Ron Noades came to Brentford expecting his ‘investment’ to see in excess of 10,000 fans streaming through the gates within a few years. He failed. He left with his tail between his legs. Its been an ongoing objective for Brentford for years and years to try and increase its ageing fanbase. Now with a 20,000 capacity Lionel Road stadium looming and the fear of Brentford fans rattling around in their new stadium like Darlington fans did (until they went bust), the theory has now got to become a reality.
Mark Devlin knows he has a man mountain to climb. Despite being only 6 miles from Wembley, Brentford managed to pull in only 22k fans for our playoff game whereas Northampton pulled in a similar figure despite being one league below and 50 miles away .. And 17,000 little olde Yeovil fans travelled 100 plus miles to sing their little hearts out for most of the match. We can blame the economy and the novelty wearing off if we want yes …. but the reality is we haven’t managed to broaden our reach. It’s all a bit “mates of mates” at the moment. Worrying to think what our crowd would have been if we played at Cardiff or Villa Park. Our average crowd rose to just below 6500 last season even though we were literally on kick away from the championship – the season being the most exciting Brentford has seen for a couple of decades if not more. The signs are there but serious work is going to be needed to pull in new fans. The same olde same olde isn’t good enough.
With Brentford surrounded by over a dozen other clubs in London, to be fair it isn’t going to be easy to pull in new fans willy nilly. Not if we play the same marketing game as all the other teams do anyway. This is where Brentford has to work hard on developing the ‘unique’ side of their brand and highlight the USPs (unique selling points) of supporting the club. Many fans who bring premiership-supporting mates down know why they like coming down to the club. The football isn’t the No 1 thing on their Brentford shopping list. If they wanted that (combined with a sanitised atmosphere) they would stick to watching Chelsea and Arsenal week in and week out. Good football should be a bonus to the other things we offer.
Success brings more fans of course. But relying solely on success to increase your fanbase is tantamount to disaster for smaller clubs. Draw a parallel with the music industry. Independent artists and labels have incredible success alongside big money swilling major record labels by their artists being more creative and concentrating on core issues (music, image, positioning etc). Labels like Hospital Records, Boy Better Know, Bella Union, Ninja Tunes, 3beat, Rough Trade (including XL home of Adele) .. even back in the day Creation Records home of Oasis … Have carved out their niche without playing the “big boys game” .. Thinking out of the box ….creating great careers for their artists. Its not unknown for artists on some of these labels to earn well in excess of £100k a year with not one top 40 hit on their CV.
St Pauli had a disastrous season yo yo-ing between the bottom and the middle of German Division 2. That didn’t stop them pulling in 20k plus fans each match. And if you have ever been to St Pauli, it’s not just all about beer and cheap tickets. The club has created a very unique personality for itself which people buy into despite how well or badly the team is doing. St Pauli is an extreme case to be fair but at the same time, a good barometer.
In reality, looking at our potential fanbase, 10k plus regular fans is achievable at Brentford. It’s all about identifying who these potential fans are then working out what makes them tick. Thats why football clubs need to be constantly have their ears to the floor not only listening to the people who pay good cash over the turnstiles but more importantly, also getting a vibe from the people who don’t. All in all it’s time to start thinking out the box to try and pull in those new fans. To do it properly is going to take a long term strategy and a fair bit of cash.