Making the journey to the ground. Turning the corner and catching a glimpse of the stadium. Going through the turnstile. Getting your pie and Bovril. Cheering the goals and moaning at the misses. We all live for matchday as football fans.
We sometimes forget though that there’s club employees and volunteers tirelessly working behind the scenes every day of the week to make sure our matchday experiences are seamless and enjoyable.
I wanted to experience what goes into it for myself so I got in touch with Hibs’ Senior Communications and Marketing Manager, Colin Millar, to ask if I could go behind the scenes on Hibs’ matchday operation and see how the club kept fans in the know and entertained.
Colin has three other full-time colleagues in the communications and marketing department, and is supported by a valued group of volunteers numbering as many as eight on a matchday.
Unsurprisingly, preparations don’t just start on the morning of a match. They actually began way back at the beginning of the season for Colin and the team at Hibs when templates are created and structures are set out to follow. In some cases, Colin admits, there’s processes that have been in place for years and continue to operate smoothly. Things that perhaps come across as less-than-glamorous, such as media accreditations and car park access, are essentials that are organised in the run up to a Saturday matchday.
There was also the not-so-small matter of the Scottish Youth Cup final to cover during the week in the run up to this 3pm Saturday match against Kilmarnock, as well as John McGinn being nominated for the PFA Player of the Year being a half day out of the usual scheduled, plus the club’s end of season awards being the next night. All of these things took up considerable resource and ensured it wasn’t just a business as usual week, which of course, it never usually is at a football club anyway. Colin says they aren’t in autopilot when it comes to a matchday, but those processes that are in place enable matchdays to run smoothly in spite of anything that happens during the week.
Match promotion is done in a two-week cycle, but with the split fixtures being almost unplannable. Colin adds, “from a bit of analysis, two weeks is probably in a supporter’s mind. They go in their minds game to game. As soon as the last home match finishes, you can start to fully promote the next one.” When the club receives the fixtures for the split just before they’re publicised, the thought is to get as many tickets and hospitality packages on sale as possible for the fans as it tends to be a “mad scramble.” Much has been discussed around away ticket allocations for Hibs’ home matches post-split, but with weeks to plan for the Rangers match versus days for the Celtic match, why wouldn’t you want to maximise the number of home fans that can buy tickets for your last home match of the season?
One of the most eagerly anticipated parts of a football fan’s week is the team line-up announcement. What goes into that? League rules dictate they should be in 75 minutes before kick-off, and it is Colin’s responsibility to liaise with Neil Lennon and his backroom staff, the league and rights holders to ensure it’s delivered in accordance with the rules.
Once that part is out of the way, there’s a dash upstairs to the office for Colin to input the matchday squad into the pre-prepared graphic (optimised for mobile devices) and to share the line-up with the rest of the team too. Twitter takes precedence, as is so often the case for breaking sports news, with the initial Tweet being a graphic, followed up in a thread with the line-up in text. This second Tweet, Colin mentions, was introduced after conversations with some of Hibs’ visually impaired fans who have text readers activated on their phones for Twitter. Fan engagement at its best.
— Hibernian FC (@HibsOfficial) April 28, 2018
We’ll quickly gloss over the error in the text line-up Tweet and on the Facebook post. Colin clearly wanted Dylan McGeouch to not be out injured for the match, while I’m purely blaming it on Colin not used to me standing over him while he types it out. It was, of course, quickly rectified without too many noticing it. These things happen. Maybe if Twitter brought in an edit Tweet function…
With the teamsheets printed out to pass around the hospitality suites and the media, it was time for the manager to do his pre-match interviews, which Colin liaises. Once he’s spoken to BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Alba, Sky and BT Sport were also in attendance, it’s the countdown to kick off.
Live-Tweeting the match action is a given nowadays, what is Hibs’ approach? It’s not to Tweet every single little detail of the match, but to provide a comprehensive overview of what’s going on, with a dash of acting like a “colour commentator”. The tone on social has developed naturally, with no strict guidelines or rules in place when it comes to specifics, other than the obvious no-go’s.
