As the home of the largest arts festival in the world, it is perhaps little wonder that rugby union fans congregating in Edinburgh for Scotland’s upcoming Guinness Six Nations matches against England on February 8 and France on March 8 will be welcomed to a stadium that will have been ‘festivalised’.
In an effort to enhance the matchday experience, Scottish Rugby transforms the space in and around BT Murrayfield stadium, situated in Edinburgh’s west end, into a hub of activity to engage fans before, during and after the contests.
The indications are that Scottish Rugby’s strategy, developed over many years, is having a real impact. The governing body’s research has shown that, at recent home matches, more than 25,000 fans have entered the 67,000-capacity stadium more than an hour before kick-off, with many fans spending up to six hours in BT Murrayfield in total.
“At Scottish Rugby we take a lot of pride in building a full matchday experience for fans that extends to beyond the 80 minutes on the pitch,” Toni Blackhurst, head of group marketing and commercial at Scottish Rugby, tells us.
“BT Murrayfield has unrivalled space in its grounds which has enabled us to ‘festivalise’ the space to create a whole range of entertainment and food and drink options for fans to really create a memorable day.”
Complementing local artisan food stalls are offerings from Scottish Rugby’s gin and whisky partners, as well as prosecco and wine bars along with the traditional Tennent’s beer, Guinness and soft drinks.
Live bands help to build the atmosphere with pre- and post-match performances while there are numerous big screens around the estate allowing fans to follow other matches being played before or after Scotland’s game.
Family zones, featuring face painters and dancers also “encourage fans to come early, stay late and enjoy a whole day out”, while sponsors are able to interact with fans directly in a creative way, with activations at recent games including Vitality’s Come and Try session, inflatables and Strathmore’s Wall of More.
Inside the stadium, so-called ‘hype videos’ are played, alongside the team announcements and highlights from historic matches. The pipe bands then send a shiver down the spine with the national anthems.
The key, from Scottish Rugby’s perspective is to offer “a fun, safe and memorable day” to fans.
“As Scotland’s largest stadium we try and utilise the whole estate so it is key fans have a variety of options to enjoy and are encouraged to move around, see different things in different fan zones and not just arrive and go straight to their seats,” Blackhurst says.
“To help this, we created the ‘Blue Crew’, a team of volunteers who are on hand at a game to be a point of contact and help for fans at the stadium. It creates a personal touch and means fans can be assisted by dedicated, trained staff to ensure they get the best out of their day.
“There is a big effort to make the whole day good value whether you are a regular to BT Murrayfield or it is your first visit.
“To achieve this we have, for example, developed free set-pieces in the game’s build-up, such as the team arrivals, which see the team buses led around the stadium by a pipe band and fans have great opportunities to see their heroes and can cheer and support them as they walk into the stadium.”
Scottish Rugby’s approach to enhancing the fan experience on matchdays has evolved significantly over the years, especially in terms of improving and targeting its communication with fans.
“This has enabled us to really promote the matchday experience to the broad demographic of fans and showcase to them the value in our matchday tickets in terms of entertainment and build up the excitement of gameday beyond the 80 minutes,” Blackhurst adds.
“We have also worked hard to ensure we are providing good quality food and drink offerings which reflect what people want to eat when they attend an event. It has also enabled local producers to build up a rapport with fans and for our sponsors to showcase their own products direct to fans.”
Social media activities have also become increasingly important, helping to engage new generations of followers.
One example of this is the ‘Scottish Rugby Live’ initiative, whereby a matchday presenter conducts interviews in the fan zone with players or famous faces, giving supporters live insights and a special photo opportunity.
“Moving forward we will continue to look at bringing other ‘big event’ ideas to BT Murrayfield to generate enjoyable moments, engagement with fans and recognise how fans want to capture their own content in a creative way to say ‘I am here…’ such as the Instagram trail we put in place for the 2019 Summer Tests,” Blackhurst concludes.
With home games against Argentina, Japan and the world famous All Blacks of New Zealand later this year in the Autumn Internationals, there will be ample opportunity for home and visiting fans to enjoy a “full matchday experience” in 2020.
This exclusive insight into Scottish Rugby’s matchday experience for the Six Nations is part of Fan XP- a newsletter designed to keep you abreast of the latest innovations, strategies and more regarding fan experience across the globe. To sign up, please click here.