Tuesday, 23 Jul 2024

Mark Bradley – Enhancing Fan Experiences in the Football Industry

To date, the Career Insight Project at Jobs in Football has primarily focused on roles within clubs and organizations like the Premier League and English Football League. However, the football industry offers a wealth of opportunities, including those that individuals can create for themselves. In this article, we explore the career journey of Mark Bradley, the Director at The Fan Experience Company, who has made significant contributions to customer service and fan engagement in football.

The Path to Fan Experience

Mark Bradley’s career in customer service began during his 12 years at a retail bank. While there, he was part of a team tasked with differentiating the organization from its competitors. This experience sparked Mark’s interest in customer engagement and finding innovative ways to connect with customers beyond the products or services offered.

After leaving the bank, Mark joined a consultancy that provided customer-focused learning experiences through site visits, events, and conferences. During this time, he became involved with the Service Excellence Awards as a judge, delving deeper into the world of customer engagement. Recognizing the untapped potential in British customer service, Mark saw an opportunity for improvement, even if he had yet to consider working in the football industry.

The Birth of The Fan Experience Company

Mark’s journey to founding The Fan Experience Company took an unconventional route. He discovered his talent for writing and public speaking, which led to publications in prominent outlets like the Yorkshire Post and Management Today. Mark’s writing focused on his family’s collective experiences with various businesses, enabling him to assess an organization’s commitment to customer service. These stories served as a catalyst for organizations to rethink their customer-centric approaches.

Mark realized the limitations of traditional mystery shopping and aimed to provide a more genuine perspective. He wanted to send real paying customers to write stories about their experiences, capturing not only the process but also the emotions and potential impact on future behavior. This concept formed the foundation of The Fan Experience Company, using real customer stories to inspire senior teams within businesses to think differently.

Shifting Focus to Football

As a lifelong football fan, Mark was aware of the industry’s narrow approach to fan engagement. Clubs often viewed fans as a given, assuming they would attend matches regardless. Mark recognized the need for change and the potential to influence fan attendance and behavior through innovative strategies.

In many cases, football clubs relied solely on achievements on the pitch to attract fans. Mark believed this approach limited sustainable growth. To address this issue, he focused on developing a sustainable growth strategy for attendance, emphasizing the importance of fan engagement.

The Value of Fan Engagement

While other industries understand the value of customer engagement, the same cannot be said for football. Mark highlights that in any other industry, customer engagement is viewed as a profit center, impacting the bottom line. Understanding customer needs and cultivating loyalty leads to increased recommendations and long-term customer relationships. Football has yet to fully embrace this approach.

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In football, complaints are often dismissed as an occupational hazard, rather than an opportunity for improvement. Mark emphasizes that handling complaints effectively reflects an organization’s values and commitment to customer service. In contrast, football has not prioritized complaint resolution as a profit center, hindering sustainable growth.

Family Engagement and The Fan Experience Company

The Fan Experience Company has been heavily involved in family engagement initiatives. Mark’s collaboration with Premier League clubs to understand the holistic fan experience, not just the match itself, resulted in the creation of the Family Excellence Scheme. The scheme aimed to improve family experiences at matches while providing comprehensive feedback to clubs.

The pilot project involved Mark’s own family attending matches across different divisions and reporting on their experiences. The project identified gaps and opportunities for improvement, encouraging clubs to prioritize fan experience. Mark highlights clubs like Middlesbrough, Cardiff, and Huddersfield Town as early adopters who embraced this approach, leading to sustainable growth in attendance.

The Family Excellence Scheme

Introduced in 2006/2007, the Family Excellence Scheme involves each club receiving two visits per season from experienced assessors. These assessors produce detailed reports, which are then summarized for clubs, highlighting strengths, weaknesses, and improvement opportunities. The reports also include benchmarking data, allowing clubs to compare their performance with the best in class. At the end of each season, the highest achieving clubs are recognized through a best practice event.

The Family Excellence Scheme has been successful in increasing junior attendance by an estimated 37% across the EFL, equivalent to six million additional young fans. This challenges the notion that growth in football is solely dependent on on-pitch performance, highlighting the importance of the overall football experience.

The Key Factors in Fan Engagement

Mark believes there are four key factors for clubs to consider when looking to achieve sustainable growth through fan engagement.

The first factor is for clubs to identify their unique selling points and what they stand for. Understanding the emotional connection fans have with their club allows for improved initiatives that resonate with their fan base.

Communication and engagement comprise the second factor. Clubs must actively involve fans and communities, treating them as key stakeholders rather than mere spectators. Establishing two-way communication through social media and responsiveness to fan feedback are vital.

The third factor is enhancing the fan experience. While digital engagement is important, clubs should not overlook the match day experience, which still generates significant revenue. Striking a balance between digital and physical engagement ensures continued growth.

The final factor centers on the people within the club, emphasizing the importance of valuing fans. Consistent, high-quality customer service from all staff members contributes to sustainable growth, while poor service can hinder progress.