“When you’re not at the match and following on Twitter, what do you want to see in a Tweet?” asks Colin, “the score.” It’s simple really, but so many clubs don’t do it. The latest score features prominently across every Tweet of the match action, why should you be making your fans scroll to find what they want to know instantly?
90′ | #HIBS 5-3 KIL
Unbelievable run from Barker as he slots beyond Fasan to end the game as a contest
— Hibernian FC (@HibsOfficial) April 28, 2018
Twitter guy deserves a pay rise today
— James Morrison (@morralexand) April 28, 2018
Goal GIFs? Yes, Hibs have them, but I don’t think you’ll be seeing John McGinn disco dancing a la Bristol City any time soon. The desire is there though to add even more colour to the in-match Tweets. It’s difficult not to compare ourselves to our neighbours south of the border at times, but Colin cites Arsenal as a specific example who do live-Tweeting well with a mix of live images, GIFs for goalscorers, engaging with supporters and even integrating match and player stats.
Colin dashes down to the tunnel area ahead of the final whistle blowing, in the process missing Hibs’ 5th goal to secure a 5-3 win in a remarkable match, to ensure he’s there to liaise with Neil Lennon and the rights holders for post-match interviews. The team are well-drilled and know of their post-match responsibilities. There’s the Final Whistle podcast to record, along with sorting out the highlights and full match footage for Hibs TV and sourcing images to input into a post-match email comms blast to promote Hibs TV and encouraging fans to get their tickets for the last home match of the season against Rangers. The, much maligned by fans, SPFL rules obviously state that clubs can’t publicise highlights from their Saturday matches until midnight, with the entire match being able to be posted on Hibs TV and other clubs’ alternatives from 10pm. There’s surely got to be some leeway on this in future, especially as I was able to see a replay of Kris Boyd’s thunderbolt free-kick minutes after it’d happened from a fan uploading their footage on Twitter.
What’s next on the agenda for Colin and the team? Where would he like to improve things and what would he like to do that they aren’t currently? First up was around engagement with fans on social on a matchday. It’s not impossible at the moment, but it’s difficult. Colin admits that the number of mentions coming through makes it difficult to dedicate the resource towards responding and also do the other things that take precedence on a matchday too, but it’s something that’s certainly on his radar.
Believe it or not, prior to the talk surrounding matchday programmes not being an essential that Football League clubs in England have to produce in the future, Colin and I discussed programmes. Right now, Hibs’ programme contains a very good chunk of exclusive content that isn’t shared elsewhere post-match. It’s currently well worth the £3 in my opinion, and Colin mentions sales are strong but that there’s work to be done to make it accessible digitally to those that don’t attend matches.
Hibs want to continue to inspire the next generation of fans, and they’ll hopefully be doing that next season with more of a focus behind the matchday experience. From the outside looking in it isn’t just as simple as deciding to add in activities to do on the concourses and then doing it, there’s a few barriers to overcome first. The desire is definitely there though, after a few not-so-successful attempts to engage young Hibs fans and their families this season and the closure of Behind the Goals in the Famous Five stand.
What struck me most from the day above anything else was how brilliantly a team of passionate volunteers complemented the full time marketing and comms team, and it’s something that Colin was quick to appreciate when asked too, “it’s vital for clubs like ours that volunteers are willing to give up their time for the good of their football club. Whether it’s as a hobby or a platform to build a career, hopefully we can provide opportunities for people to develop and be involved with their club, providing a great service for their fellow supporters and enjoying it themselves.” It’s something that is called out in the majority of interviews that’ve appeared on the site too. If you love your football club and have something to offer them, why not reach out to them? The majority of our football clubs don’t have an abundance of resources behind the scenes. Your time, effort and unwavering loyalty will be hugely appreciated.
A huge thank you to Colin Millar and the whole team at Hibs for letting me go behind the scenes. It really is appreciated and there’s a lot of great work going on around Easter Road right now, with even more to come I’m sure. If you enjoyed this piece, please do consider sharing it.
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