In Rovers We Trust programme continues to deliver.
As Rovers fans know only too well, the Club has had plenty of ups and downs on the pitch over recent years. From the Conference adventure just over a decade ago to the play-off victory over Leeds, things are never boring at the Keepmoat Stadium, while, more recently, the wonderful climax to the 2012/13 season contrasted with relegation in 2012 and May’s heartbreak at Leicester.
However, one area that has consistently improved in recent years is the sales of season tickets. More tickets have been sold ahead of the new season than before the start of last season when supporters were naturally on a promotion ‘high’. In fact, sales are 5% higher than the same time last year (and 13% higher than this point in 2012).
Achieving an upturn in season ticket sales on the back of relegation is virtually unknown in football, but Rovers have a secret weapon: The In Rovers We Trust supporter engagement programme.
Since its creation in early 2012 the Club and its supporters have worked together to ensure everyone feels proud to be a Rovers fan and feels genuinely valued by their experiences when visiting the Keepmoat Stadium or in their wider relationship with the Club.
No club can ever consistently control the outcome ‘on’ the field of play, but it’s clear that the positive dialogue with supporters has ensured that the Club has a successful story to tell ‘off the pitch’.
The term ‘fan engagement’ is often heard in football today, but there’s a world of difference between giving supporters an opportunity to question Club officials and spending time fostering genuine dialogue.
Our starting point at Rovers was an earnest exploration of what the club meant to its supporters. From the smiles of recognition at the phrase ‘just a pub team having a laugh’ to a much more detailed understanding of the club’s DNA, supporters have helped ensure that key decisions are made in a way that is mindful of our heritage and identity.
This was reflected in the re-naming of the Lakeside Bar to the Belle Vue Bar and the introduction – on the back of a supporter’s idea – of the still successful 1879 beer.
It has also informed the launch of the ‘honesty flag’ scheme in the Family Zone, together with other enhancements which have seen the club remain one of only seven clubs in the entire Football League to win the Family Excellence Award every year since its inception in 2007.
There have also been regular surveys, which have helped the club identify supporter priorities and continue to make changes, from establishing cash turnstiles in 2013 to working with new catering partners to ensure an overhaul of the concourse refreshments service the same year.
The appointments of Lee Croft and Mark Hughesman in 2013 as the Club’s first Supporter Liaison Officers has increased the focus on fans further, while plans are now underway to strengthen our SLO team.
In fact, the number of compliments received by the Club – with a growing number coming from away fans – has now reached unprecedented levels, with the Club gaining recognition for its welcoming approach to visiting supporters (some of whom have even been invited into the dug out to watch their team warm up pre-match).
This year, we have once again invited supporters to design our home and away kits for the new season, while open training days, ‘magic moments’ for unsuspecting fans and imaginative deployment of our first team members in the local community continue to generate positive coverage for the Club.
While our focus must be guided by the needs of our local community (as our recent Food Bank ‘drop off’ initiative illustrates) it’s gratifying to see the In Rovers We Trust programme recognised more widely.
The industry magazine FC Business has published an extensive feature on the Club’s work with supporters while the club’s authentic approach to fan engagement has been noted by sports marketing experts in the US, Europe and Australia.
In Rovers We Trust is designed to grow the club through open and transparent dialogue with supporters and the good news on season ticket sales shows that the seeds sown following relegation in 2012 are starting to bear fruit.
With many new ideas already planned for 2014 / 2015, including the repeat of the Clubs ‘away day on us’, a kids takeover day and planned reciprocal pricing for League 1 fixtures, its impact can only grow stronger.