When you’re a lower league club working with a limited budget, it can sometimes be a challenge to decide where best to allocate precious funds.

High on your priority list will be ensuring you get as many people attending each game as possible, and that you then maximise the potential revenue generated from those visitors.

But the modern game is about more than just ticket prices. To encourage attendance and nurture loyalty among fans, a big part of the process is looking at the ‘experience’ fans receive.

That means from visiting the website and purchasing tickets, to arriving at the ground and what they do whilst there, right through to when they return home again. Plus, every touchpoint along the way – all the times they come into contact, or in anyway communicate, with the club and its representatives.

Because all spectators have expectations (and not just about what should be happening on the field, or in the team line up!)

That’s why it’s so important to consider the whole package – the fan experience you are providing.

Every one of the elements we’ve mentioned will ultimately influence whether it’s a memorable and enjoyable experience (regardless of the score line) and something that they’d like to repeat – or not.

What is meant by fan experience?

Fan experience has been a buzz word among top clubs for some time now. More and more stadiums – not just in football but across all sports – are realising the importance of the spectator experience. It’s what is needed to keep fans happy but is also essential if you’re to secure a healthy bottom line.

Indeed, most modern stadiums are being designed primarily with the fan experience in mind and it is a science in its own right.

By moving a matchday from being solely about the game to being about the experience, it takes the event up to a whole new level. It also adds tangible value to the ticket price. Fans are no-longer just paying to watch a game, they’re paying to be part of something, to get close to the action and for the atmosphere. It’s about how the whole experience makes them feel.

So, from the build up to a match, to having a great environment within which to socialise with other fans, and opportunities to shop, eat and drink, the best fan experience is one which offers the complete package.

(One trend increasingly being seen among sports clubs is the introduction of Fan Zones, for more information see: What is a Fan Zone and why are clubs investing so heavily in them?)

Why is it important?

It’s about added value and making it worthwhile for supporters to come to the games. As, afterall, it is the supporters who will create the atmosphere you need.

The digital world we now live in is changing the way people behave. We all have shorter attention spans and more and more options when it comes to viewing a game. That means stadiums are increasingly needing to compete, especially against online streaming and pay-per-view.

Think about your fan experience and ask yourself – Why would someone shell out for a ticket and battle the elements and the traffic to come to our game, rather than enjoy the game from the comfort of their own home? Loyalty will only get you so far.

What can negatively impact on the experience of fans

There are many things that can have an effect on how successful you are, and as we’ve mentioned, there is some complex science behind it. But it all starts with getting the basics right.

Things to consider here include:

  • Is it quick and easy to buy tickets?
  • Is the ground smart and tidy with good signage?
  • How long does it take to enter the ground on a matchday?
  • Is loyalty rewarded – such as through ticket concessions or discounts in the shop?
  • Are there long queues for the club shop?
  • Are there even longer queues for food and drink?
  • Are the toilet facilities up to standard – which will be particularly important for families?
  • Do you offer wifi – which is increasingly cited by supporters as something they want?

What are the big clubs doing?

Clubs across Europe are investing a lot of time and money in providing a positive fan experience. Whether it’s working on the acoustics, to providing pre-match entertainment. The family market it also a big factor.

Here are examples of what some of the tops clubs are doing:

Liverpool

Opening four hours before kick-off, Liverpool FC’s fan zones are designed as a place for supporters to meet before the game and soak up the atmosphere of the pre-match build up. In these areas, they offer entertainment and activities for all the family, along with stalls selling food and drink, and lots of options for shopping.

The club also offers young fans the chance to post a letter to their favourite player, or to submit their own match report. And there are pre-match five-a-side games and penalty shoot-outs for children.

Manchester City

Man City is incredibly family friendly with all sort of initiatives in place. This includes family food outlets and breast feeding facilities. There is also match-day entertainment, with face painters and magicians. Three outdoor TV screens show interviews with players, plus there are two kids’ play areas and a performance space where entertainment and events are held, such as freestyle football skills, musical shows and community projects.

The ‘City Playmakers’ are a dedicated team of brand ambassadors who attend each matchday to help drive fan engagement and improve the match day experience. They help provide a warm welcome and answer any questions, as well as encouraging visitors to take part in all of the activities available.

The club also has City Kicks a website designed specifically for its younger fans.

What can you do when you’re a lower league club on a tight budget?

If you don’t have the budgets of Liverpool and Man City, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean you can’t work on improving your own fan experience.

Engaging with the local community and the next generation is important for any club. So, as well as thinking about the basics, consider which initiatives could help make each match a fun, safe and fulfilling day out for the whole family.

Here are some ideas:

  • A warm welcome – have stewards on hand to provide a warm welcome, to answer any questions and help keep bad language to a minimum
  • Pricing – introduce flexible pricing or family packages, also consider if there are any parking offers you could introduce, such as for those carrying four people (good for promoting environmentally responsibility too)
  • Have a Kidzone or FamilyZone – there are some great examples out there of clubs doing this really well. Portsmouth has a cinema showing footage of matches, as well as loads of games, quizzes and even offers free fruit juice. A player will then visit the zone before each match. One family also gets the chance to sit in the dugout during the warm up.
  • Young supporters club – consider introducing a section on the website for young supporters, or at least detailing all the ways your club is family friendly
  • Entertainment – provide imaginative matchday entertainment aimed at a young audience, such as face painting, magicians, games and quizzes
  • Pre-match build up – devise some pre-match activities that will help build atmosphere and anticipation, such as on pitch shoot outs
  • Healthy food & drink options – available in child portions and from family-friendly kiosks
  • Community links – More broadly, consider linking up with a local charity. For example, Plymouth Argyle offers matchday respite to young carers
  • Visiting supporter guide – and don’t forget about away fans. Think of ways to make them feel welcome and to thank them for coming

What if you’re short on space?

Space is often at a premium in football grounds. One very cost-effective way to combat this and make full use of the space that is available, is to use mobile kiosks and portable units.

For example, non-league club Evesham United doubled its matchday revenue, following the installation of a pop up shop from Rapid Retail.

From programme booths to providing additional retail space or catering units, or creating a dedicated Kids’ Zone, the options are endless. They’re also available to rent or buy, depending on your preference.

For more great ideas on using them, check out The top 10 ways sports clubs can use mobile kiosks and pop up units.

For over a decade, Rapid Retail has been supporting sporting venues to fulfil their retail ambitions. From Premier League teams, through to non-league clubs, and from tennis and horse racing through to motorsports and cycling. For more ideas and advice on how to maximise the fan experience, contact the Rapid Retail team on 01386 555044.