Surrey club Old Georgians may be sitting pretty eight points clear at the top of the English Men’s Premier Division, but performance on the pitch is not their only concern, according to their commercial director Oliver Morgan.
The club has a dedicated band of matchday volunteers whose sole purpose is to create an action-packed matchday programme to incentivise spectators – especially those from other clubs – to come and watch their M1s home games.
Morgan, who oversees all the club’s commercial activity, runs the matchday experience. “We have a major issue in this country in that our Premier Division fixtures, which are the pinnacle of the sport in this country, are not getting decent crowd numbers,” he says.
Last weekend, Morgan watched Old Georgians play Wimbledon at Raynes Park High School. He says: “I counted no fewer than 11 GB players on the pitch yet the typical crowd size of that type of fixture is typically under 100. That’s a tragedy. The players deserve more.”
The game saw Old Georgians go up through an Ashley Jackson penalty stroke only for the hosts to score two quick goals against the run of play leaving their opponents stunned. Georgians gained parity through a Tom Carson penalty corner before a final quarter of tense, end-to-end stuff, which ultimately saw the visitors triumphing 5-3.
Yet when it comes to the overall experience, he believes that to ‘move the needle’ on crowd attendances, more needs to be done.
In an effort to ramp up their own matchday experience, Old Georgians have introduced live player interviews, a free-to-enter junior half-time raffle, photo opportunities with players, and goodie bags for fans to take away. Live music and PA announcements create a carnival atmosphere that so far has kept the crowds coming back.
Morgan continues: “I find it surprising we have this problem because collectively there are so many great minds in British hockey but I don’t see anyone offering solutions. So we’ve decided to take the challenge on.
“I get that clubs are maxed out with coaching and admin. But we need to put the fun back into watching club hockey. At Old Georgians we are blessed with many top players so we believe we have a responsibility to lead from the front and create showpiece events.”
The issue of whether to charge for entry is also one that causes debate.
Morgan says: “Other Premier Division clubs charge up to £6 on the gate, and I understand they want to add to their coffers, but that’s not our approach. Our priority is crowd attendance and engagement. Show people a fantastic day out and keep them coming back. We’re focused on the bigger picture – promoting the sport.”
“We have a unique opportunity within hockey because the top players are accessible in a way that they aren’t with other sports. You can’t walk straight onto the pitch at Old Trafford at full-time, but you can at St George’s College. We need to leverage that, use it to inspire the next generation of players.”
He continues: “Against Wimbledon, James Tindall scored an outrageous overhead goal. If that was football, it would be going viral. Yet because it’s hockey, we write it off. We need to stand up for ourselves if we want hockey on an even footing with other sports.”
Old Georgians have hit the headlines in recent years with a number of high-profile signings such as GB striker Sam Ward. Indeed, the club only founded 26 years ago now push for a spot in Europe for their first time in their history.
Chris Jansen, president of the club, says: “Ever since we founded this club we have been clear about our ambitions to become a force in Europe, but we never lose sight of what hockey is all about. Competition, friends, and family. That’s why our matchday experience has a distinctly family feel, with most of the add-ons aimed at juniors.
“We have particularly concentrated on engaging with other clubs, encouraging them to bring spectators especially juniors. Some have been very supportive. They understand what we’re trying to do. We send the kids away enthused and inspired by what they’ve seen. They realise it will have a trickle-down effect at their clubs.”
It is well documented that the Surrey Club, based at St George’s College in Weybridge, have benefitted from some generous financial support from private benefactors.
Does that breed resentment at other clubs who aren’t so fortunate, who may then be reluctant to show their support?
“I can understand why it would,” says Jansen. “So many amazing volunteers at clubs around the country putting in a massive shift week in, week out, and many on limited budgets. Not all clubs are in our privileged position but that’s why we see it as our duty to welcome all to come and be a part of what we have built.”
According to Morgan, the key is leveraging the player base to create exciting, original opportunities that kids will love. The half-time raffle, which has become a firm crowd favourite, is free-to-enter, and gives juniors the chance to win prizes such as an hour’s one-to-one coaching with a GB star.
“Where else could you get that?!” he asks. “These are prizes money can’t buy, willingly offered up by the players because they buy into what we are trying to do”.
He then issues his closing appeal. “We’re appealing to all hockey families. Come down to the Dragon’s Lair, be part of a fun day, help us to create an excitement around the match that the players and the kids will thrive on. We look forward to having you join us”.
This Sunday’s clash against East Grinstead HC starts at 2pm, at St George’s College in Weybridge. Parking and entry is free. Refreshments available. Juniors are encouraged to come in club colours and bring sticks and shoes.
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