Fan Engagement on the Rise at DRFC
During the past 12 months, Doncaster Rovers have been working closely with Mark Bradley, founder of The Fan Experience Company.
In his latest #InRoversWeTrust interview with Club CEO, Gavin Baldwin, Head of Marketing, Shaun Lockwood and Viking Supporters Co-operative Secretary, Martin O’Hara, Mark details the work undertaken in the past year and the most recent survey results.
Just over 12 months ago, in the wake of relegation to the third tier of English football, Rovers took the first tentative steps towards a supporter-focused future.
Prompted by the results of the Club’s first ever supporter experience survey, which highlighted a growing sense of disillusionment, John Ryan, the Club and Martin O’Hara from the VSC established a dialogue with supporters, with the aim of re-discovering the club’s identity and using this to drive a new, more authentic version of fan engagement.
#InRoversWeTrust was born in May 2012 and now, 12 months later, with Rovers’ the subject of a Serie B presentation in Milan, a case study at a major Football League conference and the ‘cover story’ for football’s leading industry magazine, the results of our fourth fan engagement survey provide remarkable evidence of the club’s progress off the pitch.
‘Just a Pub Team Having a Laugh’
‘It was a simple notion’ says Martin O’Hara, ‘but one that’s always seemed to elude football clubs. If the club and its supporters share a view of what the Club represents and what its values are, then by designing all of its activities to reflect this, that sense of engagement should return.’
The identity that emerged was one that all Rovers fans would recognise: just a pub team having a laugh – a club that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a history of overcoming enormous odds and always remaining grounded.
It’s been this identity – and a new tendency to ask the question ‘what would Donny do?’– that has defined this period of re-engagement on and off the pitch: from 8 year old Mac Wilson’s formal interview for the vacant manager’s post (it’s not known if he threw his hat into the ring with Paul Dickov) to Groundsman Andy Thompson being awarded Man of the Match for his snow clearing efforts in February.
No club, to our knowledge, has ever set out to understand just what the various elements are that affect a fan’s feeling for his or her club at any given moment. So, with this in mind, the Club began asking fans, via regular surveys, how valued fans felt and what were the factors influencing their answers? To reflect the standard approach taken in the wider services sector, we also asked how strongly our fans would recommend match day at the Keepmoat Stadium to friends and family.
As the graph below shows, the results have been excellent, with feelings of value rising by nearly 50% over the course of a year, while recommendation scores (perhaps insulated by Rovers’ supporters’ natural desire to promote their club) also rising steadily.
Figure 1: Doncaster Rovers Supporters: Feeling Valued / Recommendation (2013 / 2014)
These results don’t just indicate that fans feel happier about the club, but they also give us an insight into exactly why.
Back in August 2012, the first most common factors influencing sentiment were the securing of a new lease on the Keepmoat Stadium, the arrival of Gavin Baldwin as new CEO and the feeling that fans now had a voice and could influence decision making at the Club. To many, the club’s recent demotion may have explained the absence of any ‘on the pitch’ factors at this point.
As Rovers cemented first position (through a remarkable run of away results) and cemented first position in the League, one would have expected ‘on the pitch’ factors to dominate subsequent surveys. Remarkably however, even after the last day drama at Griffin Park, of the top 5 most common reasons for increasing feelings of engagement, only one (the team’s performance) related to ‘on the pitch’ with those above being joined by positive attitude from the club & staff towards supporters.
‘We believe this is a first in football’ says Gavin Baldwin. ‘Being able to track how fans feel about the club and understand what’s behind their feelings gives us a head start when it comes to doing the right thing. Many of the improvements we’ve worked on with Martin and other supporters have directly come about as a result of these insights.’
The Improvements Continue
And the improvements are many. Shaun Lockwood explains that ‘there probably hasn’t been a single area of operations that hasn’t benefitted from fan input. From marketing the club to match day entertainment, from travel to ticketing, there’s a freshness around the club and a feeling that we’re being true to our values.’
Martin O’Hara was present on the day the Belle Vue Bar was christened and it wasn’t long before people were raising a glass of 1879 to it either. ‘1879 outsells our other beers by four to one, right now’ adds Shaun Lockwood. ‘It’s another example of the result of the club listening to fans and trusting their judgement.’
Rovers’ once again won a Family Excellence Award in 2013, one of only 8 clubs to win the award in every year since the scheme was founded in 2007. Regularly sold out, the Family Zone boasts Nintendo Wii stations, face painting and Donny Dog appearance with kids getting the opportunity to do some ‘shirt shaking’, to form a guard of honour, to take penalties on the pitch and to form a ‘high five’ line.
Having such detailed insights into what the club means to supporters has augured in a new era of ‘random acts of kindness’ at the Club. ‘Sometimes’ Shaun Lockwood explains ‘people who work in football forget they’re stepping on holy ground. Things that are sacred to supporters are often not given a second glance by people in the Club. We wanted to put that right.’
One of the club’s favourite pieces of correspondence in 2013 was from an away fan who, together with his children, was invited to watch his team warm up from the comfort of the dug out. ‘Unforgettable’ was his comment, while those Rovers fans who received a ‘thank you’ call from a first team player, moonlighting in the ticket office, won’t forget the experience in a while.
May 2013: Maintaining Momentum
With Rovers promoted, a sense of pride and anticipation has returned, but the results of the latest survey confirm, once again, that this is largely down to the engagement work undertaken by the #InRoversWeTrust team.
Now bolstered by the addition of two Supporter Liaison Officers Lee Croft and Mark Hughesman – genuine supporters who will ensure that the pace of change is kept up and the voice of the fan continues to drive improvements – the Club is looking to extend the ‘magic’ in the Championship.
The latest survey indicates rising contentment, but also highlights where the club still has work to do. ‘We may have taken a lease on the stadium, but we still have work to do to make it recognisably Rovers’ says Gavin Baldwin ‘while we know that elements of the refreshments and retail service could be improved. That’s why the latest survey asked fans to suggest products they’d like to see on sale.’
‘We also know that we could do even more to promote the Club and, especially, the improvements made. We think an Open Day could work well, so we’ve used the latest survey to ask fans what they’d like to see us do at such an event.’
Gavin Baldwin promises the club won’t rest on its laurels: ‘we can’t afford to be complacent or to assume that being in the Championship will suddenly become the only focus of fans. It’s right that we’ve created rising expectations and it’s important that fans continue to challenge me and my team.’
But the last word goes to the supporter: ‘The fans feel valued and there is a sense of unity within the club again. This has to continue next season whether we are 1st or 24th.’
With Rovers’ fifth #InRoversWeTrust survey scheduled for later in the summer, fans can be confident that the Pub Team will continue to have a laugh.
While we have collected hundreds of suggestions from supporters on what we could do to improve experiences next season, we’d like to hear more. What sort of ideas would personify Rovers, make our supporters smile and contribute to growing our army of fans? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.