Ever since Ryan Murrant joined Motherwell just under a year ago, Sports Marketing Scotland has been keeping an even closer eye on the goings on at Fir Park. Delighted to shine a light on some of the key activities that Ryan has been working on in his time at the club so far in the latest of our interviews on the site.
Just take a moment to introduce yourself?
Well I’m Ryan Murrant, 39, English. I’ve previously worked at Doncaster Rovers, Southend United, Crawley Town and Aldershot in Head of Marketing and Communications roles. I grew up a Leicester fan and have probably been to over 800 games over the last 35 years. The last couple of years, as you can imagine, have been something quite special!
How did you initially make the break into working in the sports industry?
It was all very accidental really. I was asked to do some compering on matchdays at Aldershot. I had a marketing and business development background and the CEO then asked me for some marketing support. It grew from there. He then left to go to Crawley, he took me with him and so that was me into the intoxicating, not so romantic and incredibly political world of football. It’s a privilege to work in the game but in contrast you can’t switch off. I’m not a ‘Well fan but wherever you work, and obviously with what I do, you get drawn in and the club becomes your life.
Do you think having no prior experience of working in Scottish football has been of benefit to you? Coming in with a completely fresh mind and outlook of our game in this country?
I think that has benefits and also negatives. Negatives are probably that you can be a little naive with how people will react, the culture so to speak. The way the USA crowd react is the utopia of what I do. In England they are nearly ready to be full on Americanised, but in Scotland, you can suggest something and even internally you’ll get a look of “what the hell you on about pal?” Culturally it’s quite a challenge. I’m a confident English man that knows his worth and that will shout about the good that we do here. To some in Lanarkshire that is like a red rag to a bull. 99% of our fans are brilliant, but what I’ve found up here is that there is a small percentage of fans that desperately try and find negativity in any situation. That’s quite new to me. That said, I’ve not had a boss yet that hasn’t thought I was a cheesy, annoying marketing bod [laughs].
Something I would say with the role is that I’m always of the opinion that it doesn’t matter who you support, where you are from etc, but it’s your ability to do your job that matters. I also think it’s vital in my role especially, that you actually understand what it’s like to be a football fan. You can have every qualification in the book but if you don’t understand standing on a freezing cold terrace in January in the rain as you lose 3-0 to your local rivals, then I don’t think you can “engage” to the level you need to. Let’s be honest, 99% of the time our team let’s us down. My dad always tells me “it’s shit, but it’s our shit”! We have to remember that.
You can see a mile off in football the ideas that work well and that are from someone that “knows”. In contrast you can see the ideas that come from someone with a text book. Look at the Signing Zone Alan Burrows introduced at Motherwell, it’s niche and it’s superb. Then you look at the kit manufacturers that want you to sew badges onto your kit like a cub scout to show how great a fan you are!
Tell us about Motherwell, what is your role and responsibilities?
My role is the Marketing and Fan Engagement Manager. The biggest revenue stream we have to drive and promote is season tickets. That’s the responsibility of anyone in a job like mine. You live and die by the sword with season ticket campaigns. Day to day here, I sit centrally as a service department to the club, the Well Society, the commercial department and most importantly to the community trust. The latter being the most important marketing tool any club can have. My role is a new role at this club so we are starting from scratch in many ways, but it’s backed by Alan and the board and that’s crucial if it’s to work. I have to look at the “supporter journey” from visiting the website, to buying a ticket, to what it’s like here when they come to a game. Do they feel valued? If not why not? What do we need to change etc, and can we actually change it?
I have to grow the fanbase, but as it stands we don’t have a ticketing system that is fit for purpose and we don’t have a CRM database. The club are pro-actively looking at options for that which as you will know more than anyone, without a CRM and proper ticketing system the club will find it hard to grow and to communicate effectively with supporters. The barrier we face though is finance, and I totally agree with Alan Burrows on this in that when we invest in one, we need a very good one rather than any old one, so if that means waiting a bit longer for funds then we will do that.
