So here we go again. As promised to a very large number of people, here’s what happened next after my epic rant about the marketing at Preston North End. I’ll apologise in advance as this will be another long one and I’m sorry to my regular audience for interrupting our normal service.
What did I learn?
Last weekend my Mum was having a conversation with my daughter asking her if she’d changed her clocks. Daughter was slightly puzzled. “Why Nanna, did the clocks change last night?” she asked. That’s how the times have changed. We no longer need to go around the house changing our clocks and spending a couple of days wondering what time it is and turning up for stuff early or late. The clocks all change themselves now. Teenagers today have no idea about all this changing the clocks stuff. You see, even the clocks move with the times.
So why isn’t the marketing at our beloved football club moving with the times?
After my last blog post on the subject, that, by the way, caused my phone battery to be fried, my DM’s to be flooded and my notifications to blow up, but thank you all for sharing. I literally received hundreds of comments and messages. I’m pretty sure I replied to everyone so if I did miss you then I’m really sorry and it was a genuine oversight. Well, that is unless you were the token misogynist that felt the need to call me a nagging old wife. Just for the record, I’m not married and you’d be punching well above your weight mate.
I’d say around 99% of the comments were very positive and in agreement with what I’d said. The small amount (three to be exact, well two if you exclude the misogynist) negative comments I did receive came from people within football. One, I’m making an educated guess was from a member of staff at PNE, although they used a false name but forgot to mask their static IP address, basically trying to tell me I didn’t know what I was on about and the other was someone who works for another local club who said I was very much out of touch with football. Granted the club they work for has fans that boycott their games. Not so sure who is out of touch there. But that was counterbalanced by several other clubs, other sports, players agents, former players and several media people contacting me to say I was absolutely spot on. So, we’ll stick with the positive comments I think.
A touch of the negative
What did make me think though from those couple of negative comments was that these are the people that we are looking to, to steer our club out of this declining attendance period. It may not be the exact people and I am just generalising, but if that is the mindset of the people we are looking to then you have to ask yourself who is really out of touch here? To me, it’s those very people who are supposed to be in at the deep end of running a football club that are out of touch with its fans. And that’s the point they seem to not understand. We, fans, are the customer. We are the ones buying tickets and turning up every week. Without us, there is no football club. The minute any business, football or not, stops to understand it’s customers and cannot think like a fan (customer), then they are in big trouble. Quite honestly, I’ve heard a few times about how football is just different from other businesses. Frankly, I’m sick of hearing that. It’s not that different at all.
Now I’m not so naïve that I don’t realise most of us don’t know the inner workings of a football club. And why should we. Other people get paid to do that stuff. Just like most of you reading this won’t know the inner workings of my business or anyone else’s for that matter. But, that doesn’t change our position as the customer. We pay our money, we turn up and we get a product or service, or in this case, something classed as entertainment. That obviously is subjective. Why are we compromising our position as the customer just because it’s a football club we are dealing with?
Anyway, after a few days of the almighty Twitter storm I’d started the phone call came and I was invited in to meet with the senior management of the club a few weeks later. As much as I was optimistic about this meeting and prepared a long list of potential marketing points, I was also mindful of the (large) number of people who had told me not to hold my breath waiting for anything to happen. I took it as a positive that they were willing to meet with me. But also knew that it could possibly be lip service. But I went with an open mind.
The meeting itself was a lot of me being told what they are good at and the excellent financial position of the club and what the people involved had achieved at other clubs. All well and good. I did learn a little bit about the possible barriers the club has to overcome which yes I get that it’s not as easy as it sounds to have better player engagement and put out more media content. But it’s not impossible and I’m pretty sure that a workable solution for this could have been found.
There’s also the finances of the club, which thanks to Mr Hemmings are a damn sight better than they were a few years back. But let’s just remind ourselves that it’s his money and not any actual staff member at the club. Him. Nobody else saved that club from going to the wall. He is also still funding the club to a certain degree and things would be very tight without his money. But, the current board have steadied the ship and luckily for us we aren’t in the same position as our other local rivals who without their owner’s money would go bang within weeks.
