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Go Pokémon Go

The latest trend to hit the vision and minds of digital and mobile gamers is ‘Pokémon Go’.

To many, another innovation worthy of disdain from the parents and authorities with children transfixed by Wii, XBox, Playstation, tablets and mobiles.

I must be just another in an army of parents that recite the monotonous and predictable lines about an upbringing without technology – where leisure time and weekends meant playing outdoors at the local ‘rec’ (recreation ground) unsupervised. How times have changed with more ‘cotton wool’ protocols in approaches to childcare and interaction meaning chats via headsets between friends – if not in the same room.

The Company announces: “Travel between the real world and the virtual world of Pokémon with Pokémon GO for iPhone and Android devices. With Pokémon GO, you’ll discover Pokémon in a whole new world—your own!” It says that ‘Pokémon Go’ was downloaded more times in its first week than any other iPhone app in history.

But those awaiting my displeasure will be kept waiting. Today, I let my Son out of my sight for the first real time to go with five trusted friends hunting for Pokémons. The reason I’m actually defending this innovation is that this Game actually took the boys outdoors and they enjoyed camaraderie, banter, relationships and most of all a plus for me, exercise. Thankfully the boys in question all partake in regular sport, be that rugby, football, lacrosse or swimming. I do believe (even though I’ve never played it) the coding of Pokémon offers potential for projects linking to Pokémon or similar technology which could fit with new exercise regimes and/or fan engagement.  Vancouver Whitecaps have broken news of their recent signings this Season 2016/2017, by recreating their own version of Pokémon GO. The options are endless and limited only by the creativity of developers.

The Youth Sports Trust claims: “One in four kids thinks playing computer games is ‘exercise’“. Well kiddywinks, I’ve got news for you it isn’t!  But with Pokémon maybe there’s hope? The Findings appear in a Study, entitled the “Class of 2035”, which warns “that sport in schools is at a “critical crossroads” and must remain a priority “to avoid a physically and socially disengaged future generation, over dependent on technology”.

My Brother-in-Law who has undertaken research into technology and effects on perceptions and reactions at University of Portsmouth – appears to back the idea up to an hour a day of sedentary game playing may actually do good and sharpen responses. But this idea of taking technology as a platform to facilitate exercise could surely get a thumbs up. Modern day pastimes and trends linked to every day needs, namely: exercise – and the combat of unhealthy lifestyles and obesity.

The World Health Organization (WHO) regards childhood obesity as a major challenge for public health this Century. Obese children and adolescents are at an increased risk of developing various health problems, and are also more likely to become obese adults themselves in turn.

So my message is clear, if the likes of Donald Trump can convince the populous to vote for him as a US Presidential Candidate – I think a more plausible manifesto or mission is to take Pokémonand either via the CSR of the inventing company and/or a credible sporting practitioner, take Pokémon, or an equally compelling character and platform, and redress the balance.  The Game is making circa $1.6 million per day with an estimated 7.5 million U.S downloads.

I say “Go Pokemon Go” show the World the good that technology and exercise can bring to children’s lives and futures.

 

 

Refreshing change

With the constant bombarding of negative life events around the World – Brexit, Nice, Brussels, Istanbul, Turkey etc – what a refreshing change in seeing a politician who merely wanted to celebrate his own Country’s Euro success.  Watch Mário Centeno  turning up to the Eurozone meeting in Brussels. See: http://www.newstalk.com/WATCH:-Portugals-finance-minister-shows-up-to-Eurozone-meeting-in-football-scarf

 

Marseille: Ultrasound #englandfans

Ultrasound: (Ed.defn. is a diagnostic imaging technique used to see internal body structures). In the same way, I provide my own insight and commentary on this Weekend’s trip to Marseille to watch and support the England National Team in the European Championship – Euro 2016.

