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Here to Help
by Dave Green....26/08/2005

One of speedway's perennial conundrums is how to attract more people through the turnstiles. Clubs frequently launch marketing drives that involve the distribution of leaflets in shopping centres, visits to local schools and appearances at local fetes and shows. All of these are worthwhile and cost-effective exercises and I do believe they attract new people to speedway meetings. However, attracting them to a single meeting is the easy bit, getting them to return is where the problem lies.

Over the last few years I've spoken to a number of people who were attending their first meeting - at least twenty. In most cases they engaged me in conversation and asked a question about the rules or the general goings on. Surprisingly often, particularly if they're accompanied by youngsters, they ask about a particular rider - often not one of the star names. Some gentle probing reveals that they've already met said rider at a promotional event and have come to see that individual ride. These people often have no idea that they're watching a team event, that the home team are wearing red and blue helmets and that points are awarded in each race that build to a cumulative total.

That's where our problem lies, if people can't put the racing into context then they're simply watching motorbikes go round in circles. When you've seen that once there's little incentive to return the following week.

So how do we help contextualise the racing for newcomers? The matchday programme often includes some insight into the rules, but not everybody buys a programme, particularly newcomers who've already spent a large sum of money on gaining entry to something they know little about. I've also heard meeting presenters recite a brief outline of what's going on and that must help, although I still feel it's insufficient.

My own recommendation would be for clubs to appoint an 'ambassador' who would mix with the crowd and speak to the spectators. The person could wear distinctive clothing - perhaps a bright blazer or a luminous jacket - and be introduced to the crowd during the parade, making it clear that this person's sole remit is to ensure that everyone understands what's going on and enjoys themselves. Some light-hearted 'banter' between the ambassador and the meeting presenter would help establish his or her credentials as an approachable character.

During the meeting the ambassador would mingle with the crowd, fielding any questions asked of them and approaching any unfamiliar faces. Approaching people would be an important part of the job, not everyone will initiate a conversation with a stranger to ask for help, but most will have questions to ask if someone speaks to them.

Finding the right kind of people to fill these ambassadorial roles would be critical. The person selected would have to be approachable, articulate, amusing and have a good knowledge of the sport. They must also be able to judge the correct level of detail to impart, newcomers don't need to know about the points limit or the workings of the bikes, however our ambassador should be able to answer those questions if asked.

The ambassador should also be someone who is willing to take part in the club's promotional events. Wouldn't newcomers feel at home if the person who spoke to them in the shopping centre was also able to guide them through their first meeting?

I won't pretend that appointing ambassadors will immediately lead to significant increases in attendances. The main benefit is that newcomers will be more appreciative of what they're watching, will feel welcome and are more likely to enjoy their trip to the track. If you enjoy something then you're more likely to do it again!

 

This article was first published on 26th August 2005


 

  • Alan Hodkinson:

    "A very interesting article by Dave Green. I always had the idea it would be good to have a 'Newcomers to Speedway' area where people coming for the first time could all be together in one place and a member of staff with enough knowledge could explain the match as it develops. A programme is a must if you are watching a match, I can't enjoy it half as much without one, you have to know how the match is progressing and this must be explained to newcomers otherwise they are just watching bikes whizzing round and round as Dave says."

  • Malcolm Edwards:

    "Hmmm nice idea but only marginal, I fear, in maintaining spectators. I used to love going to a meeting - still do love watching on SKY - but the cost has now got too much. Better spedway takes a leaf from the Marks & Spencer survival handbook and reduces entrance charges. Me and alot of my friends might just then consider a return. Soccer may be able to get away with continually hiking up prices but speedway will never attract the numbers or the corporate spend that top flight soccer enjoys today."

  • Scott White:

    "Not a bad idea. Have to say that the first stage of your article is not done by most clubs here in the south.

    A good way would to give a heavy student discount particularly in University towns like Reading, promoting it to students as a night out would definitely work short and long term, but I have never seen it done, there are so many people in Reading who 'used to go' but don't even realise it still goes on every Monday.

    It's madness not to promote the sport which will ultimately end up with one league, the elite and who wants to watch first out the gate wins? Lots of people but I'm not one of them.

    I often wonder, speedway is so cliquey, maybe certain people want to keep it that way?"

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