KAA Gent’s secret to fan engagement in the age of social distancing 

Interview with Tyas Kastelijn & Patrick Lips

The Samen Sterk campaign (literally translated to “Stronger together” from dutch) of the Belgian football club KAA Gent started with an idea from the club’s president Ivan De Witte. His interest for the concept came from virtual cycling tours’ popularity in Belgium. Seeing the success, he decided to introduce it to football. The idea was to organize a virtual match for fundraising, where the Belgian COVID-fighters such as politicians and virologists could compete against the COVID-virus.

Samen sterk 2020 vs Covid-19

We took this opportunity to talk with KAA Gent’s director of communications Patrick Lips and commercial manager Tyas Kastelijn to hear how they are taking on these difficult times and how the Samen Sterk initiative came to stand. 

In this article we talk about:

  • How KAA Gent is tackling the COVID challenges

  • How the club remains active to delight their fans

  • How the Samen Sterk campaign became a national success

  • KAA Gent’s future plans in the esports world

Tackling the COVID challenges

Like many other industries, one of the biggest challenges the COVID pandemic brings for football clubs is uncertainty.

“We don’t know if we will be able to play with fans and if so how many, what will the rules for social distancing be?” Patrick Lips, Director of communications @ KAA Gent

Needless to say, the situation affects fans, who are concerned about next season’s tickets and attending live matches. Thus, in the short term, it will definitely be a struggle as maybe sponsors will tend to stay away and older fans might not want to come back right away. However, in the long term, Patrick believes it might be an advantage.

“Over the past few months, our fans have realized the importance of football in their lives.” Patrick Lips, Director of communications @ KAA Gent

KAA Gent’s COVID-proof activations

“As a football club, we have two main responsibilities. First of all, we need to keep a connection with our fans and secondly as a part of our city. It’s all about being positively involved when people need it the most. We have organized several actions to show our goodwill towards our fans and the city of Gent.” Tyas Kastelijn, Commercial manager @ KAA Gent

Maes Mondays

To bring back some matchday vibes for the fans, KAA Gent organized a live stream on Easter Monday with house DJ Shizzle le Sauvage. He played all the fan-favorite songs from the roof of the Ghelamco Arena, Gent’s beautiful stadium. The event was sponsored by the beer brand Maes and it became a success. It was so noteworthy that it was followed by a second edition of “Maes Monday”, this time with the musician Kurt Burgelman.

Goodwill & PR through social impact

KAA Gent’s dedication to the city shows in the KAA Gent Foundation, which is focused on creating social value for Gent’s inhabitants. The foundation runs several neighborhood projects such as a neighborhood program, emancipation for underprivileged groups, and much more.

As a sign of respect to health workers, they gave away 100 tablets to hospitals of Gent to help them manage the workload during the outbreak. Additionally, a delegation of players went with their KAA Gent mouth masks to personally deliver a cheque to the hospital workers.

“We’re on the radio, television very often. When people see it or hear about it and link our name to these initiatives it’s good PR for the club.” Patrick Lips, Director of communications @ KAA Gent

KAA Gent donates 25 tablets to belgian hospitals to lower the workload for people who work in hospitals

Activating through social media

During the lockdown period, KAA Gent’s foundation served as a unifying force more than ever. To encourage active movement KAA Gent started the Buffalo Dance Academy Online where children could learn dances via YouTube. Shortly after the Buffalo @ Home platform with online games, puzzles, and more was launched, as well as a competition to Stay fit with the KAA Gent Foundation.

“If you follow the Premier League you will notice they are also doing initiatives like us. People have this idea that a football club is only about money. While having your financials in order is definitely necessary it’s important to show another side of your club as well. That’s not always easy to do so I would advise all clubs to take initiatives such as foundations, visiting hospitals, fundraising, etc. And my final tip would be if you need a good idea in esports call Kayzr and StriveCloud!” Patrick Lips, Director of communications @ KAA Gent

The Samen Sterk 2020 campaign that raised € 85,000 for charity

The core idea of Samen Sterk was to organize a virtual match between the COVID-virus and the key figures in Belgium that are fighting the virus. For example, virologists like Marc Van Ranst, Herman Goossens or the Minister of Health Maggie De Block.

