By Jason McKeown
Bradford City’s decision to re-arrange the re-arranged Tranmere home fixture for Sunday 13 October, rather than the Friday night, is a great example of the progress it has made building positive relations with supporters.
It was bad enough that the game had to be moved from a 3pm Saturday slot so that a bunch of morons who don’t even live in the city of Bradford can attempt to disrupt our community. The original plan to play the game on the Friday night caused many supporters to contact the club, disappointed by the fact it would clash with a vital England World Cup qualifier being shown live on ITV. The club has listened to this feedback, with a Sunday afternoon kick off a much better compromise. True enough there must have been commercial considerations that going up against the national team on a Friday night would have hit the attendance, but the club deserves great credit for acting so quickly to the benefit of supporters.
One year ago, City took the decision to close its Official Message Board – seemingly the only transparent way in which it encouraged the views of fans. It hadn’t been an ideal relationship, with the club effectively hosting a platform from which its employees would be routinely slagged off. From Mark Lawn and Roger Owen, there were occasional mutterings of distrust of the people posting under usernames. True to their word at the time of removing the OMB, the club has laid on more avenues to interact with supporters. This has included the greater usage of the Bradford City Facebook page and – for a time, until he curiously closed down his account – David Baldwin on Twitter. More notably has been the Bradford City Supporters Board and, to a lesser extent, Friends of Bradford City groups.
The Supporters Board is a revolutionary concept, with 22 members representing the voice of City fans. They meet once a month – the minutes are published on their website and always make a fascinating read – and have been tasked with supporting and even implementing initiatives. Amongst many things, the pre-match and half time entertainment has become the Supporters Board’s responsibility and they are said to have had a role in the new catering arrangements. Such matters always attract a widespread of opinions – what is agreeable to one person is disliked by the next – and the benefits of making such decisions based on a spectrum of views are numerous.
It is to the club’s credit – particularly David Baldwin – that they have pioneered such an initiative. The quality and honesty of the feedback that the Supporters Board members provide is invaluable and would be the sort of set-up that major companies and businesses would crave to have with their customers. The difference being that no one cares enough about, say, Tesco to provide such time and commitment, compared to City asking their supporters to meet up and share what they are getting right and wrong.
So hats off to the club for the progress made, but there is still room for improvement. On Tuesday the club posted a message on its website aimed at 349 supporters who used Kop turnstile N2 to enter Valley Parade for last weekend’s match against Colchester. Access to one side of the Kop has become difficult due to the building of the One in a Million school next door, blocking some of the previous access routes to the turnstiles. With the ticket office located in the same area, there is no doubt that congestion before the match is a problem that needs to be monitored very carefully. It seems that these 349 supporters added to the issue by causing needlessly long queues.
Yet still, the tone and content of the message is, quite frankly, appalling. Whilst having no idea how the processes work at Valley Parade, you have to question how such a statement was not only written but approved for use. It is sneering in tone and reads as though the club is giving these 349 supporters a telling off. Here is just a sample, “There is a minority who do not listen to the advice and cause inconvenience for themselves and others. If this applies to you, please reflect on this message.”
Ouch, now go and sit on the naughty step.
Let’s just remember – because the club apparently forgot – that those 349 supporters are paying customers of the club (and as Flexi-card holders, they are customers the club especially needs to keep engaged). They might be causing some headaches and, privately, the club can be entitled to be frustrated that they have ignored numerous messages aimed at getting them to avoid causing queues, but it does not mean they deserve to be publically belittled in such a way.
This statement – and the recent saga with Leonard Berry, the City Gent mascot – did not see the club portray themselves in the best light, but the positive is that these are now exceptions and the efforts made over recent years to engage supporters is hugely encouraging. Let us not forget that the Flexi-card idea came from a special supporters panel Baldwin arranged to discuss the future of season tickets.
With that and the cheap season ticket initiative, the club has increasingly been putting the needs of supporters at the forefront of how they operate. The Tranmere re, re-arrange is yet another example of listening to and making decisions based on constructive feedback. For that the club deserves a big pat of the back – and must now work to ensure that this ethos is adopted by everyone employed by Bradford City at all times.
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