INTERVIEW: Danny Lee (Swindon FC) “Everyone is looking for the best value for money”
Head of Ticketing at Swindon Town FC, Danny is launching very innovative and relevant activations to satisfy all the fans.
We are following Danny for a while now, as having a key influence on the fan experience sector and often digging very interesting content, especially on LinkedIn. Danny is very active at Swindon Town FC, always creating new activations for fans.
Swindon Town FC is a professional football club in England. Founded in 1879, the team now compete in League Two, the fourth tier of the English football league system. The club’s home is the County Ground stadium, with a capacity of 15,700.
Hi Danny, can you present yourself and help us understand better what you do for the club?
My role here at Swindon Town is Head of Ticketing which incorporates all match day ticketing for home and away fixtures but is also centered around the match day experience and fan engagement which inevitably leads to growth in attendances and overall interest in the football club. My remit is to improve and develop our ticketing outreach and customer service for all Swindon Town supporters.
How is the Swindon Town FC staffed around the fan experience?
Here at Swindon we are a fairly small team and as such our roles are often transferable and we all help each other out. In the build up to match day both myself and our Head of Media (Ben Hooke) and design team will put everything in place in terms of marketing and engagement pieces like for instance face painting and other match day activation but on a match day I take a very hands on role meeting and greeting fans and ensuring we deliver what we promise and once again provide that memorable match day experience to our supporters. We do also have part time match day staff but these are usually volunteers that help but all will have some connection to the club to again keep a uniformed match day offering.
Almost 2 months ago, you have launched ‘My First Game’ initiative at Swindon Town FC. A special diploma for kids that we shared on Fanstriker and many people reacted positively about this. Can you tell us more about this idea?
It has been a fantastic initiative and the feedback has been so positive from all fans both home and away, I am really proud of it. The idea originally came when myself and a colleague went to a football league seminar in April where we talked about new ideas and improving the match day experience for fans. My main focus has been on the kids and by making that first game so memorable with a little keepsake and something a little different it will lead to them wanting to come back irrespective of the result. We are looking to continue to build on this even further.
We observed that you are making many activations for kids and young people. Why acting mostly towards this type of public? Is it your main target for ticketing?
They are the future of our club and really important to us. They are future season ticket holders and we really pride ourselves on being a family club. I have found that children are less interested in results when deciding to attend matches in comparison to adults, so if we can engage with them their parents are more likely to attend also.
What is the fan experience action you are the most proud of with Swindon Town FC?
As I mentioned I am really proud of our ‘My first game’ but I would say our junior takeover day was the best so far. We had over 700 new children attend the game and in the build up to the game we went out into the community to deliver free tickets, the players attended school PE sessions as well as offering free stadium tours to local groups and projects. It was fantastic and a really proud moment for me to see so many new faces at the game. The introduction of our new family zone was also a very proud moment for me.
Is the fan experience a hobby, a passion or has it become part of your job?
First and foremost before it was my job I was (and still am) a huge football fan. So the way I look at it is what would I like to see and get from my match day experience and then I try and incorporate that into what we do at Swindon.
What is in your opinion the link between ticketing and the fan experience?
The link between ticketing and fan experience is huge, these days it’s just not about the football especially for families and everyone is looking for the best value for money. On a Saturday as a parent I have a choice: do I go to football and spend maybe £50 or do I go to the zoo or something else which is a full day out and spend the same? We need to add value and make it more than just the 90 minutes which is my main aim to engage and make it not necessarily all about the football. I am also looking to new and unique ideas on how we can do this so we have added face painting, selfie boards, activity areas and player visits to our junior areas all of which add value and improve the overall match day experience.
What motivates you in what you do?
My motivation is really to see the County Ground as busy and a great atmosphere at each and every game. This inevitably helps things on the pitch but as I said I am a supporter too so I am really passionate about being in the situation I am in to make a difference and get my point across.
How would you define the difference between fan experience and fan engagement?
