Where did it go Wrong for QPR ? A Marketing Person’s Perspective

Writing this guest piece for the Indy R’s site is difficult. Everything that needs to be said seems to have already been said, and we are staring down the barrel at relegation. A handful of people believe there is still hope of staying up. It is, literally, a handful. The bookies, not known for their generosity, have us at long-on odds to go down. And yet thousands of us are still making our way down to the temple of Loftus Road and many are still booking their away tickets.

The one positive of this mess that we’re in is we don’t have to wait until the end of the season to know whether we’re staying up. We don’t have to suffer such nail-biting-multiple-fixture-watching moments. We don’t have to tell Matthew Kelly we are Manchester United, Arsenal, or, God-forbid, Chelsea fans for the night…

I have been asked to write about where it all went wrong. That’s a big ask and how long have I got ? Some say Mark Hughes is where we went wrong, and linked to that, others say that our transfer policy has been farcical (did I hear the word ‘agents’ mentioned somewhere ?).

Sadly, I am starting to come round to the idea that the problem we have is much deeper, and that we are being run by a management that superficially appears to be close to the fans (with its persistent social media strategy), but is in reality becoming increasingly unaware of what QPR is about and distant from the hardcore fan base. I am not entirely sure if this is deliberate or by default, but it has marketing disaster in the making.

Why is this important ? Because for quite some time, many of us have bought in to, or, at minimum, supported the new regime. Over the last 6 or 7 years, we’ve seen the obvious marquee signings made to gain exposure in Asia, the change of the crest to appeal to a foreign fan base, and this explosion of PR and spin coming out of the club: not just from the press team, but from Fernandes himself.

We’ve bought into all of that, and sucked it up like hungry mosquitos. It would have all been okay probably, if we were not fighting relegation again. But now that we are, and the reality that we may need to wait another 16 years to get back up is hitting us, we really must ask some serious questions about the marketing plan and what it really means.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not here to moan about the idea of buying Park in order to sell shirts. In fact, if it was right for the club and he could actually play, I honestly wouldn’t give two hoots. But was it right ? And for those that are saying he was signed to sell more seats on Air Asia planes, that’s a serious long-shot of a strategy.

The travel business is one of the most direct response businesses in the world, and unless Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun could see the direct return on investment, I don’t believe the argument holds water.

So what am I here to moan about ? The club, systematically failing on the basis of marketing: knowing your customer or consumer. It matters because when all is said and done, when the chips are down, when players, managers and owners have come and gone, all you have is the ground, the administrative people at the club and the fans. These are the foundations of a club and any marketing must be built around those foundations. I believe this lack of awareness will put us in a poorer position come relegation and will leave many fans disillusioned and angry.
Here is my top 5 on the list of QPR Marketing mistakes…

Focusing on the Queen:

What they did…

The Queen and the Crown have no history with the club whatsoever. Leveraging the Royal Family by using the Crown in the crest in order to gain foreign interest was an ignorant decision. In this day and age, potential new fans would easily be able to look up the history of QPR and find out that there are no royal ties of any kind. And frankly I am not sure anyone that is interested in football would be swayed by Royal interest regardless of where they are from.

What they should have done…

Kept the logo the same, but embarked on a local marketing strategy focused on areas around the ground as well as some of the ‘up and coming’ trendy areas – such as ‘Queen’s Park’ itself where locals may not know that Rangers’ players used to come from there. Starting from that base, use ‘West London’ as a theme for marketing outside the UK.

Plenty of those overseas wouldn’t know that Loftus Road was quite so central and so near to ‘Notting Hill’ – this would be a major pull and is much more in-tune with the club’s history.

Pushing Out:

What they did…

A social media onslaught. Everybody at the club from the players, to the several PR boys, to the owners, chairman and CEO, is tweeting on a personal and professional level. They are pushing messages out very regularly, sometimes unofficially, and not always in an organised way.

Initially we got a sense that the club was reaching out to fans and connecting with us. But in reality they are merely pushing out messages and not conversing with fans.

Case in point: Adam Hulme sent a tweet out asking for bloggers who wanted to cover their social network launches a few days ago. Two people responded, including me. I have received no acknowledgement of any kind.

What they should of done…

Hire a proper head of marketing. Currently they have a bunch of press boys who have been around for a while now. They are jaded, they are not QPR fans and they do not understand the world of social media. If we couldn’t afford a head of marketing, at the very least a social media manager should have been hired. This person would have managed actual ‘conversations’ with the fans (yes that is what social media is about). The club should have a conversation calendar, as well as a risk/mitigation plan to deal with a negative situation or turn of events.

No Fans’ Forum:

What they did…

Quite simply they didn’t run a forum for 5 years. This is extremely poor marketing. The point is, even if you can’t action all requests, you must be seen to be listening to the loyal fans. Staying so focused on gaining new fans from abroad and not thinking about those who have supported the club for years already, and have invested heavily in it, was misjudged. They finally did hold one two weeks ago, and while it met with resounding approval, Phil Beard came across as nervous and surprised that it was like ‘Question Time’.

In addition, it was unclear who they were inviting: away season ticket holders, fans, bloggers, LSA members and websites…

What they should have done…

Done their research.

Firstly, a proper audit of the various blogs and fans sites around. I do not profess to be in any way a big blogger, but I am on the official twitter ‘list’ of fan sites. I received no such invite.

In addition, they should have interrogated the purpose of the Fans’ Forum and asked fans what they wanted it to be. Part of the process should have included running an online survey of all season ticket holders. They should have published the results of this survey so that when the forum actually ran people wouldn’t complain about the content or the format.

