Commercial and Marketing Director Matt Everett writes:
My first three updates have all been very commercial led – firstly broadly outlining my commercial aims for the club, then highlighting what the Manchester City match meant for us commercially, and finally talking about the 125th Anniversary and associated merchandise.
In this update, I want to talk a bit about the ‘bread and butter’ of clubs at our level – ticket sales, and how we market and promote those as well as our plans moving forwards over the rest of this season and beyond.
Firstly, people always point to “home form” as the only reason why crowds would be up or down. That certainly isn’t the case at the moment, as last weekend’s win over Blackpool represents the first time we as a club have won 5 consecutive home league matches since 1996. That is a fantastic achievement by the current squad, and shows just how difficult it has been over the years given that interim period included the four seasons played at Conference level and two promotions!
There is of course no doubt that team form and performance does have an impact. Crowds and support can also have an impact back, and as Karl often says, the support and atmosphere we do have at home can have a real positive effect on the team.
That said, our job when marketing the club, is to make the matchday experience as positive and enjoyable as possible regardless of the results. This is especially important for us as a club, where ticket and season ticket revenue contributes such a significant percentage of our turnover.
In terms of reporting, I have a forecast of ticket revenue by match, looking at equivalent attendances from similar matches in previous seasons, and what is noticeable is how stacked we are in the second half of the season with big home matches, with the likes of Barnsley, Portsmouth and Sunderland still to visit us. As long as we have strong support for those matches, then our overall ticket revenue for the season will even out.
My marketing strategy here is always to focus on making the big games bigger. They are the matches people want to see, and the atmospheres that people want to be a part of. I have often despaired at seeing clubs enticing new fans or families in, often for free, to a cold Tuesday night game with a lower than usual crowd. This is not the experience that will encourage them to return.
So what have we as a club been doing to promote matchdays since the summer?
Well, this can be split between trying to attract new supporters and rewarding and retaining valued existing ones. I spoke in my very first commercial update about increasing attendances and revenue not only by attracting a new generation of ‘die hards’, but also by becoming a viable ‘few times a season’ alternative to Premier League supporting families who would make us their second or local team.
To do that, we have to ensure the day out is as enjoyable as possible, regardless of the result. I was delighted this week that we received our first Family Excellence assessment report of the season, and we had improved on last year’s first report. This report has been an EFL initiative working with the Fan Experience Company, a company which I know well from previous roles and who do outstanding work in the matchday experience area, and the scheme has run since 2011. Oxford United has been awarded Family Excellence in 7 of those 8 years.
The awards are made using ‘mystery shopper’ families, who visit each club twice per season and record the ticket purchasing process, followed by everything from website information, travel, social media, matchday experience and food and beverage quality and price. It gives us a real benchmark against other clubs, and I am pleased to say that so far this season we are stacking up well.
The report does of course give us some comments and suggestions for improvement, and I will be looking at these along with the relevant departments and staff to ensure we score as highly as possible in our second visit.
In addition to this, we have also:
1. Re-opened a partnership with Jack FM, whereby we can promote our big matches with radio advertising to reach a wider audience across Oxfordshire. Jack FM listeners may have already noticed our prominent adverts for the Shrewsbury (125th Anniversary) and Southend (Boxing Day) matches, and these adverts will also appear for our big matches in 2019.
2. Run a ticket offer for our 125th Anniversary match, whereby we offered what I believe would have been the cheapest match tickets in the entire Football League, ranging from £1.25 - £12.50 and resulting in an attendance 37% above our average so far.
3. Sponsored the Oxford Round Table fireworks, giving out tickets to competition winning families, and offering a half price family offer to some of the 25,000 attendees – many of whom would not regularly support the club.
4. Launched a membership scheme which now has over 1,500 members, allowing supporters who cannot purchase a season ticket to benefit from ticketing priority for all ticket home and away matches and reduced price match tickets for home league matches.
5. Offered two trips to Thailand, courtesy of Thai Airways and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the first to loyal season ticket holders and the second of which will be won by an attendee at half time on Boxing Day.
6. Improved the email messages going out to both season ticket holders and members and casual/occasional fans, offering relevant updates on ticketing and match availability and previewing the games. I hope fans have started to notice better information being sent out in this way, and that it will be relevant to them, but we will continue to improve this as the season goes on.
