By Nigel Hill, Chairman, TLF Research
Customers across many companies feel aggrieved that their loyalty is not rewarded – hardly surprising when they see new customers getting all the best offers. This is not the scenario at Huddersfield Town Association Football Club (HTAFC) where the entire commercial strategy is based on rewarding loyalty. Here are some of the most eye catching examples.
The Premiership Pledge
Back in 2010 HTAFC owner, Dean Hoyle, promised that for however long he owned the Club, if it ever reached the Premier League all fans who had owned a season ticket (called a season card at HTAFC) since he became owner in 2008 would be offered a season card for the first season in the Premier League for £100. That equates to £5.55 per match, not bad compared with £30 for the cheapest tickets in the League last season with the average ticket price way higher. With over 4,400 fans qualifying for the offer it cost the Club almost half a million pounds to honour the pledge.
Low cost season cards
The average price of season tickets across the Premier League for the 2017-18 season is £683. At HTAFC fans who renewed their season cards at the end of last season paid £199. By comparison, Arsenal fans have paid £897 for the cheapest season ticket and an average of over £1,500. In June, after promotion to the Premier League a second tranche of season cards was released at £299. HTAFC sold 20,192 season tickets and could have sold many more but with one of the smallest grounds in the Premier League (24,500 capacity), and 2,000 having to be reserved for away fans plus 5% for matchday tickets, this was the absolute limit. So how were they allocated? On loyalty of course. The most loyal fans bought for £199 before HTAFC became a Premier League club. For the second release of season cards applicants had to have been ticket holders previously (verifiable on the database) as will applicants for matchday tickets. Allocation of scarce away tickets will also be based around a loyalty programme.
Listening to fans
Apart from the fact that the owner is a fan who has spent many hours on the terraces over the years, there are some more formal mechanisms for listening to fans’ views. Altogether Town is a panel of HTAFC fans drawn from all demographics that meets quarterly to provide feedback on current issues with a further 400 members available for email consultation when necessary.
Of course, being genuinely customer-focused goes beyond listening. HTAFC’s Club Charter details a 10 point pledge to its supporters, people and community:
- Always Sincere, Never Pretentious
- Always Positive, Never Downhearted
- Always Personal, Never Condescending
- Always Striving, Never Pushy
- Always Straight Talking, Never Lecturing
- Always Leading, Never Dictating
- Always Confident, Never Arrogant
- Always Inspiring, Never Depressing
- Always Honest, Never Deceitful
- Always HTAFC, Never Self-Interested
The Club’s objectives include:
- Improve the match day experience, on and off the pitch
- Improve quality and breadth of communication with supporters groups
Communications and feedback
HTAFC is very committed to two-way communications as part of its objective to make all customers from season card holders to casual visitors to the stadium feel as though they are important to the Club. The Marketing communications team focus on every contact point, monitoring and responding to social media posts and actively engaging with the wider fan base through the Club’s database of 200,000 email addresses. Until now, the matchday experience has been monitored via the Football League’s mystery shopping programme which provides feedback on every touchpoint.
The commitment to rewarding loyal fans has also been extended to commercial partners. Recent years have seen a vast growth in sponsors at Premier League clubs as this revenue stream has been aggressively developed. Known as the Huddersfield Hundred, the Club’s roster of official partners is being capped at 100. There are additional matchday hospitality opportunities for local companies and individuals but packages are already selling out due to high demand.
The local economy
Commitment to local business is also provided through the Club’s purchasing policies. There is a view at the Club that HTAFC getting promoted to the Premier League provides “an opportunity as a town to showcase who we are”. Wherever possible purchasing will be from local businesses and local products will be featured on matchdays.
A good example is matchday catering. The John Smiths Stadium is technically a separate company owned 40% by the local authority, 40% by HTAFC and 20% by Huddersfield Giants Rugby League Club. The ownership model and the new stadium itself were both highly innovative when the Alfred McAlpine Stadium opened in 1994. Kudos, one of whose Directors is renowned chef Daniel Clifford, have recently been appointed to provide matchday catering at the stadium and they will be focusing strongly on local provenance. For example, the pies will be sourced from a local manufacturer and there will be a ‘Huddersfield Hot Pot’. Fresh ingredients will be sourced from local farms.
Making football matches more of an entertainment package similar to American Football or Baseball has been a long running debate in the UK game, where arriving at the stadium ten minutes before kick-off is the norm rather than the exception. Do fans arrive at the last minute because nothing is happening before the kick-off or is no pre-match entertainment provided because fans always arrive late? HTAFC has gone some way to resolving this quandary by setting up the Fanzone at the Club’s training ground, which is a short walk from the stadium. Getting underway two hours before kick-off there is a bar (with beer brewed by Huddersfield craft brewery Magic Rock), entertainment and competitions for children and there may be an Under 18s match to watch. In addition Club ambassador Andy Booth hosts Boothy’s Beer and Banter with guests who have included Dermot Gallagher as well as former players and managers.