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The Fans Journey - Part 10: During The Game
You know that feeling?
You’ve been having a great day. Lovely breakfast or lunch; nice drive to the ground followed by a brisk walk to the stadium after finding a parking space nearby; meeting family and friends in the fan zone for a catch-up; buying a programme, grabbing a snack and a drink before taking your seat. Then the teams walk out and your heart (and stomach) begin to sink. And things were going so well.
It could have been such a great day too….if it wasn’t for the football.
If you don’t know that feeling, consider yourself lucky.
However, if clubs and fans thought that as soon as the whistle blows for kick-off then only the team could ruin things, think again. Turns out there are loads of ways a club can still detract from the experience even when the game has started.
But, turning that on its head, there are opportunities galore to add to the experience too. It is a delicate balance mind because the fans’ focus is now on the team and what they are doing, so anything that happens now has to complement and enhance what the fan is feeling and seeing, not replace it.
Mark founded the Fan Experience Company in 2005 to build attendance growth and community engagement on the basis of improving fan experiences. He recently created FC Barcelona’s Barça Innovation Hub’s first fan engagement study certificate. The Fan Experience Company has undertaken more than 3,500 fan experience assessments in many countries for clients as diverse as The Danish Superliga, The EFL, The WSL / WC, United Rugby and Premiership Rugby.
Darren joined the Fan Experience Company in 2017. He has an MBA with a background in customer service excellence having worked as a consultant in that field for a number of years. As well as being responsible for all of the assessment summary reports that are produced each season, he has also worked with a number of clubs on an individual basis, including Lincoln City, Walsall, Grimsby Town, Nottingham Forest and OH Leuven on projects ranging from staff development to supporter feedback surveys.
Done well, it’s a seamless and barely noticeable series of interactions that are inter-woven with the matchday experience. Ignored or executed badly and it jars and is off-putting. Let’s look in a bit more detail:
Who’s responsibility is this anyway? Is it up to the fans, or do the team have to do their bit first? Tough one. Personally, I think (and the anecdotal evidence I have certainly backs it up) that the more noise and encouragement there is at kick-off, the more likely the team are to start well and even get a goal. This would suggest it’s in the club’s best interests to build the atmosphere so that it peaks at kick-off time and those opening minutes afterwards.
It’s not just about playing a few tunes over the PA and any clubs that make this assumption miss a massive opportunity to get fans in the right frame of mind. I recently attended a game where they’d got a DJ who simply knocked out the latest ‘trendy’ hits and no one (especially the kids it was aimed at) was interested in the slightest. The day before, another club had got hundreds of fans – mostly kids – singing (and dancing in some cases) by blasting out Sweet Caroline. Know your audience. The use of the right music at the right time can make a significant difference to the build up, half-time and even – where applicable – during the game (rugby and cricket clubs often do this really well).
Another tool at the disposal of many clubs that can be hit or miss. How many clubs really think about how the screen can enhance the in-game experience? I’d guess not many. Yes there are the slew of adverts (which are unavoidable) but what about using the screen for real fan engagement? Videos and photos are obvious but there are other ways the screen can be utilised such as messages, half-time quizzes, words to songs etc that bring the club and fan together through the technology. At a rain-delayed cricket match I attended this summer, they put fan interviews and images on during the changeover of innings but failed to do it in the three hours earlier that day where fans sat around waiting for play. That’s just a lack of thinking; a switched-on club sees that they have an asset that can be used to engage fans when they need it most and makes it work.
More for the younger fans yes, but not exclusively. The mascot is a great way for the club to engage with fans in ways other staff can’t. There is more scope for someone in a suit to be a little more outrageous, and the light-hearted approach adds a fun element too. While the optics aren’t great when the manager visibly questions a referee’s decision, a mascot doing it in an exaggerated way on the side lines is not only acceptable but takes it less seriously. Sport is entertainment after all. A mascot can be utilised in so many ways before games, but clubs often overlook their effectiveness after the game starts. Getting the younger fans to raise the noise is one way and then, of course, they can come into their own at half-time.
I’m surprised how many clubs have either cancelled half-time entertainment or relegated it to something that happens at the side of the pitch. Newsflash, that massive green rectangle might just be grass (or a 4G surface) but it is sacred to fans and if they get on there – and are able to kick a ball too – it will be a memory that lives with them forever and creates a bond with the club that will be difficult to break. Penalty shoot outs, crossbar challenges and anything else that includes fans and balls is the way to go, and any additional interaction created by the mascot and over the PA will enhance it considerably. So the next time the manager says the subs warming up or the sprinklers are the priority at half-time, tell them that the fans are the real priority (they’ll be there much longer than they are anyway) and find ways to create unforgettable magic moments during the break.
After all, the second half will begin soon enough.
And we all know how the football can really spoil a perfectly good day.
Mark Bradley, Geoff Wilson and Darren Young assessed the fan experience at eight matches at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Click here to read more about what they found there.