Wednesday 11 September 2013
Attending a live Barclays Premier League match should be memorable and enjoyable for fans - whatever the result - and clubs have been working harder than ever to try to make this happen.
A great example last season was Reading's fresh approach to away supporters which, as the club's Customer Service and HR Manager Jackie Evans explains, has shown the importance of respect and innovation.
"For the past couple of seasons we have been especially focusing on the visiting fans' experience and in particular making visiting families feel welcome. It is about the whole experience, and not just the 90 minutes of football, and what we do off the pitch can enhance that.
We show highlights of their club's previous season on the concourse televisions and when fans use the catering kiosks, the staff wear t-shirts in the visiting club's colours with a catchy slogan which is relevant to them. So much interest has been generated in these shirts that some fans have asked to buy them!
"At no game this season has there not been a letter of thanks from a visiting supporter"
We have also created an area within the visitors' end solely for family groups with a family steward who is responsible for it. Our staff go into the family area at half-time to sell food to stop families having to go on to the concourse, which is often very crowded.
And where we have found young visiting supporters experiencing their first away game we take a photograph of their day and send them the matchday programme, signed by their team. That gives the young fan a memory to hold on to for ever.
Also for many years we have sold cookies in the home end in a bag designed by one of our young Reading fans. This season we got visiting clubs to ask one of their young fans to design a bag relevant to their team.
Wigan Athletic were very good with this. They sent us six designs and the winning one was picked by our young Royals who then met the winning Wigan fan, so this brought the two sets of supporters together in a positive way.
We started doing all this as there's no difference between home and away fans, and if you treat people like you want to be treated then usually they will respond in a likeminded way. There has not been one game this season where we have not had a letter of thanks from a visiting supporter.
"One fan told us he hoped his own club would deal with a complaint in the way we had"
Sometimes you have to appreciate as a club that things go wrong and you have a choice of how you deal with that. A long-standing Everton supporter came to their game here and he wasn't happy with the way that the stewarding staff searched all the visiting fans.
He wrote to us and I spent 45 minutes on the phone to him and he came to another game and told our staff about his experience. From that, people are seeing it from the supporters' point of view. It was priceless to us and he wrote to us afterwards saying he hoped his own club would deal with a complaint in the way we had.
Also invaluable is the backing we receive from the Supporters Services team at the Premier League. I don't think the League gets enough credit for the depth and breadth of its work with fans.
For example they devised VisitFootball, a joint venture between the Premier League and VisitEngland to assess the care that customers receive at football grounds. Each club receives matchday visits to assess the quality of the service for supporters.
We then act on their suggestions to move things forward and often they are quick fixes like improving the website and picking up on supporters making their first visit.
People part with hard-earned money to come to football and have a choice where they spend it so it is important that the service they get is right. I think football is increasingly getting what they do for fans right."
Liverpool Family Park
Liverpool's Family Park provides fans with somewhere to mingle and play games before kick-off. Children can enjoy themselves before the match with a range of games including five-a-side matches and a penalty shoot-out. The Park has proved very popular and is just the start of a range of new experiences for young Liverpool fans.
Manchester City Play Makers
Manchester City's Play Makers, alongside their stewards, create a welcoming experience for fans at the Etihad Stadium. The new team of energetic green coats stationed around the ground are there to welcome and inform fans about what activities are taking place during the pre-match build up. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a regular to the Etihad, the Playmakers are there to help.
Sunderland Family Zone
The Family Zone at Sunderland has transformed an ordinary concourse into an innovative space which gives parents and children a whole new football experience. Virtual football games, cartoon-screenings and the paintings on the walls all serve to ensure a great day out.