Wednesday 17 October 2012
The awards by VisitFootball to four Barclays Premier League clubs highlighted the improvement in the fan experience at stadiums before, during and after the match.
One of the four awards went to Tommy Guthrie, Fulham’s Supporter Relations Manager, who was proclaimed the "VisitFootball Unsung Hero".
The judges said: "All customers want to feel looked after and Tommy does that. Going to visit people on matchday who have contacted him through the week to see if they are enjoying the game; taking foreign supporters clubs to a local pub in Fulham when they visit; organising fan forums in motorway service stations and city sight-seeing visits for fans at away games.
"He may see it as his job but the level of detail from Tommy is something that should be singled out and applauded."
"Premier League football is much more focused on fan engagement"
In the Premier League's annual report, Guthrie explained the philosophy behind his award-winning work and how clubs' engagement with fans has become more proactive than reactive:
"Fan communication has long been a specialism at Fulham. This was our 10th season as a team and we sit within the communications and marketing department.
"It has grown from initially a customer service department, handling mostly complaints and issues, to more of an information department where we are now focusing on fan engagement.
"Premier League football is much more focused on fan engagement. People understand that there are so many things you are competing against. There's an expectation that the facilities and the atmosphere will be better than it was in the past. It's a process that's moving towards making it easier to attend games and making it enjoyable for a wider audience.
"If people contact us about coming to a game, the first part for us would be explaining to them how to get tickets, and the second would be to go visit them in their seat on a matchday to see if they’re enjoying a game.
"It's something that only takes two or three minutes but the feeling that someone has taken an interest in the fact that you're there is probably the best thing you can do.
"I think all clubs have improved as football has developed in terms of facilities, communicating with fans and understanding that you benefit the club if you listen to supporters and try to meet their expectations.
"If someone sends you a friendly email you send them a friendly reply"
"When Fulham Supporters' clubs come to matches from around the world we like them to get in touch so that we can organise a group of tickets together, a tour of the ground, and open the bars at ground for them after the match to have a drink and talk about Fulham and how they watch the games when they’re at home.
"Another thing we try and do is match the tone of the conversation. If someone sends you a friendly email you send them a friendly reply. I think that surprises people who expect a football club to be quite formal.
"Today it's all about making information more accessible. If we notice fans are discussing a problem about ticketing on the message board, instead of waiting for them to contact us we'll just jump on and respond on Facebook and Twitter.
"Likewise with fan forums; we're trying to move away from formal, stuffy meetings where the same 10 or 12 people show up with the same ideas. We still have the forums but what we’re trying to do is have more touch points with fans.
"If we've been corresponding with a fan in the week about a complaint or an idea, we've prioritised matchday staff now so that we can try to meet that fan on the day of the game. So you might meet six or eight fans for a coffee before the game or at half-time.
"For away travel we're going to try to get to away games and have informal meetings when the bus stops for half an hour and you've got a captive audience. The number of problems you can solve over a cup of tea opposed to through an email or letter is unbelievable."
Click here to read the Premier League 2011/12 Season Review