Bounds Green tube. 7.23am. Split Enz ‘Poor Boy’
My third straight football away weekend and I left the flat at 6am today and headed into London Euston for a Virgin Pendollino high speed train to Manchester. Arrived in manchester by 9am and went straight to check into my hotel. A quick tip if traveling and you get into a city early, always just go to the hotel and see if you can check in as chances are your room wasn’t used the night before and like my case I was able to check in from 930am.
I checked out the great educational national football museum before heading out to the Etihad Stadium for a meeting with the Manchester City service and fulfillment manager and the game against Crystal Palace later that afternoon.
I found the transport accessibility probably the best I’ve experienced and closest to the stadium that I’ve ever seen, even better than Yankee Stadium or Suncorp Stadium. I caught the metrolink light rail from Piccadilly Gardens to Etihad Campus for £2.90 but annoyingly at the end tickets weren’t checked so not sure if the transport provider just allows free travel back into the city in order to get everyone on the light rail.
The vibe as soon as I got off the light rail at The Etihad Stadium was electric and everything you want from a fan engagement perspective was on offer from live music and bands, mascot appearances and former player interviews and competitions to free wi-fi being offered across the stadium, table settings for dining, food carts, EA Sports gaming centre and live video screens playing past games and showing fan tweets.
All of these fan engagement activities were part of Manchester City’s dediated fan zone called City Square. As soon as I entered the fan zone there was so much to see and do and even for the neutral fan like myself it certainly was a memorable experience.
I checked out the plans for their stadium redevelopment which will see an extra 13-15k odd seats and talked to a nice chap from City named Chris about what future stadium designs might look like with hologram capabilities so games can be played in various locations around the world.
I was met by Lisa, the service and fulfillment manager of Manchester City who was a fountain of knowledge and took me into the City offices for a chat before kick off. One of the key fan engagement aspects to learn from her was that communication above anything else is the basis for all effective fan engagement. The take away was that effective communication and actively listening to fans was the most important part of the fan engagement process. I liked City’s idea of a twitter supporter services account @MCFCHELP designed for fans to ask questions about match day’s, memberships or anything club related. This was another way that the club were addressing the Visit Football Quality Assured Stadium Scheme checklist by really going above and beyond for their fans. Lisa was incredibly knowledgable and professional regarding these areas and gave me a Blues scarf before we got a pic and I headed out to the take up my seat in the stadium.
I grabbed a pint of Fosters (what else right!) in a specially branded Manchester City pint cup which was a nice touch and took me back to working the bars at the 2000 Olympics. I struck up a conversation with a lifetime member and his teenage grandson (the only two in their whole extended family that supported City, the rest were United fans!) about their thoughts on the price of football, fan engagement and the stadium and they had nothing but glowing things to say such as that his pensioner season ticket was only £299 (a big difference to the two old ladies I met at Villa and Southampton who were paying £500+ a season.
I purchased a match day program (my 7th so far on this trip) for £3.50 and was really impressed with the content. From the professional packaging and poster that was included it really rivaled the Arsenal program and for kids and adults alike those little touches really stand out. Hopefully one day in Australia ours will look this slick.
Headed on over to the City megastore to see if there was any out of the box creative merch and found a few nice items in a David Silva figurine, a City PS3 skin and a fold out large scale Etihad Stadium replica.
I took up my seat high up but directly on the half way line and greatly enjoyed the match but overall it was the whole match day experience which truly won. On another note it was interesting to see so many women at a football match. One of the areas with fan engagement I’m really passionate about is catering for and enhancing the match day experience of females. For too long the game has just been targeted to men or seen as a blokes day out but these clubs realise that as a business you need to make revenue so why not cater for all demographics by looking at ways to get more women involved in football for instance. How do Manchester City get more women to the games? Im not sure just yet but perhaps it has something to do with creating a modern, positive and engaging community kind of vibe on match days that has replaced the macho bygone days of football.
Zdeko scored a cracking goal after it looked like they might be headed for a draw and I was very impressed with watching Mile Jedinak’s performance. He really did look powerful today so perhaps a Socceroos spot is guaranteed for the World Cup.
I’d heard and read a few articles on Manchester City’s fan engagement strategy but to see it (and the match) live was a really great experience which has given me heaps of ideas as I move into a fan engagement career in the sports business.