I think that both go hand in hand when attending a match. A fans experience is not only about how well engaged they are with the club but also about who they come with and and overall shared experience. One fans engagement becomes part of another fans experience and that’s what makes football, as a business unique because as a consumer your experience is ten times more reliant on other consumers than in any other industry. It is our job as a football club and to facilitate this.
In general, do you think that clubs are creative enough in the fan experience and making fans happier?
I think more and more clubs are having to do it especially at our level and as I mentioned, everyone is looking for greater value for money. Some clubs do it better than others but it does depend on the individual as to how creative and emphasis they put on it.
How far do you think the sport industry is to reward properly the fans loyalty and passion?
I would say every club is different, we at Swindon need to reward our loyal fans as they have been with us through both the thick and thin and its important to reward season ticket holders and not just new fans. That’s why all ticket promotions we offer ensure season ticket holders are also able to access the offer or we give something in return. Man United for example have a waiting list of 30,000 season ticket holders so for them maybe rewarding loyal fans isn’t as much of a priority to them.
Would you say that the fan experience is very cultural? Are British fans different from other fans around the world?
I would 100% agree with that, I have traveled a lot and seen football in a lot of countries. Football in England is still old fashioned with segregation. Authorities are still a bit cautious of fans mixing like other sports but this down to previous issues. This is cultural though as I lived in Spain even outside of football there is a far greater community spirit in mixing and socialising so I think this makes a difference. The introduction of fan zones has been great though as seen at World Cups and Champions League finals.
Have you already attended a game in France?
I have not actually, but yes I am always looking to see other clubs and cultures and how they go about things. I am a Manchester United fan so perhaps a visit to Paris for our Champions League game next year would be good !
In France, many sport stakeholder think that the american model cannot be copied in a country like ours. Because of the culture and how people consume sport. What is your opinion about that, is it a business model you are looking at within your club?
I am a huge advocate of that. As I mentioned above in making it more than just a game or the 90 minutes. America does that so well but it is cultural. Here in England fans are very traditional and have same routine each day, get up, go to the pub and then go the game at 2.45pm just before kick off. But it can be done and that is where targeting children is important as it gives them something to do and fans arrive much earlier and soak up the atmosphere pre match.
“On a Saturday as a parent I have a choice: do I go to football and spend maybe £50 or do I go to the zoo or something else which is a full day out and spend the same? We need to add value and make it more than just the 90 minutes…”
Everyone is talking about digital transformation in sport, with connected stadium, mobile apps, virtual reality, etc. What do you think about opportunities and risks by using digital tools in the fan experience? And what about the impact that can be expected for the club and the fans?
It is really important as everyone is on mobile devices and it is a great way to engage. We currently have turnstiles that can be used by a mobile so they can scan their ticket on them, we also have a fan app which we push offers, content and offer a ‘man of the match’ vote to further engage supporters. It’s all about getting them to social and share their experiences which inevitably leads to further growth opportunities across every area of the club.
What is the role of the sponsors towards the fan experience? Can they really contribute or is there always an impediment due to their last end objective of selling/being better known?
It is hugely important as again they are looking for better interaction and social from our supporters. A good example of this is one of our sponsors Relish wanted to promote at half time. So I came up with an idea of a half time challenge where 3 supporters were chosen to take part, and try and score a goal against our club mascot in front of all the fans. Whoever did it in the quickest time wins 2 hospitality places for an upcoming match. For me it was important that it was not only engaging for people taking part but watching supporters.
What is the best fan experience you lived? If you can remember and explain us why?
The NFL UK games at Twickenham. Amazing pre match build up and really made a day of it, it was buzzing.
What are your projects in the future?
My ambitions are to continue to grow and develop here at Swindon Town, I really want to make a difference and hopefully we can climb the divisions here at Swindon. There are lots of positives with talk of a new stadium and training ground investment so hopefully over next few years we can continue to grow. I would also like to work abroad at some point but just going to continue doing what we are doing here and see what happens…
Thank you very much Danny for this immersion into the very active English football club, Swindon Town FC. We are very happy to see that professionalism and importance given to the fan experience can be well implemented at all sport level. Well done!
To follow Danny on social, have a look at his Linkedin page!
