Let’s get this clear: Manchester City’s budget for digital isn’t huge. As I have said time and time again, when I was Head of Digital the budget was the smallest I have had in my career since I left the BBC — and that was an age ago.
Last week eConsultancy journalist David Moth wrote the article “Why do Premier League clubs offer such an awful user experience” in which he bemoaned the poor UX on Barclays Premier League official club sites. David kindly exempts MCFC from the critical comments because he rates the UX highly. But it doesn’t take long before the comments by users on the story are citing the imaginarily massive Man City budget as the reason.
Today, at Sport Tech Meetup, although I wasn’t there, I hear there was more praise for the MCFC service and yet more disparaging comment that it was all down to having deep pockets.
This thinking is just plain flawed.
Good user experience comes from clear thinking made visual. It comes from knowing the audience, understanding the behaviours, having clarity of purpose in the business and the ability to deliver on that thinking.
As I wrote in my eConsultancy comment, the people before my time deserve the credit. Poke were architects, Aqueduct delivered (and still do), the internal team led by inimitable Victoria Stansfield (delivery) and Chris Bailey (content) and the head honchos at City gave them the leeway to deliver. Did the UX redesign cost a fair bit? Yes, probably. Good people cost money. Was it worth it? Yes, definitely.
What’s more important is whether there is a long term benefit to the business – whether there is an adequate return on investment. I believe there is – and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating as Russell Stopford, Head of Digital, his bosses and his team, continue to be bold enough to invest (time, effort, focus AND money) in the digital service.
I just described the investment in the MCFC digital services as ‘bold’ and, on a moment’s reflection, I’m not sure that’s accurate. It’s bold in football, certainly. City is the current holder of the Sports Industry Award for best website, as well as a smattering of digital industry awards for various services including mobile and social. City undoubtedly has a very strong reputation for being a digital leader in football, but also in sport as a whole. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube executives are regularly heard heralding the Club’s work at conferences to the extent that audiences are getting bored!
What was most pleasing at the SIA last year was that we beat the Guardian’s sport section and TalkSport. Media companies. For a sporting club to be judged better than media companies at digital media felt like a real accolade, especially two services of such high calibre.
So what’s really relevant is whether the investment is commensurate with the opportunity.
Of course I don’t have exact figures (and even if I did, no NDA would let me blog them) but from my work across sport and other industry sectors, I am sure that Man City’s digital spend is slightly on the light side compared to most emerging brands and growing businesses of similar size who are attempting to use digital media to their advantage. MLS clubs, for example, don’t need to be convinced of the value to their business of digital media – their investment, as a percentage of revenue, is significantly higher.
So why does MCFC’s digital service stand out?
Speaking of my own time as HoD, the then CEO of City Garry Cook, and also my immediate boss, believed that there was a need to leverage every opportunity to deliver a better service to fans, to engage and entertain, to inform but also to listen – and to reach out to all fans on all platforms. So, facilitation from on high is crucial.
But the desire to be innovative, to adapt, and the confidence to be able to run the service to high standards at the same time as developing new products and grasping new opportunities – this is what really makes the City service stand out. That and the access given by the football players and staff, the great content generated and putting the fans’ needs first.
I have employed the some of the same strategy and tactics – not similar ones, but exactly the same – at organisations as diverse as the BFI, a small legal practice, a friend’s craft business and the Premier League Champions. The principles don’t change – but how you apply them does.
The key is not in the size of the investment, but in what you do with it.
UPDATE: I should add that I’ve just been told that there are lots of very complimentary comments at STM, but often accompanied by the ‘not that we have their budget’ comment which may just be a reflexive caveat rather than an intended criticism <partially-gets off high horse>