I’m gonna make a change, for once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right . .
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
Michael Jackson – Man in the Mirror
Full marks to Coventry for marketing itself so effectively these past few weeks.
In the past, I think it’s fair to say that the club hasn’t always appeared to communicate with the local community, and with Coventry supporters in particular, as effectively as some of us believed it could, especially in times when perhaps things weren’t going as well as we hoped they might.
A wall of silence manifested itself and when supporters were asking questions few, if any, answers were forthcoming. This was most evident back in December 2015 when Coventry was losing more games than it was winning, supporters were getting increasingly frustrated by performances on the pitch and as a result something of approaching schism developed between the two.Attendances dropped and it’s taken a while to see them begin to build up to anything approaching to kind of gates the club was enjoying back in 2014/15. Even so, the average gate last season was 1263, some 243 less than just three seasons ago.
A drop in numbers of supporters attending games is clearly as much about poor results as it is about a lack of faith in the club, but it’s taken Rowland Winter and his team 12 months to really impact on morale and confidence. After just six games into his tenure and four defeats, and despite RW’s warning that it would take the first half of the season to settle into any sort of consistent form, the jury was out…and deliberating hard.
The Messageboard was full of posts expressing a mixture of concern that things weren’t improving and pleas for calm to allow the players and coaches time to sort things out. The seventh game, which coincidentally or otherwise saw the debuts of the three Wasps Academy players, Willis, Howe and James, was a watershed moment and from thereon in, things improved rapidly.
I mention the past not to reopen some old scars but only to put into context the fairly dramatic changes that have taken place over the last 16 months or so. The decision to replace Scott Morgan as Head Of Rugby (I think that was his title back then), however sudden it was and however well it was, or was not, handled publicly at the time, was absolutely the right one – although it made those last few games of the 2015/16 season difficult viewing for many spectators who held many players and coaches in such high regard.
But the change was needed.
And in Rowland Winter, Jon Sharp not only found himself a DoR of great potential, he also unearthed an extraordinarily good communicator, someone who can reach out to the ordinary fan and appear to listen and respond in a way no other coach in my time as a Coventry supporter has been able to do.
He didn’t have the easiest of starts, making the decision not to renew the contracts of a good 20 plus players, many of whom were favourites with the Coventry faithful. It could have gone so horribly wrong had it been handled differently. But RW’s policy was an extremely astute one, he went out of his way to speak publicly, initially through the Coventry Telegraph and then on his official arrival at the club directly to the supporters, to explain why he was making such wholesale changes and to present his vision of a club committed to bettering itself in every area of its work, both on the field and off it.
And he matched his words with deeds, bringing in quality coaches and a group of young players that were hungry for success. Changes he said he would make quickly came about, the Supporters’ Club re-emerged to create an added interest and excitement amongst the supporters. After a slow start, results on the field improved and we saw some really strong performances before Christmas, culminating with THAT win against Moseley in front of 2712 ecstatic (for the most part) supporters.
A few games were won with the final passage of play, others by half time with Coventry earning the bonus point in the first 20 minutes. It was exciting rugby.
A little bit of luck and a lot of judgement saw Coventry on a high by the half way point of the season, despite that poor start and the loss of two key figures in coaches Brendon Snyman and James Pritchard.
Throughout last season, and continuing on into the current pre-season, RW has engaged in open dialogue, wherever and whenever he has met with supporters wanting to talk Cov. I’ve yet to see, him avoid answering a question and that has been a big factor in restoring a degree of trust between the club and its supporters.
At one of the very first fans’ forums, Rowland Winter spoke of his desire to overhaul the official website, wanting it to better represent the voice of the club and promising big changes.
Overhauled it was and in one of the best examples of recruitment of the 2016/17 season, the club installed John Wilkinson as its media manager.
Six months before John’s appointment supporters were angry and frustrated at the lack of information coming out of the club, with little or no explanation of team selections and no overview from the coaches as to what was happening. As a result of JW’s commitment to the cause, the club now provides perhaps two or three weekly reports from coaches and players during the season, reviews of the last match or previews of the next, together with updates on injuries, training and anything else relevant to supporters.
Suddenly, questions that had formerly been asked on the messageboard, and often remained unanswered by the club, were being addressed even before they were raised publicly.
‘Angry of Allesley’ had his, or her, thunder stolen well before the first darkening clouds appeared on the Messageboard.
The doubters have stopped doubting, at least in public, and the malcontents have become if not content, then certainly less ‘mal’.
The downside of all this is that unfortunately the Messageboard seems to have stopped being a forum for real discussion and attracts very few new posters these days, which is a great shame.