Pre-season in Malaysia and Indonesia:

What they did…

Sent the players to a couple of weeks of sunshine and sangria in Malaysia and Indonesia (oh and a few easy games). This was for the purpose of increasing a fan base in that region, and for a bit of co-branding with Air Asia for good measure. It is very difficult to quantify exactly what this did for the fan base and what it truly means in $ earned ? But looking at the ‘unofficial’ Indonesian QPR twitter page, a total following of 163 fans doesn’t exactly stand out for me as good ROI.

What they should have done…

Gone back to their roots.

Had a pre-season locally – at grounds in and around the M25, offered free tickets for kids, and built up a bigger local fan base. They should have sent a handful of players over on Air Asia planes to Asia for some autograph and book signing events, and to visit community projects in the area to generate the level of PR they needed.

The club should have run a competition to send one or two big QPR fans out with the players so that fans could also share their stories with the press about their own history of why they love and support QPR. They should have also considered bringing along a QPR fan who has written a book – like Fred Hartman or Ash Rose.

Community Projects:

What they did…

It is my understanding that the club continues to do a lot of good in the local community through QPR in the Community Trust, including the Tiger Cubs work. We used to see a lot more of what was happening when we were in the lower leagues, but half-time now seems to be filled with either not very much, or some irrelevant promotion. We’ll get a report on the Christmas visits to schools and hospitals but nothing on a regular basis.

What they should have done…

Make QPR in the Community the heart of the club. Move its column to near the front of the match programme. Give people a regular update on the projects at half-time – not just once in a while. Make fans feel involved and inspired to also help and get involved. In my opinion it is shameful that the Tiger Cubs Walk received relatively little support in terms of marketing last year vs. many other club initiatives leaving them having raising a lot lower than previous years.

In summary, the club has failed to communicate with its fans in a deeper way and has therefore also failed to engage with us properly.

A second forum took place this week which is a good sign, but in my opinion this is now too little, too late. In addition, what they fail to understand is that football brings out the most primeval of instincts in humans, and that, in actual fact bears no relation to where you come from, but does very much entail a sense of belonging to the tribe.

So by running a so called ‘global marketing strategy’ which I believe is flawed because it does not look amongst the original fan base to leverage what is QPR’s biggest asset, they will soon have egg on their face come relegation.

You can’t sell something that isn’t real or true and there will be plenty of ‘new fans’ from around the world that will see that there isn’t so much of a tribe to belong to, and simply walk away.

Emily Foster

3 thoughts on “Where did it go Wrong for QPR ? A Marketing Person’s Perspective

  1. Good read and agree with all the points. Whilst some things are hard to quantify in marketing terms they are easy to quantify in football terms. We continually shoot ourselves in the foot and if they reckon that Man Utd got a massive gloabal fan base due to signing a Korean player or doing a pre-season abroad then they shouldn’t be anywhere near a football club.

    See you all at Barnsley away next year.

  2. Where did it all go wrong. Chris Wright’s divorce destroying cashflow? ITV Digital money leaving a hole after relegation. To me however many things done by Fernandes and co have been done with the best will in the world and the current situation is painful. But before he took over the club had been in perpetual chaos. the takeover happening so late meant that some decent (but not great) players were sent packing and replaced with some not noticably better. Barton apart we perhaps were weaker than when we won the championship. The legacy of chaos is not easy to turn round and the marketing side is always tricky. To be honest I have enjoyed my time over the last 2 years watching QPR and some great and also dissapointing moments. When i look at Norwich and Swansea I am jealous as they are stable clubs who have maintained a philosophy and have enjoyed solid growth. Their player recruitment has been superb and in their different ways are everything we are not. The 4 year plan could have been written by Ricky Gervais but it is a testimony to those that got us here. Living in Middlesbrough in the 70’s I saw QPR come to Ayresome Park and take apart the most solid team in the top league. when I came to West London in 78 there was only one place to come and watch football. So I will be here next season.

    Yes people at QPR are tired. To be honest i felt that last season Warnock had run out of steam and maybe at that point the club had also? I look at a team with some ability trying hard but mentally unable to make correct choices.

    Whatever happens this season we need a proper long term philosophy. A lot of mistakes have been made but to me the important thing is to look at where we need to be in 3 years from now both on and off the pitch.

  3. To be frank the whole idea of QPR being floated as “global” is quite ridiculous and i say that as a loyal fan.Only Chelsea and Manchester United have achieved this in recent years and then only on a mountain of silverware.I do not live in London (Plymouth)but i get to games when i can and absolutely love Shepherds Bush and Loftus Road .The clubs very appeal lies in its locality and varied demographic especially the ones who do their shopping on Golhawk Road and walk to games from Hammersmith.The attendances at QPR on a good day are nothing short of miraculous when you consider the footballing options in London .You know,18,000 ardent supporters all rooted to a club and district no bigger than a couple of square miles .There are almost 300,000 people in Plymouth and even in happier times we struggled to get 10,000 ,equate that to the number of QPR fans in tiny Shepherds Bush who incidentally could be wtaching Chelsea ,Fulham,or Spurs or Arsenal on any given weekend but choose not to.These fans as Emily suggested are the path to a solution .Arguably per head of population the best supported team in the country .This will not translate to some pre occupied ,poor student in Kuala lumpur who woud also find it much easier to purchase a Man UTD shirt and watch their games .
    QPR are uniquely English and even more uniquely London.They are insticively linked with charm ,modesty,flamboyance ,success and failiure all at the same time and are deeply admired for these qualities.Please bottle this commodity and sell that to the Asians instead

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