Sometimes it’s good to hear other opinions, even though this is ‘my’ opinion piece. I received this private note as a response to one of my recent articles: “Don’t even get me started though on the sorry state of Leeds Carnegie rugby. I was there yesterday – a woeful 5,000 (fans attended) of which, I’d suggest, a good proportion were in as freebie child tickets. This is a premier league rugby team and yet Leeds Rhino’s get full houses virtually every game…”
This is an opinion of a senior executive as he experienced a Leeds Carnegie game. Now we know this is a struggling club, so some might suggest this is the reason for the dismay, but it wasn’t. This was a hard working individual who wanted to take his boy on a day out… some father and son time… creating that inseparable bond around sport. I have it with my father, some may have it with theirs, and to avoid being sexist… mums do get into the mix as well.
It is pandemic in UK sport today, not something I was used to as a child. Walking away from a sporting event disappointed. And certainly on this day, a child and his father were sullied by an experience, most likely never to return. The same thing is probably happening again and again.
I’m told that the ownership group treats Leeds Carnegie as an underperforming little brother, that Leeds Rhinos is where the money is. Who tells me this? Fans. Why do they feel this way? My experience suggests that it’s a team disconnected from the fans – maybe they feel that slapping a product on the field is enough to get the punters to show up.
I was recently at a sportsmen’s dinner in York; some potential clients cordially invited me, great chaps I must add. Yes, more ass kissing, but they did treat me extremely well. At this dinner I saw the frustration bubbling over, by what can only be construed as a ‘proper hard’ passionate man. On an afternoon where broad shouldered rugby professionals were talking about the size of ‘members’ and drunken forays in foreign countries, this stone of a man was deadly serious. He is managing a team that is 0-7, and you could see it on his face. I was impressed by his intensity and dedication to the message, the message of winning. It is my impression that he began to speak out of turn, his fervor rising to the top, he started talking about the lack of investment in the squad.
Only days before did I read an article suggesting the same thing, that Leeds Carnegie were losing key players due to lack of investment. Usually in business there is a lack of investment when there is very little in the way of money to invest. And that’s where the key point comes shooting home like a cannon.
I’m not a brilliant man, but I do have my lucid moments. In a lucid moment I thought, ‘…if you take care of the fans you have and provide them with an excellent experience, they will come back’. Having gone to a Leeds Carnegie game, that is simply not the case, they simply do not take care of you… It almost feels as if they simply do not care that you are there. It can be a cold, dark and grim experience. You’re herded into the ground, a pin could drop and that would sound like a concerto compared to the entertainment provided. No fun, no fanfare, not even a simple drive to purchase merchandise. Nothing.
After experiencing, well, nothing – I’m now comfortably nestled into my seat – ready to enjoy the match. I had a cold beer gripped in my hands, sipping it feverously, as I do with my first pint after a long day’s work. Ten minutes have gone by and my pint is done, my mouth is thirsting for another Guinness, but then it hits me. I have to get up and drag my ass to a vendor under the stands to get my next pint. Well it was my first Premier League match, so I wasn’t about to do that as I didn’t want to miss a minute of the game. So there I sit with money burning in my pocket, money I desperately want to spend, but I have no way to spend it. It’s as if they are afraid to make money.
And please don’t give me this tosh that the beer vendors in the stands will get in the way of the match. It’s an art form that can be trained – it has been happening is sporting stadia across North America for years upon years – and people are making loads of cash! Imagine that!
For those who care, in the end it was a good match. The game was against the Harlequins and to be honest, the lads played hard and it was a game that Leeds should have won if not for some very poor officiating. As I began to walk out of the stadium something else hit me – every time I leave a stadium for the first time, I always get some merch to commemorate the experience. But this time, instinctually, I did not.
I am well aware that there is a shop located at the main gates, and although I’ve been to the ground on many occasions, I embarrassingly admit I’ve never been inside. Why am I embarrassed? As a marketer I should go in just to take a look and see what is on offer, what the opportunities are. But to be honest, nothing has compelled me. And this from a bloke who has a hard time walking past any sports shop, I generally get magnetised to the window displays as if they were Anne Summers ‘boutiques’. But I’m just not drawn in, I don’t sense the value, or the excitement. And I think this comes down to emotional attachment. In my three years in the UK, and as someone who played rugby union for close to ten years, I’m not drawn in any way. It was truly perplexing. Until I experienced that first match…
It may just be the local club; maybe someone can invite me to their club, one that delivers a brilliant fan experience. I’m really trying hard to find a team I can get excited about in rugby union.
And for those who suggest this is the case because the team is in poor form, you don’t know the clubs I follow. The hockey team I follow has not made the playoffs for five years and has not won a championship since 1967. I support Newcastle United, and the Toronto Raptors who’ve started the season 3-9 and are rebuilding. The Cleveland Browns are terrible… But I stand by these teams. I want to follow them as I have so many quality experiences linked to them. Please Leeds Carnegie, can you please, please, please offer me an experience so I can support your club! Unless of course, you are afraid to make money.