Thursday 12 September 2013
After gaining promotion to the Barclays Premier League in April, Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay immediately set about reshaping his squad to cope with the demands of top-flight football, but it is not just on the pitch where the club have sought improvement. The Bluebirds' innovative approach to away supporters is fast acquiring them a reputation for being one of the most welcoming clubs in the division.
"At Cardiff we attempt to take ownership of the visiting fans and pledge to do all we can to ensure that they have an enjoyable day, whatever the result"
The club's former stadium, Ninian Park, was, Cardiff admit, not the most welcoming experience for away supporters, but since their move to the Cardiff City Stadium in 2009, there have been changes afoot, with the club making concerted efforts to improve their approach to away fans to the extent that they have won the Football League Family Club of the Year awards in two of the last three years.
In a bid to attract more visiting fans, Cardiff have created an away end designed to make them feel at home. On arrival at the away car park, right next to the away end, fans are greeted by a "matchday assistant", who gives them all the information they need. Once inside the ground, fans are served food and drink by staff wearing their own team's home shirts, which are later presented to a lucky few. The food that fans are served has included local delicacies. Last season, Middlesbrough fans, for example, were treated to plates of Parmo, their favourite deep-fried chicken in breadcrumbs with a cheese sauce.
"Historically, away fans have been treated as a burden for the home club and they are ferried in and out as quickly as possible without issue," Tom Gorringe, the club's Sales and Marketing Manager, told the Daily Mail. "At Cardiff we attempt to take ownership of the visiting fans and pledge to do all we can to ensure that they have an enjoyable day, whatever the result."
On top of the matchday activities, the Welsh side have set up a dedicated Twitter account, @CardiffCityAway, to provide information, answer queries from visiting fans and give away prizes in the week after the game. Cardiff have also created an Away Fan Pack, an online guide covering everything from travel and ticketing, to activities and local attractions.
"It was so nice to be treated with respect and like human beings. Your stewards and the police were brilliant and made the fans welcome"
Manchester City fan
"I want to write to you to say thank you for your hospitality," read a letter to Cardiff from a Manchester City fan after attending Cardiff’s first home match of the season. 'It was so nice to be treated with respect and like human beings. Your stewards and the police were brilliant and made the fans welcome.
"The atmosphere in the ground was unbelievable; I had to put my fingers in my ears when you scored. Once again, Cardiff City Football Club, thank you and well done."
Such treatment of supporters is not exclusively reserved for away fans. Cardiff have been providing their home support extra pre-match entertainment with computer games for kids to enjoy and live music and dance troupes, all encouraging people to turn up to matches earlier.
By going the extra mile to engage supporters, both home and away fans are being enticed to matches in their droves for a good day out. The club sold all their season tickets for this season in February and the first three games of the new campaign have completely sold out, helped, naturally, by the anticipation of Barclays Premier League football, too.
Sales of away-match tickets also increased by 15% last season and both the Manchester City and Everton away ends this season sold out in just a few days. With the club working on plans to build a stage in the away end next season, so a band can perform the favourite songs of visiting supporters, it is no surprise Cardiff's away end has been shortlisted for the Best Visitor Experience at the Welsh Tourism Awards.
"We appreciate South Wales is not the most accessible of places – we want them to know we value them for coming"
"We appreciate South Wales is not the most accessible of places," Gorringe told The Independent. "It is a trek for everyone. You are looking at £100 minimum for a day out at football these days. We want them to know we value them for coming."
For Julian Jenkins, the club's commercial director, all this, of course, is also based on the commercial reality that more supporters, arriving earlier, adds to the club's income.
"When we started this journey six years ago we weren't in denial, we knew we had real problems," Jenkins said. "The perception of coming to our old stadium was not great.
"We try and change that perception. The work we do with away fans, and families in particular, is massive. We want more away fans to come. It is a good revenue stream for the club. Football in the Eighties was very good at telling you what you can't do. 'You can't stand, can't do this, can't do that.' They would look at the ticket and say, 'I know it has the right date and match but should I really let you in?' Safety and security is paramount, but we are here to give people a great day out."
To find out more about Cardiff City’s away day experience click here >>