Eastbourne Speedway Director, Ian Jordan, sat down with Paul Watson before Christmas to discuss the results of the fans’ survey carried out in the autumn. The second part of this report will appear on Monday.
Paul: Knowing your customers is important for all businesses and some survey questions aimed to find out more about the Eagles’ fanbase. From the responses, what do we know now that we didn’t before?
Ian: The most interesting dynamic of the question about how long people have been watching speedway at Arlington are the percentage figures at either end of the scale. A significant number have been long time attendees. – as many as 30% for “over 15 years” and a further 25% for over 10 years.
In itself, this could be seen as a huge positive in terms of spectator loyalty (which we can’t and won’t take for granted) but also a sign that backs up the ageing dynamic of British speedway support.
Paul: Did the survey find significant numbers of people who were new to speedway at Arlington Stadium?
Ian: Yes, it did. It was most pleasing and enlightening to find that 17% of responses were from those who have started to come to speedway in the past 12 months.
This is a significant and positive indication that the Community Programme and possibly increased advertising in the past season is beginning to work.
The further very positive aspect of that 17% are the further responses in the specific answers to other questions that indicate a large influx of new, younger supporters who have been and appear to want to come back and to hopefully develop a long-term affection and affinity for the club.
This is borne out by a clear correlation by the number of matches supporters indicate they attended in 2019. Around 50% coming to 10 or more matches and a further 30% coming to between 5 and 10 matches.
There is again clear evidence, if we look at the answers to other questions, that the older, more long-established supporters come to more matches which indicates that this has possibly become their main sport, whereas those who have been supporting for less time are coming and enjoying but will pick and choose their matches.
Paul: Why do you think that is?
Ian: Of course, there can be a multitude of reasons linked to cost, work, family commitments, other interests and hobbies that impact on this. What we have is very helpful information for us to ponder and work with.
Paul: It has been said in the past that Eastbourne fans travel from across the South East to watch speedway. Did the survey results bear that out?
Ian: The distances that supporters travel was, for me, the most interesting, in that 50% travel more than 20 miles each way and a further 30% travel more than 10 miles each way.
That is an incredible show of loyalty and effort for which we are very grateful, yet shows that there must still be a huge number of people on our “doorstep” within a 10-mile radius who, for whatever reason, don’t attend or don’t have any real awareness of what we are, who we are and where we are.
Paul: They are amazing figures.
Ian: This is a massive opportunity for us to explore and is linked to other questions and feedback I want to come on to later with these interviews.
Paul: People will often say speedway is a family sport. What did the survey tell you about that?
Ian: The notion that speedway is a “family” sport is very much borne out by the responses to question 4 in the survey:
“Do you watch Speedway at Arlington with friends; family or alone?”
Many seem to come as part of a family night out, others with friends, many have made friends just from coming to speedway and those that come alone, often give further anecdotal evidence of spectating from a regular spot where they meet and chat with people they have befriended over the years.
There were, as a result, a number of inquiries about “reserving specific seats or specific parts of the lower tier grandstand seating” and this is something that we can and will discuss with Arlington Stadium (Jon and Martin) to see if any practical solutions can be found without any extra expense or extra charge / administration impact.
Paul: The survey questions moved on to ask: “What is the best thing about watching the Eagles” and How could we improve Speedway Night presentation?” What did people say?
Ian: The opportunity to mix and mingle with riders in the pit area both before and after racing, the fact that riders were up close and visible when riding round the stock car track before, during the meeting and after racing was a big plus and the “technical and challenging nature” of our track seems to be both widely understood and appreciated.
There was a lot of very positive feedback in terms of the product eg: speedway racing is exciting. Supporters new and old love the excitement and noise and when comments were made, everyone who commented about 2019 specifically preferred the quality of Championship racing over that of National Development League.
In terms of match night presentation, the return of Kevin Coombes and Barrie Geer was very much seen as a positive but clearly a significant number missed Steve Crow and his presentation style.
What was clear from feedback is that on the night that Kevin could not do the presentation it left a vacuum that was widely seen as a negative, both in terms of the pre-match presentation and also the presentation during the meeting and immediately after it.
There were a lot of very positive suggestions about having a designated autograph area and time prior to the meeting, the idea of a loyalty and affinity scheme, moving the pre-match Presentation around so that it isn’t always on the back straight, the issue of the location of the track shop and the style / choice of music and also the speed and participation in the post-match victory parade.
We have taken all this on board and are working on it. We will update on in part 2 of the survey results report in a few days.
