We need to talk about Football Brand Fans

Picture the scene. A middle-aged man with a red cross on his face, beer in one hand and a Union Jack over his shoulders rolls down a street singing, or rather, drunkenly slurring Football’s Coming Home. Welcome to the delight of the quintessential English football fan.

With Euro 2024 starting next month there is no doubt the papers will be full of photos of English football fans, all looking remarkably similar to that description. And while most people see them as just supporters, we would argue they are exactly what most brands dream about – the ultimate brand fan. But is that necessarily a good thing? We take a look.

So, what is a brand fan?

A brand fan is someone who feels like they have a personal, emotional connection with a brand. They feel it talks their language, resonates with their beliefs and fulfils their desires.

They are so committed to that brand, not only will they recommend it to other people, but anyone who is already an advocate is, without question, automatically a friend.

Are football supporters really brand fans?

When we think of brand fans, we tend to think of people who verge on the evangelical about particular products from a company. Just think about those regular arguments between Apple and Microsoft users!

Brand fans are also people like the Swifties or the BeyHive who are ardent supporters of a particular singer or celebrity to the point they think they actually know the person, when in reality they are simply buying into a cleverly marketed brand.

And in many ways football is no different. For one thing, each football team whether international, national or regional, has an immediately recognisable brand identity that sets it apart from the competition. Its fans tend to be ardent life-long supporters, who will travel all over the country (or world) to watch their team play, buy the latest version of the kit (Home, Away, Third, Training – these clubs really know how to milk it!), and cry into their beer when their team loses.

In fact, you could argue football has the best brand fans in the world, especially given they all tend to dress (and look!) the same.

But are brand fans bad for football?

It really depends on how you look at it. From UEFA’s and the clubs’ perspective, definitely not. Euro 2020 made nearly €1.9 billion. €400m was from matchday revenues, €480m from sponsorship and licensing and €1.05bn from media rights, none of which would have been possible without the fans.

But from a football supporter’s perspective, brand fans aren’t all sweetness and light. In fact, their behaviour seems to be having a detrimental impact on how people perceive football and whether they actually want to attend matches.

“It is absolutely febrile….going to big away games can feel like “running the gauntlet””.

A quote from a father whose 15-year-old daughter was struck on the head with a pint glass filled with coins at a Carabao Cup match. She’s now scarred for life.

We’ve talked before about how celebrity endorsement going wrong can have a catastrophic effect on a brand’s reputation, but the problem is brand fans pose an even bigger risk as there is little or no control over their actions.

Football is big business but a simple Google brings up a whole host of articles about the most dangerous, worst-behaved, craziest and most thuggish football fans in world football. Add to that reports about the recent rise in football violence, and clashes between German soccer fans and police raising serious security concerns about Euro 2024, and football’s reputation is really taking a battering.

And with brand fans like these….

“There are no rules except one: you can use fists, rocks, knives but not guns”

Marco Ferdico, Inter Milan

Can anything be done to improve the reputation of football brand fans?

The above quote was from an ‘Ultra’ – a type of football fan renowned for their fanatical support, but the reality is most Ultras, just like most fans go along to a match to support their team and have a good time. They aren’t interested in getting into a fight although won’t be averse to a little bit of gentle banter with the opposition.

But inevitably the focus during Euro 2024 will be on the few, those dastardly few, and the media are already gearing up for trouble.

“The violent cocaine-fuelled ultras threatening to tarnish Euro 2024”


“Euro 2024 organizers prepare for twin threats of terror and soccer hooligans”


“The rise of violent hooliganism threatening Euro 2024

777 Score

Football, like any other brand, has to face the court of public opinion, and we all know the media loves to focus on the negative rather than the positive. So, is there anything the various football governing bodies can do to ensure their brand fans don’t completely destroy their reputation?

To be fair, steps have already been taken to address potential issues at Euro 2024 before they happen. More than 1,600 fans in England and Wales are banned from travelling to the tournament; supporters aren’t allowed to take food or any kind of liquid into the stadiums (reports suggest this is to drive sales of Bratwursts, but it might also be to stop people using items such as apples as potential missiles), and drunk or rowdy fans could be barred from stadiums.

The problem UEFA has, is although all the fans have football in common, they all support different teams from different countries. So, while Taylor Swift might be able to appeal to her fans to behave in a more appropriate way, the sheer scale of a tournament such as the Euros makes this much more difficult. Yes, Gareth Southgate will probably ask English fans to behave, as he did before the Nations League programme in 2022, but as he said at the time,  “frankly if people are going to cause trouble, it’s not going to make a jot of difference what I say”.

And the added problem is, we are talking about fans, not celebrity endorsers chosen to represent a brand, which means the option to suspend or break ties with them completely doesn’t really exist. Yes, clubs can issue a ‘we don’t condone that kind of behaviour statement’ as Bury FC did earlier this year, or ban troublemakers from attending matches, but that won’t stop them kicking off outside a stadium or at their local pub if they really want to. And all in the name of football.

Maybe the angle UEFA should be taking instead is tackling the focus on negative news spewed out by the media. This isn’t about silencing the press, as of course they need to report on the more violent aspects of football, but how about if they took a more measured approach? The fact the BBC and The Guardian have whole sections devoted to Football-related violence, just plays into the idea attending football matches is dangerous, when the reality is it’s nowhere as near as bad as it used to be in the 1980s.

And the problem with this type of negative coverage means both police and fans become fired up over the possibility of trouble, so as soon as anything untoward kicks off, so will they. In other words, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Maybe if press coverage focused more on the positive, heart-warming stories rather than anticipating endless anti-social behaviour, people would view it differently and then act differently.

Or maybe it’s a bit simpler and just needs a ‘Don’t be a muppet’ campaign reminding people their behaviour is unacceptable, unnecessary and just ruins the beautiful game for everyone else.

But then maybe the real question is, are UEFA, the FA, and all the Football Clubs really that concerned? The global football market is poised to grow to $5.65 billion by 2031, and it’s in the fortunate position, that unlike many brands, a few rowdy fans is never going to completely destroy its reputation. In fact, one thing is more or less guaranteed – no matter what happens, there will always be more football brand fans. And how many brands can say that.