There were a number of key marketing points I raised that were quite basic stuff that the club doesn’t do. Any marketing or social media person would tell you these same things and they are all really bog standard stuff. When I meet with businesses I tend to hear a lot of the same lines from them, so I can pretty much guess the ones that are serious about taking action and those that just say they are. It’s usually things along the lines of being open to all ideas, will try anything, know they aren’t getting the results from their marketing so want to implement change. They believe they are doing their social media well but aren’t getting anything back from it, etc etc. Change is an action, not a conversation. Change is actually doing something. You can judge for yourself with the points I raised. But, just to give you a marketing lesson, which some of you may find useful, I’ve listed the points below;
- No clear calls to action on videos. If you watch any YouTuber, content creator, business that takes video seriously, at the end of every single video it’s like they read the same script. Everyone does it. It’s a simple, “If you’ve liked this video please like and share it and don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss any of our videos”. What you’re doing is a) asking the viewer to help you spread your message b) sending out a signal to the algorithms that your content is good so it will rank higher in search c) showing others that your content is good and they should watch and subscribe. It’s simple stuff but if you want to get more eyeballs on your stuff then that’s how you do it. More eyeballs eventually mean more customers, if you play your call to action game right. I think it’s stated that by 2020 around 80% of all online content will be video.
- Clear calls to action on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to get more people being aware they need to go buy a ticket for Saturday then you need to tell them to go buy a ticket for Saturday. In an online world where we are literally saturated with information every single day, it’s very easy for your message to get lost in all the noise. People are more likely to respond and take action when the message is very clear and tells them exactly what to do. So, more posts with links to buy tickets. Posts with the ticket office opening times. Give fans the information they need. More rallying calls to give a sense of urgency to get a ticket for Saturday, not just away games but every game.
- More posts. In marketing, we have what’s called a rule of sevens. Most people react to something once they have seen it seven times and are more likely to take action after that seventh contact with a message. That’s just a bit of the psychology behind advertising but I’m sure that most of you are aware that the more you see an advert the more you take notice of it. Even if it’s an annoying one. Social media posts have a very short shelf life and usually only about 5% (if you’re lucky and have an engaged audience) will see your post. Therefore, to stay in your audience line of sight you need, especially on Twitter, to be putting out quite a lot of posts. Facebook not so much, but Twitter yes. Two or three tweets a day are the work of amateurs. Professional businesses that are serious about their marketing are putting out tweets every hour and having stuff scheduled for overnight to make sure the insomniacs see their stuff. Many businesses now use Twitter as their customer service point of contact. I’m not saying that’s the right way to do things, but it’s how it is. I can tweet my bank and get a reply. You see my point here I’m sure.
- Player engagement. Now I totally understand that it’s not in a players’ best interests to get involved in Twitter spats. I’ve worked with enough celebrities and other sports people to have taught them well enough to shut up online when the abuse starts flying and step away from the keyboard. I’m also well aware that many high-profile people with big followings don’t manage their own accounts for this very reason. But that’s the big guns, not our lot. However, fans (customers) react far more to players than the club, so surely it makes sense to have players tweeting out rallying calls to help create that sense of urgency to buy a ticket for Saturday. Players asking who will be there. Short little videos of players saying to go buy a ticket. Also, I really don’t see why players can’t just like a tweet when someone is saying well played or something nice. The odd thank you. That’s just good manners surely? I was told in the meeting that all players from every club are told by the FA that they shouldn’t engage at all. Say nothing.
However, some former players, some current players (from other clubs) and a couple of agents have told me this isn’t strictly true. They are told not to engage in anything deemed abusive or engage in conversation about match specifics, but they aren’t told to be ignorant or ignore their audience. That’s just personal choice. I was even told by other clubs that they actively encourage their players to engage with their fans as they know the marketing benefits of this. They help support their players in doing this.
- Entertaining content. If you want your audience to take an action on your behalf or to talk about you more online, then you need to provoke an emotion within that person. So, why do you think over 500 people clicked the share button on my original blog post? Firstly, it was because they could identify with the issues I was raising and responded to the passion I showed for the subject matter. I created that emotion in them. Secondly, it was because I said at the end that if you like this post and agree with the points raised then please share it. The call to action. Content that is dull, none inspiring, vanilla, doesn’t create an emotion in people. Even if the emotion is anger, it’s creating a reaction and the emotion produces the response. But an easy way to get the response you want is by using more humour in posts. Entertain people.
So whereby the head to head quizzes are a good idea, some of the questions are a bit intellectual. It’s footballers we are dealing with so more simple stuff and more amusement. Get them talking more. Let’s get to know them more. It’s very difficult for many of us to identify with footballers so we lose that human touch element that is prevalent in modern marketing. We don’t have that level of authenticity which, sorry, is the latest buzz trend in marketing. But that is what today’s audiences want. It’s what works. Content like a day in the life or a Snapchat takeover by a player. Look at what does trend online and adapt it to the players and the audience.
