The Football League has begun its roll out of the new-style club websites which it hopes will lay the ghosts of the previous uniform design and add more spark to the digital presence of over 80 British soccer clubs.
As reported previously on this blog and in FC Business magazine itself, Football League Interactive has undertaken an 18 month project to not only reshape the look and feel of individual websites, but also to offer more variety and more content. The plan was to start the roll-out on some selected sites before turning all of the FLi portfolio to the new look by the end of this coming season.
So this week, they have made under-the-radar launches on at least four club sites that I can see – Leyton Orient, Bury, Barnsley and Notts County.
One thing has clearly been achieved – the designs available for the clubs to choose are radically different. As you will see in a minute from the screengrabs of the live sites, the promise of a text-based look-and-feel, a picture based one and a stats based one has been achieved. However, one of the problems is that one of the design choices is so strong and so good, most clubs will end up choosing this one by default.
The first new site to look at is Leyton Orient’s. Click on the image below to see it in full screen.
They seem to have chosen the layout which shows off how much story content there is. The navigation is simple and works very much like the current BBC homepage, where you click an arrow on the right or left to move the content offering. There is a search bar at the top (more of why that is important in the next examples), but there doesn’t seem to be much hierarchy and the colours are not bold enough for me.
The next example is Bury. Again, click on the image to see it in full screen.
This is a much bolder design and I quite like it. The masthead stands out on the background picture of Gigg Lane and the four blocks below it offer the club the chance to highlight the things that are the most important to the club. They stand out, and have simple calls to action.
But it gets better. Take a look at Barnsley’s new site…
Big, bold imagery right at the top. Football is often about what you see and this design really grabs you by the use of big pictures. The navigation is still clear at the top, although I’ve got to say the ‘Barnsley Football Club’ title in the masthead is very wimpy. It looks like it’s been added as an afterthought and is lacking boldness.
The other problem with this design is that the search bar (which is a key tool) has been shoved to a little black tag on the right of the picture which could easily be overlooked. The search box for me always has to be at the top of the page.
But you cannot underestimate the power of visual appeal to attract people into a subject, and this design really grabs that opportunity by the horns.
And this visual theme is continued on the bottom half of all the websites, where clubs can make stats and video come alive in an accessible way. Take a look at the middle of the new Notts County home page…
A row of blocks highlighting key stats, a mini video player, a gallery of pictures and a great way of displaying players’ individual profiles occupies the centre part of the front page. This visually appealing way of showing graphics continues throughout the site, with a good stats section and an easy way to navigate on the player profile page itself.
And all the ‘furniture’ on the sites seem to work. Ticketing is well signposted and it is easier to find contacts for people involved in the club.
Now nothing is perfect in this world, and that would be the case with this relaunch. There are a number of things that look odd or just jar and do need to be resolved.
An example is below. As you can see, most of the local businesses which support Notts County have dark logos and they are difficult to see on a site of a similar shade.
Staying on the subject of local businesses. One of the big promises of the redevelopment was that more could be done by clubs to to promote their local sponsors on their site.
There is precious little I can see in the designs so far that achieves this – and local sponsors are left to share limelight at the bottom of the site with national brands.
More advertising opportunities have been opened up in the drop down menus you get in the top navigation – but it looks a bit odd there. And also, if the club does not have much to put in that navigation, the banks of white space left in the navigation look awful.
Speaking of blank spaces, there are quite a few places where sponsor tags are supposed to be, but they clearly haven’t been sold. So it looks a little embarrassing to have ‘Powered By’ and then a blank space.
Another annoying thing is the video player on all the sites starts to play straightaway. This is well-known to be a bad user experience.
There are always going to be be hiccups and I am sure these will be ironed out (or there will be good reasons for keeping them), but the revolution which has been secretly launched this week is far better than what was previously there.