IT'S fair to say that American razzmatazz and Scottish football haven't exactly been comfortable bedfellows over the years. Last night's Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers was played out to the usual backdrop of glitzy firework displays and glamorous cheerleaders while J-Lo and Shakira shook their considerable booties during the half-time show with heavyweight businesses falling over themselves to snap up advertising slots costing in the region of $5.5m for 30 seconds of airtime.

But contrast efforts to transport a slice of American pie to football on these shores and one conjures up images of poorly choreographed teenagers dancing in front of half-empty terraces to a soundtrack of stifled laughter or the odd damp squib scaring the bejaysus out of everyone on a gloomy day in autumn. There is nothing new in saying this: the crossover just doesn't work.

For Steve Livingstone, erstwhile managing director of the Scottish Claymores, that comes as little surprise. Livingstone, a sports consultant from the east end of Glasgow who has lived in the US for 16 years, was once the vice-president of marketing at NFL franchise the Jacksonville Jaguars. Latterly he worked in the United Soccer League where he became club president of the nascent Jacksonville Armada soccer team, building the franchise from scratch, before taking up a similar role at another USL team, Louisville City. The Jaguars were the worst team in the NFL on the pitch but Livingstone masterminded a match-day experience that ensured that despite just one winning season in his time there, they set record attendances in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2011 and were consistently recognised as the best franchise in the NFL for fan experience.


There is one innovation that US sports gets just right and that's the power of scientific research as a means of improving relationships with supporters and profits, too. Livingstone is a firm advocate.

“The NFL has an annual fan survey that they conduct through a company here in the US called Turnkey Intelligence,” he says. “We had an expression in the NFL that said the experience was measured and evaluated from 'driveway to driveway'.

“When fans left their house in the morning to when they returned at night we explored all aspects of that fan experience – everything from how long it took them to get to the game, what was the entertainment on their radio, was it good on the way to the game, did they tune into our club radio station, what other media did they consume on the way to the stadium. How was their parking experience, how far did they have to walk after parking their car, how long did they have to wait in the line to get into the stadium.

“If they were buying food or drink, what did they buy, how did it taste, [it was] quite exhaustive, did they buy merchandise, what did they think of the merchandise. The beauty of that survey was that they asked similar questions every year, a so-called benchmarking study, and they were able to chart either improvement or degradation based on the responses they got each season. Some teams actually ran it two or three times a season.”

In Scotland currently there are two studies that look at fan engagement. One is conducted by the Scottish Supporters Network and the other by the BBC. Neither would be considered particularly exhaustive, certainly not when measured against the kind of forensic research that NFL teams are mandated to perform. Indeed, the former study, commissioned for 2019-20 had a sample size of just 3500 down from 15,000 in previous years, largely because of poor publicity by the clubs themselves.

Last October, Rangers released the findings of a recent study into fan behaviour, the results extended to eight pages of a glossy brochure of which two pages were a front and back cover. It's a start but it could be better.


None of which surprises Livingstone who has done consultancy work for Scottish football clubs in the past and says they have been reluctant to listen to fan opinion for fear of “opening a can of worms”. That sounds a bit like a euphemism for a reluctance by the club to spend money.

“When I brought up the opportunity and the thought of actually conducting a planned survey they pushed back pretty hard on it,” he adds. “Some of the rejection was based on 'we don't want to open a can of worms' or 'if we identify things that matter, we won't be able to get the board's approval to spend the money so we are not going to bother asking them the question in the first place'.

“I see clubs and organisations putting polls out on Facebook or Twitter and expecting some kind of scientific response from that and it's just woeful – it's a nonsense. If you are basing any action or strategy or tactics on that type of response then more fool you.”

Fan attendances have risen in Scotland over the last four years but there is a feeling that is in spite of clubs efforts and not necessarily because of them, Livingstone says there is plenty to like about the product here but believes more could be done. He cites the presence of multi-millionaire businessman, Ron Gordon, at Hibernian as a positive first step towards a new way of working.

“He's bringing a lot of best practice ideas to Hibs and if they can get things right on the football side which they seem to be doing a better job of, I think the Hibs fans are going to have a really positive experience in terms of engaging with the club again. I think guys like Ron are switched on to things like 'are the lines too long at half-time?' 'how is the general match-day experience for people?' 'how is their relationship with the club away from match day?'

“We had a section in the stadium in Jacksonville in the upper deck. It was probably the worst set of seats in the stadium, it was high up, there was no cover and maybe games were 100 degrees and people were getting fried up there, the seats were overpriced, there wasn't enough concessions around those areas. We found all of that out through our interaction with the fans. We reduced the prices, we increased the concession areas, we increased the amount of people servicing the area, we introduced in-seat delivery into the seats so that fans wouldn't have to climb down the stairs to go back up again and we rebranded the areas as the jungle to fit in with the Jaguar motif. The following season that section sold out for us every game so it can be done.”


The obvious flaw in attempting to apply American sports methods to the Scottish game is that there are unique circumstances that apply to relationships between teams and strong personalities within the sport here. Old hostilities have become entrenched in Scottish football as a result of Rangers liquidation in 2012. New rivalries have emerged, too. A phoney war over ticket allocation for away supporters in Celtic-Rangers games has undermined the occasion in terms of atmosphere with neither side particularly keen to be seen to lose the high ground but Livingstone thinks all clubs must come together for the common good.

“At the end of the day the clubs are really only hurting themselves,” he says. “You have got to get beyond that, you've got to work with each other and I know in many cases from my experiences that the clubs do talk to each other, they do work with one another [but] some way to formalise that, break the ice, to work and assist all others would be a logical way through it.

“One of the strengths that the NFL has and the other professional leagues have here – and it's a strength in one way and a weakness in another – they are a single entity operation. You have 32 teams in the NFL, for example, all contributing to a central fund of revenue. So you've got this level of parity in terms of the revenues.

“The affect of that is you don't have this us and them mentality, the teams are very competitive on the field but there is an esprit des corps among the teams where you're only as strong as your weakest link and so the teams actually help each other.”

Maybe bringing American ideas to Scottish football isn't such a bad idea after all. Just leave the cheerleaders and fireworks out of it.