For May, we bring a “special” edition of the SLO of the Month. Usually, we speak to a football club’s Supporter Liaison Officer. However, this month, we spoke to Maël Garde Provansal, the SLO Coordinator at the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), bringing a football league’s experience of fan liaison to the series for the first time.
Below offers a deep insight into the SLO Coordinator role at the LFP and the French SLO journey which has seen almost all 40 professional clubs having a Supporter Liaison Officer. Maël has played a key role in his organisation’s inclusion in SD Europe’s LIAISE project, which finished earlier this year in February.
“An SLO can only improve the relationship fans have with their club”
France has become one of Europe’s trailblazers in supporter liaison officer implementation, partly because of LIAISE, but principally as a result of a law introduced on 10 May 2016 and the establishment of the National Supporterism Body (INS). The law, informally known as the Larrivé Act after its sponsor, required all clubs in the professional leagues (football, rugby, basketball, volleyball and handball) to have a supporter liaison officer – in football, this covers the LFP’s Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs. A committee organised under the auspices of the French Ministry of Sport, the INS has the mission to enhance the dialogue between supporters and other sports stakeholders and to consider and make proposals for involving supporters in the process of organising competitions and improving the way they are hosted. The foundation of the INS has created a space and a framework for a regular dialogue between the stakeholders to take place.
For a number of reasons, France is now making excellent progress in embracing supporter liaison and fan dialogue, and as Maël discusses below, is already reaping the benefits.
What are the main responsibilities in your role as SLO coordinator for the LFP?
Maël Garde Provansal
“I would divide my role into two parts. On one side, I’m in charge of building, developing and coordinating the French SLO network, and on the other, I’m in charge of everything related to supporterism from a league perspective on all levels (league projects, national projects, European projects such as LIAISE, etc.)
Regarding my role as SLO coordinator, my remit is to provide support, tools and advice to SLOs throughout the 40 professional French football clubs. It basically consists in always being available for them, answering any questions or doubts, preparing and debriefing games when needed, sharing good practices among the network, etc. My job is to make SLOs feel that the league supports them in their job. Beyond these recurrent missions, coordinating the network implies making sure all clubs have at least one SLO and that he/she has everything needed to fulfil the mission in the best possible way. It also requires organising seminars and training events for SLOs to maintain the network, dialogue and a constant exchange of good practice.
Finally, my job is also to visit the SLOs on matchdays, which has (I hope) a double positive effect of developing my knowledge of field experience and of bringing SLO’s tips and examples of good practice, especially for new SLOs.”
How different is the SLO landscape in France now compared with when you started in your position as SLO coordinator for the LFP?
“The time comparison of the SLO landscape in France is even more eye-opening if you look back at 2016 (introduction of the law) and then today. Back in 2016, only a few clubs had a full-time SLO with a large portfolio of responsibilities. Of course, some clubs, especially the European ones, didn’t wait until 2016 to start developing the role, but there were in a minority. This number has rapidly grown into a significant number of clubs not only considering the job because of the 2016 law, but also for its myriad of benefits.
At the end of the 2019-2020 season, fewer than five clubs didn’t have a SLO (out of 40), while almost half of the clubs didn’t have one at the start of the 2017-2018 season. But even more important than that is the fact that the SLO role has undergone a tremendous professionalisation throughout this period. Most of the Ligue 1 clubs have transformed the mission into a full-time job, and some Ligue 2 clubs are following these steps. Some clubs (six as things stand) even have two SLOs or more – which was unthinkable a few years ago.
The SLO is now a key stakeholder and an essential link in the dialogue between a club, its supporters and the local ecosystem. Almost every SLO has now got two seasons or more of experience, more than 50% of them have a supporter background and there’s an increasing number of them travelling to away games. That’s the landscape we have today and we’re proud of it, given how fast things have gone.”
How important was the LIAISE project for the development of the SLO work and fan dialogue in general in France?
“LIAISE played a major part in how French supporterism, from an institutional perspective, developed a system of good practice and built a strong model. It helped to rapidly change the vision stakeholders had of each other and has given them an ambitious common objective, that is implementing and developing the SLO role in our country.
On a personal note, the project enabled me to meet some of my European counterparts and improved my understanding of what supporterism means in each of the participating countries. It’s been fundamental in the approach I’ve been building for the past three years of how I may contribute for the good of French supporterism.
Maël Garde Provansal speaking about the impact of SD Europe’s LIAISE project
LIAISE also strengthened the excellent collaboration between the French partners – the French Football Federation (FFF), French Football League (LFP), and the National Supporters Association (ANS). The fact that we agreed very easily on our national action plan shows we’ve been able to shape a common vision of where we want to go in terms of modern supporterism (with the SLO as the cornerstone of the project and the action plan, of course). I am very pleased to work alongside these partners today and I think that’s how we’ll continue to achieve progress as we’ve been doing for the past few years.”
What have been the prominent benefits fans and football clubs experienced in France from the SLO role?
“There have been so many benefits emerging throughout the journey, and we’re still discovering and sharing some of them.