- Facebook adverts. Given they have a database full of email addresses, it’s very easy to segment them to have a list of everyone that say bought a ticket for the Arsenal game. You then upload that email list to the Facebook ads manager audience tool and you can create an advert to only show to those people. Well targeted Facebook ads are probably the cheapest adverts on the planet right now. For a very low cost, the club could have an advert shown to what, 10,000 people. Very simple stuff. Show them a video of Aiden McGeady doing that thing where he leaves 5 players wondering what just happened. Show them what they are missing.
- Snapchat geo filters. Get fans to create the content for you by using a Snapchat geo filter for games. Ask fans to use the filter and share it to their story and also with the club so that they can use it. User generated content saves you the work and also gets your fans to spread the word of the great time they are having at the match with everyone they know. Granted, this is more for the younger audience but it is very popular and many clubs are now using it. I suggested it for the Fulham game for Gentry Day.
- More events. More opportunities for fans to meet and engage with the players. More things to thank fans for their dedicated service to the club, especially those that have been doing it for a really long time. Like a 50 Club, for those that have been attending for over 50 years. People like to be thanked. So thank them.
Like I said this is all quite basic stuff, but I wanted you to see this for a point of reference. There were other bits of stuff but these are the main points.
What Happened Next
After the meeting, I did then also email over a list of points for basic PR stuff, low to zero cost that could be actioned during March especially given the international break and with back to back games straight after the break. The Snapchat filter was used at Fulham and there did seem to be an increase and more awareness of the clubs social media activity. Many of us saw this as a positive sign.
And then there was crickets and tumbleweed. It went back to same old same old.
The ideas I gave them for March were:
Reading (home) – tunnel cam to Facebook Live for players coming out, creating FOMO for those not there but also a bit of behind the scenes too. Twitter poll for the man of the match. Snapchat filter and encourage users to share.
Paddy’s Day – get the Irish lads talking more about their backgrounds, where they are from, how they got into football as it will be very different to the English players, their experiences of Paddy’s day and what they miss about home. Let’s get to know them. Use a funny style quiz based on Irish slang words to see how much notice the other players take of them (some Irish slang is very funny, look it up on YouTube, you’ll laugh). Let them express their pride of being Irish and where they are from.
Rovers (away) – Yellow Day. “Let’s turn Blackburn yellow”. Again, Snapchat filter, user content etc.
Comic Relief – funny video of the Duck giving a team talk and they all look confused and then wear the Simon Grayson masks. A bit James Corden style when he did the one with the England team. Just something that generates a bit of a buzz and is good PR.
It’s not so much about the ideas, it’s more just about doing something that’s mixed in with the call to actions to go buy a ticket for the next game. Things that create talking points and evoke that emotion in viewers (remember what I said previously). I also gave them a few technical points about not posting YouTube links to Facebook and always natively uploading. No self-promotion pre-rolls on videos as you’ve only 4 seconds to capture attention. Upload Snapchat content to Instagram Stories as more eyeballs there. Again, just basic stuff.
Now granted we did have videos put out for Paddy’s Day. Personally, I wasn’t impressed and thought even taking out the theme and ideas behind them, the quality was poor, you couldn’t hear anything properly and the editing was a bit hit and miss. This is a professional business. Let’s at least try acting like one and buy a god damn Rode mic so we can hear what’s being said in the videos. They aren’t even expensive but you clearly need them. Here’s a link in case you don’t know what one is and it’s not even an affiliate link so I won’t make any money off it.
I did get some shade thrown at me from a club employee when I tweeted how underwhelmed I was with the Paddy’s Day effort. The same old excuses of under-resourced and no budget. Excuses. Every other business has to find the time and the resources. That’s business and that’s life and if the employer isn’t providing the tools and training to do the job, that’s really not my problem so don’t fire your abuse at me.
So, from the Rovers game, through the International break, there wasn’t one, and I really do mean this, not one single post that was a call to action to go and buy a ticket for the Forest or Bristol City games. There were posts about the away games, but not home games. Pretty sure it’s home game attendances that are our problem. We’ve got back to back home games, just weeks before the end of the season, with still an outside chance of getting into the play-offs. And there has been absolutely nothing, nothing telling folks to get up off their arses and go buy a god damn ticket for Saturday as we may only have a handful of games left in this league!
That was until today (I’m writing this really late at night on Thursday 30th March). The club sent out this tweet. Now, this is a screenshot so you can see the stuff on my phone screen, time, date etc so this isn’t me being a cow and photoshopping anything. What is wrong with this tweet?