Paul: Eastbourne certainly had a higher media profile in 2019. What did the fans say?
Ian: The almost weekly updates on Meridian TV were seen and appreciated by many and the hard work of Ken Burnett in organising this is very much appreciated.
The advent of Eagles TV allowed us to film and send material directly to Meridian for them to use and will form a major part of our future TV media planning.
Some also heard some of the regular BBC Radio updates on Tuesday nights on BBC Radio Sussex/Surrey although feedback indicates that parts of both ITV Meridian and BBC local radio did not cover all of their catchment areas and this is something that we will discuss with the relevant broadcasters.
In terms of newspapers the regular weekly updates in many of the local newspapers were read and seen, especially The Argus, The Herald and some of the other local papers. Many people asked why we don’t “advertise” in these newspapers?.
It’s a valid question but we very much feel that a full page report of a meeting with action pictures and details of our next match and opponents is a far bigger and better advert than anything in the specific advertisement pages and is free as opposed to extortionate costs that many newspapers still charge. The work of you, Paul, in this field is much appreciated.
We did though receive a number of suggestions, specifically from those travelling from further out, parts of Surrey, Kent, Hampshire and West Sussex plus the southern part of the M25 area of weekly newspapers and publications that we can try to get reports and copy in to and which we will follow up well in advance of the new season.
The impact and reach of Eagles TV was seen as very positive and something we want to expand and increase visibility of in 2020.
Paul: How successful was the paid-for advertising?
Ian: We did a lot of local advertising in 2019, big digital adverts in the shopping malls in Eastbourne, Brighton and Hastings, a large poster campaign courtesy of Coastline Posters, which were free to us and very supportive of the company; big posters in Eastbourne Tourist Information Centre and small handout leaflets and a full page advert in a major tourist information glossy magazine that went in to 600,000 hotel bedrooms across large swathes of Sussex, Kent and in to Hampshire.
We also had a page advert in a major student publication that went to 20,000 full time students based in/around Brighton.
However, it seems that the visual impact on Eagles supporters, let alone possible newcomers was negligible.
If there is one aspect of the survey that is most disappointing it is that very few supporters saw or were aware of this advertising which in total cost us in the region of £10,000.
However, the feedback that you did not see it (less than 15% of respondents did see it) means that we can take on board the information and target our marketing in other areas.
Another common theme raised was “Posters in more local Communities across Sussex”.
It is clearly beneficial for us to do this but an area where we do need the help and participation of supporters to assist us as it would require a huge team of staff to visit a large area to facilitate this.
For the majority of the 2019 season we had numerous posters and advertising material on the Eastbourne Speedway website and it was put there specifically for anyone who wanted to help to print off, and to seek to place within their local area. The take up rate was minimal and frankly disappointing.
Clearly, we have to make supporters more aware of it and more aware of how to download and print it.
We can and will always provide pre-printed material to specific outlets on request but experience shows that if we print off several hundred posters and make them available very few actually reach the types of outlets they are intended for.
Paul: How do you hope to improve this in 2020?
Ian: As part of an overall and enhancement of our administrative functions in 2020 will be a role and person specifically dedicated to getting material out to supporters, businesses and pubs/clubs/libraries etc across out catchment area and to raise awareness of the excellent material available for download on the website and how to best use it.
“Word of mouth” is clearly the best advertising weapon any sports club has and hopefully all supporters can help us to spread the word further and wider each season.
Paul: Eastbourne had a new website for 2019 and made big strides with its social media. What did fans say about the online, digital Eagles?
Ian: The majority (some 80%) of respondents follow us on some form of social media, mostly Twitter and Facebook and the response in terms of the quality and quantity of information provided was very positive.
The biggest single aspect of the new additions for 2019 was the website which seems to have been very well received and which many see as one of, if not the best, in speedway.
We are seeking to make further improvements to website/social media and new channels in 2020 and the appointment of Ian Smalley as our Media Director since the survey will ensure that we remain at the top table in terms of our social media and website output, although we have a way to go yet to match the likes of Glasgow and the other clubs serviced by Andy Hague and Speedway Portal who have delivered us Eagles TV.
Massive thanks to Ian and Andy for all of their work in this field.
Our away match reporting and score updates again received massive positive feedback and without the incredible work of John and Kevin Ling we would not be able to deliver this and I can’t thank them enough for all the miles driven and balanced fair and superb heat-by-heat reporting that they do for all Eagles supporters.