We invite you to have a look at Swindon Town FC website which contains several good practice for clubs. One we particularly like and we have not talked about in this interview is the guide to welcome Away fans at the stadium. So smart!
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Watch the game from the POV of your favorite athlete
ActionStreamer is a wearable data streaming platform delivering breakthrough solutions across sports, entertainment, telecommunications, industrial, and defense. From custom wearables to real-time data movement, omnichannel content delivery and multi-stream media viewer, the company provides leagues and sports events with a fully customisable immersive viewing experience.
ActionStreamer brings sports fans closer to the action. The American company equips players with helmets that have cameras mounted on them. Greg Roberts, Head of Strategic Partnerships & Development at ActionStreamer, shared with us the company’s ambitions.
ActionStreamer gives fans a new perspective on the action and insights on the game
Thanks to advances in video stream processing, every fan can follow sporting events from the angle that suits them. For example, during car races, every fan can follow their favorite driver. During tennis competitions you can choose to follow the match that interests you the most. At a soccer match you can watch the action from the angle that best shows how the striker won over the goalkeeper.
ActionStreamer takes customisation and immersion to the next level. The American company allows fans to follow the action from a player’s point of view. With cameras mounted on players’ helmets and caps, viewers are right in the middle of the action. American soccer fans were able to test the device at the 2019 Pro Bowl, in the XFL, during Russell Wilson’s warm-ups or during the first season of Fan Controlled Football.
ActionStreamer’s solution does not just provide athletes with helmet cams. Their technology also captures data about biometric, speed and geo in real-time. This data is easily displayable live on broadcast.
From headsets to video streams management, ActionStreamer thought about everything
Giving fans a first-person viewing experience is a very ambitious idea. To make it a reality, the founding team of ActionStreamer faced two challenges: convincing players and making it easy to process all the video streams coming from the helmet cams.
ActionStreamer’s product development team works closely with helmet suppliers and players. The company integrates cameras in helmets that players already use. The goal is for players to not even notice they have different equipment.
Once the footage is captured, the biggest challenge lies ahead: managing all the video streams. ActionStreamer worked with Verizon and T-Mobile to provide a solution that makes it fast and easy for broadcasters to process and redistribute video streams. Greg Roberts believes that the advent of 5G in stadiums will significantly enhance the viewer experience in the coming years. Video streams will be able to be processed and distributed faster. As a result, broadcasters will be able to offer more viewing angles. As a result, the experience will be more immersive for viewers.
“Think of our platform as a pipeline to omnichannel media and data insights offerings, including real-time HD video, audio, and subject data (biometric, speed, geo, etc.) that can be synchronized across an entire media footprint (broadcast, mobile, streaming, etc.). All of these data categories are captured from our custom-designed streaming wearables, and distributed to media endpoints through our proprietary data streaming and delivery methods. And now, through work with Verizon and T-Mobile, the data streaming platform runs on 5G”
The pathway to a more innovative viewing experience
ActionStreamer has deployed its device in several contexts. We’ve talked about helmet cams in the NFL and FCFL. For the 2020 World Series, players had cameras on their helmets and caps.
ActionStreamer’s device also lends itself to more original POVs. In the NFL, the Ref Cam offers some very interesting footage from the referee’s perspective.
In the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets have experimented with a Hat Cam in pre-game. The dancers and pre-game hosts performed with ActionStreamer hats. The New York club broadcast this stream under the name “TeamHypeCam”. This initiative highlights the folklore of a basketball game and promotes the incredible experience basketball fans have at Barclays Center.
The system of inserting cameras and processing video streams leaves room for a lot of creativity. One could imagine the club’s mascot spending game days wearing an ActionStreamer cap. Clubs could also highlight the fan experience on match days by broadcasting a typical fan’s evening at the stadium in first person. The possibilities are endless!
ActionStreamer satisfies fans’ desire to be closer to the action. Advances in video streaming speed allow us to enjoy the action from the perspective of the live players. Many uses of this technology come to mind to enhance the fan experience. Like WaitTime, ActionStreamer’s impact extends beyond sports. The technology for processing on-board camera feeds is also used by the Air Force.