“As soon as Kayzr picked up the phone, they got it! They understood what we wanted to do and immediately started thinking with us on how to roll out our idea.” Patrick Lips, Director of Communications @KAA Gent

After some research and a brainstorming session, the Kayzr team immediately went to work on the esports concept. The football video game FIFA had to be modified to resemble the stadium of Gent. Additionally, adjustments were made to the faces, names, genders of the anti-Corona team, and the background music. The COVID-19 team also got funny names such as Fatal the keeper, Risk as an attacker, and coach Covidson on the side.

virtual match between the COVID-virus and the key figures in Belgium that are fighting the virus such as virologists like Marc Van Ranst, Herman Goossens or the Minister of Health Maggie De Block

Kayzr worked together with StriveCloud to provide the technical setup. Then, the match scenario had to play out for Marc Van Ranst to secure a hat-trick and a 5-2 victory. Moreover, the personalization possibilities in the game allowed for great content snippets. People would recognize the near-celebrity virologists that have been most prevalent during the battle against the COVID-virus.

Fundraising Strategy and Behavioral Stimuli

The StriveCloud team added a lottery system into the tournament’s platform with elements of unpredictability and surprise to stimulate certain behaviors and ultimately boost fundraising. People could bet on certain prizes and make a bigger chance of winning them the more coins they put in.

To sponsor the event, people could donate by buying ‘blijf-in-uw-kot coins’, translated to “stay-in-your-house coins”. An expression quoted from the Minister of Health Maggie De Block. Further adding to the storytelling of the initiative.

The best part of the campaign was the prizes. KAA Gent really showed their commitment to charity here with their amazing prizes. These included a dinner with the club’s president Ivan De Witte, home concerts, Meet & Greets with players, signed jerseys, and free season subscriptions for Belgium and Europe.

To spark competition, everyone could see the coins bet on each item in the lottery. The more coins they put in, the bigger the chance of winning. People are naturally curious, searching endlessly for patterns and explanations. That’s why introducing a variable reward is so powerful. Recent neuroscience indicates the dopamine system keeps us searching for the next response, not just for rewards. For that reason, the unknown reward makes us hyper-engaged.

The campaign didn’t forget about the club’s sponsors. Samen Sterk made it possible for sponsors to gain visibility and goodwill during the promotion and broadcast of the Corona-proof event. The sponsors were featured on the platform in a list with all donors, as well as during the match itself.

The event was promoted on HLN, one of the biggest news sites in Belgium, and by tons of partners. With virologist Marc Van Ranst and football commentators, the event exceeded its €50,000 goal by raising over €35,000!

KAA Gent’s future in esports

“At the moment esports is really a challenge. It’s also a huge opportunity and we have to look at how we will tackle it and what our strategy will be in the future. With Kayzr we found a very reliable partner with lots of expertise and I think a lot is possible there.”  Tyas Kastelijn, commercial manager @ KAA Gent

“The esports community is more than the stereotypical gamers you see in movies who still live with their mom and only eat junk food all day. As a matter of fact, you need to be very alert both mentally and physically to perform esports at a top level.” Freek Borghgraef, Co-Founder @ Kayzr & StriveCloud

“In Belgium, we’re still behind a lot of countries like for example the Netherlands. In the whole country of Belgium, there is no single esports location. That’s why we think with the innovation and tech background of Gent there is a lot of opportunity in our city to do amazing esports initiatives. It’s important for us to have the right strategy and work together with partners like Kayzr so we can attract especially younger audiences to our club.” Tyas Kastelijn, commercial manager @ KAA Gent

“I would advise all clubs to take initiatives such as foundations, visiting hospitals, fundraising, etc. And my final tip would be if you need a good idea in esports call Kayzr and StriveCloud!” Patrick Lips, Director of Communications @KAA Gent

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