The number of supporters who visit and regularly check on the website has grown by over 300% in 2019, although it seems a significant number (around 50% of respondents) had not yet or not fully aware that you can register for priority updates from the club.
This takes about 15 seconds to do via a link on the Home Page and a drop down in the navigation and we will re-emphasise how easy and important it is to do this in part 2 of the survey response article, in which we will outline a lot of exciting plans for 2020, many of which have come from the survey.
Paul: What did you learn from the survey results with regards to ticketing, pricing and Community deals?
Ian: This is an area where we have already implemented a very popular suggestion regarding season tickets.
Many supporters wanted an option to purchase a block of 10 Tickets to use through the season in addition to a Full Season Ticket and we were happy to oblige with an “early Bird Offer” that ran from late November up to the December 20.
The response to the Season and 10 Match Ticket offer has been exceptional. The “early bird pricing” was specifically targeted at 2019 prices.
We will announce specific match pricing and a further Season Ticket (not as cheap as early bird for obvious reasons) as soon as we have a final fixture list available in around mid January.
The majority (over 70%) who responded believed that 2019 pricing was fair and value for money and indeed they were equal cheapest in The Championship and at the minimum level we could offer.
Around 60% said that if this level was increased slightly it would not stop them attending and whilst we have not yet made a final decision we will again seek to pitch all of our pricing at the level that again makes us cheapest or equal cheapest overall in the division and we will again be looking after Waspi women and also introducing some new initiatives to help our Armed Forces and also front line Emergency Services Staff in our 2020 admission and pricing proposals.
We will always do our best to try to give “best value for money” and as we have indicated before, speedway is diametrically different to soccer in terms of pricing. In soccer, pricing increases the further South you are (especially London) in speedway, for some reason, prices the further north you go increase. A strange phenomenon but one we aim to continue.
We do, however, have to at least “break even” as we no longer have a wonderful “sugar daddy” like Bob Dugard and the Dugard Family Business.
All of our calculations in terms of pricing have to reflect that fact and to seek to safeguard the medium and long-term sustainability of the sport in Sussex.
If a “new sugar daddy” comes along to help or to take over, provided it ensured a healthy and vibrant future for the Sport in Sussex, we as the current protectors of a fantastic heritage would be only too pleased to discuss and if we felt it right to “step aside” as the Club Eastbourne Eagles is paramount and most important.
The advent of The Community Project; backed so brilliantly by HG Aerospace and The Holly Blue; as we have already mentioned been a roaring success and the feedback about it in terms of pricing and cost was very positive and something we want to expand on in 2020 whilst also seeking to ensure that our long-standing and very loyal supporter base do not miss out in any way.
Paul: You asked fans about the balance and make-up of the team, both in 2019 and for 2020. What did you find out?
Ian: There has long been a perception in the sport that teams should be built to win home matches to the detriment of away matches and also a perception of Arlington as a “fortress”.
The other aspect we were keen to understand with these questions was the view of what constitutes an enjoyable home match experience, eg: win at all costs or more an entertaining and competitive close racing scenario.
After 4 years of unrivalled success in the National League, for which Connor and Martin deserve great credit, it was we thought perhaps difficult for some to see the team lose home matches and not to win any silverware.
The feedback though was both unexpected and interesting. The majority (around 60%) specifically referred to in actual comments that they preferred the increased closeness of racing and especially the last heat deciders.
Some (around 20%) though were very much in the opinion that home wins and trophies were the only measure of success and entertainment.
The question of home and away form was further backed by over 70% who said they preferred a team to be built with a different balance to win away.
Paul: And, what about riders?
Ian: As you can imagine there were a lot of comments and differing views regarding the management and team structure for 2020 and something we will go in to more detail and information about in the second part of the survey responses in a few days time.
However, it is worthwhile, I think, to cover off a few specific topics and issues raised about the type of team and specific riders most supporters wanted in the team in 2020 and the type of team we put have ultimately selected.
Two names dominated the “wish list” and as they are now, as they were when the survey was issued, riders for other teams we have to respect that fact.
However, what I think it is fair to comment on are the reasons specifically why the two most popular names mentioned are NOT in the 2020 Team.
Scott Nicholls as many will know lives in Brighton and has subsequently moved from Leicester to Kent. He is a great rider, a fantastic personality and a legend of the sport. Scott will be a great acquisition for Kent and we wish both Scott and Kent all the best.
