Earlier this week, we launched our SPL Family Champions scheme - an initiative that will see families recruited by us to go undercover into all 12 SPL grounds to assess our clubs on how they treat family groups. At the end of the season, at the Clydesdale Bank Premier League Awards, the winning club will be crowned SPL Family Champions for 2009/10.
But it’s not just about an end of season award - and certainly not, as some have suggested, about face painters, clowns and stilt walkers. It’s about improving standards. It’s about fostering a culture that welcomes families to our grounds. It’s about listening to families and catering for them. It’s about making families feel valued by clubs.
It’s about those same families choosing to come back, time and again, after enjoying a safe, exciting and enjoyable visit to their football club. By introducing an element of competition, by sharing best practice, by raising the bar across the whole of the league, we can improve standards and attract more families to our great game. And we can start to fill up the empty seats across our grounds.
If, as a family, you have a horrendous experience the first time you come to an SPL game, no pricing policy or other promotion will tempt you back. By focusing on the family experience, by assessing how our clubs perform, seen through the eyes of real families coming to grounds for their first visit, we can learn from our mistakes and make sure that we tempt families back, time and again. We can, in short, make sure that all supporters want to come and enjoy SPL football.
So what about the price of attending football matches? Price promotions can certainly be of enormous value in attracting children and families to grounds. But it would be a mistake to assume that little is being done by our clubs in this area. A huge amount of really positive work is already happening, such as:
- As part of their centenary celebrations, Dundee United offered children season tickets for £19.09, allowing entry to games for as little as £1.
- Falkirk admit under 5s free of charge with an accompanying adult.
- Aberdeen operate a ‘Bring a Buddy’ scheme that allows season ticket holders to bring a friend for £5 or an Under 12 for free.
- Hibernian have frozen season ticket prices at 2007 price ranges.
- Heart of Midlothian have an Under 12 season ticket that costs just £19.
But these are just the tip of the iceberg. The need to tempt families away from the plethora of other competing leisure activities is already well understood.
The prize we are going after with the SPL Family Champions scheme is a huge one. Most of our grounds are running with average attendance figures well short of capacity. Our clubs already try and attract more families through innovative pricing policies and promotions. By exceeding their expectations when they come through the turnstiles, surely that gives us the best possible chance of increasing attendances. And that will, of course, enhance the atmosphere at games. And that, in turn, will attract bigger crowds to future games - a very real and beneficial virtuous circle.
Unlike some other leagues, who enjoy television revenues that dwarf all other income streams, our clubs’ biggest single source of cash remains match tickets. More families means more revenue. This in turn leads to more money being available for developing the cream of Scottish talent and for bringing in the best players from elsewhere - something that we all want to see. SPL Family Champions is not about ignoring the quality of football. It’s about ensuring that, irrespective of the quality of the football on offer, we send supporters away feeling appreciated.
Any initiative that successfully attracts and retains more supporters to games will obviously lead to substantial and enduring increases in attendances and in much-needed revenues for our clubs. I saw it work in practice in my previous role. And I believe it can work here. But while I believe in the scheme and in the tangible benefits that family-friendly policies can have for our clubs, SPL Family Champions should not be seen as some sort of ‘silver bullet’. It is not a single solution for all the current issues facing Scottish football.
What it is, however, is a simple initiative. A small step in the right direction. The journey ahead of us, to improve Scottish football and to enhance the SPL, may be a long one. But even the very longest of journeys starts with a single, small, first step.
Chief Executive, Scottish Premier League