The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

How to score in football

Footballıs bubble may have burst but try avoiding the soapy suds of the World Cup come June.

Media coverage aside, there have clearly been a growing number of companies involved in the football industry willing and able to commission qualitative research. So what should the researcher bear in mind when setting out on a football related project? Here's my own highly subjective list.

  • The normal rules of markets don't apply to football. Does buying Ragu dictate an aversion to Dolmio? Not usually. Where is the football repertoire buyer? Well they do exist, but it's one thing supporting Colchester and Montrose, quite another Arsenal and Spurs. All those theories about tribes and cohorts aren't theoretical any more when it comes to segmenting football 'consumers'. And what a lot of segments there are! 92 professional clubs in England alone, each with its own history and indigenous eccentricities, which may or may not be capable of extrapolation into a universal theory.

  • The normal rules of branding don't apply to football. Football represents dreams. As Alan Sugar pointed out, businessmen spend their lives prudently building up companies, then act like lunatics when it comes to running a football club. The dispassionate consultant will make comparisons between the brands of football and the brands of Cadbury's but the analogy is false..

Anthropologically a football team represents the individual and the community in the profoundest way. Football is, perhaps, ritualised warfare ­ though one school of French philosophy holds that it is ritualised sex with the 'penetration' of a goal met with orgasmic relief. Have fun copywriting your own version.

  • The normal rules of qualitative techniques may not apply either. You don't have to go the Arctic to know that it's cold. Opinions about football are being aired all the time. You can't escape them. Respondents will be happy to add to the white noise. So are projective or enabling techniques worth deploying when respondents are both aware of their attitudes and can articulate them as well? Simply choose with care. Ask for earliest memories of supporting your team and unsuspected riches might be revealed.

  • 'Melchester Rovers FC' means different things at different times. Man United fans care little for its plc status, but adore the team while they're winning. Conversely any club and its traditions represent belonging.. It will always count for more than the players on the pitch. "I wouldn't care if they all left tomorrow and we replaced them with grannies. As long as the grannies wanted to win".

  • Timing of research is crucial. For two reasons. Because football is as mediated as it is, certain hot topics will tend to dominate discussions and will need to be legislated for. For example at the time of writing, ITV Digital's wrangle with the Nationwide League would be setting the agenda. But this is football's weather rather than its climate, and should not dictate the structure of the researcher's report. Secondly, and more practically, don't ask committed England supporters to turn up for groups on the night of a World Cup qualifier. Lists of important fixtures and coverage can be found at the FA, FIFA, UEFA and Sky web sites.

  • Sampling might be crucial. As ever most people behave perfectly civilly in a group environment. But I wouldn't recommend a conflict group between Rangers and Celtic supporters unless you want to witness metaphor become reality.

I've mostly dealt here with football qualitative research. But your project is equally, if not more, likely to deal with media and sponsorship issues in relation to the game. That's the subject for another piece.

 

Ian Forth
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2002