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Mark Bradley’s Role in the Industry

Mark’s expertise in fan experience has led to invitations to speak at conferences, including the EFL’s Women & Girls Conference and various Supporter Liaison Officer seminars. He has honed his presentation skills, delivering impactful messages through clear objectives and the use of humor to engage audiences.

Through his role at The Fan Experience Company, Mark has improved his writing skills, focusing on concise and effective communication. His ability to connect with larger audiences has surpassed his comfort level with one-on-one interactions.

The Impact of the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for The Fan Experience Company, as their core service of detailed fan assessments relies on attendance at matches. As a result, Mark took the opportunity during the pandemic to write an online course in fan engagement for Barcelona FC. This course, created in partnership with the Barcelona Innovation Hub, fills a gap in the industry by providing a qualification that covers both online and match day engagement.

Mark predicts that COVID-19 could serve as a catalyst for change in football, prompting clubs to reassess their fan engagement strategies. He emphasizes the need for clubs to focus on creating reassurance among fan bases and demonstrating appreciation when fans can return to stadiums.

Best Practices During the Pandemic

Despite the challenges, some clubs have continued to excel in fan engagement during the pandemic. The virtual mascot hub at Doncaster Rovers enables communication with families outside of match days, while Stoke City’s Anthony Emmerson reached out to supporters, offering a listening ear. These examples demonstrate effective engagement and support during difficult times.

Noteworthy Initiatives Across Europe

Mark has witnessed several exceptional initiatives at European football clubs. For example, AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands sends post-match surveys to ticket holders, enabling them to collect valuable feedback and tailor their offerings accordingly. Brøndby IF in Denmark boasts an impressive fan zone, including a family room with activities for all age groups. FC Copenhagen engages high school-aged supporters with DJs and rappers, nurturing their passion for the club.

The Enjoyment and Challenges of the Role

The most enjoyable part of Mark’s role is attending matches and immersing himself in the unique atmosphere of each club. Exploring different stadiums, meeting fans, and experiencing diverse cultures contribute to his love for the industry.

While the role offers immense satisfaction, there are challenges, such as extensive travel and navigating the digital landscape. Mark acknowledges that staying up to date with digital platforms can be a struggle, as he did not grow up with them.

The Future of The Fan Experience Company

Mark anticipates an increasing demand for services like The Fan Experience Company in European leagues. As he has observed, football relies on innovation and adaptability to thrive. Mark also sees potential in women’s football, encouraging initiatives that differentiate it from the men’s game and attract more fans to matches.

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In the future, Mark envisions reducing his intense travel schedule while focusing on writing and speaking engagements. His ultimate goal is for a club to qualify for a European competition based on their exceptional fan engagement, creating recognition for clubs that prioritize their fans.

In conclusion, Mark Bradley’s journey in the football industry exemplifies the importance of fan engagement and its potential for sustainable growth. Through The Fan Experience Company, he has made significant contributions to improving the overall football experience for fans. As the industry continues to evolve, Mark’s expertise and passion for fan engagement will undoubtedly play a vital role in shaping the future of football.


FAQs

Q1: How did Mark Bradley establish The Fan Experience Company?

Answer: Mark Bradley founded The Fan Experience Company by leveraging his writing skills and the experiences of his own family. He recognized the value of real customer stories and their potential to inspire organizations to prioritize customer service and fan engagement.

Q2: What is the Family Excellence Scheme?

Answer: The Family Excellence Scheme, introduced in 2006/2007, involves clubs receiving two visits per season from experienced assessors. The assessors provide detailed reports, including benchmarking data, highlighting areas of improvement for clubs to enhance the family experience at matches.

Q3: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted The Fan Experience Company?

Answer: The pandemic has led to a pause in The Fan Experience Company’s core service of detailed fan assessments, as these assessments require attendance at matches. However, Mark Bradley has used this time to develop an online course in fan engagement for Barcelona FC, filling a gap in the industry.

Q4: What are the key factors for fan engagement according to Mark Bradley?

Answer: Mark Bradley emphasizes four key factors for fan engagement: identifying the unique selling points of the club, effective communication and engagement with fans, enhancing the fan experience both digitally and physically, and ensuring all club personnel understand the importance of valuing the fans’ experience.


Summary

Mark Bradley, the Director of The Fan Experience Company, has transformed customer service and fan engagement in the football industry. His journey began with a focus on customer engagement in various industries, leading him to launch The Fan Experience Company in 2005. Mark’s innovative approach, utilizing real customer stories, has inspired organizations to prioritize fan engagement. The introduction of the Family Excellence Scheme and the company’s ongoing work have significantly improved the overall football experience, resulting in sustainable growth in attendance. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Mark continues to shape the future of fan engagement through writing, speaking engagements, and the development of an online course in collaboration with Barcelona FC. With an unwavering passion for fan experience, Mark Bradley’s expertise and dedication make him a leading figure in the industry.