Ton Strooband, head of Feyenoord’s Social Responsibility department spoke about the club’s work on the SLO project and how it offers to the supporters more than just a positive matchday experience but a holistic feeling of belonging and identification. He also explains the importance of having a SLO department with three acting SLOs and highlights the benefits of organisational and decision-making balance.
How does the SLO project function in Feyenoord? Our Supporter Liaison Officer department sits within our Social Responsibility department, as we consider SLOs as people that are there to help supporters not only during matches but also in other areas of their daily lives, for example at school. The role of our SLOs is not only to take part in match organisation but goes beyond that. Our SLOs are not there just for the matches, but try to give as much personal attention to as much supporters as possible.
You mentioned an SLO department. Why did you decide to create one? Currently there are three acting SLOs and I am also there to help whenever needed. We all are primarily Feyenoord supporters and then full-time employees of the club. Feyenoord is a big club with a very big and diverse supporter base. Supporters coming to the stadium need immediate attention and a single SLO cannot be in two places at once. In fact, we will be taking on even more (part-time) SLOs, so we can be present at more places at the same time on a matchday to service our supporters and contribute in the match organisation but also assist our supporters during the week.
Why do you need to be in more than one place during the match? In Feyenoord the Supporter Liaison Officers don’t focus just on the fanatic fans and the organised supporters groups. Our… “loud minority” already have a way of expressing themselves, engage with the club and address issues and problems around matches or overall club behaviour. The primary goal for the SLO department is to assist every supporter with their needs, from speaking up to getting a parking spot at an away match to encouraging improved performance at school. We are here to also service the “silent majority” of Feyenoord, get them more organised and better coordinated and improve their overall experience and opinion about the club.
For the matchday organisation part, some tasks would not be possible to perform with just one SLO, such as accompanying our supporters at away matches and at the same time be present at the matchday security meeting or visit the home club. Taking a day off is also easier if there is someone else that can cover your work (laughs).
And how does this work in relation to other departments at the club? Even within the Social Responsibility department there are different sub-departments. The SLOs have to work with every club department in order to successfully deliver their work. On the organisation chart, the SLOs have as much power as any other club department and, for example, as head of our department I will speak with the Head of Security on an equal footing, based on our recommendations.
Do you use this organisational advantage as leverage for your work? Looking back ten years, I would say Feyenoord have moved from being a security club to acquiring a more supporter-friendly outlook. Of course, our fans have to be and feel safe and security plays a huge part in the organisation of the match, but it’s not the cornerstone. The heart of Feyenoord has always been its supporters and they need to be respected and not treated as a risk factor. This is how the club sees them today and the work we’ve done in the community and SLO departments has assisted a lot in this. In that sense, the organisational balance and honest cooperation with the security department hasn’t been leverage for the SLO work, but the support of the SLO and community work was a conscious strategic decision taken by the club to maximise the benefit for everyone involved. Of course there is still some way to go.
If you had the power to change one thing about you work, what would it be? Every club should have a SLO and I cannot understand why some clubs choose not to. Even clubs with a smaller supporter base can benefit from it. Moreover, it would be of common interest of all clubs, as not only would they improve the relationship with their supporters, but will make each other’s work much easier and more productive.
Now that I think of it, I might choose to make it easier for the SLOs to be accepted by the supporters, the club, the police and the rest of the stakeholders. When you move from being a supporter to working for the club, there is some lost trust you have to rebuild with the supporters, you need to show the club that you’re capable of delivering the right messages both internally and externally, and prove to the police that you care for more things than pyro. (laughs)
Under Article 35 of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, clubs across Europe are required to appoint a Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) to ensure proper and constructive discourse between them and their fans. The SLO project originated in 2009 as a result of detailed talks between UEFA and SD Europe. It was approved by the UEFA Executive Committee in 2010, with SD Europe appointed to manage its implementation across UEFA’s 54 member associations. If you would like to learn more, visit the SLO section on the SD Europe website or get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.