I was inundated by goodwill messages seeking confirmation of my safety, and that of my ten-year old Son, after the final whistle of the England versus Russia fixture.  It did make me think, I wonder what the media is broadcasting back in ‘Blighty’ and to what extent was it accurate and consistent with our experiences.  I wrote for reassurance and clarity on my Facebook page:

Home safe and sound my Friends – thanks for all goodwill messages. Of course, I’d protect my Son at all costs. Not seen a single incident involving England fans myself. Sure there will have been some. But any incident we witnessed was caused by Russian supporters. Not trying to dismiss moronic behaviour of mindless few, but expect as usual it’s the World’s media that like to sensationalise and blame the English always as ‘agent provocateurs’. At least based on yesterday in Marseille the police’s official statement was more balanced IMHO.”

This statement from National Police Chiefs’ Lead for Football Policing, Assistant Chief Constable, Mark Roberts said:

“England supporters had been in Marseille yesterday without issue. At around midnight, there was a short confrontation where a group of approximately 70 local youths approached a pub where England fans had congregated. This was quickly dealt with by French police and one English supporter was arrested. We are aware of no further incidents overnight.”

The trip will be remembered as one of the most enjoyable breaks in my life.  An emotional, fun and quality time in the most part for Father and Son in their first international football adventure.  This Video highlights just a few snippets of our ‘holiday fun’.

All day long, on match day, we had ‘a ball’ (excuse the pun!).  Infact, the whole trip was in the same vein.  Fans from clubs throughout England chatted and entertained one another in a convivial fashion.  I could recall numerous, but as a minimum we spoke to fans from Burnley, Tottenham, Oldham, QPR, Leeds, WBA, Everton etc.  All fans from England played their part in creating a fantastic atmosphere and spirit.  Of course, there was booze and ‘boisterous’ behaviour (as the radio pundits call it) but remove the singing and socialising and the roots of this great Game are erased.

Such a tone was common to the inter-action also.  All day we shook the hands of Russians looking forward to the evening’s game. Plenty of smiles and banter and England’s nominated fan even beat the Russian counterpart in a game of mini ‘ping pong’ in Marseille Harbour. An early handshake with one ‘rival’, when meeting again at the gates to Stade Vélodrome, resulted in a giant, man-hug so common is that friendship and bond of football.

We attended the Fan Park which was good to pass the time and keep the Lad entertained.  All sponsors showed good preparation to creating brand exposure, whilst soliciting personal contact details to add to the CRM no doubt, and future direct marketing campaigns.  No small budgets will have been incurred for such extravagance.  Turkish Airlines, Hisense and FDJ (La Ola) hit the target, Hyundai let down by incompetence by its ‘team’ manning the stand.

In preparation for Euro2016, our Police, confiscated the passports of nearly 1,400 people as part of the ‘Passport Surrender’ operation. That is equivalent to 97 per cent of the individuals currently subject to a banning order who hold a passport in the UK. Would the presence of these ‘hardcore’ of alleged hooligans have inflamed the situation? Possibly.  Would they have shifted more ‘blame’ to the English fans. Unlikely.  Of course, there’s a minority, that will always let down the true supporters and instigate criminal actions, but make no mistake from our experience the confrontation and protagonists were clearly, the Russians and French.

French Ultras took a focus on attacking English fans.  But the Russians took hooliganism to a different level.  I suspect the latter’s antics would be the foundation of a saleable commercial computer game – and movie that would make Green Street and Football Factory look like a children’s programme.

Supposedly these fans that started disruption in the Stadium, after the release of flares and bangers, were well drilled, of ‘one vision’, combative, ‘tooled up’ and conducting activities with military precision.  They have taken football hooliganism to a level never before witnessed in my opinion.  Thank goodness rather than the traditional, scapegoating towards England supporters – enquiries after investigation appear to remove the instant reflex and blame and appreciate the biggest finger should point East.

150 Russian football hooligans were behind the violence, French prosecutors have said. Brice Robin, Chief Prosecutor in Marseille, says: “most of the 35 people injured in the four days of fighting were English, four of whom are in serious condition.” Furthermore, he commented: “These people were well prepared for ultra-rapid, ultra-violent action. These are extremely well trained people.”

On a separate note, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the security at the Stadium was inadequate.  We could have taken terrorist materials and weapons into that Ground without difficulty as precautions and staff were found lacking.  Whilst, incredibly concerning, it gives added credence to the work that we are commencing at ACROBAT | FCSM with Safety Awareness which are gurus in sport venue security having planned and implemented successful campaigns at: Olympics, World Cups and Commonwealth Games.

