“The games in the Europa League group stage also clearly showed us how important it is to have an SLO. For our fans, international trips to away games are special experiences, so we as SLOs can clarify a lot of questions in advance and make the trip easier for the fans.“
For February 2022’s SLO of the Month, SD Europe spoke to the SLO at Austrian Bundesliga side SK Sturm Graz, Dominik Neumann.
For those new to the Supporter Liaison Officer of the Month series, each month, SD Europe speaks to an SLO to learn more about their experiences at their club and share them with the network!
Dominik has been SLO at his club since Summer 2019 and a part of the SD Europe SLO network since then too.
SK Sturm Graz holds a fairly unique place in Austrian football as one of but a few member-run football clubs.
How did you become the Supporter Liaison Officer at your club?
“I have been a big SK Sturm Graz fan since a young age. As a teenager I came into more and more contact with the supporters and ultras which grew my affinity for the club. I have a Master's Degree in Sports, Culture & Event Management and I have professional experience in working at sport events and during my studies, I did some voluntary work for the club. In the end, it was just the right time for me that the club advertised the position and I didn't think twice before applying.”
What are some of the achievements that you have had in this role at SK Sturm Graz?
“I have been in this position since summer 2019 and I am the first full-time Supporter Liaison Officer the club has appointed. This has had the advantage that I could set everything up from scratch myself. First and foremost, it's good for both the fans and the club that there is clear communication. The role makes communication between them a lot easier. It is particularly important to me to be there for all fans equally, no matter how old they are, where they are in the stadium or whether they go to the stadium at all. Of course, the active supporters play a big role for us. We have concentrated on this area more and more, for example with the organised away trips. We also created a team for inclusion. In this team continuously to work improve accessibility for supporters with accessibility needs. We have also set up contact points for fans travelling from other regions to matches which have been very well received. In general, we are also much more active in the field of promoting diversity and anti-discrimination. The position of the SLO is extremely diverse, which is what makes it so exciting! We are working from milestone to milestone, but we still have a lot we want to achieve!”
Do you work in a dedicated SLO team? How many SLOs are at your club?
“I am currently the only person working as an SLO. But since some internal restructuring in early 2022, I can now concentrate even more on this area, which was an important step in developing the SLO role.”
What would your advice be to other Austrian clubs considering implementing an SLO?
“As far as I know Sturm Graz is one of only four clubs in Austria that have an SLO who is employed by the club and does not work on a voluntary basis. I can absolutely understand that it's not easy, especially for the smaller clubs. Nevertheless, I can only recommend investing in this area because it is an investment for the future. At the first glance many only see the costs, but it must be realised how much benefit the position can also bring. The role brings a lot of benefit, even if not everything is easily measurable, of course. For fans it is important to have a contact person. On the other side it is important for the club to know exactly who its fans are. From the company's point of view, it is customer relationship management. In the end it's about retaining supporters and keeping them coming back”.
What kind of tools do you use to communicate with the fanbase? Meetings, dedicated communications channels?
“The active supporters are very well organised among themselves, because of this, it is easy for me to communicate with them in the individual groups. Last year we started a new Facebook group for all fans. This is used for fast and direct communication on all fan topics and is very well received. Away from the digital channels it is important to us to maintain personal contact. There are regular working groups and meetings. At SK Sturm we have flat hierarchies, so from time to time individuals from the club attend these meetings from the management and even sometimes the club president. By doing this, our supporters get information first-hand. It creates the “Sturm-family” feeling the club wants to create.’
What are the main benefits you have experienced from taking part in the SLO Network meetings?
“In 2019 I was allowed to attend the network meeting in Watford, which was a great experience in more ways than one! I was able to take several things away with me, especially in relation to inclusion. Among other things, we adapted the ticketing system for disabled people for the upcoming season and included the topic of colour blindness internally for the first time. Apart from the content of course, the personal contacts are immensely valuable. You support each other and are simply there for each other, that's very nice to know.”
What actions are you looking to take to engage fans and further make a difference?
“Above all the team spirit at SK Sturm Graz is something special, that has always made us what we are. Our mission statement was also created in cooperation with the fans. This defines exactly who we are, where we come from and how we see Sturm in the future. So our mission statement is a framework we constantly refer to and work towards. A significant part of that for me is to bring our fans even closer together, i.e. to strengthen the community management. A big element of this will be on 1st May. This is SK Sturm's birthday. This year the club will be 113 years old. After two online celebrations in 2020 and 2021 we are finally planning a big celebration again with an entertaining program this year. All fans are invited to the celebration. Of course our members always play a special role, because we are one of the last real member-run clubs in Austria. We are convinced that we can continue to grow and that this will also be the right path for SK Sturm in the future. We have a big focus on this. We are also trying to get more children and young people enthusiastic about SK Sturm Graz through other campaigns. All in all we are much more than just a football club, we are also a community of values. We attach great importance to our tradition, are committed to equality, are involved in social projects and support young people. The fans appreciate that and have found friends for life here. The goals are not only related to sport, we focus on further development in all aspects of our community. We are committed to being open to innovations in sporting, economic, cultural and socio-political areas and to making a contribution to the city and country. The continued existence of our club is more important to us than short-term success. That's what makes Sturm Graz special.”
What do you think has been the main benefit of the implementation of SLOs in Austrian football?
“The contact between the clubs and also with the Austrian Bundesliga has improved significantly. There are regular exchanges in which fan representatives are also invited to get involved. The games in the Europa League group stage also clearly showed us how important it is to have an SLO. For our fans, international trips to away games are special experiences, so we as SLOs can clarify a lot of questions in advance and make the trip easier for the fans. Additionally, it is also a great relief for other clubs in the Austrian Bundesliga when I give them information about everything in advance on what they can expect when visiting.”
Red Bull Salzburg has won the last eight titles in the Austrian Bundesliga. How has their entrance affected the balance of the league and the way the supporters perceive the league?
“Yes, that is of course a big topic. Red Bull Salzburg has built something big and it's obviously difficult to keep up. But if you like, it's also an advantage that our fans can appreciate our path all the more. We trust on our own talents of the academy which strengthens the connection to the region. Sooner or later every series ends and you also have seen that Red Bull Salzburg is not invincible either. These victories are then even more beautiful. The cup win of 2018 against Salzburg in front of around 28,000 Sturm Graz fans is unforgettable!”.
Your own team won the league the last time in 2011, but you’re number 2 right now in the table. How do you fancy your chances at grabbing a new title?
“Salzburg was also the big favourite in 2011, but we were still able to succeed. It has always been the belief of Sturm Graz that we trust in ourselves and know what we can. So who knows, anything is possible!”.
SD Europe would like to warmly thank Dominik Neumann and SK Sturm Graz for taking part in the SLO of the Month series.
SD Europe recently completed the first pilot of its new SLO consultancy with clubs, helping English club AFC Wimbledon to appoint a new SLO team. Contact us to find out more about the Supporter Liaison Officer role and SLO club consultancy here.