Almost 15,000 Scottish football fans offered up their opinions to Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS) for the 2016 version of their annual survey. SDS partner with the SFA and the SPFL to produce the survey, along with following up with both entities to lobby for changes that fans want to see. The main changes revealed from the survey results were:
- More innovation around ticket pricing
- Fan focused approach
- Kick-off times
Sports Marketing Scotland caught up with Head of Supporters Direct Scotland, Andrew Jenkin, to find out more on what happens next following the survey.
Tell us how the Supporters Survey initially came to be?
The Scottish Football Supporters Survey was actually known as the National Football Survey in a previous life and started off as a collaboration between the Scottish FA, SPL, SFL (as it was in 2012) and ourselves. The survey was broken down into segments with each organisation owning a part of the survey with questions they were keen to get supporters’ viewpoints on. Since 2012, we’ve taken ownership of the survey in terms of the questions, collecting the feedback and then latterly, how to use that data. In most years, we’ve carried out the survey in association with the games’ governing bodies ensuring that there is a clear pathway to disseminating the results with decision makers and informing them of fans’ views.
Previous surveys have contributed to instigating change within our game. Which change are you most proud of?
As you say, a large amount of change has come about because of the survey, probably more than credit is given to it. If it’s not been the core reason, it’s certainly contributed to the decision to merge the SPL and SFL, appoint independent groups (including ourselves) to the Scottish FA Congress, create the Premiership Play-Off setup and the reformatting of the League Cup. These have all been positive changes for the game (although I’m aware there is still much to do) and it’d be difficult to focus on just one aspect. From our own perspective, being part of the Scottish FA Congress is certainly a big step forward and has allowed us to formalise the way supporters’ views through the likes of the survey are heard.
One thing that’s appeared in previous versions of the survey, but wasn’t as prevalent in the main takeaways from this year’s version is the grassroots game in Scotland. Why would you say that was?
Every year we have a different interest and focus. While some questions remain a constant throughout surveys, we shift our interests to get better understandings of other areas. While of course grassroots is a fundamental area to the development of the game, this year we wanted to further examine the match day experience and issues affecting supporters on a weekly basis.
2016’s survey saw the highest number of respondents take part. Just how vital is that level of supporter buy-in to what you’re trying to achieve at SDS?
It’s absolutely critical for us to be engaging with supporters to this extent and we’ve set the bar now for future years! Buy-in like that gives the survey credibility and decision makers take results seriously. One critique activities like this often face is “that’s not representative”. With 15,000 responses, it’s hard to level that critique at the survey and its results. Of course it can always be more representative in terms of numbers and the supported club of the participant, but we hope we can continually improve the survey and its’ representativeness year on year – we’ve set ourselves the goal of 20,000 participants for the 2017 instalment.
Why pick out the three key asks you did, as opposed to other issues that appeared in the survey results? For example, safe standing or alcohol in grounds.
Our three key asks came firstly through the results of the survey on questions such as factors influencing supporters’ decisions to attend games and secondly from the feedback we had received from members over recent years. The key issues that we deemed were key to highlight to decision makers from these were those of the rescheduling of fixtures (and their kick off times), the way supporters were involved in decision making processes and the pricing of football.
The issues of safe standing and alcohol are important to us and through the survey, we know the vast majority of fans are in favour of seeing both in Scottish football – so we used our ask for the game to adopt a more ‘Fan Focused approach’ to encompass these. By this, we want Scottish football and additional stakeholders to take a more fan friendly approach to the way the game is governed and for supporters’ opinions on issues to be included at the start of decision making processes, rather than at the end (if at all).
On the theme on having more innovative ticket pricing strategies, we’ve seen pay what you can and football for a fiver already from quite a few clubs throughout the leagues. These attempts at getting fans through the gate have worked in the very short term, but a lasting effect remains to be proved. Ticket cost was the highest factor in the survey for fans deciding not to attend a game, what else can be done here?