I believe that a Scottish club employing someone in a role with fan engagement in their job title is a first, can you explain to those that maybe aren’t as aware of the theory behind it what fan engagement is exactly? It’s been a hot topic amongst the sports business community over the last few years.
The most inspirational and relevant quote for what I do comes from the late Pete Winemiller of the Oklahoma Thunder basketball team “We can’t control the purchased product ie: basketball, so we must focus 100% of our efforts on the fan experience”. What that means is that come 3pm on a Saturday fans turn their attention to the game, and rightly so, but that is totally beyond our control. So we must make the experience on a matchday the best it can be. Better bars, more to do for supporters before and after the game, stewards that aren’t “stewarding” but that are actually helping people and helping the club, the list is endless.
A real life example from my own experience was at Doncaster Rovers. We, off the pitch grew our junior season ticket numbers, increased matchday ticket sales in the family stand and won the Football League Family Club of the year in 2015/16. That season the team went 17 games without a win and were eventually relegated. That to me summed it all up. Control the controllables, create Monday morning stories for young fans, let them read the team out before kick off, let them meet a player, let them design a mascot, identify a first time fan and make them feel welcome! It’s only the clubs themselves that stop themselves creating those “moments of magic” as we call them. They cost nothing, but they change lives and perceptions. A kid won’t always remember a 2-2 draw but will they remember the time they met their hero, or a high fived the mascot? 100% yes.
I believe we should work to a school of thought of “Is what we are doing right now for the betterment of the club and the supporters?” If it’s not, why are we doing it? That is bang on the right way to work, but sadly it’s very rare in football.
In England, over the past eleven years the EFL have put their efforts into helping clubs make their stadiums better places to come by investing time and money into the science and studies behind fan behaviour. They’ve helped clubs remove cultural barriers. That may sound like a load of spin and nonsense but the results? An increase of 37% in junior season tickets and a staggering c6million more children at games. Food for thought that. A guy called Mark Bradley has driven that with a number of initiatives and helped folk like me identify the need for change. Alan Burrows here is a visionary in a similar way.
The best thing about all that for Scottish Football is that it is all scalable. If Scottish clubs are supported and guided into best practice then there is no reason that we can’t achieve some brilliant results too.
People in football have to step back from their desks and realise that we are more in control of how supporters feel than they think. It’s not just the 90 minutes. I’d challenge anyone in football to answer this question. As you can’t guarantee a 1-0 win every week, have you got a plan for your fans?
One of the first major things you did upon joining the club was doing a survey amongst the fans. Why was this? What did the results tell you and what actions have come from it since?
Great question. Here’s why. If we don’t know what our fans want, how do we know what to change? You don’t, and if think you do, you’re guessing. Why not ask people how they feel? When was the last time you felt valued/ not valued? What would you change off the pitch? Etc etc. You have to understand the DNA of your supporters. What makes them tick? What does the club mean to them? It’s a very simple but powerful mechanic. Our hugely successful #MadeInMotherwell branding was borne from supporter feedback. They felt the club and the town had drifted apart and lost the unity it once had. Through a message they helped create, we believe that we are on a journey to rebuild that bond. Commercially aswell Suzanne Reid has re-engaged the club with the Steelworks. That’s so simple, but fantastic. Keep it relevant. Keep in niche.
— Motherwell FC (@MotherwellFC) May 2, 2017
Stewarding was a huge issue too. Alan Marshall our stadium manager sat down with the results and now his staff recruitment plan for matchday safety is one that doesn’t look at let’s fill the stadium with yellow jackets (as many do), but one that looks at, do we need that yellow jacket there? And if we do, are they relevant and can they engage with the crowd they are there to look after? What he means by that is that there is no point having a scary steward in the family stand and equally there is no point putting Mr Tumble in with the Well Bois. Each section of the stadium is different and has its different touch points. We have to react and adapt to that.