It’s got Bolton’s f**king hashtag in it, not ours!!!! Seriously! One tweet in two weeks to get fans to buy a ticket and it’s not even aimed at our own fans! I’m pretty sure that Bolton fans don’t want to come and watch us given they are having a community day on Saturday and it’s a fiver to get on there! But it’s ok because they did manage to follow Justin Bieber. Perhaps he wanted to buy a season ticket?
** Note, this tweet was removed once someone at the club had read this blog, some 24 hours after it first appeared. They also unfollowed Justin Bieber. Clearly not a fan of his music then.
Anyway, take a deep breath after that one.
Some of you may have seen the fans survey doing the rounds online last week. Yes, I did have a hand in that along with a few other people. Over 1000 people responded to it and I have seen the results. I won’t go into them here as this blog post is already long enough but they are very interesting and clearly show that a very high percentage of the participants have very similar views. The issues at the club are seen and felt by most. But I will just address a couple of the points here and then we can find a better time and place to go over the finer details another time.
We know this is an issue, but, we also know the club have categorically stated that they will not do reduced ticket prices and season tickets Bradford and Huddersfield style. Now, realistically, they can’t. For the club to offer season tickets at £150 they would need to sell 25,000 to be around breakeven point. It’s physically impossible to sell that many as we don’t even have that many seats in the house. So, by my reckoning, we would need to sell 12,000 season tickets at an average price of £300 to be in the same financial position. Without one hell of a marketing campaign, I doubt that would happen. Let’s be realistic here. The club also has very few other income streams given that the catering and merchandise are franchised out. That only leaves sponsorship and bits and pieces. Sponsors pay for eyeballs on their name and brand message. 888 for example. But 10k attendances aren’t going to create big money sponsorship deals. More eyeballs are needed. A bit of a chicken and egg situation really. Would cheap tickets create more fans? Probably not. But it might bring back those that haven’t been in a while. But then everything else has to fall into place to be able to keep them coming back week after week.
The other issue with cheap tickets is that if we want to be attracting players like McGeady and have a hope of signing them, then we need to be able to pay them. As the club gets more successful our players will become of interest to other clubs with deeper pockets. If we want to keep some of our current players there will come a time when they will be in a position to ask for more money. Where does that money come from? Again, it all just goes back to revenue, more bums on seats and more eyeballs to get bigger and better sponsorship deals.
Safe standing areas – this is out of the clubs control. Since Hillsborough and the Taylor report, standing is illegal in England and Wales. There are action groups now campaigning to overturn this. Let’s leave it to them and the big clubs with the deep pockets. This is something that is out of ours and the clubs control so let’s focus our energies on what we can change. It will be great if it does happen, but it won’t be this or next season. Our problem is happening now.
Lack of atmosphere – well we are the fans. We are the ones who can change that. Yes, there are things that the club can do to help, but let’s focus on what we can do.
Lack of club communication – think we’ve already covered that one, in depth.
Fanzone – this is probably down to space and licensing. I don’t think there is currently enough space around the ground to have one. I know there have been plans submitted to the local council to demolish the old Legends building that now houses the offices, but this would be linked to the plans for Ingol being passed. Again, this won’t happen in the near future, so let’s work with what we have for now.
There are quite a few other points raised, but again, we’ll save that for another time. There were several mentions of PC Elliot (@PNEPolice) and the great work he does in communicating with fans. Someone did say that nudity should be allowed at games. A few Leeds fans wanted to tell us that they want Grayson back and someone, perhaps an employee used it to spam it with comments about me. Think the term used was ‘bitter little social media guru whose ideas and help aren’t wanted.’ Clearly given that tweet with Bolton’s hashtag in it shows you know exactly what you’re doing! I would insert the LMAO emoji there but that might be slightly immature.
The point here is, the fans overwhelmingly feel like they aren’t being listened to. A large majority feel that there isn’t fan representation within the club and that there should be. I’ve read up on the lack of fan representation within all clubs and at board level and wondered why that is? Surely having a man on the inside would help any club? Probably the same reasons there’s a severe lack of women and ethnic minorities on football club boards too. This is something certain bodies are now trying to address and there are more published reports on this available.
If the current ticket prices are to remain and be justified then, in my opinion, the club needs to pull its socks up on everything else it does. Focus on offering great value for the money spent by fans. Become a PR machine with fantastic social engagement. Create buzz and hype. Work with the fans to improve the overall matchday experience. Make it a day out that everyone enjoys. Get the catering working right so we don’t have to miss 10 minutes of the game just to get a brew at half time. It’s all the little things that matter to people that makes them question how much they spend on a ticket. Address the little things and work on the bigger things. Just do something. Be seen to do something. Make big, bold points about doing something. But actually, do it. Don’t just talk about it or say you are open to all ideas. In situations like this often you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Well, you might as well do to save being told at a later date that you did nothing.
