Every sports fan wants to see their team do well and will feel every kick, every tackle and every triumph, along with the players on the field. But winning isn’t everything (which is lucky, as most clubs won’t get to lift a trophy at the end of the season!). If clubs want to succeed in the modern game, when faced with so much competition for spectators’ time and energy, then what really counts is the fan experience they are providing.

Like all consumers, fans have high expectations of any commercial organisations they interact with. Thanks to customer-centric brands like Apple, Nike and Amazon – who have fully embraced new technologies, creating a sophisticated operation from start to finish – the bar has been set very high.

Expectations of a sports club are no different and to gain both a financial and emotional investment from fans – which is the holy grail for any brand – the experience being provided is key.

So, what is it meant by fan experience? And what can clubs do to ensure they are excelling in this area?

What is meant by ‘fan experience’?

In a nutshell, it’s about asking ‘how do you make fans feel?’ Not just on a matchday, but throughout the whole process and every interaction you have with them along the way.

Providing a positive fan experience is about focusing on the end-to-end experience that fans receive. It starts long before a matchday and should last long after, and can be the difference between healthy ticket sales and empty stalls.

Matches themselves are just one part of a wider process. You need to consider every step – from the experience fans receive when visiting your website, to social media interaction, phone calls, marketing activity and of course everything that happens during the course of a matchday visit.

Ticket prices and other costs will have an influence on attendances, but it is the perceived value of the whole experience you are offering, which will ultimately win fans over.

Why does fan experience matter?

In a word – revenue.

Every club is ultimately a business and needs to be hitting the numbers to survive. The good news is, taking a customer-centric approach can lead to increased revenue. Not just through strong attendance figures, but through building valuable, long term relationships with fans.

By working on engagement and nurturing loyalty, you can help supporters feel part of something and emotionally invested in it. It is this deep connection with the club and its ‘community’ that will help keep fans coming back, again and again, rain or shine, and in the face of promotion or relegation.

Fan experience is also important for sponsorship deals. An active and engaged audience is going to be of far more valuable to a potential sponsor, who will wish to tap into existing relationships to promote their own products or services. If they can already see a loyal and engaged fan base exists, then what you’re offering is something with tangible benefits.

What can clubs do to provide a better fan experience?

One of the best pieces of advice is to aim high. Think about the big picture and have a vision for where you want to reach. If someone else is doing it well, then learn from them. Be inspired and see what ideas are sparked for your own club.

Another important piece of the puzzle is to pay attention to detail. It is often the small things that can have the greatest impact.

Here are some more ideas:

  1. Map out all the touchpoints

    To make improvements you firstly need to recognise how you are communicating with people and when. The best place to start is by mapping out all the touchpoints a fan may have with you – by this meaning any time they may interact with you in any way.

  2. Enhance every interaction

    Now work on improving and enhancing every one of your touchpoints. You are aiming to provide a consistent, high quality experience no matter how or when a fan may be interacting with you. For example, if they visit your website, engage with your social channels, telephone the ground, attend on a matchday, or receive any other form of marketing.

  3. Improve any pain points

    Where could your service be improved? Test all your touchpoints – make a call, try to book tickets online, step into the shoes of a supporter on a matchday. What may be causing an issue? For example, on a matchday, where are queues forming and can you do anything to alleviate them? Are all your facilities clearly sign-posted and easy to find, or could you provide team members to assist visitors and make it super easy?

  4. Introduce a fan experience strategy

    Based on your research and vision, prepare a comprehensive, fan experience strategy. That way, you can ensure you have considered all angles and that everyone at the club is working from the same page. Then formerly document your strategy and set targets which are shared across the club. Remember to return to it regularly, to keep it front of mind and up to date.

  5. Get cross-team buy in

    Get teams to sit down together and talk through the fan experience strategy and what you are trying to achieve with it. It is far more likely to succeed and be successful, if everyone understands their individual role and the part they will play in ensuring you provide an outstanding fan experience.

