26 January 2014

The matchday experience - Etihad vs Ibrox


by Peter Ewart | Contributor

One advantage of playing away at Forfar on a January Monday night is that you have the weekend to do other things. So I went to see Man City v Cardiff at the Etihad. Well a change is as good a rest and all that.

Now with City you are guaranteed to see a star-studded team on the park. And the stadium is modern and impressive, built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and thereafter converted for City as they left Maine Road. Some Bears will have had a taste of the Etihad Campus back in 2008 at the UEFA Cup final. What I was most struck by last week were the facilities and experience outside the ground itself for a normal league game, the build-up was a big part of it before you even went into the stadium. It felt like a step into the future. And it is difficult not to draw a comparison with the matchday experience in and around Ibrox.

Now you will say that Man City and Rangers are worlds apart and how can you possibly compare the two. And in one sense you would obviously be right. Man City have a blank cheque with which they can buy the best of everything. We have just entered yet more financial rebuilding in the post-Stockbridge apocalypse.

But we now just happen to have City’s former Chief Operating Officer in Graham Wallace at Ibrox as Chief Executive and he just happens to be conducting a four month review of all aspects of the business. We as fans are quick to voice what we don’t want. So given everything seems to be up in the air at the minute we should also be telling our new Chief Executive what we do want. A look at somewhere else like City can give us a few ideas for what could be possible in and around Ibrox on game day. We can learn from places like the Etihad and it doesn’t all have to expensive either and with the Commonwealth Games 7s rugby coming in July we have an opportunity to try some new things out.

Various ‘G51’ project proposals of the past have not been short on ambition, most recently under Charles Green, and have gone right through to look at expensive hotels and even, and the irony is not lost, casinos. All the grand plans have come to nothing to date and it would be fair to say that any land deals with the council would be put under the microscope. We can take steps to utilise the space we already have more effectively, encouraging fans to be at the ground earlier, improving their matchday experience and ultimately spending more money with the Club, a medium-term must, bringing into reality those ‘revenue generating’ projects that have so badly lost their way since the December 2012 IPO.

Entertainment


City have a stage set up complete with DJ, presenter interviewing ex-players, and also hosting local bands. It is a focal point only a hundred yards from the turnstiles. There would be scope for similar, now and again, at the Broomloan end of the ground.

The team coach arrived and the players entered the front doors to Oasis’ Morning Glory, which was likely lost on most of the players, but certainly added to the experience for the punters.

Kids and Families


Arriving early at the ground it is a job to keep the younger kids occupied outside the ground. City in the Community have a free inflatable set up, with goals and the ball launching machine to ping shots at the budding goalkeepers. All for free, the youngsters simply join a queue. Rangers had similar on trophy day last season, I think it was in conjunction with Irn Bru, where kids could test the speed of their shots. More of the same would be a welcome addition.

It is worth noting that RFC have kept very sensible pricing in place for kids tickets to games. Long may that continue as the new generation of Bears comes through.

Food and Drink


We have a collection of hot food stalls around the ground. What could be added is some seating and some cover where people could congregate. Not a massive expense. City have ‘café’ areas with covered seating as well as a very well used outside bar which was crammed to the rafters. RFC have moved to open the Ibrox Bar indoors, which seems to have been a roaring success so far, and commendably allows accompanied kids in too. I suspect the introduction of an outside bar would need to be moved forward with a general review of alcohol in Scottish grounds. And of course in the Louden as a Club partner we have a big facility already close to the ground, with outside space, who could assist any expansion around the ground itself. It’s either that or we expand the Louden itself!

Retail


The City Shop is a bit high end and wouldn’t be out of place beside Hollister or Jack Wills and other high end shops. You get the idea. Funky lighting, sharp décor, unlike any Club shop I’ve ever been in.

That’s probably not a priority for RFC, but when the Club finally put money towards converting Edmiston House into a larger retail space, there is some scope for making it a little more exciting. The Megastore has gotten a little drab. We will of course have to persuade the Sports Direct end of things that it doesn’t all have to be plastic at least. More retail space is a must.

The Etihad Campus is quite an experience if you get the chance. I did get pangs of ‘this isn’t real football’ at times. Well it certainly isn’t Somerset Park. Some of the tumbledown grounds we have been to the past couple of seasons have a nostalgic charm about them. But they are just that – consigned to history as far as the business side of the game goes. The City experience doesn’t come cheap, match tickets and food/drink prices are almost eye-watering. If we as a Club are to move forward on all fronts though, then the matchday experience is one where we can improve, without huge capital investment and please both the punters and the Club coffers at the same time.

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