Robin, continues: “Our spotters in Marseille saw them putting in gum shields and putting on martial arts gloves and bandanas before attacking England fans in the Port. We know some were carrying knives because one England fan was stabbed. They wore a kind of uniform – all in black t-shirts and clothing and most carried bum bags, possibly to conceal weapons.”

Football hooliganism is a different ‘Game’ now.  It has gone up a Level.  I wouldn’t be surprised if an English ‘Hooligan Hit Squad’ forms and seeks to climb that League table of Ultras show of strength.

But the final comment must again be taken from my social media.  I posted: “Now this is what really happened in Marseille #‎Euro2016‬ Quality Dad and Lad time #‎priceless.”

It remains and always will be in my work and play – the beautiful game.  Fan engagement will continue its momentum.  But the landscape for confrontation may have changed for good, hence my titling this post, ‘Ultrasound’.

Passion, not Fashion: Non-League Day

Today’s post generously provided by Guest Author, Mark Bradley of The Fan Experience Company:

“Non League Day is with us on 10th October. It’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase our local clubs and it’s a chance to provide something different and engaging for fans who ordinarily would be occupied at a Premier League or Football League stadium or even stretched out on the coach wondering if Chris Kamara is going to start an update without the words ‘unbelievable Jeff’. It’s a fantastic opportunity, but I’m pretty confident that while many clubs will double, maybe triple, attendance, very few will use this as a springboard for sustainable growth.

So why just expect them to come as a ‘one off’? Why shouldn’t the experience be capable of converting a new generation of supporters to the ‘power of the small’? For me, Non League Day should be a catalyst for growth and every club should be capable of increasing and then maintaining that uplift in support.

Followers of our work will be familiar with my mantra about the ‘product’ being the experience and not just the 90 minutes. If that is true (and I believe it is) then the further down the pyramid you go, the greater the opportunities we have.

The experience is more intimate. You can walk around the pitch to get different views of the same game. You can hear what is being said by the manager and by the players on the pitch (granted: not always a good thing) and you’re bound to encounter folk you wished you’d got to know earlier in your life.

It’s affordable too. There is often added value (one price for parking, programme and admission) and refreshments are often freshly made local favourites (I’m thinking of the importance of Ock n Dough to AFC Rushden & Diamonds & Wellingborough folk; the burgers at Barwell and the wonderful stovies, bridies & pies we enjoy on our Scottish trips).

There is often a social club: somewhere to shelter from inclement weather or, as we once did at North Greenford United, to sneak into half way through an unimpressive second half to watch the Grand National. None of this will come as a shock to the already converted, but doesn’t this paint a perfect picture of what many fans feel is missing at higher levels of the game? It’s a powerful USP and it shouldn’t just be about achieving a peak of attendance tomorrow. It should be a springboard for a transformative uplift in advocacy, attendance and revenue.

These elements are plentiful at lower/non-league level. They’re also the cornerstones of a realistic growth plan. Our smaller clubs therefore have a fantastic opportunity, but as our experience (and research) shows, a significant number of them are missing out.

From the perspective of the supporter visiting the club for the first time, the failings can be especially fatal. My expectations are that there will be a clear website, easy to navigate with sufficient info to take the stress away from a first visit (directions, parking, costs, availability of food, etc.) and that the club will promote what makes a match day at their ground so special. Make it easy for me to get there, but also make me feel confident that I won’t stand out like a sore thumb. Make it possible for me to feel part of things.

While there are some fantastic practitioners about (my hat is doffed to Lewes FC and their outstanding match day promotional posters), many other clubs have complex, baffling websites, often lacking key information (e.g. admission prices) but containing a detailed statistical analysis of sock colours in the early years of the 20th century (or something). To put it bluntly, the new fan is already having to do all of the work. These clubs may not be complacent or arrogant, but it would be understandable if a first timer picked up that impression.

