The Fan Experience at the Match for Solidarity

The Context and Purpose of the Match

On Saturday 21st of April, I attended a special charity match at the Stade de Genève – the “Match for Solidarity” with men’s football legends Andrea Pirlo, Raul, Luís Figo, Ronaldinho, Robbie Keane, Henrik Larsson, Cafú, Rio Ferdinand and Christian Karembeu, together with three women’s football legends Kelly Smith, Casey Stoney and Célia Šašić. The fact that just three female football players were invited reflected how much women are under-represented in football.

More than 23,000 fans from all ages, backgrounds and cultures filled most of the seats at the Stade de Genève. My reason for attending was as a football fan and as a guest of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London to help support their research on topics such us: Where does sport fit in global diplomacy?

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Photograph: @kelly_smith10

The proceeds from this event, as well as from a charity dinner and a unique digital football auction, went to the UEFA Foundation for Children a non-profit arm of UEFA created during the 38th Ordinary UEFA Congress in Astana in 2014 with the support of Michel Platini. The local beneficiary for this year was Autisme Genève, a non-profit organisation founded in Geneva in 2007 by parents of children with autism. This was a great initiative for a good cause but overall it felt that it could have had a much bigger impact among players, organisers, fans and the local community. For example, inviting world renowned actors, singers and top athletes from other sports to participate together with the football legends (as they did at Soccer Aid for Unicef 2018).

During the pre-match, The Eleven Rise As One game took place ahead of the Match for Solidarity. This brought together 11 children from 11 different countries, who meet for the first time on the day to form a football team and play a 30-minute match. Their opponents were a team of 10- to 15-year olds with at least 11 different origins. The Eleven Rise As One game was organised by the Eleven Campaign, a non-profit organisation behind the Eleven film project: Can Football Unite the World? to raise awareness on social media with their hashtag #jointhe11. For me this Eleven Campaign pre-match event was the real #MatchForSolidarity.

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Photograph: @Eleven_Campaign

 

The Fan Experience

Tickets for the match were reasonably priced for young fans and families at CHF 10, CHF 17 and CHF 22 (between £7.30 and £16.15), and were available for online purchase at ticketcorner.ch after a few clicks and an easy registration process. Tickets were also available for purchased on the day at the Stade de Genève. My ticket was purchased online, and therefore ticketcorner.ch had the opportunity to send me via email a quick post-match fan online survey. My experience and score coincides with the experience from more than 50 fans: average 3.8/5 score – a great event for a good cause but one that could have been better.

Everyone involved in the event was active on social media, including players, organisers and sponsors such as @UEFA @UEFA_Foundation @ChampionsLeague @UEFAWomensEURO @UWCL @Hublot @UN @UNGeneva and @Eleven_Campaign. 184,000 fans followed the match online on Facebook Live (which is not bad compared to the 10,952 fans who viewed the Marseille v Atletico Madrid: UEFA Europa League Final 2018 on BT Sport in UK), and some European countries provided free to air broadcast on their national TV channels.

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Photograph: @UEFA_Foundation

UEFA launched a digital auction where fans could bid for exclusive pieces of memorabilia (including signed jerseys and balls) and was very successful according to the organisers. Unfortunately, I did no receive any information about it before or after the match. The message from organisers to the fans was: “You’ll be showing your support for charities that benefit children with disabilities”. A charity dinner in Geneva after the match added to the funds generated by UN Geneva and UEFA. UEFA Foundation for Children could have kept a live website or landing page were fans can donate even now months after the event (as they did at Soccer Aid for Unicef 2018).

As a fan, I did not receive any travel information in advance of the match. The ticketing website had the stadium address but very little information on how to travel there. The Stade de Genève website had information on transport links but did not mention how to get to the stadium from the different nearby transport links. There was also no information related to travel on the tickets. A First Time Fan guide would have been helpful.

We landed in Geneva via plane from London and at Geneva airport there were some big screens advertising the match as part of City of Geneva’s marketing strategy which I thought was a nice touch, and a good photo opportunity. Unfortunately, the organisers seemed to assume that all fans attending would be local to Geneva – which for an international match involving world stars – seemed strange to me. We headed to the stadium via public transport. Upon arrival at the nearest stop to the stadium, there were no signs or directions. We followed a group of families and walked for around 10 minutes before we arrived at the shopping centre adjacent to the stadium. The queue was so long that it started inside the shopping centre.

