Green Marmite

In this week’s article Paul looks at fan interaction and when teams should listen to it or ignore it. He praises Ken and gets a bit confused along the way…

The problem with writing a (fairly) regular column like this is that there comes a point when you’re faced with a difficult choice. One choice you have is to write about the same things over and over again. This can be a particularly easy trap to fall in to when you support and predominantly write about a team who could be at the centre of the plot if anyone wanted to write a sequel to Groundhog Day (Groundhog Season anyone?) The alternative to that can lead to you ending up writing about anything. Over time I’ve come to the conclusion that I can do that (I’m probably doing it now) and at times I quite enjoy it, but you’re probably not here to read my ramblings on the state of the towpath I walk home along each night or the quality of soup in Telford Ice Rink are you?

All of that means that you (and I don’t want to sound like the Liberal Democrats here) have to find a third way which, in my case, is probably a mixture of the two. There are times when you have to find a new way about writing about an old subject or, and this is the case today, a new perspective on something you’ve written about before.

I’ve said numerous times that “Happy Clappers” aren’t good for the sport. For those that are late to this particular party let me explain why. Or at least explain how I think the world works. A good business should thrive on the feedback it receives. It should make sure that it listens and acts on what their customers are saying. This is particularly important when it comes to negative feedback because that is where you learn most. If all you ever get is people telling you how great things are then you’ll never learn anything because what you’re being told is that the service you provide is brilliant regardless of whether it is or not. If it takes you six months to deliver something and nobody says that’s too slow, then you’re likely to deliver something in six months and then wonder why you’re losing all your business to the company that can do it in 28 days. Negative feedback tells a company where they’re going wrong, what to improve and it is only through listening to that feedback that a company can improve in the way that their customers want them to. It’s no good introducing improvements that you think the customers want because quite often you’re going to be wrong. Nobody cares what colour Marmite is so if the makers came along and said they’d improved it by making it green no one would be bothered, it’s the taste they want to see changed. Do you see what I’m driving at?

Basically good companies should listen to their customers if they want to remain good companies.

I used to think it was the same for ice hockey clubs but now I’m not so sure. Up until now I’ve always been fairly critical of what I perceive to be the “Happy Clappers” attitude that regardless of what happens everything is alright. I might be wrong in that, I might be right but for the sake of this article lets just take it as read that it is purely my opinion. Having said all that I’m not sure my opinion has changed all that much it’s more a question of where the comments are directed now.

Ice hockey clubs (or sporting clubs in general) are businesses but they are different to “normal” every day businesses. Unlike most businesses there are two very distinct products – on and off the ice. I think that the club should be listening to comments that are made about the quality of the merchandise (which ranges from great to abysmal in my opinion, in case anyone was wondering), the match night presentation, the programme etc as it’s here that feedback could have a real effect. We’ve already seen this in action in Nottingham with Ken actively asking for song suggestions and responding to the replies. This is great, this is what should be happening. The thing is, going back to what I was saying earlier, great as it is, and I want to make it plain that nothing I’m about to say should denigrate what Ken is doing, but changing the music is a bit like selling green Marmite.

Why do you go to watch ice hockey? Is it because you like the music, the atmosphere or even the merchandise? Probably not. That’s not to say that those things aren’t important to the whole thing but they’re not the core reason for why you go. It’s about the game itself, what happens on the ice and that’s where the whole area of customer feedback becomes a bit of a grey area.

We all get frustrated by what we see on the ice from time to time. It might be a case of some more than others but it happens. What we do when we see it varies, some will shrug it off, think that there’s not much of a problem and move on. Some will moan about it at length on Facebook, Twitter, forums, in pubs or in articles like this. The thing us moaners (and I do include myself in that group a lot of the time) have to remember is that it’s unlikely to change anything. Has a coach ever changed a system because there was a thread on a forum about it not working? Has a player ever been fired purely on the say so of some Twitter “expert”? I doubt it and that’s how it should be. We can voice our concerns and disapproval about what happens on the ice as much as we like but it shouldn’t change anything. The only person who should be making those decisions is the coach and he shouldn’t be listening to feedback because how the team plays and who plays in the team should be his decisions and his alone.

The other reason it’s a grey area is that the customer/supplier relationship you have with your hockey team is unlike any similar relationship outside sport. If you like Marmite and they change the flavour to something different that you don’t like you stop buying it and move on to something different like Bingham’s Meat Potted Beef. You don’t do the same with our hockey team. No one ever became a Steelers fan because Panthers hadn’t won the league for years (and if they did you wouldn’t want to know them anyway). Unlike your choice in spreads you can’t change brands. All you can do is stop supporting them and plenty of people do that, so all that’s left for those who keep watching the team if they don’t like what they see is moaning.

I forgot mention at the beginning of this article that not only can you end up writing about anything or the same thing, you can often end up writing about something different to what you thought you were going to say to the point where you can’t really remember what you were going to talk about in the first place. And once you realise that it’s usually time to wrap things up.

I think what I’ve been trying to say is this. There’s nothing wrong with wanting change from your club, you’re the customer at the end of the day and you have the right to say what you like, “you pays your money you makes your choice” but don’t be surprised if nothing happens. There are things you can influence and I would encourage anyone who has an opinion on those off ice matters to voice them. If you don’t like what you see your opinion is as valid as those who do. And as long as it’s constructive and not personal you should voice it. You might change things but the chances are you won’t and that might be a good thing. I’ll moan as much as the next man (with some exceptions) about what happens on the ice but deep down I’m glad no one is listening.

Why am I glad? Because, I know that if they were listening we’d be screwed!

You can follow Paul on Twitter @MrBalm

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