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Manchester City F.C. puts fan experience at the center of its strategy, using Qualtrics technology

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez March 12, 2024
Hugely successful football club, Manchester City, is using Qualtrics to better understand the needs and wants of its fans - both at the stadium and beyond.

An image of the Manchester City FC team on the pitch celebrating a trophy win
(Image sourced via Manchester City FC)

One of the world’s largest, most wealthy and high profile football clubs - Manchester City (MCFC) - is placing fan experience at the center of its strategy, using experience management technology provided by Qualtrics. Manchester City has a long and chequered history when it comes to success, but since the takeover of the Club by the cash-rich Abu Dhabi United Group sixteen years ago, and since Pep Guardiola took over as manager in 2016, the Club has emerged from the shadows of its geographically close rival, Manchester United, and won a number of prestigious trophies. 

Manchester City has delivered a European Cup Winners’ Cup, eight League Championships, including six Premier League titles (in the short time between 2012 and 2022), six FA Cups and eight League Cups. By most measures, Manchester City is one of the most successful football clubs in the world right now. But beyond the trophies and the titles, the Club is thinking hard as to how it can build close and positive relationships with its fans, by using data to understand their needs and wants - both at the stadium itself and further afield. 

On a recent visit to the Club’s Etihad Stadium in Manchester, diginomica got to sit down with some of the team involved in City’s use of data to improve fan experience. Manchester City has been working with Qualtrics for four years and recently announced an extension to its official partnership with the vendor, which allows the Club to receive and analyze immediate fan feedback using the Qualtrics platform. The Club carries out initiatives that include targeted post-match surveys, as well as ‘in the moment’ feedback from fans who are visiting the Etihad campus. 

Commenting on Manchester City’s commitment to fan experience, Andrew Gilligan, Director of FX Analytics and Insights and MCFC, said:

Our way of working is about ensuring that the fan is always kept at the center of our decision making and thought process, when it comes to the creation and delivery of new products and experiences. What that means is that we really need to know and truly understand who the fan is and what's motivating the desire to engage - whether it's for the first time or repeatedly.

Gilligan explained that the investment in the Club’s analytics team, as well as the Qualtrics platform, has been focused on trying to design or redesign processes that have previously existed, using data to do so, with fan experience at the core. He added: 

When we instigate a project, we’re really reflecting on what we think the fan needs. How important are these needs against each other? And how should we try and address them? And in what priority? 

Applying those to develop new products or experience concepts - and then checking back in with the fans to validate that we've got the right hypotheses, that we're developing the right kind of features, etc. 

And then as we go into the implementation phase, bringing the fans with us on the journey to listen to the first reaction to something new that we've created. How do we continually improve it? It’s about having that optimization focus, so that we don't just create something new, deliver it and then move on to the next thing. We want to look after and continue to develop and grow, but at all times with the fan in mind. 

World-class facilities

A key facet of what Manchester City is trying to achieve with the fan data it receives via the Qualtrics platform is trying to improve the experience for fans at the stadium itself. Danny Wilson, Managing Director at MCFC - the person responsible for almost everything that happens on the ground, including ticketing, hospitality, tours, security and product marketing - joined the Club in 1999 and has seen a number of significant changes over that time. He said: 

I feel lucky to be involved. I feel proud and privileged to be involved. I'm local, I was born and bred in Manchester, and I don't think there's any better place to work in sport. I think we continue to challenge ourselves, and to raise the bar, in every single way 

Wilson reiterated the point that fan experience lies at the heart of everything MCFC does, particularly in terms of how it operates. He said: 

This football club is nearly 130 years old. And like every other football club, without the fans, the football club cannot function. The fans help shape and define the identity of a football club. 

Wilson said that the focus on facilities, not just for players, but for fans, has been a key priority since the change of ownership sixteen years ago. The aim is making sure that the stadium’s facilities, the Club’s ways of working, its policies and procedures, all come back to the experience of fans, staff and players. He added: 

It’s about getting the best out of people, making sure that fans enjoy their time when they are physically interacting with the football club, on site here in Manchester. It’s a key area of investment and focus for us.  