Token gestures like the trialling of the smoking area are ok, I guess, But it doesn’t really address the declining attendances does it? And let’s just stop with the excuses of the Premier League club pinching our fans. We still have a good population in our catchment area to go at. There’s still enough people knocking about to fill the ground. Let’s concentrate on finding them rather than the excuse and blame game.
So What Next?
It’s all well and good me writing these epically long blog posts and lots of people having their say. But really, it’s time for action. Now from what we’ve seen so far, we might have to wait a while for the club to take action. So what can we, as fans do in the meantime whilst we wait for the club to put their clocks forward?
Ok, so this is only my own ideas. You may think they are crap or you may have better yourself, but the important thing now is that as fans we come together, communicate properly with each other. Not play who can shout the loudest in online forums and belittle anyone that says something that we don’t agree with. Stop the divide in fans because that really isn’t helping in presenting a united voice to the club. You may not agree with some people, you may not even like them very much. You may not agree with me and you may think my ideas belong up my own backside. But surely we all want the same thing? And if that means taking some initiative ourselves and being grown-ups and trying to cooperate with those we may not see eye to eye with, showing the club the collective power we have as fans when we all start communicating properly and working towards a common goal. Then that has to be better than the current situation of us and them and nothing really happening?
So, here’s some ideas to get you started on creating a bit of a buzz for the next few matches. Remember when we all went to Fulham, but the players forgot to turn up but we all had a great day out anyway. We had a theme and stuck to it. Fan communication and a simple theme:
Huddersfield away – Yellow day. Everyone wear yellow. Yellow balloons etc. Think that’s self-explanatory enough
Norwich home – show your colours day. Everyone wear white or retro shirts. Everyone make an effort to make some noise. Take video and photos and share as much as possible online to show everyone else what they are missing
Newcastle away – ok so I think it’s been established it’s a bit of a joke what’s happened there with the date being moved. Instead of spending the £25 or whatever it is on a ticket that you would have spent, why not pledge to spend that locally. If you are a local pub that will be showing the game, make a big deal out of it and encourage fans to have meet ups at your pub where they all pledge to spend that £25. Keeping it local and the money in the local economy, helping out local business. Like a #shoplocal but just for a football match. I’ve written about the importance of shopping local before here if you’re interested.
Rotherham home – this is our (maybe) last chance to #fillDeepdale this season. Have something like a Superheroes theme, everyone come dressed as a hero. It could be their footballing hero or an actual Superhero. I can just see 50 Spidermen walking up Deepdale Road. Kids will love it. You can even add a charity element to make it more appealing. Arrange a collection for Grayson’s charity before he goes off on his bike ride. The point is, make it a fun day out. If the club isn’t focusing on the matchday experience then we can do our bit to help create more atmosphere and make it more entertaining. We are great at doing these things away from home so let’s try and do it for the last home game.
Wolves away – fancy dress, whatever. Be it a theme or just general. But it’s an away day so we’ll be great whatever we do.
The main thing is that we do something rather than nothing.
If we all do our bit and show our support to the lads on the pitch, maybe, just maybe, the folks in their offices in the back might actually take notice and realise that we aren’t just football fans. We are their customers. Some of us are business owners. Some are lawyers, accountants, doctors, dentists, teachers, parents, young, old, students or retired. But we are all customers. We don’t just magically appear out of thin air on a Saturday having experienced nothing else in the world all week. We may not know the inner workings of a football club, but we do know when things aren’t right and something has to give. I, like many others, remember the bad times and I’m damn sure none of us want to end up there again.
I know a lot of you have emailed and contacted the club to voice your concerns and haven’t been impressed with the responses you’ve received. Please just remember that these are just employees, they will come and go. We’ll all be here for much longer than them and long after they’ve moved on to someone else’s employment. It is up to the Board of Directors to issue a statement of intent about the future direction of the club. Not an employee.
The clocks have gone forward, let’s all start looking forward and doing whatever we can. Be it arranging theme days or making our points heard. But do it together. A united voice is far more powerful than the fragmented one we currently have.
And I promise not to write any more of these far too long blog posts. Honestly, I really do promise!
Rant over. Peace out.
Hopefully, you’ve all paid attention to get this far, so you know the drill. If you like this post and agree with the points made then please give it a share on social media and add your comments below.