Social media places effective match day promotion and fan engagement within the reach of every club, so it’s disappointing to see some clubs only ‘broadcasting’ during a match with line ups and score updates. Fair enough, a resource is needed to communicate outside of these periods, but why not prioritise the search for a volunteer who knows about these things and can improve upon the service? Our club love affairs are 24/7, so why are some clubs playing ‘difficult to get’?

Obviously many of the smaller clubs I’m referring to will be relying on volunteers already and I acknowledge that it is often difficult to attract people to help on a match day. Having said that, it’s certainly preferable to have fewer volunteers than to present your potential future fan base with indifferent (or even hostile) individuals.   UK Charity Retail often faces that problem. We’re so pleased to have the assistance that we feel a little reluctant to try and ‘train’ or ‘manage’ our volunteers, even when their behaviours are damaging perceptions.

A friend of mine was going to go to a local non-league club for the first time last season. The game was postponed, so he arranged to attend the re-arranged fixture. As the repeat fixture was scheduled for midweek, the club decided to make entry free for all. Nice touch. Quite right. However, when my friend arrived, the attitude of the volunteers bordered on the insulting. When he asked for help, they ignored him. It was clear they thought he was a free loader; just turning up because he wouldn’t have to put his hand in his pocket. So let’s look for volunteers who epitomise the spirit of the Club. Let’s examine the skill set required. Let’s not just bite the hand of the first to turn up.

One clear USP (unique selling point) for non-league clubs is the social club. Not only is the social club often the epitome of what makes a match at a smaller community club much more enjoyable than the experience at a higher level (i.e. it would be called ‘corporate hospitality’ & would cost an arm and a leg), but it’s also incredibly attractive.

It provides a haven in bad weather, keeps people occupied (pool, TV, drinks and snacks, etc.) and also allows you to meet people & make new friends. We all accept that the experience extends beyond the 90 minutes of the match and the social club, for the majority of clubs, is the element that makes them special. So how then do you explain the lack of information on them on many clubs’ websites? Are they family friendly? Can you eat there? If there are two blokes smoking outside and I have my young son with me, will I risk going up the steps?

Granted, many clubs do make a point of promoting their social facilities, but many more don’t. For me it exposes a very interesting attitude: that clubs only think about growth in relation to their existing and lapsed fans. There’s clearly nothing wrong with building growth on the ability of your existing fan base to recruit new supporters, but at least some of your growth has to come from people completely new to the club. So don’t hide your best asset from them.

Many small community clubs know who comes along week in week out, so that when someone new turns up; why not ask them if they’re going to come back?

Now I accept that the club won’t be selling tickets online nor routinely collecting customer contact details, firing off offers for future games and requests for feedback, but why not dedicate a few minutes to talk to these people, ask them what led them to drop by and see what can be done to encourage them to return? If they’ve enjoyed themselves, why wouldn’t they post testimonies? Restaurants and hotels want us to share our experiences on Trip Advisor and social media so why shouldn’t clubs encourage positive coverage in that way?

I have the outline of a manifesto for Non League & grass roots growth. It involves strengthening the club’s local identity by looking for the ‘niche’ that will make you stand out locally. It’s about promoting everything BUT the game. It’s about building a team of volunteers, not by word of mouth, but by engaging with local colleges and finding kids for whom the experience will be incredibly valuable and whose skills fill a gap that’s holding you back. It’s about thinking differently about traditions like the match day programme. Why persist with a printed copy that reaches 50 people when putting it on line could reach thousands (as St Helen’s FC have shown) and which then exponentially increases the potential for commercial sponsorship?

The fact is that many non-league clubs act in a way that suggests their growth plans are based on finally drawing Manchester United or Liverpool in the 3rd round of the FA Cup at some stage in the future. This betrays a lack of belief in the power of the unique experience they provide.

Invest time in figuring out what matters to new supporters and, where possible and realistic, take steps to deliver that. The fact that we CAN’T influence what happens on the pitch is seen as a frustrating reality by many clubs, until they realise that’s NOT what makes their club special.

The ‘power of the small’ is what makes non-league clubs different and what makes them different is what makes them special. The message from Non League Day supporters to fans is to come down to your local club on 10th October. The message from me to Non League Clubs is to do more to make your new guests come back.”