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Fan Controlled Football League (FCFL): The most exciting fan experience of 2021
The Fan Controlled Football gives fans the opportunity to take control of a football league from A to Z. First they decided on the rules of the competition and then they took over their teams. With an engaging fan experience and an ultra immersive broadcast, the FCFL concludes a more than successful first season. Will this type of entertainment league format become a standard in the sports industry?
Fan Controlled Football responds to a growing demand for more fun, more immersive and easy-to-follow competitions
The FCFL embraces the changes in the entertainment industry
Over the past 40 years, technology has had a strong impact on the way new generations entertain themselves. A strong participative culture has emerged from social media. The democratization of gaming has created a need for interactivity in entertainment. Our ability to access thousands of pieces of information at any given moment has led to the development of entertainment products that adapt their pace and duration to the different moments in which they are consumed.
“Fast paced. Hard hitting. No replay. Running clock. All action.”
Thus, alongside traditional big leagues, whose rules were often established more than a century ago, “entertainment leagues” are gaining in popularity. In general, their success is based on the same pattern.
- Start with a traditional sport.
- Shorten the length of a game to appeal to casual fans.
- Change the rules to make the game faster and easier to follow.
- Make games more immersive even if it means infringing on the sports aspect of the game.
These are changes that would be difficult for the public to accept if they were made by a traditional league like the Premier League, the NFL or the NBA. New competitions, on the other hand, can put entertainment first without any problem. Rugby X, the XFL, the International Swimming League and even, to some extent, Formula E have been doing this. The Fan Controlled Football League takes this concept to the extreme.
A football competition where fans decided to speed up the action
The FCFL is composed of 4 teams: the Glacier Boyz, the Wild Aces, the Beasts and the Zappers. The competition is played every Sunday in a high tech studio with rules that were chosen by the fans. Football is a rather slow sport. In the NFL the average game lasts more than three hours. The action often stops. NFL teams have large squads within which 3 squads of 11 players take turns on a 100 yard field. The FCFL is played 7vs7 on a 50-yard field with no special squads and no kicking. These new rules speed up the game. Matches are played in less than an hour (two 20-minute halves) without replay, without stopping the clock. No need to book your whole afternoon to follow a game anymore.
“New rules and a new format maximize excitement, substantially reduce penalties, and BRING BACK THE FUN!”
Like the XFL, the FCFL has reinvented touchdown conversions. The new system is just like the game: fast-paced and impressive. No more kicking. Fans can choose to have their team attempt a 5-yard conversion for 1 point or a 10-yard conversion for 2 points. The conversions have a wide receiver and a defensive back in 1vs1 confrontation while the quarterback has 3 seconds to throw the ball to his teammate.
A competition in tune with Generation Z
At a time when Generation Z is turning more and more to gaming, the FCFL uses many of the codes of this industry. First of all, it is a form of interactive entertainment. The fan experience of a FCFL game is a hybrid between an NFL game, fantasy football and a game of “The Yard” on Madden. Visually, the league is reminiscent of the gaming industry. In addition, the competition is broadcast on Twitch, which is very popular among gaming enthusiasts.
The pace of the game and the short format of the games also correspond to the consumption modes of Gen Z who would prefer to watch the highlights of an NFL game rather than dedicating their Sunday night to watching a full game. The weekly draft system is in line with this younger generation’s tendency to be fans of athletes rather than teams.
Fans build the league and manage their team from the ground up
In 2015, the founders of the FCFL had conducted an experiment by buying a team, the Salt Lake City Screaming Eagles, and delegating all decisions to the fans: the team name, the logo, the jersey design, the coach, recruiting the players. Following the success of this pilot, they decided to take it to the next level by creating a fan controlled league.
The DNA of the Fan Controlled Football League is the involvement of the fans in 100% of the decisions. From the rules of the game to calling plays during games and picking the coaches’ outfit, the fans are in control everything.
