As Brentford prepares for its move to a new stadium in 2020, the club are taking steps to develop the fan experience at Griffin Park whilst testing new ideas for future generations of fans. fcbusiness speaks to fan engagement manger, Ryan Murrant about some of the work being carried out by the club.
Can you explain a little about Brentford’s fan engagement policy?
The club’s ethos is based on ‘Affordable Football’ and that’s where it starts and it works down from there. Our owner wants people to be able to come to the club and he, being a fan himself, understands the challenges around getting people to games especially round here where we’ve got teams like Chelsea, QPR and Fulham – all who have got Premier League Pedigree – on our doorstep.
Brentford, although we’ve got a unique ground our competition is literally a few streets away. But we’re really focusing here on the community, making fans feel valued and also, something we are really keen to develop ahead of our new stadium move, is our commitment to diversity and inclusion. That is a key strategic element of our long-term business strategy.
We feel it’s worth the investment in those things and to better connect with our local community. We need to understand the barriers for them to support the club and ensure we do what we can to ensure they come to Griffin Park. But we have a big challenge. We need to break down those barriers through our Community Trust and use all the different ways we can to communicate with the local area to achieve our aspiration to be the most welcoming, diverse and inclusive football club in England.
So where are your current fans coming from now. Are they coming from a wider area?
A lot of our fans now are coming from the wider area and have been coming here because their fathers and grandfathers have. Historically our season ticket holders are very local and that’s where the club is quite unique. It’s good in the fact that there are a lot of generations that come here. Our gates are growing, 10,000 on a Wednesday night is a good gate for us, but when you break that down you’ll see the family area still has some occupancy challenges so we need to look at how we engage and use our current fanbase to help us grow.
You recently launched a new family focused website – what was the thinking behind this and was it easy to convince the club’s owners this was something the club could benefit from?
This is something that came from vice-chairman Donald Kerr, and is an element of the club’s objective to be more inclusive and accessible. In the main, football club websites are very good at being football club websites. Do football club websites make it easy for families to get here or understand what to expect when here? Absolutely not, so we stepped away from the norm and looked at companies such as Merlin and EasyJet and businesses away from football.
We wanted to understand what they do to attract people to their venues or see how easy it is to buy a ticket on those websites. We are good friends with the people at the NFL so we looked at their supporter journey and also tried to learn from a full range of businesses and how they do things.
Many football clubs probably don’t get it right because we rely on supporters coming whether we win, lose or draw but we needed to make it easy for new people to get here. The website was ultimately built around making it really easy for parents and new families to plan a match day visit.
If you look at Griffin Park, to you and I it’s unique, it’s got terraces and a pub on each corner – for the football purist it’s a beautiful place. But if you’re a new family that’s never been to a game before, you may think it’s not going to be a friendly place. But that’s not the case and certainly not what we want so we needed to make it welcoming. If you look around the ground it’s probably not that pleasing to the non-football fan or potential new fans. So we needed to build a website that showcases our match day experience and makes it easy for parents and carers to firstly buy and ticket and then understand what it is like here.
The reality is we haven’t got a shiny new stadium yet and we’ve got concourses that back onto people’s gardens and there’s not a lot we can do about it. So the website helps families find out what is available to them such as how to meet the mascot or the players, food options available or how they can interact with other fans and find out what stand might be right for them. It’s essentially to help them understand what our match day is all about. We have to work with what we’ve got and I think we do that extremely well.
What’s the feedback to it been like so far and has it improved the match day experience for the target audience?
Feedback so far has been really quite positive. From our own fans it’s been really good across social media with people commenting on the way it looks and the branding we use – the Little Bees section stands out very well. But for me, the most positive thing has been Premier League and EFL clubs getting in contact asking how and why we did it. That is a demonstration of the uniqueness of the site and the willingness of other clubs to learn from it.
Fans are embracing it, for example, emails that we send to promote it to family ticket purchasers have an open rate of 68% against an average of 31% elsewhere. The click rate on those emails is 53% compared to an average of 10% so we are definitely serving relevant content to the right people.
