Customer Service, however the Football League are keen to draw a clear distinction between Customer Service and Supporter Liaison.
UEFA feel the SLO model is working, but it needs academic support. It needs driving and nurturing in its development. UEFA are seen as positive change drivers, but the role really needs to be pushed forward at all clubs. It is still a very young project – even in Germany – where the project demonstrates the value of governing bodies and supporter organisations working together to improve relationships between stakeholders. But still, issues remain. The task now is to consolidate and build on the progress made, working with all internal and external partners. The emphasis must be to push home the benefits of SLO’s to the clubs themselves.
Martin from Doncaster Rovers presented on how the SLO role is being implemented at a typical football club in the UK. He praised Doncaster Rovers’ fan engagement programme, something established very early on by its Supporters Trust. During its inception the club appointed an internal SLO as a part time entity. This, he felt, was the incorrect approach; the interpretation of the role from the newly appointed SLO was also very poor. From that point they all agreed to work together to ensure it was a dedicated role. They took the role definition and personalised it to match the needs of Doncaster Rovers. A great deal of applications for the role were submitted, however many of the candidates were deemed unsuitable. Eventually, they narrowed it down to four individuals for interview, agreeing to appoint two of these four into the role only three months ago. The collaborative parties have already started to develop role and they remain confident this will be to the overall benefit of the fans working closely with Trust.