Pies, beer, football – that’s all you need for the perfect day out. At least, that’s the view of some people who think that media and technology are a distraction – both in terms of the organisation of a football club and also the fans’ experience on the day.
Last week I was speaking at the inaugural How-Do Sports Business and Marketing conference and I listened to Robert Elstone, Everton’s CEO, speak about the importance of the match-day experience for fans. He was very clear about doing everything he can to ensure that when you turn up at Goodison, you have as good a time as possible.
Where he and I differ is that I believe that digital media has an increasingly important role to play. Robert said he wasn’t convinced and felt that there were more important things to focus on for now – and as he’s infinitely more experience in football than I am, I’m sure he’s right – for Everton. Digital media can be an addition to the excitement, not an alternative.
I know some diehards feel that nothing should distract from the action on the pitch, but my bet would be that it won’t be long before some fans are using handheld devices during the match to add something to the game.
Football isn’t like many US sports where there are long breaks mid-play that give you time to check up on the last play or the stats or watch a replay (like with FanVision)… but I think it would be foolish to bet against services being used by a large enough audience in the near future. In fact, if you include the use of SMS, then you could argue that handheld devices and their communication capability has already changed a match-day. How many people do you know who are in touch with mates at other grounds during the game?
Now, putting aside the fact that all stadia act like Faraday cages and so getting a signal (never mind 3G) can be nigh-on impossible, and assuming that this will change, then it’s interesting to consider how social media might affect the fans on a match day.
[as an aside, thanks to all the @mcfcgeeks twitter followers who continue to ask about our progress with boosting signal or installing wifi in the Etihad stadium - we're working on it and it's a high priority for me so it's good to hear your needs]
I wanted to experiment with social media on a match day. So we decided to run a test using twitter, discussion between two blogger/supporters over twitter, and integrating that into the pre-match media that we run in City Square.
As an enhancement of the match-day experience it was, well… rubbish.
If you follow me on twitter, or @vickistansfield or @mcfcgeeks then you will know how much we try to be open and straight-talking with fans about what we’re trying to achieve as well as sharing with the digital community about our plans and progress. So, in that spirit, I wanted to share with you the case-study that we put together to debrief this experiment.
You can view or download the Manchester City FC Matchday Tweets Case Study_MCFC vs NUFC 19.11.11.
Our project manager, John Kearney, comes to some clear conclusions about what didn’t work and why: the conversation was out of context, it wasn’t live enough, you couldn’t interact with it … to name a few. But he also comes up with a series of recommendations which gives me hope for trying this again and making it work better next time.
Our American geek friends are particularly fond of a phrase that sums up our approach here – and it’s one we’ve taken to heart in the @mcfcgeeks team: Fail Better. Working with new technologies, new forms of social interaction, and integrating them into such a well-developed experience as the warm-up to a Premier League football match is never going to be easy, but we’re experimenting, learning and innovating…. and that leads to success.
When I wrapped up my talk about engaging a fanbase online at the How-Do conference, there was one thing I should have added: The reason why we feel like this kind of thing is important isn’t just to do with being innovative for the sake of it; it’s not because we like spending time and money on the latest digital fad; it’s not because we want to find a way to make money out of fans. The reason why we do this is because our fans deserve it.
City fans use mobiles and facebook and twitter and foursquare and and youtube every day, just like everyone else, and if we can give them more access to the club they love via those platforms, we will.