Doncaster: "100% focus" on the fan experience

Keepmoat DRFC CC KevinNeagle

We're keen  to highlight good practice and fan engagement here at the FSF, particularly when it comes to sensible ticket pricing. Ryan Murrant, Doncaster Rover's marketing and communications manager, explains what they've been doing at the Keepmoat Stadium...

My dad took me to my first game in the early 80’s at the age of four. It was at Filbert Street watching Leicester, the club that I would eventually fall in (and out) of love with. People wax lyrical about their first game, I work in a role where I actively promote making first games memorable for youngsters, but can I remember my first game and whom it was against? No, absolutely not. I am told it was against Everton and at the start of losing streak for my Foxes but nothing was special about it.

I remember being a child at football and inhaling the whiff of the old-man-in-front’s hip flask and the smell of cigar smoke, I even remember trees or plants growing through the cracks in the walls of the East Stand but the games themselves aren’t something I recall.

My first memory of anything football related was when Leicester got promoted and as my uncle, dad, brother and a very junior me ran onto the pitch it soon occurred to me that the step up to the sacred playing surface was the equivalent to a climb up Mount Everest!

My experience as a fan began there really and my journey as a junior fan began to unfold. I remember meeting players outside the ground on matchdays, I remember getting autographs, talking to them and I remember Junior Fox days at Belvoir Drive when I once scored a hat-trick passed first team goalkeeper Ian Andrews! It turned out some years later as I bragged to my mates that every child scored a hat-trick passed Ian Andrews! It was par for the course, and a player realising what it meant to young fans to score past him. Well done Ian, and guess what, I am telling the tale more than 30 years on!

But how does this relate into what we do at Donny Rovers?

Donny is a great club and one that I am comfortable in saying is a leader when it comes to fan engagement. We listen to our supporters, we act on what they want and we continuously look to develop new ideas to engage with them. The fans even choose the kits! How many other clubs will offer fans that buy a season ticket the chance to take a penalty against the first team goalkeeper knowing if they score they’ll win £50? Or even to young fans to take part in matchday roles such as groundsman, tannoy announcer or even first team manager?

Donny have a wonderful board and CEO whose brief to me is to “make it the best place to come for our fans”, so we do. We work at it every day.

We realise that sometimes we need to look for new fans, we realise that sometimes we as football clubs probably charge more than our competitors for a day out. And by that I don’t mean the Blades, Barnsley or Leeds, I mean the local cinema, bowling or that chicken place footballers love! We need to encourage new fans to our games and sometimes we have to drop prices to do that. Not too often though, as that dilutes the value of our season tickets, but often enough to make Doncaster Rovers a possible destination for the “undecided” on a Saturday afternoon.

We recently ran a promotion that offered new fans the chance to come for just £5. Well actually it was £4.50 but with 50p a compulsory donation to James Coppingers’ charity as we were celebrating his 450th appearance. A lovely touch of class by the board.

We average between 5,000 and 6,000 here most weeks, but our plan for this game was to hit 10,000 and to raise £5,000 for James’s charity. We overachieved and hit 11,500 which was great. 2,300 travelled from Peterborough because we extended the offer to them too. They are fans coming to our ground so why on earth wouldn’t we look after them? You shouldn’t treat away fans differently in our opinion. You shouldn’t alienate them, once they are here there will be a secondary spend and they may even come back next season! Incidentally, our bar was packed with red and white hoops and also with friendly blue and white shirts. It works.

In the home end it was buzzing, there was hardly an empty seat in sight and our concourses were packed. In the family end, the mascot high fived everyone in sight and we had injured players competing against young fans in pre-match activities. There wasn’t the chance to score a hat-trick passed the first team goalkeeper, however these activities are implemented to create those memories away from the pitch that will over time encourage fans and families to return to Keepmoat Stadium results aside. There is a quote that I love from the president 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”, that is what I live by in my working life.

Anything on the green rectangle is out of our control, however the experience off the pitch (including price) is totally in our control. Did we do enough on Saturday to encourage fans here and to look after them? Absolutely yes. Will they come back? Those that go on results, maybe not straight away but those that can see what we are trying to build here at Rovers definitely will do.

You see it’s easy to shout about how the top clubs charge too much but that’s their choice, and it’s sometimes very easy to ignore what the likes of Doncaster Rovers do for both home and away fans. Granted it’s not every week, but if we can lower the price for the greater good every now and then and create experiences off the pitch that will be lifelong memories for new fans, then that is the way for us all to go isn’t it?

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF. 

Thanks to Kevin Neagle for the image used in this blog, reproduced here under CC license.