Football fandom, Southeast Asian style

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We all know that football fans in Asia are both passionate and dedicated. And Thinktank has recently been working in Indonesia, exploring how this fandom differentiates from the way football is followed in Europe.

One big takeout: It’s not all about the game. Those 90 minutes on the pitch really aren’t the focus for these fans.

Obviously, geography and time zones make the difference here. Unable to watch the live action, even on TV, games are not at the heart of the Southeast Asian football experience. Fans will, of course, check scores and consume footage of key match moments, but transfer news, team-manager relationships and players’ personal information are must-haves too.

Southeast Asian-style fandom makes different demands of football clubs as brands. There is a real hunger for knowledge that goes well beyond the score. This comes from a consciousness that their support is rootless and a desire to assert they are true fans.

I think you need to be a real fan, not a copycat. Some people, they only know a little bit about football. They just know the surface but they’re so noisy. You have to know the history of your club, read articles and get updates

Beyond this, though, fandom here almost feels more holistic – football is loved as an ongoing reality TV show with the players as stars. The games are one aspect of that, but as they never definitively resolve anything (there’s always next week/season) so they’re not seen as climaxes. Talking with passionate football fans in Indonesia, their hunger for gossip, inside information, background and match build-up was striking.

Football is consumed, and fandom expressed, on social media everywhere. All fans expect to be able to feel closer to players through Twitter and Instagram, to get to know the real person away from the pitch. Social media platforms also allow them to express their views. And without the match itself at the heart of the experience, such interactions take on added significance.

When you see matches you only see the players on the grass. Who are they? Are they stored in a tube?

Obviously this has implications for how football clubs engage with audiences in these markets. Especially up and coming big clubs for whom establishing a presence here will be just as important as forming one in the Champions League. They need to think of themselves as offering broad and meaningful brand experiences across social media platforms.

Traditionalists may not like it but the 60,000 people in the stadium on a Saturday afternoon are not modern football clubs’ only true fans!

Andy Cooper is a partner at Thinktank International Research