Revealed: Town to make matchday changes at Portman Road after fan feedback

Mark Heath and Ipswich Town's new director of marketing and supporter engagement Scott Paul

Mark Heath and Ipswich Town's new director of marketing and supporter engagement Scott Paul in front of the new-look big screen display at Portman Road - Credit: Archant

Ipswich Town will make changes to the matchday experience at Portman Road after feedback from fans following the opening game of the season against Bolton Wanderers.

The club unveiled numerous updates to the famous old stadium on Saturday, with a new big screen, digital advertising boards, improved food and drink kiosks and a new PA system chief among them.

And, while almost 27,000 fans mostly went home happy after the entertaining 1-1 draw with promotion rivals Bolton, the Blues have reacted quickly to address fan feedback from the game.

The top gripes were use of the big screen - with some saying they couldn't read the content shown on it - and issues with the commentary on the club's iFollow live match streaming service.

Scott Paul, the club's new director of marketing and supporter engagement, said the big screen lay-out will change straight away, starting with the visit of Colchester United in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night.

He explained: "We took a lead a little bit from what we'd seen at other clubs and other grounds, particularly Wembley, and noticed that a lot of clubs and venues start with the squad lists on the screen.

"We felt that would be a really good way to do things and, when you consider the fact that we were working all the way up to Friday to put the match into production in terms of LED boards and the big screen, I think that was a monumental task in itself, and extremely successful in terms of matchday production.

The new corner entrance to pitch side with the new screen above at Portman Road

How Ipswich Town's new big screen looked on Saturday during the Bolton game - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

"But we got feedback, and we noticed ourselves, that maybe the information on the big screen was a little bit too small for a lot of people to read properly. We've taken that feedback on board, we've surveyed our fans and they've pretty much stated what they'd like to see.

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"So from the Colchester game next week, in the Carabao Cup, it will be a case of the club crests, the score and the time that's shown on the scoreboard, rather than just the team sheets."

Of the commentary issues, Paul added: "There were two issues with commentary. One was external from us, where our partners the EFL and IMG double-tracked the commentary so,  at the same time as we were getting the commentary from Ipswich Town, we were also getting commentary through from Bolton Wanderers as well.

"They were overplaying each other, and that was for the first 45 minutes of the game. It really should have been picked up much earlier by the EFL and IMG. We made a call to them and they've apologised profusely - we've sought assurances that it won't happen again, and they rectified it as soon as they did find out.

"The second issue was an internal one. We will be honest, there was a slight briefing issue with us, a little hiccup - we mis-briefed somebody really, and our commentator on the day, Glenn Wheeler, was commentating more for a TV audience rather than a radio audience, so it wasn't quite as audio-descriptive as you'd like.

"However, having spoken to him afterwards, he said 'I also do radio, I've got a lot of radio background' so happy days from our point of view, and from the next game onwards Glenn will be running it as though it's a radio audio descriptive.

Big Screen update

The new big screen layout at Portman Road - Credit: Ross Halls

"But we also need to look at some of the good stuff that's happening with iFollow as well. For the first time, we've got a dual camera now, which improves the pictures and images that supporters will see when it's broadcast.

"We've also got microphones all the way around the pitch because we had feedback last season that fans could only hear from supporters in the main stand and couldn't really get any more feel for the matchday experience.

"Having all of these microphones around the pitch will allow them to hear every kick of the ball, every shout from the players and, more importantly, the fans from around Portman Road regardless of which stand the ball is nearest."

Further feedback from fans centred on the volume of the new PA system, plus queueing times for food and drink, particularly in the packed Fan Zone, which hosted almost 5,000 supporters pre-game on Saturday. 

"For some it was too loud, and for some it was too quiet, so it's getting that balance right," Paul said of the PA. "We realise that we're trying to change quite a lot, all at the same time - we're going to make mistakes and we're not going to get it perfect from day one.

"But what we'll continue to do and the philosophy of the club, is don't rest on your laurels, and try to make sure that the next time is as close to perfect as possible. 

"We're always striving to improve our standards and push for excellence where we can so, for the next game, we'll probably reduce some of the levels here and there and look to make sure that people have a little bit more of a comfortable match day in terms of their ear drums."

Big messages before kick-off at Portman Road

Almost 27,000 fans packed into Portman Road on Saturday - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Addressing the queueing issue, Paul added: "Yes, we have removed one of the minibars (in the Fan Zone) and there are really good reasons for that - we've also installed a smaller big screen in the fan zone too, so because of that we've had to lose a bit of room.

"We'll obviously look at having more independent breweries and so on, but the truth is that it was one of the busiest Fan Zones that we have ever had. That, plus it was a hot day, means people get a bit of a thirst on.

"So there was a bit of a queue, but it looked worse than it was. Actually in terms of timing, the average was probably a lot lower than you might expect.

"It looked worse than it actually was. People got served very quickly and very efficiently.

"Again though, we will always look to improve what we're doing, both in the Fan Zone and in the concourses too."

One voice: Town fans during the first half of the game on the opening day at Portman Road against Bo

One voice: Town fans during the first half of the game on the opening day at Portman Road against Bolton - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Paul is one of a number of summer additions to the off-field management structure led by CEO Mark Ashton, and arrives in Suffolk having had success with Leicester City, in Premiership Rugby and most recently at newly-promoted Nottingham Forest.

Of his role, he said: "It's a very new role to the club, and draws on what I've done at other clubs that I've worked at, in particular Nottingham Forest.

"It's a case of making sure that we are striving for excellence wherever we possibly can, not just in terms of matchday, but also non-matchday.

"We want to improve the way that we service our supporters when they get here, make sure that they want to come back for more constantly.

"The other thing is to make sure that we're looking, at all times, to market to potential new fans and families.

"The truth of the matter is that we're living in extraordinary times when it comes to the leisure pound, and we're not just competing with a couple of clubs up and down the road, we're actually also competing with your local cinemas, your local farms, theme parks and things like that.

"We've got to make sure that we're the number one destination for a family, in and around the Suffolk area, when they want to do something at a weekend - and, again, make sure they come back for more.

"That's part and parcel of what I'm doing. One of the things that I also think is really important is that personal touch, that personal engagement with our supporters.

"We know a lot of people use email and Twitter and other social media but some people just want to have a bit of a chat with their club and the problem you sometimes face in football  is, as you try to make things more efficient, you lose a bit of that personal touch and personality with supporters.

"What I'd like to be doing really is getting in touch with our supporters more often. Whether that is through surveys and so on, where we actually gather information on how we can improve things, but more importantly, getting on the phone and contacting supporters - season ticket holders in particular - just to find out how their season is going, if there are any particular gripes or any reasons why they are or aren't coming to games regularly and seeing what we can do to help them.

"That personal touch is vital for a family and fan-orientated club like Ipswich Town."

Asked about making it a hat-trick of promotions at Portman Road - previous clubs Leicester and Forest having made the top flight while Paul was working there - he added: "The important thing there is, not just a hat-trick of promotions, a hat-trick of Premier League promotions.

"I'm in it for the long run in terms of that. It would be sensational to get Ipswich Town back to where it really should be as a club.

"As a kid growing up in the mid-90's, Ipswich was a name that was nailed to the top flight, the same as Forest was and the same as Leicester City.

"I'd like to see them back there. My job here is to drive the standards off the pitch, because the players and the manager are the ones driving the standards on it."

To contact Paul, email scott.paul@itfc.co.uk.