7. From early 2019 I am delighted that our ‘Welcome to Oxfordshire’ campaign will start, targeting the 100,000 new build homes designated for this county in the next decade. Our partners Cala Homes will be inserting information and a ticket offer into their new homes packs for people moving in to a new home within their Oxfordshire developments, and we hope other developers will follow suit.
8. By the end of the season, we will internally have conducted a full review and devised a new strategy of our group sales, including schools and clubs, and how we promote this from next season via our strong links with the Community Trust.
So there has been a real focus in what we as a club can physically do to attract and retain support from across the County.
However, our biggest voices (I don’t like to use the term brand ambassadors here!) and most valuable marketing tool are of course our existing and loyal fan base. As a season ticket holder myself in the past, I have seen first hand how fan led initiatives can really drive not only attendances but also the ‘feel good factor’ and matchday experience. In promoting the 125th Anniversary match, we worked closely with the Yellow Army for example, who are in turn running a Christmas Raffle to support the Community Trust.
Similarly, the effect fan groups such as the Ultras can have on the noise and colour of the matchday cannot be underestimated.
Recently I have met a few fans, and I feel the frustration that the matchday experience is not as positive as it used to be. Yes we are performing well in terms of family visits by the EFL, but a support base is made up of so many different groups of people from Executive Box Holders to Families, our older generation of fans to the Ultras – all looking for a different matchday experience. I think that everyone knows that we are restricted as to what we can and cannot do as a club, but what we absolutely can do and will do is listen to ideas and work with fans to improve where we can. Often the simplest ideas are out there, and are actually possible.
One of my aims is to hold open conversations with fans from across these groups on ticketing and matchday experience, and early in the New Year I will start this process.
Another of my key initiatives for the club is to try and create a network of pubs which support the club, probably starting initially with one per large town in Oxfordshire. To do this, we will need the input from fans who live in these towns, and we will seek it. The idea would be that these pubs would promote our matches, and in turn we will promote them as a community hub for fans within that town to meet before travelling to matches, and to watch other football on the TV together.
From this rose the obvious question of a supporters club or viable supporters bar to improve the matchday. I know the history of the Priory, and I know the other local pubs such as the Blackbird, George and Catherine Wheel do attract supporters. Even closer to home is J’s Sports Bar. For those that don’t know this is just opposite the car park, above Frankie & Benny’s. It is run entirely independently, by a landlady that wants to help the club and become a real Oxford United bar.
I’ve visited the bar (it can be a tough job!) and it is a fantastic venue. They have already stocked Singha beer, and have a huge 7m screen showing all live football, as well as darts and pool tables.
Working with fans and the bar, I think we can make this a real fans favourite watering hole both on home matchdays, and for more community and club events during the week. In the New Year I hope to further this relationship and work as a club with the Yellow Army to make a matchday area which will greatly improve the day for fans. In the meantime, do pay a visit and have a Singha – the owner there Salli is doing a fantastic job and will listen to fans on their ideas as well.
On a similar note there is a new bar and restaurant called The Ridge who are also supporting the club and are business members. Do show your tickets there and the addition of more options for fans around the stadium can only help the matchday experience.
I’d like to finish with a question which I am sure I will be asked – what about Season Ticket Holders? Season Ticket Holders of course remain a huge priority for us. We will never run match ticket initiatives which make a season ticket less value for money, and this season we have also introduced the U’s Cash loyalty scheme, and given EVERY season ticket holder £10 to be spent in store, which has been very well received.
In addition to this, with all of our partners who can offer something for season ticket holders and members, I am ensuring that this is included in their support of the club. Over the coming months, more and more offers will be added for you to ensure you can gain other benefits from your season ticket, not just those we provide as a club.
Ultimately, improving the matchday attendances and experience will also benefit season ticket holders, with more crowds and a better atmosphere – not to mention the revenue coming in to the club.
So for all the marketing we are doing as a club, and for all of the initiatives we work on, we need to build that feeling of togetherness that makes a football club great. Karl and the team are undoubtedly doing their bit, we need you as fans to spread the word and get behind us.
Together as a club and a fanbase we can make real improvements to the matchdays. This is meant to be a behind the scenes update rather than a sales article, but do get behind us, especially in those big games to come. There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes, and a lot still to come."