Tim Stillman - The Tour Of Duty
There have been a number of things that have changed about the way the club handles its public relations since Ivan Gazidis arrived as CEO. One of the first things I noticed during the summer of 2009- the first after Gazidis` arrival, was the club`s robust response to transfer rumours. Club policy has always been never to comment on transfer speculation in any way whatsoever. But there was a step change that summer, as the instant a tabloid whisper threatened to clear its throat, within 24 hours of the story going to print, there was a statement issued by the player in question, clearly stating his commitment and refuting the rumours.
This may have been a slow response to the anxieties more sensitive fans suffer owing to the bombardment of 24 hour news and the increasing innuendo at the time around Cesc Fabregas. Another way Arsenal have notably changed is their communication of injury diagnostics. Again, the more precious nature of today`s football fan necessitates a demand for the sort of 100% accuracy that medical prognosis is not yet capable of. For instance, no specific time frame was put on the knacks to Wilshere and Vermaelen initially. The commitment on Jack`s stress fracture has only ever been as concrete as "at least three months" on the club`s official site. Following surgery, we were told Vermaelen would be "back training in 6 weeks" with no commitment made to when he would play again.
Something else appears to have happened this summer. The club have begun to reach out to the blog writers. It`s always been clear that the club have consumed supporter literature, as you`d probably expect. But until now, fanzine writers and editors had been kept at arm`s distance. About three weeks ago, clearly in response to criticism the club was receiving around the quality of their medical care, the club invited several prominent bloggers and supporters` group representatives to view the club`s new medical facility. Both a way of communicating changes effectively to supporters and, doubtless, done in the expectation of a little free publicity for the club too.
There is an official unveiling of the three statues that will be erected outside the stadium next Friday which a handful of Arsenal supporters have been invited to too. So, it came to pass that your esteemed editor was invited to the Media launch of the new Stadium Tours the club will be running effective from now. But given Paul`s geographical "difficulties", the torch was passed to yours truly. I had partaken in a stadium tour in early 2007, during the first year at the stadium. I had been invited then to the official opening of the Supporters` Services Bureau. Of course, there have been many additions to the stadium since then. The tour too has been revamped.
At the outset, we were- rather fittingly- gathered in the press conference room for an introduction by Arsenal`s Marketing Director Charles Allen. He explained that the invitees for the launch were deliberately varied. Travel agents, tourist boards, journalists and bloggers made up the most part. The new tour ostensibly, looks to be designed to appeal to the casual tourist as much as the diehard supporter. Something Charles acknowledged in his opening gambit as well as when I had a brief chat with him during the tour. Indeed, the graphics on the media pack we were given upon entrance showed a shot of Emirates Stadium, with the London Eye and Big Ben visible in the background. The focus is clear. Most of Arsenal`s local support will have probably taken the tour by now if such a trip has piqued their interest.
The emphasis of the new tours is based around a handheld, audio headset device which is given to those undertaking the tour. This allows tourists, if you will, to take the tour without the need for a guide. (Which saves the club some cash I should chance). The narration on the headset is provided by the velvety voiced Bob Wilson and the idea is that it interactively guides and directs you through the stadium. So shortly after Bob prompts you to climb the stairs into the Diamond Club, he then begins to talk you through the thought, the design and the purpose of the Diamond Club in the way a physical tour guide would.
The genius of the audio headset is two fold. Firstly, it allows you to go through the tour at your own pace. (Throughout, Bob`s automated tones encourage you to "take your time to take as many pictures as you would like.") The content is layered too, which is where the bifurcate appeal of the tour really shines through. Beyond Bob`s script, there is the option- but not the obligation- to view further content. For instance, the player`s entrance is decorated with pictures of seminal moments from the club`s history. For those that are inclined, there is the option to watch more in depth interviews that describe those moments to you.
For the staunch and sentimental Arsenal fan, the opportunity to listen to Lee Dixon describe the tears that rolled down his cheeks, blighting his vision, following Michael Thomas` Anfield goal is essential viewing. For your average tourist, or casual sports fan, probably not quite so much. No bother, they can skip past and move on. I probably don`t need to tell you I lagged behind most of the others taking the tour, in favour of standing in front of Tony Adams` Jesus Christ pose, whilst listening to Martin Tyler screech, "Would you belieeeeeve it?"
The tour takes in everything you`d expect a stadium tour to. Access to both changing rooms; the dugout, the Director`s Box, the press rooms. Ushers are stationed around the ground as you walk around, but you are largely left to your own devices- in more than one way. It`s a relaxing, casual atmosphere to undertake a tour in. I have been on a few of these tours throughout Europe. Barcelona`s is not just a letdown, but a genuinely unpleasant experience; such is the haste with which you are herded through without any sort of "guide" or explanation of the stadium`s nooks and crannies. Madrid`s is much better, if a little bling, bling. (You`re pretty much forced to spend 45 minutes in Real`s trophy room). Both of those tours predictably end in the club shop. Nothing quite so crass from Arsenal, though the entrance for the tour is suggestively placed next door to the Armoury.
As you`ve probably gathered, the real innovation of the handheld audio headset is that now, people can turn up without appointment and conduct the tour any time during stadium opening hours. It doesn`t take John Maynard Keynes to work out that results in getting more heads through the door and, ultimately, more bang for the buck. Additionally, the club are continuing the Legends tour option, whereby an ex Arsenal player escorts you around the stadium. But essentially, they can up sell the Legends Tour as an added extra for a price. (£35 in case you`re wondering).
There`s probably not a great deal I can do to sell you the tour. Nor would I consider it my business to do so. You probably know what it entails- access all areas, a chance to glimpse into the bowels of the stadium otherwise not available to you. The headset does give the tour a different flavour. By being able to saunter around at your own pace, one does feel at ease. This I think is particularly important if you`re a fan of the club looking to drink in your surroundings. The headset does add a few extra perks too. For instance, as you approach the tunnel, Bob invites you to stand still for a moment before you move to approach the dugout. The headset then blares the sound of the crowd into your ears as you stand inert. It adds value to the tour, but probably the key thing is that it adds a little more to Arsenal`s marketing capability and puts a little more in the coffers. Questions have been asked about Tom Fox and Angus Kinnear`s expensively assembled marketing team and this appears to be one more innovative way of casting a knowing wink to the tourist industry as the Marketing arm of the club looks to extend its reach. LD.