With the prospect of a move to Lionel Road looking much rosier after the Council thumbs up, Beesotted contributor, Lou Boyd, looks to the future – and how Brentford can build on its 6,000 current fans over the next few years to 15,000-plus… Without losing it’s soul.
With the great, and possibly life-changing, news that Lionel Road should become a reality in the near future, the club could be faced with the ‘nice problem’ of a 20,000 capacity stadium to fill within three years.
The club certainly haven’t been inactive, using the cushion of Matthew Benham’s support to cast the net far and wide regarding fans and players. The Uxbridge academy, a revitalised scouting network, a highly accredited development squad set-up, better coverage of Brentford women’s team and the hosting of the NextGen competition, have boosted the number of players exposed to the club… but what of punters?
Over the last couple of years the club has, with or without irony, pursued an advertising campaign that has looked like the back of a bus, first the 237 and now the 65. Whilst there is a valid business point that buses are great mobile advertising hoardings, I did feel somewhat underwhelmed if that is the best we can do, but I know it isn’t. Each game is full of local schools and youth teams given tickets by the club, the Community Trust and corporate partners such as Korea Foods UK, who provided a bunch of junior tickets for the JPT tie against Wimbledon. With these giveaways it is often the good nature of Brentford leaning school staff and business owners that make it happen under arrangement with an enthusiastic, but inexperienced, commercial department, which leaves me wandering how far exactly does our net stretch and does it catch any new fish?
The target 10,000 scheme has been a statement of intent for a club that whilst loudly hoping of a place in the Championship with it’s 17,000 average gates, also acknowledges that we are a small fish in a very busy pond, one that can only half-fill it’s goldfish bowl at present. The club earned plaudits throughout the media for our ‘pay what can scheme’, not just an easy gate booster against unglamorous opposition, but one that was also seen as a morally decent thing to attempt during a recession.
This season’s game fell just short of it’s target, 9,783 whilst last season’s rearranged affair with Stevenage a less encouraging 7,022 for a game that was essentially ‘in for a quid’. But with rising average attendances, 5,644 in 2011/13 and 6,492 in 2012/13, we should or could be looking at average gates near or on the target 10,000 and a full Griffin Park to say goodbye to.
Once we’ve worked out how to work the keys to Lionel Road we may still have half a stadium to fill. A lot will depend on what league we are in and who we welcome down; London is a choice away venue for lots of fans all over the country, but how would we do competing against QPR, Fulham, Millwall etc over Orient and Charlton?
So how do we make that angle, get that niche, be that team the casual football fan from Ealing, Hounslow, Staines decides to go and see? What do we have that the others don’t?
The club proclaims real football, for real fans and that’s where I think we’re missing a trick. Won’t real fans already have an allegiance to a club and isn’t ‘real football’ relative? Thousands of Chelsea fans in West London prefer the reality of a David Luis shoulder barge to an Adam Forshaw through ball. Are we isolating anyone unsure about what a ‘real fan’ or ‘real football’ is? What is the club promising exactly by offering ‘real football’; terraces, crap food, swearing, mild doses of homophobia and heavy handed stewarding or something new to all of us?
I used to despise, pity and mock the ‘non committal football for non committal fans’ approach of tourist trap. Neutral courting Fulham but more and more we see Palace, Watford and QPR advertising games near us at a level higher for a fiver less then Brentford’s cheapest tickets on Groupon. Fulham, Charlton, Millwall and West Ham seem to have advertising space at the back of the Evening Standard most days and are on a number of radio stations.
Should Wimbledon get a move back to Plough Lane and maintain their League presence, they could continue to take fans from us and remain one of the lower league’s hipster favourites if they continue to grow their brand identity of uniqueness. Competition for these real fans is fierce and that’s just amongst association soccer.
Discounted tickets for rugby, Harlequins and Saracens, and pretty much any match at Twickenham that doesn’t feature England, go on offer most weeks over the internet. So what can little old Brentford do before we fall further down Joe Bloggs’ things to do list?
There’s the advantages we already have and there’s the advantages we can get in place for Lionel Road. We must be one of only a dozen or so league teams that allows fans to stand, so I’d like to see the club investigate a safe standing option for Lionel Road (ed – safe standing is already actually part of the Lionel Rd plans. However, we at Beesotted believe the club could actually be much more high profile in the ‘Make safe standing legal’ campaign seeing as it is a massive USP for us. More about this in the months to come).
This would mark us out from the ‘evils’ of moribund all-seaters, appeal to the traditionalist fan, and allow for us to maximise capacity should we draw one of the Premier League big boys in a cup – to be one of a few rather than lost amongst the generic masses in the Football League.