We were in this queue for about 20 minutes, but nobody seemed to be managing it and it wasn’t clear if you could enter from a different gate and join another queue. By the time we approached the gate we were given a free bottle of cold sparkling water which was appreciated in such a hot day. Unfortunately, we were so close to going through Security that staff members then took the bottles away before we had been able to drink them! We then found that the gate was divided into 6 queues, but nobody informed us why – women were only allowed to get in through the gates with female security staff, but there were only 2 of those. It was pretty chaotic. It would have been good to have both male and female security staff at each queue, and for the queues to have been properly managed, to make the process seamless and not frustrating for fans.

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There were various food carts and bar tents just outside the perimeter of the ground with different types of food and some vegetarian options; however, they did not accept card payments. This was particularly problematic for those of us who had travelled from outside Switzerland and didn’t have swiss francs (CHF) in cash. The only cashpoint nearby was inside the shopping mall outside the stadium, but unfortunately fans were not allowed to go out and get back in. The selection of drinks inside the stadium was small and expensive. We bought two Coca-Colas and paid 10 CHF (approximately £7.60) which is the same price as the cheapest match ticket. The food selection inside the concourse was basic and again the outlets did not accept card payments.

We found our seats without a problem but realised that the pre-match event between the @Eleven_Campaign team and the local team was being played on the other half of the stadium so we headed there. The event day staff were engaging, proactive in most cases and some spoke very good English. Stewards situated at pitch level struggled to control kids jumping  onto the pitch to meet their idol Ronaldinho. The main goal for attending fans was to see, hug and cheer their football idols.

The atmosphere at the stadium was great at the start of the match and it was sustained at times with some music; however, the quiet periods outweighed the cheering. The female players provided lots of action on the pitch in contrast to the majority of male players who, despite being legends, were visibly past their peak fitness. The final score was 4-3 but there could have been even more goals.

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My reflections

The purpose of the match for the UEFA Foundation for Children and for UN Geneva was to raise funds for multiple projects that support unprivileged children around the world. According to UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin and Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva this was successfully achieved. This event also aimed to promote solidarity for peace, rights and well-being through United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and it did this partly in  my opinion. However the impact would have been stronger if, for example, the stadium had signposted information about the digital auction of the UEFA Foundation for Children or merchandise to raise more funds. It would have been beneficial to have some Ambassadors from UN Geneva at the stadium talking to fans about how the match helped ‘Reducing Inequalities’ (one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals) and how fans could get involved. There could have been some information screens or leaflets on how to contribute to the Eleven Campaign online after the match.

 

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Photograph: @UEFA_Foundation

As highlighted above, the fan experience at the ‘Match for Solidarity’ could have been better, female players could have played a bigger role and organisers missed the opportunity to engage 23,000-plus fans to continue supporting their great initiatives as no contact details were collected on the day. This could have been easily done, for example, an online competition giving away a t-shirt signed by the players or by encouraging fans to share their experiences and stories from the match on the UEFA Foundation for Children’s social media channels. This would have also offered fans the possibility to donate more funds to this charitable organisation as well as give useful feedback. Without this customer data, UEFA Foundation for Children and UN Geneva have not been able to send a fan experience survey and only ticketcorner.ch gathered some basic feedback, which is a shame. Having fans’ details would help organisers build the momentum and stay connected with fans in the lead up to next year’s Match for Solidarity or it could simply take them to the UEFA’s online auction.

 

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To summarise, the ‘Match for Solidarity’ was a great initiative and I enjoyed the experience. However, we left the stadium wondering how much we as fans had actually contributed to the event’s goals of promoting solidarity. Overall, I feel that the event organisers missed a great opportunity to leave a real solidarity legacy in Geneva, amongst the 23,000-plus fans that attended, the hundreds of thousands that watched on TV, and the football legends.

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British Basketball League Looking to Learn from Bigger Organisations

Originally published on futuresport.co on January 3, 2017

Basketball has always been dominated by the US and has struggled to make the transition to the UK, what could be improved to make the game more successful?

