A couple of weeks ago my brother and I set off for the Saracens vs. Harlequins match, safe in the knowledge that the game would definitely be going ahead (despite the freakish sub-zero weather conditions) due to the artificial pitch, and keen to experience the new Allianz Park. Saracens‘ vision is ‘to be the most innovative, hard-working and caring rugby organisation in the world’, so at this official opening of their new stadium I was interested to see how close they are to meeting this ambition.
Earlier in the week I had received an extremely clear and helpful email from Saracens detailing the match day itinerary, the travel options and any other info we might have needed. If one of the key objectives of a rights holder’s ECRM is to improve the customer experience, then this email certainly ticked that box. Whilst it was by no means ground-breaking, it is striking how often this is either absent or uninformative in the build-up to a big event.
Following our travel instructions, we were warmly greeted at Mill Hill East tube station by one of the Saracens Pioneers. These volunteers have been selected to help deliver the perfect match day experience, no doubt inspired by the widespread acclaim for the Olympic Gamesmakers and to position Saracens as a club for the community.
Then a free (and spacious) shuttle bus whisked us to the stadium and we collected our tickets without any fuss. Again, these are perhaps small things that a sports fan should expect on a match day, but which can so often be sorely lacking.
It must be said that we weren’t totally blown away by the Stadium: although the new East stand is impressive, the existing West Stand and temporary seats on the Barnet running track didn’t exactly scream out ‘new stadium’, but there was no lack of effort from the club to make their opening feel special. A Legends match (featuring among others Jason Leonard and Thomas Casteignede) took place before kick-off, adding further value to our £20 match ticket.
In the innovation stakes, (aside from the pitch), Saracens have installed two giant video screens which provided a fantastic picture throughout, and for this fixture they also took a 360 degree fan-pic at the game for fans to tag themselves on Facebook (I’m the one in the red hat in the middle!).
Whilst a fan-pic at an event is now familiar territory, Saracens added an interactive element by offering the chance to win a signed shirt for spotting Sarrie the Camel, and also gave fans who were unable to get a ticket (the match was sold out) the opportunity to add their profile picture to the shot. Perhaps Saracens could have done even more with this by promoting the picture on the big screens and asking fans to smile for the camera! I also think the big screens could have had a more interactive element to them – for example Saracens could look to add a Twitter ticker-tape running along the bottom of it so fans can add their thoughts on the action. As we saw at the Olympics, initiatives such as the kiss-cam and bongo-cam are great ways of getting the crowd involved in the action and these big screens offer this opportunity. If Saracens really want to become the most innovative rugby club around, then the most obvious first step for them will be to provide free wi-fi at the ground (a topic that we have discussed many times on this blog). A partner deal like the recently announced MLB and T- Mobile and Liverpool F.C and Xirrus initiatives would really allow fans to interact at the stadium, and Saracens already have a mobile app which could, in time, become the tool that gives supporters the ability to interact with the game in real time.
In terms of the sponsor activity on the day, there was a clear winner: despite Allianz’s naming rights deal, it was Domino’s Pizza who stood out. They have given fans the chance to get pizzas delivered to their seats at half-time (which seemed to be a popular option in the freezing cold) and their half-time catching challenge between Saracens and Harlequins fans also proved to be popular. It will be interesting to see if Allianz remain passive in their activation and apparently happy to rely on the media value driven from the stadium name and shirt sponsorship, although I have since spotted that they are running a reporter competition on Facebook for their next home game.
After the match, fans were encouraged to take to the pitch and kick a ball about (taking me back to the days of bringing my bat and a ball along to The Oval for some throw-downs on the outfield). As you can see this proved really popular with the kids (both big and small) and reinforced Saracens’ positioning as a community-friendly club. We went to de-frost with a few pints (with our souvenir cups – see below) in the longest match day bar in the UK, and there the Saracens band played and the Man of the Match (Mako Vunipola) was presented with his award. This was a really nice way of allowing the fans to get closer to their heroes in a relaxed, family friendly atmosphere after the game. On the way out of the ground, a large Pepperoni Passion pizza for a fiver capped off a really great fan experience for us!
It really seems that Saracens have considered the fans’ journey every step of the way, and we had a great debut experience at Allianz Park. On the day, their stars on the field didn’t disappoint and faster, better rugby was produced due to the 4G pitch. Whilst Saracens may still have a little way to go on the innovation front, they are certainly ahead of the game in terms of putting the fans and the community at the heart of everything they do; more rights holders should definitely take note.
By Matt Kiernan on April 4th, 2013