Recently, the English Football League (EFL) released figures showing that the number of families and young people attending matches has increased dramatically over the last ten years.
The figures show that junior season ticket sales have increased by 37% over the past 10 years with 20% of all EFL club match attendees now under 16 years old. The EFL say much of the increase is down to the impact of its Family Excellence programme – a body of work to improve the match-day experience across EFL clubs for families and young fans.
We spoke to Andy Pomfret, supporter services manager at the EFL, about the work...
FSF: How have the demands of match-going families changed over the last 10-15 years?
Andy: Fundamentally the demands of match-going families haven’t changed, but what has changed is how families can consume information and the competition that clubs face trying to attract families to commit to live football.
A decade ago the strategy for clubs to grow attendances seemed heavily linked to winning matches and relying on existing fans to renew their season tickets, rather than trying to reach out and convert local families into match attending fans.
Clearly, there is far greater scope to communicate with fans now and families are eager to access large amounts of club information across various mobile and digital devices, often with the ability of completing ticket purchases on the same devices with just a few clicks
What clubs have done well to recognise is that while using technology to improve the ticket buying process easier is important, it isn’t enough on its own to encourage a new generation to attend matches.
It’s also much more dependent on the matchday experience and that’s why we work with clubs to ensure that they are best placed to ensure a family’s visit to a game is as enjoyable and stress-free as possible.
It’s important that families feel as though they are getting value for money, not only from the game itself but also through wider engagement around the football club as a whole. There is a lot of competition out there and clubs need to think differently, play to their strengths, and make themselves an attractive family destination.
FSF: The EFL has clubs of vastly different sizes and budgets - how did the family excellence work address the challenge at different size clubs, and measure its success from top to bottom?
Andy: In the early years of the Family Excellence Awards it’s fair to say that facilities and resources were mentioned as potential barriers to change.
However in the time that the Awards have been running, the majority of clubs have realised it is actually about making the most of what you have, nurturing a club’s values, and using them to positively engage with supporters.
In that sense, no club is really at a disadvantage, as the key element of the family visits and the service the EFL provides is an assessment process to ‘flag’ those things that clubs can actually exercise some control over.
It’s clear that there are always going to be factors outside a club’s control, such as the match results, the weather, traffic issues and long-standing stadium restrictions. However, by capturing the experiences and ‘warts and all’ feedback from real families, regardless of size of stadium and facilities, we are able to present clubs with clear guidance as to what works and what can be improved to help them improve the matchday experience for families at their club.
The process of the reports, sees clubs visited twice a season by a local family – who have not attended a game at their local EFL club. Families provide feedback across six main areas including, first impressions, journey, stadium vicinity, refreshments, retail and inside the stadium, and it’s this feedback that highlights opportunities for clubs to immediately improve the family experience they offer, often for little or no cost.
We have found that clubs are very receptive to the feedback and have used it to develop strategic thinking around their matchday operations. Ensuring club staff are attentive to the needs of families for example, shouldn’t cost a lot, and with a little creative thinking, many clubs are coming up with plenty of low or no cost solutions to increase engagement levels for families.
FSF: Could the success of the family excellence work and its formula be applied to other types of supporters?
Andy: Absolutely, and we have applied similar principles to other key work over recent years.
We have utilised a similar approach across different areas of fan engagement, including accessibility, inclusion and away day fans.
For example, all league clubs received a visit from a disabled fan between 2009 and 2012 and this work is ongoing with further visits scheduled for this season.
More recently as part of the EFL’s commitment to improving the matchday fan experience, our research has led to the Away Fan Experience Campaign, a similar assessment process which sees all 72 clubs receive a visit from a pair of experience away fans in the 2016/17 season.
The success of our family excellence work is also reflected in the recently released figures showing that junior season tickets have risen by 37% in the past ten years. We believe that the Family Excellence Awards is a progressive scheme that provides clubs with practical guidance that they can use to increase supporter engagement and actively deliver a matchday experience that the family will love and importantly, want to experience again and again.
However, fundamentally we are here to support clubs and it is they who are responsible for this exponential rise. They deserve recognition and praise in recognising opportunities to improve and develop innovative ideas that deliver unique matchday experiences for their family following.
Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.