What can museums learn from football clubs?

Rebecca Atkinson, 06.11.2015
Museums urged to look at community-ownership model 
Community-owned football clubs could offer a model of working for museums to follow that offers high levels of community engagement, access to sponsorship and fundraising and the opportunity to become an integral service to a local community.

Research into what museums can learn from football clubs was shared by researchers Lois Stonock and Charlie Tims during On the ball, a session at the Museums Association Conference & Exhibition 2015.

Tims said museums should look at how small clubs such as Woking FC and community-owned clubs such as FC United have invested in their local area and built strong ties with communities and businesses.

These types of clubs are more likely to attract volunteers, loyal supporters and sponsors, he said.

Although on the surface museums and football might not appear to have much in common, Tims said clubs are unlike other businesses such as supermarkets because of their commitment to something intangible (winning) and their loyal supporter base.

But he acknowledged there might be limits to how much museums can copy their model of success: “How much do people want to be involved in running museums? Do people just care more about their team than they do about their local museum?”

James Mathie, the club development manager at Supporters Direct, which helps fans set up democratic cooperatives to gain influence in the running and ownership of football clubs, also spoke at the session.

He said: “If you don’t provide a voice for supporters in football clubs, or other organisations that people care passionately about, then they will protest and either go elsewhere or disengage completely. They may still call themselves a fan but they won’t attend matches, spend money on the club or advocate for it.”

He added that the community ownership model is also proving successful for pubs, and could work for museums too.

Marilyn Scott, the director of the Lightbox in Woking, said her organisation had worked to try to recreate the generational loyalty that football clubs enjoy from their fans. Changes included introducing “season tickets” in the form of annual £5 passes, and giving the Friends group more opportunities to fundraise and get involved.

“The common ground between museums and football clubs is in contributing towards a sense of place,” she said. “[This way of working is about] ownership, being rooted in a community and not being elitist. We have expanded our remit beyond being just a museum, and towards being an integral part of the community.”


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MA Member
06.11.2015, 22:41
Outside the Premiership, even in the top flight of the Football league, Championship clubs average attendance is about 20,000. Most of the audience is made up of home fans- repeat visitors, paying an entry fee week in week out. Wembley stadium seats about 80,000, which most average sized community-focused museums will achieve year in year out, through attracting occasional visitors -ie not all arriving at the same time. So in terms of breadth of overall community appeal Museums are bigger than your average football club. So yes, when seeking sponsorship and new support, we should follow this advice and start to think and act like we are just as much key to creating a sense of place and community. I love football, especially at grass roots but doesn't it have a level of profile in the UK's cultural landscape that is slightly disproportionate, plastered all over the tabloids with blanket TV coverage? Of course we should also be open to new partnerships, ideas and learning from other sector's experience and it sounds like this is happening well in Woking.