We are still looking to change a number of things here as a result of the survey but what we must not do is just to look at the results horizontally. You only scratch the surface if you do that. You have to work horizontally and then drill down vertically into the depths of what supporters want to really make a difference.
The mascot competition you’ve run at the club recently saw Steelman launch. The club was inundated with entries as young ‘Well fans were encouraged to send in their designs. What was the overall aim of the campaign, and was it met?
The aim, with the Community Trust and Well Society was to engage as many children as possible. We did that. We reached out to 1000’s of school children who will all be invited to a game later this season as a result of them, or their school entering the competition. That’s huge for a club like us, huge. It is then down to us/me to get them back here to another game and to get them engaged further with the Community Trust. The next generation of club sponsors, a new Alan Burrows or season ticket holders are in those schools. We must capture them now. The PR we got from it was mammoth, a live launch on Sky Sports News was perfect and when you break it down, a child drew something that they created from their own imagination and now it’s a real thing at their football club! That is mind blowing for any adult let alone a child isn’t it?
— Motherwell FC (@MotherwellFC) August 4, 2017
How vital is season ticket growth to the club? What are you attributing this down to for the 2017/18 season?
At any club it’s business critical, not just as a club like Motherwell. We grew our season tickets by 20% and our juniors by 40% this year and that’s unreal. There are a few reasons I think. Some huge positive changes on the footballing side with a change of manager and mind set there, but also we hit a pinch point with pricing with the WELLevate and new season tickets. £20 for an under 16. Why wouldn’t you? That said as a club you have to tell the world about what you are doing. Folk won’t come to you. Obviously as a marketer I’d say it was all down to a great season ticket video,a marketing plan and some external branding at critical times whilst shouting about it all from the roof tops [laughs]! The challenge now becomes retention and that, is a whole new ball game!
How important was it getting the first of the planned couple of SLOs in place for the start of the new season? How important will that role be going forward at the club?
The answer to that is “very important”, but quite honestly, whilst we had a structured recruitment strategy (one i’ve used previously) and used Supporters Direct Scotland to help us with interviews, it’s not been as successful as we would’ve liked. On the Friday afternoon at 12 o’clock we had appointed 2 of our desired 4 SLO’s, by 12.15 one had resigned and the other one had a couple of personal issues that affected their commitment to the job. So at 12pm on Saturday we had zero. In the words of many a football manager we now have to “dust ourselves off and go again”. Recruitment will start again shortly and what I will say is that we will still continue to look to recruit from the stands. I don’t believe an SLO should be someone like me, it has to be a supporter filled role. We will get there.
Just how much of a challenge is it to engage with the future generation of football fans and get them supporting and falling in love with Motherwell as they grow up?
As I mentioned above, we have to engage with them, we aren’t cash rich and we don’t have £20m superstars. What we do have though is better than that,we have a culture where we don’t wrap players up in bubble wrap, march them down red carpets and keep them away from the public. That is priceless. Our players are accessible and we use that every week to reach out to our younger fans and future fans whether that be at community trust camps or with the matchday stuff we do.
👏🏻🤝👍🏼| Less than an hour to kick off & the manager gives some fans their season tickets & takes time out to chat to them all. 👌🏻 pic.twitter.com/fERs7WNCNP
— Motherwell FC (@MotherwellFC) August 6, 2017
A lot of people think that we are up against Celtic and Rangers when it comes to capturing fans! We aren’t. It’s disappointing that local kids and families will go there, but our real threat are the cinema’s, bowling and nandos etc and in sport (due to what they can do on matchdays) are probably the ice hockey and rugby in Glasgow. A lot of the thinking behind the £20 season tickets was to help counter the more affordable days out. We are now probably one of the cheapest places in the area to entertain your children for around £1 for 2 hours, it’s now down to us to add value to their matchdays.
Are there any other clubs, either in Scotland or further afield, that you look at and draw some inspiration from?
