Case Study: Doncaster Rovers Covid-19 ticket refund scheme
- Don’t be afraid of asking your fans parliament or representatives for their views on difficult subjects. You don’t have to agree on everything, but giving them a role can help you get to the right decision
- Building and maintaining good relationships with your fans – Fan Engagement – has positive financial benefits, as well as making it easier to deal with difficult situations such as Covid19 or a series of match postponements
- Remember, when it comes to the financial impact of good Fan Engagement, some of the benefits come over time, not immediately
Every single club in the country has been trying to navigate through the most difficult period in the history of the modern game – in most cases with reduced staffing due to furlough. When it comes to dealing with the tricky issue of to refund or not to refund, the challenge clubs have before them is this: how do we ensure fairness to the fans without creating unnecessary financial difficulties for ourselves that could impact well beyond the current period?
It goes without saying that most businesses who promise to provide goods or services, but can’t provide the good or service, have to offer a refund. In some cases there might also be an acceptable alternative, but let’s be honest: most of us wouldn’t bat an eyelid at asking a company to give us our money back if we didn’t get what we had paid for. That is how consumers usually act in such circumstances.
In the case of football clubs, we expect a different outcome because of the relationship fans have with their clubs. Where clubs can’t fulfil what they’ve promised, i.e.: the remaining matches of the season, many clubs are being very open about the financial problems they might have if every season ticket holder or purchaser of an advance ticket requested a refund. Advance income on tickets – season ticket income specifically – is income which allows a club to plan and invest, as opposed to the less predictable money that comes in match-by-match and can depend on results and other factors, and it has often been spent or allocated in the budgets.
Clubs like Norwich City and Lincoln City have introduced schemes as a result of Covid-19 for fans to donate money back to the club in some form, usually to the academy, or the foundation, rather than directly to the general budget. This is a good idea for obvious reasons: fans being expected to donate money back for general expenditure (e.g.: player wages) might be difficult to do, given such wages in football are guaranteed payment anyway by the Football Creditors Rule.
Shaun Lockwood explains more (above)
Doncaster Rovers, who finished third in the Fan Engagement Index 2019, have given us insight into how they opted to deal with this issue. The linchpin of the solutions have been existing relationships with the fans – particularly through the Supporters Board (the ‘fans parliament’), a formal group made up of fan organisations and individuals representing various parts of the fanbase who meet regularly with the club management to discuss various issues. This relationship sits alongside an MOU between club and trust, as well as fans forums and other mechanisms.
CEO Gavin Baldwin and Head of Communications & Marketing Shaun Lockwood have led on the scheme, working directly with the Supporters Board to shape it. Shaun Lockwood has explained more about the process, thinking and actions that they followed, in the video above.
Unsurprisingly the response from fans has been overwhelmingly positive, with many who don’t even have season tickets offering assistance as well. You can see how goodwill is generated from the relationships the club has spent time cultivating – a perfect example of former Brentford Fan Engagement Manager Ryan Murrant’s ‘Transactions happen over time’.
This is a demonstration of how a club benefits financially from thinking strategically about Fan Engagement, and the relationships that fans and clubs have, as well as good practice itself in managing a very difficult issue. The first makes the second an easier process.
We’ve also embedded a pdf below with the letter from Gavin Baldwin to fans, and the options offered to the three difference categories of Club Doncaster and season ticket holders, and those who purchased matchday tickets in advance (either for specific matches, or in blocks as part of a multi-match offering the club has.)
You can join the Fan Engagement Network via https://faninsights.co.uk/network/