We’re happy to share those ideas because we’re not necessarily in competition with most football clubs – but it is a day out and we sell coming here as a day out. Again our owner is so passionate about us being an affordable day out in London and our family day prices reflect that.
So the feedback has been very positive and internally we’re very proud of the site because what we have done is created a site that talks to a specific group in a voice that’s right for them. Football clubs often talk to all groups in the same tone. This ensures you’re talking to that group in the right tone of voice and when it comes to fan engagement that is so important. There’s no point talking to a new family as you would to a person that’s been coming here for years. Their supporter journeys are completely different.
Do you think clubs are still slow to understand the impact something like this can have on the experience of family fan groups?
I think some clubs are forward thinking. I personally think Brentford are one of the most innovative on and off the pitch. We are a very data driven business. That’s why I came here, they want to evolve and they allow budget for it to evolve if it’s the right thing to do. We’re encouraged to work in a way that if it’s not in the best interests of the supporters then why are we doing it. But I am surprised more clubs don’t have that culture – you can have a strategy but if you don’t have the culture right then the strategy will fail. You can’t drive things forward if the culture isn’t right.
Brentford are in the process of building a new stadium due to open in 2020. How will the fan experience develop/change as a result?
We’re due to move in 2020. Logistically and aesthetically it’ll give us a little bit more room on a match day but we’re still building a stadium in London so you’re never going to have a huge amount of space. We’ll hopefully get more fans here and that will also raise expectations but we have to keep evolving.
One of the things we are doing at the minute is hosting a number of focus groups that explore elements like family experience, inclusion, technology etc. Those groups were set up to form part of our strategy to improve the match day experience at the new stadium. Our view is that it’s their club so it needs to be right for them.
We can sit here and do what we think is right but it’s got to be driven largely by the fans. So in the family area for instance we’re asking them what they want in there. What do our carnival fans what from the stadium and how do we help them make a special atmosphere? That’s what these groups are set up for.
But ultimately we’re not sure how it will develop – it depends on what the supporters want and it’s down to us to work with them to deliver that. That may sound all pink and fluffy but that’s what we as a club are about, working with the fans to develop what they want and delivering it within the parameters of the stadium.
Is there’s a commercial benefit to an all round better match day experience?
Absolutely. If you’re a bigger club and getting 60,000 sell outs every game then you’ve probably not got much of a problem commercially. But we have to engage our fans and make them feel valued. If they feel valued then they’re more likely to come back and bring their friends or families or buy more merchandise etc. But we have to make them feel valued or else they won’t come back and that is really important.
We conduct exit surveys after games and all that feedback goes back to our management team whether it’s positive or negative. We have the EFL mystery shops but we also conduct our own through external agencies so we get a better understanding of how we’re doing. We’re constantly evaluating those touch points and improving until the end of the season.
What advice would you give to other clubs?
I think you need to have the desire to create Monday morning stories among fans. I believe that if you can create a story you’ll strengthen or even change the perception of your club. We do things on match days don’t cost anything, but what they do is get people talking.
There’s a misconception that fan engagement is just about talking to a fan or sending them an email or sending them a season ticket renewal with their name on it. It isn’t – I think they are nice touches but you need to understand what makes your fans tick, why it makes them tick and then start digging deeper and that’s what we’re doing here with the systems that we’ve got. We are working horizontally to understand our fans and then we can start working vertically to really understand their DNA and that’s when you can make an impact.
A lot of fan engagement has gone digital mad but there are a lot of analogue things that can help you win fans for life. The kid that reads out the team sheet before kick-off is probably never going to forget that moment and its things like that that clubs can do but don’t seem to. It’s not all about having the biggest and best stadium, there are experiences that can scale up or down across the whole of the football pyramid. There are so many things that clubs could do and the only thing that stops them is themselves and that comes back to the culture at the club. That’s what I like about being at Brentford, our culture is to make it brilliant for everyone and that’s what we try to do.
Interview first appeared in issue 113 of fcbusiness magazine. For more interviews and features from the football industry Subscribe today