Braehead Clan’s attendance figures are I’m sure looked upon with jealousy by some of their footballing neighbours. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that they punch above their weight in that respect. Football is Scotland’s national sport and with both Ibrox and the Paisley 2021 Stadium in a 5 mile vicinity of Braehead Clan’s current home at the 4,000 seater arena at Intu Braehead shopping centre, they’ve got competition on their hands. When you factor in that Celtic, Partick Thistle, Glasgow Warriors and the Glasgow Rocks are all also vying for the city’s sports fans, what Braehead Clan have achieved in a relatively short space of time is remarkable. The club have built up a strong following on social too, with over 26k followers on Twitter, and over 17.5k likes on Facebook.

I’d heard nothing but good things so I wanted to see what the Braehead Clan experience was like for myself. Saturday 4th February was the date, and the visitors that evening were the Belfast Giants.

Braehead Clan website

Pre-match

One of the first plus points is that they play their matches at Intu Braehead shopping centre. It’s a plus point for a a couple of reasons. Firstly, if you’re a couple, a family, or just attending a match yourself, it gives you the opportunity to have a browse around Intu’s selection of shops beforehand, including Apple, Marks and Spencer or Primark. Secondly, playing their home matches here means that Braehead Clan have ready-made commercial opportunities on their doorstep. The final plus point is the vicinity of the food court to the arena entrance. This time round, Nando’s was our pre-match food choice (can’t resist it), but you’ve also got Prezzo, Filling Station and Handmade Burger Co., or the more fast food options like Five Guys, Subway or McDonalds to choose from. It wasn’t just us that chose the chicken option for dinner, Sportscene pundit Steven Thompson and his family were spotted just a few tables down. Was he here for the Clan match too? Find out later…

As the time got closer to heading into the arena to take our seats, what struck me was the number of families roaming around Intu in their Clan merchandise. This is something that Braehead Clan clearly promote to grow their fan base, and it clearly works. Commercial director, Andy McLaughlin, was proud to push the fact that the male/female attendance numbers are around 50/50 when speaking on a panel at the SFA’s annual convention in December.

When you hand your ticket over to get scanned and enter into the arena, the first sight you’re met with is the opportunity to purchase all the Braehead Clan merchandise you could wish for. Who wouldn’t want a purple tie in the Clan’s own tartan? Maybe it was the friendly atmosphere or that it was my first time attending and I wanted to join in, but I felt more inclined to join in with some of the other opportunities you get to spend money and perhaps win something in return. I splashed out on the traditional 50/50 (sponsored by Yo! Sushi, a neighbour at the Intu food court), but there was also Chuck a Puck (throw a fake puck onto the ice for the chance to win a prize) and Shirt off the Back (be in with the chance to win a certain players match-worn shirt on the night) to take part in too.

Much is made of Scottish football’s alcohol ban, it’s constantly debated back and forth. Alcohol is available to buy at the Braehead Arena and you’re able to take it to your seat to enjoy it while enjoying the action on the ice. Pint in hand, it was time to take to our seats.

The Braehead Clan app forms an awesome part of the pre-match experience. As the team is announced onto the ice, the arena goes dark, and fans are encouraged to open their app. What it becomes is a really cool light show not akin to something you’d see in the Super Bowl half time show.

During the match

The action is exciting and fast-paced. Someone with more knowledge than me though will still have to explain why so many substitutions are made when a team is defending, surely it puts the defending team at a disadvantage? Anyway, I’m digressing. The match is split into 3 20 minute periods with breaks between periods lasting 17 minutes. The breaks between periods allows fans to top up any refreshments, or purchase more 50/50 tickets as the current potential win has been revealed, before it’s very cleverly drawn during the third period of the match, maximising the amounts taken by the club and in the prize pot.

Looks like Steven Thompson was here for the ice hockey, and by the sounds of his Tweet, he’s a regular.

Another aspect of the experience I really liked was the prize draws during play, where seat numbers are randomly picked to win a prize provided by either Braehead Clan themselves (money off voucher for merchandise), or by one of their sponsors (a restaurant voucher). Is this something our football clubs could adopt too to enhance the fan experience? What I keep noticing as the match goes on is that most of the action points within the match are sponsored, and this is also something Andy had shared with me at Hampden in December. Every player has a sponsor, not dissimilar to football, but that sponsor is quite clearly promoted when the team is announced before the match. The ceremonial puck drop ahead of the match is sponsored. If a player from either side is sin binned, the sin bins are sponsored. If there’s a stoppage in play for a certain infringement, it’s sponsored too. The club have really maximised all the potential avenues open to them to earn as much as they can.Braehead Clan Army

A constant throughout the entirety of the match was the noise coming from the Purple Army. They really set the tone when it came to the atmosphere, before, during and after the match.

Clan ultimately lost the match 5-4 against a good Belfast side who’re going for the Championship. One final big like from me was that a player from the away side, as well as the hosts, was awarded man of the match. The compeititon on the ice was fierce, the rivalry is clear, but there’s a mutual respect between the teams. It’s a small thing, but why not award a man of the match to the away side in football too? I think this is definitely something football could learn from and adopt.

Post-match thoughts

I’ve been brought up on football, so it was very clear that I was going to compare this new experience up against what I know best. I definitely feel the traditional “we’ve always done it this way” approach in football has to be challenged, and my first foray into Scottish ice hockey at Braehead Clan has definitely served up some food for thought. I’m positive the idea behind Andy receiving an invite to appear on the panel at the recent SFA annual convention was to do just that, come in and challenge the norm.

Would the widespread commercialisation and constant sponsor mentions work in football (corner kicks are brought to you by…)? Perhaps not. It works for the Clan though, I would have barely noticed them if I wasn’t intently looking out for them.

Fans of football clubs are crying out to be valued, Braehead Clan have built a loyal and passionate fan base by putting them first and ensuring that when they choose to attend, they enjoy themselves regardless of the result. I’ll definitely be back.