Wilson provided a number of examples of this, including the Asahi Super Dry Tunnel Club, which allows ticketed guests to enjoy first class hospitality and get a view into the players via a glass tunnel as they arrive on the pitch, bringing fans closer to the experience of the team. He added: 

Essentially, it’s about looking behind the curtain. Everybody wants to know what goes on when the players step off the pitch and head down a tunnel, and it takes us into a brave and bold space. 

Equally, Manchester City has introduced a sensory suite into its stadium, which allows fans who have specific sensory needs to attend a match and enjoy the sport, in a quiet space, without compromising on their view, in a controlled environment. Accessibility has been key to the Club’s fan experience in recent years - and a top priority for Wilson. He said: 

Accessibility is critically important to us. It's not just about complying with numbers and regulations, it's about going beyond that. 

We're not a club where we say if you’ve got an issue with sight, you can only access the induction loop to get the audio commentary from seats in a certain block. It's available stadium-wide. We have wheelchair positions for fans who are in wheelchairs at each level within the stadium level as well. The sensory room was about fans, who have sensory needs, having a safe place to come and watch games of football with their parents or guardians. 

And there's nothing more rewarding than receiving phone calls or emails, where a parent of a child says: ‘I never ever thought I'd be able to bring my child to a live entertainment event and you've enabled that to happen’. They say: ‘we had a moment as a family now that will live with us forever, when can we come back?’.

Absolutely critical

MCFC carries out fan satisfaction surveys after every game, for both the men and women’s matches, to track a variety of different metrics. That information is shared across the entire organization and everyone is exposed to it, according to Wilson. This is enabling Manchester City to think about fan experience in a more integrated fashion. He explained: 

What this isn’t about is singling people out. We work in a very integrated manner. And to solve or to improve aspects of the experience may require four or five different departments coming together.

So one of the things we've introduced over the last two years is a team focused on integrated fan experience. And it sounds like a totally logical step, but working in a more integrated manner, rather than department by department, is something that was a step forward in our ways of working. 

That has taken a bit of time for the team to work their way through - changes like that, culturally within an organization, take time. But we're committed to doing that and we're seeing the positive impact from our colleagues around the organization. People are getting the variety and opportunity to work on finding solutions to challenges that are identified through the work that we do with Qualtrics, the surveys and results we get back. 

As highlighted by Gilligan, Wilson said that this is a project that prioritizes continuous improvement. He acknowledged that people and society changes constantly, and so fan experience will never stay still. MCFC believes that by continuing to adapt the ways in which it works, and the ways it responds to those changes as a foot call club, it can continue to succeed. 

Central to all of this is data. MCFC has had a data anlytics team for ten years now, but this team is receiving more and more investment - in both resource, people and technology - in order to rise to the challenge. Wilson said: 

We won't sit back and say that we've achieved, because you'll never achieve where you need to get to. And I think moving forward, data is ever more critical in everything that we do operationally. 

Another example of changes being made includes how MCFC is thinking about hospitality at a football match. In the UK, attendees at a game can drink alcohol before the game, at halftime, and afterwards - but alcohol isn’t allowed into the seating area of a stadium while the match is in play. 

This of course creates a congestion problem at halftime, as fans descend on the bar to grab a quick drink during a fifteen minute window. MCFC is trying out new solutions to make this go more smoothly, and is testing the fans’ response to these using data and feedback. Wilson said: 

With the solution through Qualtrics, and all the listening that we do, we can test new concepts. We rolled out an e-bar solution, where the machine pours the drink itself and you go and grab it at halftime. That takes time for fans to buy into - but we could start to focus on understanding that and what the impact was going to be amongst fans in that area of the stadium. 

To get the input directly from them, rather than just having a catch-all understanding, and having that depth of understanding, is something that we've been able to do more and more of. 

And MCFC is looking closely at the in-depth, detailed responses. Wilson said:

The numbers aren't as meaningful to me - whether we score 8, 9, 7, 6.5 [on satisfaction surveys] -  because some of that's influenced by the result on the pitch. What's most important to me is the detailed feedback that we get, the comments and the scores on the more insightful questions that we ask, because that's what can inform positive change.

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