Fan Love, Beyond Sports?

Could businesses instill the same love that sports teams do?

Posted Oct 24, 2018

Willie Rioli, West Coast Eagles
Source: Wikipedia

I recently spent time in the remarkable city of Perth, Australia. Aside from it being a beautiful and easy to navigate city, I found the people engaging. Part of it was visiting coaches at the West Coast Eagles Australian Rules Football team, which is a story itself.

Another wonderful part of the trip was reconnecting with a long time academic colleague I’d not seen in 30 some years. And that’s where the Fan Love begins.

My husband and I had dinner at the Chatterjee house, with my friend and his wife. I had mentioned I was meeting with the West Coast Eagles coaches earlier that day to talk about creativity and culture with them. Samir said his son would be impressed.

When his 31-year-old son arrived for dinner, Paulash sat down next to me and we started comparing team notes, as though I actually knew something of the game. I had briefly met a couple of players and one of them turned out to be Paulash’s favorite, so Willie Rioli became my favorite as well.

Paulash admitted that he’d been a fan since he was a boy and had a team scarf to prove it. He disappeared and returned wearing his blue and gold knitted fan scarf around his neck.

When he was 10, his class visited a retirement home, where some of the ladies taught the kids how to knit. Paulash started knitting a scarf for himself and finished two years later. It’s the same one he wears today. Fan Love, indeed.

Just recently the Eagles won the equivalent of the “Super Bowl” of Australian Rules Football. Although Paulash did not travel, other fans went from Perth to Melbourne for the playoffs, no easy feat. Busloads and private cars carried food and water for several days, since the drive goes through 2400 miles of one of the world’s most remote and desolate land spaces. Airfares cost more from Perth to Melbourne that week than flights to Europe or the U.S. The stadium in Perth sold its 60,000 seats for $5 each to fans who watched the game on a huge screen inside. More Fan Love.

I loved the story of a boy who made a scarf that still holds such strong connections, and of the fans who go all out for their team. That got me thinking. What could business organizations do to instill that sort of “Fan Love” in customers over years, over distance. We know of the famous firms that try to do that—Apple, Zappo’s—but what could other firms do to generate the sort of love? How could we find our favorites and stay with them for 20 years?