Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Is football for all the family?

Not everyone considers going to the football as a possible family day out.

Sometimes being put off by the anticipated cost, perhaps the perceived lack of things for children to do as well as watching the football, or even by the expectation of bad language and aggressive behaviour of football fans.

Football is not always at the top of a family’s ‘activities-to-do-together’ list.

And even though I’d followed a Football League club since childhood, and attended games with my dad, it wasn’t something that sprang immediately to mind as a ‘must-do’ with my young boy.

From a fan’s perspective football has moved on greatly in my lifetime, and the Football League and its members have recognised the need to provide a family friendly product, as well as not neglecting their existing fans and customer base.

Through initiatives like Enjoy the Match and the Family Football Festival the League has directed, encouraged and helped football clubs to cater for the needs and wants of families.

The Football League is keen to recognise the efforts of football clubs in this area too, and has been awarding those that excel annually with its Family Excellence Award, as well as inviting them to bid to become its Family Club of the Year.

Once again I was part of the judging panel that presided over this year’s entries for that honour, and I was again staggered by the progress and efforts lots of clubs are making and the real value for money experiences they are now offering to families.

It’s amazing to see what the clubs can achieve by looking at things from a family perspective, listening to families, and reacting well to what they are being told.

There’s some real innovation on show too, where clubs have been very forward thinking in improving the experience a family may get from visiting them, regardless of the actual result of the match.

This year’s winning club – and my favourite entry – was Portsmouth Football Club

A lot has been written negatively about Pompey over recent times, and when I saw they had entered the running for Family Club of the Year, I anticipated reading, watching and hearing about a colourful entry.

I wasn’t wrong.

The club has made great efforts to provide for families.   

These include:

Kidzone area– an interactive children’s area visited by a player before each game

First-time fan guide – includes all you’d need to know about a visit to Fratton Park

Contacting first time fans – calling before their first game to ensure they were happy and in possession of all the details they needed

Random acts of kindness – staff are encouraged to make fans’ days all the more special.  Some first time families have watched the warm-up from the dugout, others allowed to take pictures on the pitch for example.

Family friendly pricing – various new price breaks for children and families

PFC Experience – use of their study centre to show behind the scenes at Portsmouth

Pompey bus – interactive hub parked outside on matchdays and deployed to other club events

Fan days, prize draws, giveaways, dedicated section for families on their website, teaming up with other companies to offer some excellent partner benefits, listening to family feedback, as well as employing a fan liaison officer full-time added to their marvellous entry.

But my favourite thing they are doing, and what I would have loved as a child (perhaps not so much as a parent ;-), is an end-of-season sleep over.  They are arranging for junior members and season ticket holders to come for a day’s coaching, followed by an evening meal, ending with a Disney film on a big screen, all whilst camping out on the hallowed Fratten Park turf overnight.

If it wasn’t so far away, and my allegiances nailed to another flag post, I’d be itching to take my son to that.

When the award was announced it clearly meant a lot to the staff at Pompey, furthering my opinion that Portsmouth are worthy winners of this year’s Family Club of the Year award.

But competition for this accolade was keenly fought, and clubs up and down the country are providing excellence experiences for families.  Many deserve recognition and checking out.

I implore you to go and have a look at what your local club is up to, and what they have to offer.