Around Rovers

March 26, 2008

The Football League looked at the results of the Supporter Experience Assessment report which was published last year  and introduced a new programme which they called Raising the Bar. The programme has been brought in as part of The League’s commitment to helping clubs attract and retain more family visitors to football grounds up and down the country.

A key part of The League’s support is the Family Excellence Awards. The assessments for these awards were completed in January. At Bristol Rovers we agree with the League’s view that attracting families to matches is vital to building future support bearing in mind the increasing competition from other leisure activities and the public perception that football is an expensive pastime.

The League understands that the increasing average age of the football supporter at this time is testament to the challenge facing us. It is difficult to argue with such a notion yet research shows that today’s families are looking for activities that they can do together. We support the view that the match day experience is well capable of delivering to families and to our mind has been doing so down the generations. It is fair to say that in these enlightened times we are looking at the wider family and not just gramps and the nipper as perhaps it was when I was a small boy.

Research carried out in the 2006-07 season concludes that although price at the turnstiles and performance on the pitch are so very important, it is the totality of the experience that dictates the likelihood to return and to become established attendees. To reflect this The League have sought feedback and perceptions from nominated family assessors who unbeknown to us have attended matches at all clubs in the guise of home and away supporters. Each club has been visited twice in the period between August 2007 and January 2008.

For the record it has now been revealed to us that we were visited from a home perspective at our game with Crewe Alexandra on 18th August, the very first home game of the season, and from an away perspective on1st September when we entertained Nottingham Forest. Each family comprised at one child between the ages of six and twelve and one adult who was considered to be new to football. A good number of criterion were used to reflect the experience including ticket purchasing, the journey to the match, stadium vicinity, the club shop, refreshments, inside the stadium and the perceptions of family friendliness.

The League suggests that, managers and staff at football clubs, by implication I assume that includes directors as well, should put themselves in their supporters’ shoes, since experiencing the match day experience from a new families perspective is the first step to creating fans from up and coming generations. It is recognised that parents and their children have differing priorities. Whilst adults see safety and security as important, the younger ones rate player access above everything else. It is known also that families can and do enjoy the away game experience as part of a whole day out.

Club shops certainly play their part and the stocking of products capable of being bought out of precious pocket money is very important. Floor walkers can be of help to first time visitors it seems. Something for us to think about and then there is the pre match and half time entertainment. The League believes that club mascots are underused and should spend more time outside the stadium before kick off or inside the family area during the game. Can’t be everywhere Captain Gas so perhaps more than one mascot. It was good the see The Blackthorn Pirate as I think he is known directing people outside the Young Pirates HQ before the West Brom game. I have also seen the very same in the appropriate gear at all away games this season and take this opportunity to thank him and the many more who helped to create a great atmosphere before and during the game.

So what did the Mystery Family Exercise reveal after visitations to the Memorial Stadium. Certainly there is much to take on board and to learn from. Since reading the report I have only had the opportunity to speak with Rod Wesson on the subject and Rod takes the findings as a serious matter. I know that Rod intends to talk with other members of staff to gauge their opinions and reactions. I can see that our stadium in its present form restricts us from what we would dearly like to do. The new build is a real opportunity to rectify some of the feedback; access to the shop after a certain time on match days for example.

The overriding view was that whilst the Mem is small and rundown it at no time felt unsafe. The food was considered hot and tasty and the staff at the food kiosks were found to be friendly even if the queues were long. There was a good deal of criticism of the information on the club website relating to contacts, ground location and travel directions, something I’m sure we can look at and improve. Finally I can’t help but agree with a number of supporters who think that the promotion of our Pirate Image is a turn on for young children and would help greatly on the entertainment issue.

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