“(…) [T]he idea behind Fan Controlled Football lives with every fan who has ever yelled at a TV screen, thrown a remote control across the room or cheered wildly when their favorite team finally did the thing they wanted them to do. ”
Even before the first game, the fans were already involved in the creation of the league
The fans are decision makers in the creation of the league. The game’s rulebook perfectly illustrate this. Under each rule you can find the different options offered to the fans and the option they chose. Among other things, the fans could decide on the rules for overtime, the penalty system or the definition of a catch.
“Unlike traditional leagues, our focus is on optimizing everything on the field and through the entire fan experience. If something sucks, we’ll work with the fans.”
– FCFL website
When they sign up on the FCF app, fans choose a team. Throughout the season they are asked to make choices for their team. Every Wednesday, fans decide which new players will make their team’s roster during the draft.
Halfway between sports and video games, Fan Controlled Football allows fans to guide the action on the field
Every fan registered on FCF makes decisions for their team even on game days. Fans decide on team composition, but more importantly, they decide on plays. Like in the video game Madden, fans see a selection of possible plays for the next down and have the opportunity to vote for the one they think is best. The offensive team has 10 seconds to start the game after their fans have decided which strategy they should adopt.
Fans are even part of the competition
As a fan, you’re asked to make these decisions all week, and it’s not without consequences. Every good decision you make earns you FanIQ. Calling the right play in a game or drafting top players will increase your FanIQ. The more FanIQ you have, the more your votes count. Also, by collecting experience badges your votes will have more power in certain situations.
Throughout the week, fans have the opportunity to earn Team Power for their team. These are bonuses that can help players on the field. For example, fans can earn a 5th down for their team.
What can traditional competitions take away from Fan Controlled Football?
The beauty of traditional competitions is that over the years generations of athletes compete for the same trophy under the same rules. Fans have built their own traditions with family and friends around these competitions. Enforcing rule changes like those in the FCFL in the World Cup, the MLB or the NBA would not make much sense. However, these competitions can learn from what happens off the field in the FCFL.
Less protocol and more show
The FCFL is an entertainment league. The players’ entrance does not follow a protocol it meant to be spectacular. They enter the field like WWE fighters. It is a show in itself. On top of that, the design of the end zone allows for wild touchdown celebrations. The extremities of the field are deep to give the players room to express their joy. They are also equipped with flashing lights, lasers and smoke machines to emphasise on the players’ joy.
The viewing experience of the FCF games is very immersive. A drone is used to follow the action and offer fans a “Madden View” just like in the EA video game. Players are mic’d up. ActionStreamer provides helmets equipped with cameras to follow the action in the first person POV. The arena is also equipped with 180° VR cameras. Fans are up close and personal with the action. This type of set up can be replicated in any type of sport. The NFL and MLB have already experimented with microphones on players as well as the ActionStreamer helmets equipped with cameras. The XFL is taking it a step further by conducting interviews with players on the sidelines during the game.
Push forward celebrities who contribute to the league’s hype
Each team has celebrity owners who have an affinity for football. For example, the rapper Quavo from Migos is a star co-owner of the Glacier Boyz. He was a quarterback for his high school team and is a big Georgia Bulldogs fan. Former Seahawks and 49ers cornerback, Superbowl winner and multiple All Pro, Richard Sherman is also a co-owner of the Glacier Boyz. Finally, the third interesting profile is the youtuber and tiktoker Deestroying joined them as co-owner of the Glacier Boyz. He is former kicker at UCF, the NCAA excluded him from the competition following his commercial success on Youtube.
These celebrities bring attention to the league and contribute to its success. It is important to involve them in the competition. The variety of profiles among team owners allows to attract a wide audience to the FCFL. Just like Drake plays a big role in the Raptors’ fan base, even without owning a team, celebrities who have a strong affinity with a club can participate in the growth of the community.
“Power to the fans” is the FCF’s motto and the league walks the talk. By handing the fans full control of the competition, the FCFL offers the most engaging experience in the sports industry today. While this league format will likely not become a standard, we can expect to see more and more entertainment leagues emerge alongside the traditional leagues. Traditional leagues can learn from the FCFL’s focus on pre-game shows, immersive broadcasting and communication around industry personalities.