The fact that just 4.54% of this year’s survey participants felt that Scottish football represented good value really stood out for us.
We appreciate this isn’t just a case of asking clubs to reduce ticket prices. While we’d like to see a cap of sorts like in the Premier League for away fans (although we’d be keen on a £20 limit as opposed to £30), we acknowledge ticket income still makes up a large percentage of Scottish clubs income.
It’s important to state that we don’t profess to know all the answers to addressing this issue, but we’re willing to work with clubs cooperatively to work them out. In terms of what more can be done, we’re seeing more clubs be creative about marketing the game and encouraging attendance. As you mention, we’ve seen Pay What You Want for season tickets which resulted in short term success – and there is certainly work to be done around the whole match day experience and attaining supporters – but we need to see clubs try harder to encourage groups that aren’t attending games. Some of that work is around fan engagement (and Supporter Liaison Officers can play a part in this) rather than ticket pricing, but the fact remains, pricing of tickets is the primary factor in influencing decisions. Football for a Fiver and kids go free are great initiatives that can encourage the next generation of supporters for a club while increasing match day spend (and adding to the atmosphere).
We completely agree that there should be more fan involvement in the central decision making at clubs. In the time since the survey, we’ve seen Motherwell not only gain fan owned status but also appoint a marketing and fan engagement officer, Ryan Murrant. How positive are these steps for our game?
This is a really important step forward and I can see Motherwell leading the way in a number of fan engagement initiatives. Speaking to Ryan, I know the club are keen to appoint a number of SLOs (they’d be the first club in Scotland to have more than one) and engage in new and innovative ways with their supporters.
This kind of level of engagement can have numerous benefits for clubs and supporters, including:
- improved relationships and partnerships between supporters, governing bodies and other stakeholders
- Greater insight into supporter viewpoints
- Better and more informed decision making processes by stakeholders, which builds confidence and trust from supporters
In terms of fan ownership, it’s great The Well Society have been able to get the deal over the line and it’s something we only see growing in Scotland and for numerous reasons. Clubs such as Hearts are demonstrating the value of having supporters groups involved in their decision making processes through the construction of their new stand at Tynecastle. Similarly, in England, fan owned Wimbledon actually increased ticket prices based on supporter feedback just showing the benefits involved to a club of real engagement.
The time matches being shown on TV has been a constant negative talking point. It was the 2nd biggest factor for fans when deciding whether they’ll attend or not. From the outside, it doesn’t seem as though there’s too much room to manoeuvre on this point, especially considering the Saturday live football blackout. How confident are you of working to find a resolution with the broadcasters?
You’re right, of our three asks for football, the issue of fixture rescheduling was definitely the hardest to affect change on – however it’s something that can no longer be ignored with supporters being inconvenienced and out of pocket with games continually being rescheduled at the drop of a hat. We’re forever being told it’s an issue that we just have to accept, however, at the moment, supporters have no dialogue with broadcasters at all. Maybe they want it that way as it makes it easier to change fixtures when they want, but we at least want to have a line of communication with them and for supporters to be consulted and engaged with. Even if a game has to be rescheduled, can TV do something for the fans inconvenienced by the decision? Could they sponsor the transport or part of the ticket costs like we’re seeing with Virgin Media’s sponsorship of Southampton? These are things we’d like to explore.
You said that it’s important to not make the survey just a talking shop. What happens next then?
Next step is to start measuring Scottish football’s response to the survey results. Since the release of the survey results, we’ve presented the outcomes and our key asks to the Scottish FA, SPFL, the Scottish FA Congress, Professional Game Board and shared the results with the Scottish Government. In order to track the response to our key asks, we’ve built software into our website (with the help of FanVox) scottishsupporters.net which allows fans to campaign for change within the game and contribute to key talking points via our new forum (sds.fanvox.net). In the future we want the survey to be of much value to the game as possible and to influence as many positive decisions as it can. With that, we’ll be asking supporters to tell us what questions they want to see in next year’s survey. Fans can get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org with requests and suggestions!