From the football club’s perspective, the SLO role has triggered a new approach to internal structures. Local supporterism matters are now handled by SLOs, which hasn’t always been the case. People at the football club know they have someone they can rely on regarding fan matters, which eases the coordination of the subject within the club. There’s someone entitled to be “on the field” on matchday, as close as possible to where fans live their passion and to where they might need support. This expertise is only producing good effects for the clubs, and even more within clubs that have given the SLO the possibility to embrace the role at its maximum.
I think the benefits for the fans are the same. The SLO is their contact person, and as long as trust is there, an SLO can only improve the relationship fans have with their club. The cases where fans don’t want a SLO as a link between them and the club is getting rarer, which is very positive to see.”
How important was the introduction of the new law of 10 May 2016, which among other things requires clubs to appoint SLOs, in this process?
“It has been truly decisive. The Larrivé Act is known for a long-debated balance between dialogue and the fight against hooliganism. It marked the beginning of a new era in the public approach to supporterism. This law is a French specificity and it probably illustrates that in some topics French people need a law to move forward. The law underscored two fundamental elements in its “dialogue phase”: the obligation to appoint an SLO for professional clubs of collective sports and the creation of National Supporterism Body (INS). These two pillars of modern supporterism constitute the major part of the improvements that have been made since then.
For the record, the fact that SLOs are required by the law also justified the fact that we added the SLO as part of the League’s club licensing regulations (having a SLO is a criterion).”
What have been some of the challenges experienced along the way of the French SLO journey?
“There’ve been quite a few!
Firstly, and I’d say this is the case every time an organisation is modified; the SLOs had to find their way through the club’s organisation chart. The law states that the SLO is a different person than the security officer, which wasn’t the case in most of the clubs before the introduction of the legislation. This process takes some time at certain clubs and is still going on at some of them. The ultimate goal is to have an SLO working permanently in close cooperation with the security officer.
Another challenge we’ve faced on a national level has been a lack of experienced SLOs who could have provided much-needed support in developing the role from 2016. Exchanging good practice is still the best way for SLOs to gain experience and credit, and now we have many experienced guys, this challenge is progressively being overcome.
One of the biggest added values of having an SLO is what it brings on an away day. The number of SLOs travelling to away games is growing fast, but it’s still not enough for us to be completely satisfied. This is a huge challenge that we’re permanently addressing, by proving with actual examples how crucial it is for a club to have someone on the ground for an away game (working throughout the process of match preparation with fellow SLOs and on matchdays).
Finally, since this might be enough challenges to go over, I consider that having a strong SLO network is essential for the global success of the job. Building this network isn’t an easy task and it grows with time, patience and support from every stakeholder (especially from the league in this case). We’re getting there and trying to improve year after year, and I’ll keep trying my best to maintain this rhythm despite the current situation.
Speaking about this, it might be the biggest ongoing challenge: ensuring that SLOs aren’t weakened as a concept/as a job by the (Covid-19 pandemic) crisis, both locally and nationally. SLOs are one of the keys to finding a positive escape route from the crisis (especially regarding the conditions for the return of the public to the stadiums).”
What do you see as the next step for SLOs in France?
RC Strasbourg Alsace Fans at a match
“Obviously, the next step is having 100% of clubs with at least one SLO. We’re very close to getting to this point and it will be of immense professional and personal satisfaction when it happens. However, we mustn’t forget that quantity has never been driving us to our goal, but quality. And quality comes with everything I mentioned before (training, the network, exchanging good practice, etc.)
We need to anticipate the fact that SLOs can change and we must be ready to help the clubs face this future challenge. The SLO job requires constant energy and dedication, it’s a really tiring mission. We know from other countries that SLO turnover is important, so we need to ensure that any transition that takes place at any club is a success.
There’s also a permanent step regarding my job, which consists in constantly looking for new tools and projects to help our SLOs in their daily job. For instance, we organised the first ever SLO training event back in September, and we’re looking forward to having the next editions (I’m very excited by the UEFA SLO Education Programme!).”
What would be your message to clubs across Europe on implementing an SLO?
““Go for it”!
I’d say one of the most important steps when implementing SLOs is looking at what other countries do, how they developed the role over time. Everyone who knows about supporter liaison officers in France (and there’s an increasing number of people who know what ‘SLO’ means) knows that part of our inspiration and motivation comes from great European football examples, such as the German, Swedish or Portuguese ones). It is fundamental that each country builds its own model, but it is as fundamental as taking advice and inspiration from what’s working elsewhere.
I think it’s fair to say that France today has its own way of handling and developing the “SLO”, but our format and the way the league helped the clubs to shape this implementation has been guided by what we’ve learned from abroad (especially thanks to LIAISE!). Of course, we’ve had a law to push us forward, and some will say it should have been developed 10 years ago, but still, it’s a great pleasure to see where we are today.
In the end, and that’s also what SD Europe works for, we must reach this common goal of building a global and European network of SLOs, always keeping in mind that exchanging good practice is what works the best for everyone to improve.”
SD Europe would like to warmly thank Maël Garde Provansal and Ligue de Football Professionnel for taking part in the SLO of the Month series.
You can follow Maël on Twitter here.
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