When I meet any football fan, ‘real’ or otherwise, once we’ve established that it is Brentford and not Brentwood who I support, the first thing they say is ‘you’ve got a pub on each corner of the ground, you lucky sod’. This fact is repeated ad nauseum in pub quizzes and quiz machines across the UK. This is definitely a unique selling point for GP and I hope there is some effort to add a nod to this in the new ground preventing Lionel Road from becoming another sterile, identity-less Keepmoat or Majedski.
Whilst we remain at Griffin Park I wonder if there is anything happening to promote this angle too. Harlequins have advertised match packages with match tickets, merchandise and drinks vouchers at the Stoop on stag do and activity websites. Maybe we should be pushing the Griffin Park pub Crawl more, or maybe a lot of drunk lads on match day goes against the family atmosphere we are trying to cultivate and the low potential for trouble the local police enjoy?
There’s the possibility of link-ups to divide and conquer the competition, London Welsh have been muted as tenants of ours in the new ground and we will be able to rent out office space in the ground most of the week. We have a location equidistant to Heathrow and the City, on a massive transport link, so now we should be buttering up all manner of Heathrow and London-based companies so that we become the preferred partner/provider for any hospitality, conferences, training events etc they want to hold.
Add to this the hopefully much, much, much improved corporate facilities and the club could forge a reputation as a fun day out not just for the ‘real fan’ and family, but also for those in the area for business stuck at a local chain hotel, who we should also have deals with. Whilst I appreciate the efforts made by the club in tough circumstances at GP, I don’t think there is anyone who entertains us as a corporate alternative should Chelsea, Reading, Fulham be sold out, so I don’t see the point in trying to be provide a Poundland version of their commercial packages. Selling the club as a decent community institution to companies looking to buy a bit of social responsibility would be a good avenue to pursue in my experience. Then our friend’s friends become our friends.
Back to the link ups and cross-promotion – often an extremely effective way of reaching out to new audiences. Matchroom boxing and Orient, both owned by the Hearnes have started offering cross-over ticket deals. Freebies to the boxing for Orient ST holders and plenty of advertising for Orient at Matchroom Boxing events. Is there anything we could do to sweep up the ‘sports mad’ contingent in West London? Reduced price tickets for members of Harlequins, Middlesex Cricket team etc to try and get them down when their teams aren’t playing locally. Are we twinned or linked up with any other sporting clubs and associations? Do we offer tickets to all the local FAs to catch the Sunday leaguers who would count us as their second team after Chelsea/Utd/Spurs? Do we want these types at our club, do they qualify as ‘real fans’?
Is it worth us offering discounts to those that have a ticket for internationals at Wembley on the same weekend? Should we advertise or target fans abroad like St Pauli have done in the past so that Mr Football Tourist has us in the back of his mind during his long weekend in London?
Have we approached the London fanclubs of massive teams of Barca, Real, Inter, Juve, Bayern, Ajax, Celtic etc to court them in to attending games in the flesh at GP, before they settle down to watch their teams on TV? In this respect I applaud the club for the calibre of the friendly opposition we got to GP this season, which resulted in bigger gates and better quality competition and bigger national exposure.
I found it incredibly heart warming over the past few years to see Bees fans from Sweden, Norway, Scotland, Ireland and Germany. Is there anything else we can do to court the large ex-pat communities in West London? Are we still trying to tap in to the thousands of Polish and Asian fans in Hounslow and Ealing, or is that now irrelevant, generalising and patronising? I’d like to know how successful the club has been in getting local students in too, are they new fans or just people who would have lost touch with the club whilst they studied.
Almost as quickly as I am able to pick fault off the pitch, Matthew Benham’s backing has done well to improve the ‘product’ on the pitch. The club has sensibly backed the theory that if the club is winning and competing, then crowds and the fan base will grow. This is reflected in gates at GP, the 10 biggest home gates at League One level of the decade have occurred in 2013, 2009 and 2006, when we have had something to play for, and when that isn’t the case, it is the opposition who have instead (much more likely to be promotion over survival).
Encouragingly three of our five biggest League One attendances of the decade have occurred in 2013. Interestingly our second and third largest home league attendances in the past tens seasons have come at League Two level, with 11,000 odd fans attending the crunch top of the table clash with Wycombe (ed – that game caught the club and police on the hop as it wasn’t all ticket. If the game was made all ticket, you can guarantee the crowd would have been 9,000) and 10,233 attending the lap of honour against relegated Luton.
Maybe a few more top six finishes, cup runs and a few seasons in the Championship will swell us naturally to 10-15000 home crowds purely based on how we play and who we play. The communications department have been quoted as saying the only way our crowds improve is by having success on the pitch. Whilst this is possibly true and is one obvious solution for increasing our fanbase, surely for us to continue to grow organically and also maintain those crowds, we should not be so complacent.
If we are looking at top players and managers across the top tiers, then we should be also be looking at providing a top tier atmosphere and experience for all those who come our way. Hopefully by then we’ll have found some more ‘real fans’ to enjoy our ‘real football’.