  6. Be genuine and clear

    Now think about your strategy delivery. How do you currently communicate with supporters? Is it clear, consistent and accessible? People connect with people, so ditch the corporate. Engagement is about speaking your fan’s language and keeping them updated, but also listening and showing you are doing so. Look for ways to listen to your fans and get them more involved.

  7. Invest in customer service training

    To provide a consistent service, all team members who may come into contact with a supporter for any reason, need to be trained and to act in such a way that upholds the wider values of the club and its identity. One weak link in the chain could undo all your hard work.

 

Fan experience on matchdays

When it comes to matchdays, there are multiple issues to think about. It is best to map out the potential journey a spectator may make – from their arrival to the game and beyond – and to then work on improving every aspect of their experience. For example:

Arrival

  • When visitors arrive at the ground, who are they met by? What do they see? Is everything clearly sign posted and easy to find? Are queues bad and if so, where and what are you doing about them? Or how might you make the queuing experience itself more enjoyable?

Entry

  • Once inside the ground, again – who are spectators met by? Are facilities clearly sign posted and easy to find? Are there obvious places where they can seek help or further information if they want it? What is the atmosphere like in the ground? How can you improve on it?

Pre-and Post-Match

  • What are spectators expected to do pre-and post-match? What can you do to ensure the whole process runs as smoothly as possible? This is one of the biggest opportunities you have to provide added value. Are you offering entertainment, food and drink, seating areas, games areas, merchandise and shirting printing services? There is a reason that fan zones are growing in popularity with clubs across Europe (which we’ll cover in more detail in a moment).

Merchandising

  • Are you providing plenty of opportunities to buy and a wide choice? Fans who feel part of something are more likely to want to have a visual symbol of that belonging, such as a scarf, hat or flag, or to want to take home a memento of their day. What are you offering for younger fans? How is it displayed? Is your retail offering optimised and as strong as it can be? Are you making the most of portable retail units, such as kiosks and pop up shops, to create multiple opportunities to buy and reduce queuing? (For more ideas on this click here).

Catering

  • Inflated prices can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. One strategy to consider here is lowering the price of food and drinks, to make them more affordable. Yes, you will be lowering your margins, but you could quickly find you are rewarded in volume – as well as with happier fans. For example, when Superbowl team the Atlanta Falcons cut food prices by 50 percent, it led the to the average spend per fan increasing by 16 percent in 2017.

 

Fan zones

As we’ve touched on, one route clubs are increasingly taking to improve fan experience is to introduce a dedicated fan zone. This is one of the most straightforward ways to add value and increase matchday sales. It doesn’t require a huge amount of space and can cost relatively little to get one up and running, depending on the scope of the facilities included. Such an area can also be started small, then developed and expanded over time.

Fan zones are in the main designed to offer pre-and post-match entertainment, giving fans a place to come together and soak up the atmosphere. They can be particularly successful if they are appealing to the family market – in the process, helping to capture the attention of supporters of the future. Importantly, such an area can prove very beneficial for matchday sales and revenue – by offering a range of eateries, shopping and other activities, spectators are encouraged to spend longer at the ground, increasing their likelihood of spending. They are also enticed to buy more, due to the wide variety of choice and ease of access, to the activities on offer.

From a fan experience perspective, as well as creating added value and a positive atmosphere, by encouraging fans to arrive earlier and leave later, this also has the added benefit of taking some of the pressure off at peak times, when a majority of people would previously have arrived or left at the same time.

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Improving your fan experience

Rapid Retail has been supporting sports clubs across the UK and Europe for more than a decade, to enhance their fan experience – from the design and creation of bespoke fan zones, to supplying portable shops, kiosks and concourse retail units, that help capture sales in high footfall areas.

For more details, and a no obligation quote, please call us on 01386 555044 or email admin@rapidretail.co.uk