Basketball in the US is booming with an estimated 80 million American basketball fans, and more importantly many of them are millennials. Interestingly, 9.6 million basketball fans are also eSport fans according to NewZoo. eSports gives millennials the active engagement they desire and thrills they don’t get in other types of entertainment. According to FiveThirtyEight and Basketball Reference, 97% of the value created by players in the NBA is generated through millennials. Basketball in the UK has never enjoyed huge popularity or media exposure. It is a fact that not many English people know the rules of basketball. However, Adam Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, stated that basketball’s goal is to be the “No2 sport in the UK”.

BBLarena @FutureSport

The traditional sport fan base in the US and UK is ageing, with a significant drop off among 18 to 24-year-olds. According to Ampere Analysis only 14% of their surveyed users “love sport” in the 18-24 age bracket, considerably less than the 22% of those that indicated their love for TV shows. Traditional team sports in the US are losing young players due to the fact that younger generations have stopped playing a second sport. Thankfully, 75% of US youngsters play some sport at high school level. Similarly, traditional team sports in the UK are losing young players. Surprisingly, basketball has managed to maintain its popularity behind football, rugby and cricket.

Competition for the attention of millennials has intensified but where do millennials watch sports videos? According to The Future of Sports 2016 report, millennials between 13 to 24-year-olds watch sports videos on YouTube and SnapChat, while 25 to 34-year-olds prefer to watch sports videos on Facebook and ESPN. Millennials want to interact with the content produced by their teams, and in some cases they also want to co-create the content. The NBA has invested in partnerships with technology and social media partners like Facebook to promote the sport among the younger generations and especially among millennials. For example, the NBA in partnership with BroadbandTV (BBTV), the largest multi-platform network in the world, have recently created NBA Playmakers, an innovative community for video creators focused on basketball, players and basketball culture. In the UK, the NBA announced the launch of the #MyNBAstory Contest to engage with millennials.

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Currently NBA basketball players are among the 8 out of the 12 top best paid athletes across professional sports. A few English players made a career in the NBA like Luol Deng and John Amaechi; unfortunately, salaries in the British Basketball League (BBL) are far below from their counterparts in Europe and millions away from the NBA. The NBA, has 60 employees in London compared to 6 employees at the BBL offices in Leicester. NBA Global Games comes to London every year and sell out tickets in a matter of hours. Tickets sell on StubHub for upto £1,160. A BBL game for a family (2 adults and 3 children) at the Leicester Riders’ Arena costs £35.

It is great that BT Sport subscribers can enjoy watching the NBA season and NBA Finals; unfortunately, thousands of kids from modest households can only watch highlights or follow the NBA on social media. Basketball in the UK was introduced by the YMCA and has always been seen as a sport for youngsters from poorer backgrounds, and currently over 40% of London Youth Games (LYG) basketball participants live in the most deprived 20% of postcodes, compared to 27% on average for LYG. Thankfully, this season the BBC is broadcasting 31 live matches of the BBL on the BBC website and mobile app. The BBL and the recently created British Basketball Federation (BBF) have agreed to a new 10-year license agreement to continue as the top men’s division in the UK. Interestingly, all BBL games are now available online via the new official British Basketball League streaming provider, LiveBasketball.TV.

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According to Kevin Routledge, Chairman of the Leicester Riders, the reasons why elite basketball is not growing in the UK is due to funding uncertainty, reduced level of collaboration between clubs, leagues and federations; clubs not owning a purpose-built facility; difficulty in attracting fans to weekday games; the misalignment of basketball at schools, colleges, universities, BBL clubs, and national teams; coaching standards and lack of opportunities of playing against better European teams. The Basketball Champions League, a new partnership between FIBA and 10 European leagues, would be a great platform for the top BBL teams to get experience in elite basketball to complement their off season preparation matches against top European teams.

The missing ingredients of the BBL league are games played at club-owned venues, broadcast free on TV/online/mobile, showcasing talented and experienced players (home-grown and foreign) paid a decent salary, supported by successful coaches, at UK and European basketball events, and supported by local sponsors and authorities. The BBL needs to promote partnerships among owners, universities and colleges, the BBF and national sponsors. BBL clubs need stable funding to hire staff and to partner with technology companies to create databases to engage millennials and their families. Social Media strategy and management of BBL clubs is improving but there is room for improvement. Board Members of the BBL and BBF need to work closer with national and international stakeholders (including the NBA and other European basketball leagues) to inform authorities about the educational values of basketball as a sport and the affordable and exciting entertainment available for families in big cities across the UK.