However, at times, some of the wrangling on the MB probably did the club no favours, especially in the eyes of supporters from other clubs coming over to take a peak at what was happening, so as a marketing exercise alone, John’s appointment and the great job he and RW have done since in silencing the critics, actually deserves rather more credit than it sometimes gets.
It was something of a masterstroke.
And Cov is continuing to learn from the mistakes it made a while back in terms of reaching out to its supporters and the build up to the new season seems to be far more public than I can ever remember. At the forefront of this is Coventry’s willingness, albeit rather late on, to embrace the Internet in all its forms.
Take the official club website for instance…
Enter the site and your eyes are immediately drawn to the countdown clock, counting down the weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds to the first home game of the season – Moseley.
3 weeks, one day, 23 hours, 17 minutes and 25 seconds to be precise when I just popped across to check.
It’s a great way to heighten the expectation of the supporters. 2712 packed themselves into the BPA for the fixture last season and left having watched a thoroughly enthralling game – one that won Coventry, and Moseley, plenty of plaudits. With average gates of 1250 last season, there are 1500 supporters out there, admittedly some of them will be from Moseley,although not too many, who could well be enticed back on the back of that last game.
And at the start of the season, a good offer from the club on season tickets (perhaps opening up that original early bird offer once again), might see another 50 or a 100 regulars on the gate over the course of the season. So it’s hardly surprising that Cov are advertising the game so widely.
And for those supporters like me for whom that one game means so much, well it just adds to the excitement.
Of course the Moseley game is becoming something far bigger than just the 4 or 5 points at stake. Rightly or wrongly, it’s becoming synonymous with the hopes and expectations of the season ahead. A win against Moseley woll undoubtedly set us up for weeks after and supporters want to be there to witness it.
Cov must know that a victory in the Mose game will add a couple of hundred onto the next home gate and probably the next couple after that…and if we keep winning, well who knows.
It is the perfect opening home fixture for us.
And the club is also using Twitter as well to promote the game. Those of you who have a Twitter account will almost certainly have come across the following tweet.:
And it’s a really strong image, too. Whoever came up with it has played a blinder…
Coming as the tweet does from Cov, you’d expect the key words to be Coventry, Rugby and Club, but it’s Moseley that has the largest font and in a red background (blood red presumably) it is the central focus. That, together with the excellent tagline of ‘New Season Old Enemy’ conveys something of a battle royal between the two sidesm as well as reinforcing the history between these two great clubs. The image of crowd favourite, Rob Knox, will go down well, too, particularly with the supporters who we might have lost over the last couple of seasons but who will remember what an exciting player he is when he has ball in hand and running at opposition defences.
Enough to come back?
The background, looks like a cross between shattered glass, again an allusion to the destructive nature of Knoxy and of the team as a whole, and the turbulence caused by something running at great speed. It makes a clear statement of intent, as does the determined look on Rob’s face.
Cov haven’t gone overboard on advertising the sponsors either in terms of the amount of space used up on the image, ensuring that the message is there, loud and clear, for all to hear.
Game #1 and Cov are back stronger and more determined than ever and the old enemy had better watch out.
It’s certainly a tweet that has caught the imagination of the players and staff at Cov, with more likes, retweets and comments resulting from it than I can ever recall…
Here are just a couple…firstly from Team Manager, Tony Gulliver: ‘Come on fellow #CovSkins get the date in ur diary Bring ur mates along to d #BPA 1st Home match this season #CoventryRugby #PleaseRetweet‘
With the prize for the best comment going to Matt Price – a classic: ‘Retweet & like this pic for a chance to go on a date with everyone’s favourite Rob Knox & win a free ticket to the Moseley game!
Many players and people connected with the club have retweeted it and whilst it hasn’t gone viral by any means, as a result of seeing it retweeted so many times, all Cov’s 5447 followers will be well aware of both the game and what it means to the club…
Great, great marketing and good to see the players playing their part too.
With Cov doing everything they can to ensure a large and expectant crowd, they look to have an advantage early on in the run up to the game.
Will the attendance reach that 2712 back last December?
Hard one to call…the proximity to Christmas was very telling back then, but if Cov can do well against Rotherham and beat Hull in the opening league game, then there’s every chance. And if it does break the previous National 1 record at the BPA, a lot of that will be down to the way the club has been so proactive in the build up to the game which is, after all, still some three weeks away.
Great job, Cov.
If ever a song applied to Cov in recent years, well this has to be it, surely…
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a chang
Gonna feel real good now
You know it
Make that change.
Jackson was losing the plot by the time this version of the song was recorded at the Grammies