We did chat to Scott about his availability and the bottom line is that Scott is contractually obligated to BT Sport to be part of the Speedway Grand Prix Presentation in 2020 and that would mean missing potentially 10 Saturday fixtures home or away and with us having no recourse to a guest facility. It means that riding for a Saturday track is an impossibility, however hard we could or would have tried to juggle fixtures.
Broc Nichol was mentioned by over 70% of respondents and not surprisingly in recognition for his performances at Arlington.
Broc has subsequently signed for Glasgow in the CL and, as with Scott, we wish Broc and Glasgow all the best. I have to point out that contrary to some misinformed speculation and factually, that at no point did any authorised representative of Eastbourne Speedway, or ourselves, approach Broc to sign for Eastbourne.
Why? It was nothing to do with his ability but simply because Broc would require a Work Permit to ride in the Championship and we (as a new business incorporated in December 2018 and, under very strict Border Agency guidelines, cannot apply for any Work Permit for the first 12 months of business.
Even after that period, the paperwork and cost involved, let alone the time and hassle, is not something that we want to get involved in at this moment in time.
Paul: That’s a detailed answer, Ian. Thank you for helping us all understand what goes on.
Ian: We have been as transparent as we can be in many areas in responding to questions and queries in 2019 and that will continue in 2020 so to be as honest as we can be, whilst we would not seek to sign anyone from anywhere NOT requiring a work permit in the future, I cannot at this time see this philosophy radically changing.
If and when, with the roll out of Brexit and its ramifications the Work Permit issue; started to include riders from current EU States, the old Commonwealth countries and those with parentage qualifications; then clearly our views may change.
We think that it is important to uphold the long tradition of Eastbourne Speedway in nurturing and developing young British talent and in the coming season we will seek to build upon and enhance this philosophy and in the coming weeks will hope to announce and to evidence how we plan to build on this concept with some new and exciting initiatives..
The popularity of the 2019 team was evident from the vast majority of responses and the decision to reintegrate Tom back in to the team after injury and to partner him in a second string berth with Kyle, who clearly made a huge and positive impression, was a regular theme.
The re-introduction of Drew was also very well received and is something we will expand and touch on next time.
Paul: Eastbourne Speedway has tried to “dance around” the Speedway GP and the effect it has on attendances because of people watching at home on TV. What’s he plan for 2020?
Ian: We had our 4 lowest attendances in 2019 on nights when we went “head-to-head” with a televised GP.
Whilst I personally fail to see why speedway on TV is more attractive than live speedway, it is an issue that commercially and from a long-term sustainability viewpoint we cannot ignore, which is why we asked what is a vitally important question regarding the future.
To hit the nail very firmly on the head, if the attendances for the 4 matches when we went “head-to-head” with Speedway GP had been replicated as an average through the season the current Promotion and Management team maynot have been able to continue in the Championship in 2020.
I’m 100% sure that someone else would pick up the cudgels but it makes no business sense for us to blindly ignore such a clear fact. If you ran a shop, as an example, and lost money 2 days a week, would you open on those days? I suggest NOT.
The responses regarding Saturday and Sunday were very surprising since we had assumed there would be a massive majority in favour of Saturday evening.
The actual responses delivered an almost perfect 50/50 split with 90% going further and saying they would support either.
The main “gripe” re Sunday’s is “dust” when we start at 3.30pm and whilst we can and have tried to resolve that issue it simply puts off a small but passionate group whose views we respect.
We are working, therefore, with the fixtures coordinator for The Championship to NOT ride on Saturday evenings when we clash with SGP and to possibly “go away” on those nights or the night before (Fridays when 4 teams have race nights), and to stage fixtures instead on a Sunday afternoon when we have an SGP fixture clash.
During school holidays and the hottest part of summer we will aim to start at around 5 or 5.30pm, missing the worst of the heat but finishing early enough for those with young families and/or work the next day.
When we can, we will race at 3.30pm on a Sunday (early and later season). The announcement of the Euro 2020 Football Fixtures will mean we will have to miss the opening England game (on a Sunday afternoon) when there is a Speedway GP on the Saturday night, but hopefully that will be the only exception.
Paul: Any news of when the fixtures will be out?
Ian: We expect fixtures to be formalised by mid January and whilst trying to please everyone who has specific views about Saturday and/or Sunday, feel we have to be 100% transparent and to explain how important this issue is to the short/medium and long-term sustainability of the current promotion.
*Part two of this interview which will look ahead to 2020 will appear on Monday.
Image Credits: Tiffani Graveling Photography & Mike Hinves