My previous work at Doncaster is a decent benchmark for me to use personally, but also you need to look at Brighton, Cardiff and more surprisingly Colchester United. Matt Hudson there has created a brilliant matchday with a lot of imagination and has only spent around £500. If you want the utopia then look at what Man City do with their “City Square”. It is truly incredible, from the players all arriving on a bus and being introduced one by one to the crowd, dancing mascots and then club legends being interviewed on a big stage with bands playing whilst fans eat and drink from a selection of outlets! It’s just brilliant.
There’s a fair few in England that get it bang on actually, Middlesbrough are also fantastic and they actually have fancy dress boxes for kids to watch the game as a princess or superhero. All of which is quite magical.
You get the opportunity to bring one thing to the table to improve Scottish football as a whole, what is it?
The league is never going to have the wow and razzmatazz of the English Premier League so for those up here that think that and compare, or stare on with green eyes, you’re wasting your time. The EPL is unique in it’s own way. It has huge positives but also lots of negatives. Scottish football is unique too, it almost comes back to us all embracing the “it’s shit, but it’s our shit” theory. I’m not saying the league is shit but let’s embrace what we do have here. A league that the fans are passionate about and mostly because their club is their local club. We have clubs like Motherwell that are community clubs and that have 2 or 3 generations of families going to games. That’s not always the case in England but it seems the way of life up here and that is fantastic.
So answering the question, I’d like to see more investment by the governing bodies for clubs to develop better family areas, better matchdays for supporters, relax the alcohol laws that force supporters away from clubs and therefore affect the bottom lines. Can Scottish football back its clubs to invest in the fans? Could the governing bodies do more to help folk like me make it better? I think they could. Do they think we do enough? You’d hope not, so why don’t we work together to change that? I think Scottish football hides away because of a couple of huge taboo issues, instead of focusing on the positives (the fans) that it has. Bearing in mind we won family club of the year at Doncaster by spending no more than £1,000, if clubs were given some money and guidance into adding value to its supporters then we could really start to break down those cultural barriers and move the game forwards off the pitch. That should be the focus of the game up here in my opinion, 100%.
What do you see the next big thing in the sports industry being?
Is it a big bang as it all implodes because of the money at the top level? I really don’t know to be honest. We are only a few days on after a footballer moved for a stupid transfer fee so I guess the game is about to change again.
What would you advice be to anyone looking to make a move into the sports industry?
Get involved early, volunteer, offer clubs something that can help you and help them. Are you a young journo? Can you help the club cover youth games, away games, can you help on matchdays and how? A social media campaign or Instagram project can be put towards your final studies, as can footage of you interviewing youth players etc. Not all clubs have the resource, so become that resource for them. At Donny we had a whole pool of eager students that helped us deliver with youth games, development games and also on home matchdays. Two of the team we had there as volunteers now work full time for the club. The two they replaced now work for Leeds United and the Football League. There’s natural progression once you are in the door, you just have to stand out to get in the door and then work your ass off to impress.
I’d also say don’t worry about massive qualifications. I know people who shout about degrees and papers they have. Well done them, but can you level with a supporter? Are you a football person? Do you understand the heroin like addiction that football is?
Football as a business is tough to work in though, it is very political and you need to look after number one. When I was at Crawley Steve Coppell told me, “it’s full of politics, you can’t win at it and you can’t have any friends in football”, all of that is pretty much true. It’s quite dog eat dog. People are there waiting to take credit for what you do, some fans will hate you no matter what you do and you have a product that will kick you in the teeth most weeks. Fancy it? [laughs] That said it’s great fun and no two days are ever the same. Overall I love it, but in a role like mine you need a boss that will back what you are trying to do 100%. That again, is where Motherwell is quite unique.
To conclude I don’t mind saying that I don’t have a degree, you don’t always need one in my opinion. Work hard, stand out, be creative, get lucky and be yourself.