Sites for Sore Eyes

Thursday 13th November 2014 at 6:41PM

One of the more curious idiosyncrasies of modern sport is the fact that official websites are probably far more important to new or infrequent fans than they are to diehards. Bizarrely, however, most websites still stubbornly fail to take this factor into account. 

Some mischievous souls would venture that official websites are seldom used by anyone, since the core fraternity eschews the what it interprets as the corporate ‘shtick’ of the ‘official’ message, preferring to use other news or discussions services (Twitter or, latterly, SportsYapper) & those considering attending their first game find so little of use on cluttered and unhelpful home pages that they may end up seeking succour elsewhere too.

On the assumption that part of the desired growth at clubs must, in part, come for new sources, it’s important that the website is inclusive of these needs and yet, until Reading FC first broke the mould 3 years ago and featured a concourse food menu on their website, not one British football club had actually ever explained what it had to offer. For one group – young families – where the food is the expected high point for the quickly bored youngster, having no information on the official site is a major fail, since parents want to be able to manage their kids’ expectations. Is there food? What food do you sell? How much does it cost? Answer those questions and I’ll plan accordingly. Remain taciturn and I’ll be tempted to eat before we arrive or bring our own food.

Many clubs do provide extremely useful information services on their websites: match day guides, first time fan information, activities available to extend the 90 minutes and services such as social clubs, family rooms and children’s entertainment.  But because these services are aimed at the passing and / or new customer, they must be clearly visible under a meaningful heading and intuitively reached, otherwise they run the risk of being missed.

The football vernacular is evolving, but it can also be complex to the uninitiated. Terminology that is familiar to the football lover is capable of confusing the potential new fan.  I recall a friend of mine ringing a club several years ago to enquire about taking her kids to a game. ‘Can I book places in advance?’ she said, with a reckless lack of respect for the accepted lingo. ‘No need’ the voice at the other end of the line replied, ‘it’s pay on the gate.’ Hard as she tried she could not rid her mind of a farmer leaning against a stile on summer fete day holding on to a leather cash bag.

In the wider service industry it would be stretching things to claim that websites are the key ‘moment of truth’ in a customer journey, since that is usually trumped by the quality of the customer experience itself, but it’s true that while a poor first impression might not put off a committed or interested purchaser, it does create a level of dissatisfaction that is likely to result in to whatever the opposite of a ‘halo effect’ is called throughout the rest of the experience. You didn’t help me at the start, so my confidence that more help with be forthcoming at key moments is now diminished.

If clubs want to attract new fans – particular young families – they need to think differently; put themselves in the shoes of the target segment and create channels that provide compelling evidence that they know what matters most. Way back when, Pizza Hut first burst on to the scene with a brilliantly innovative approach (which maybe doesn’t seem so exciting now, but back in the day, was game changing). Their target market was young families, for whom the quality of the food and perceived value for money were second to the convenience of the overall experience, so they wove these expectations into the design of their customers’ experiences. Worried that your youngsters will spill their drinks? That’s where ‘free refills’ came from. Worried that your little darlings will get bored waiting for food and start to play up? That’s why (back then) you were told your pizza would be with you in 15 minutes when they knew it would be less than ten. Worried that your kids will want to rush home before you’ve digested your Super Supreme? Tell them about the Ice Cream Factor, John!

The official club website is capable of meeting and exceeding new families’ needs in lots of innovative ways (see Derby County’s facility where you can register that you’re attending your first match and receive bespoke information, for example) but it requires a different mindset. Sadly (and for understandable reasons) many of those of us involved in designing customer-facing services are conditioned by the belief that we know what people want.

If it’s true that new fans are much more likely to use official club websites than existing ones, then shouldn’t a first glance reflect that balance? As things stand, for many new people taking their first steps in the beautiful game, some sites only produce sore eyes.


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