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Tim Stillman - The Tour Of Duty

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.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Date:Sunday December 4 2011
Time: 10:09PM


Sorry it's taken so long to get this up. Been my son's baptism this weekend and there are more Scottish people currently living in my house than in the whole of Scotland! Great write up though Tim, definately sounds like a decent way to have a look around. I have to say I did one of the last Legends tours at Highbury with Charlie George and it was one of the coolest things I've done. So much so my little lad was named after the great man!
04/12/2011 22:35:00
How dare you go for the legends tour at Highbury Rocky? When you havent gone for the Elland Bellends tour hosted by Lee Bowyer.
05/12/2011 03:25:00
I know I know. It makes a laughing stock of everyone else.
05/12/2011 09:15:00
Nice write up LD. The communication is certainly one thing that has changed perceptibly over the last year or so. That is a welcome sign. There are a lot of other things that the club management could do better, but that's for another day.
05/12/2011 10:43:00
Strange that being deliberately imprecise in terms of injuries can be seen as an improvement. Perhaps the acceptance that some fans are incapable of working these things out for themselves is an improvement though. There's no doubt that commercially the club is more professional recognising that it has to be far more effective in the way it goes about these things in order to improve the commercial revenues. This is an example where KSE's expertise can generate real revenue for the club (and KSE) and add enduring value to the business whereas the sugar daddy approach just brings money until it runs out and/or daddy leaves home.
05/12/2011 11:20:00
I'd class it as improvement in terms of the fact that it gives the more sensitive / less understanding less chance to leap on trivial aspects. For instance, the club know if they say, "x will be back in January" that if the clock strikes midnight on February 1st and player x hasn't returned, there'll be blood in the streets.
Little Dutch
05/12/2011 12:03:00
LD, you're being harsh. That mind set (of not trusting the medical team's predictions regarding recovery/comeback) was built over a few players and more than 2 seasons of incorrect predictions. All they needed to do was add another 2-3 weeks as buffer/uncertainty before announcing to the world that X would be back in January.
05/12/2011 13:41:00
Amos, I'm still waiting to see the $ benefit that KSE has brought in to the club. So far, the value-add has been minimal (apart from the incremental revenue from the Asian tour this season). Other clubs have been able to tear up their sponsorship contracts mid-way and negotiate much better deals, something that the Arsenal commercial team has not been able to. Whilst I appreciate that its impossible to understand the nuances that have gone into the contract with Emirates, its frustrating to see no progress on the commercial side of things. So, I would wait before I pronounce judgment on that.
05/12/2011 13:44:00
I've no doubt questions needed to be asked prits. I asked them myself and obviously yhr club did because they conducted a thorough review of medical procedures and saw fit to invest in a new state of the art medical facility. My point is, people were naturally going overboard and howling at every single injury. On the commercial front, activity is very much happening behind the scenes. The deals signed with betfair, carlsberg and indesit this summer prove that much. As I understand it, the prospect of reviewing current deals early is being / has been looked into. If it's not been done it's probably because no value can be extracted in doing so as yet.
Little Dutch
05/12/2011 13:48:00
Other clubs have torn up sponsorship deals because it paid them to do so. Unless the AFC commercial team are incredibly dumb then presumably they've considered taking the same action and decided that it so far didn't pay (though last month it was reported that they were renegotiating shirt sponsorship). Most of the big sponsorship deals only unwind from 2013 onwards so the £ benefit of KSE won't be very clear yet but it's still there if you look for it. In August they signed what is reported to be high by current standards sponsorship 3 yr deal with Carlsberg. In the same month they signed a 3 yr deal with Swedish betting group Betsson. KSE has also recently struck a deal for broadcasting in the US. The year before we struck deals with Lucozade and Citroen. There's no doubt that Kroenke brought his man Gazidis in to sharpen up the commercial and operational sides and they have invested heavily in both sides of the business. If our commercial deals lag behind others (and they do) then for the most part it is because of neglect by the previous administration. While Dein was out and about building his own reputation amongst football's bourgeoisie others were out building the club's commercial profile. We've really only started to get to grips with that side of things in the last 3 years since Kroenke came into the club. It does look like KSE's expertise will add value. He'll take some of that for himself of course but as long as he's also generating it the club will also benefit.
06/12/2011 10:42:00
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