Football League Conference – Improving the Disabled Fan Experience

The Football League and Level Playing Field (formerly NADS, the National Association of Disabled Supporters) are committed to addressing the issues and challenges faced by disabled supporters and driving forward the positive changes in the sport that will ensure an excellent fan experience for all supporters.

In order to help do this, Juice Learning were asked to develop and deliver an innovative, interactive and thought-provoking conference for football club representatives at Derby County’s impressive Pride Park Stadium.

The Challenge

Level Playing Field believe in the social model of disability; that is to say that it is not a person’s disability that puts them at a disadvantage compared to those without disabilities, but rather the social conditions within which that individual has to operate.

In the context of going to a football match, these ‘social conditions’ encapsulate the fabric of the stadium and its surrounding infrastructure; the ability to fully experience the match; the accessibility of facilities such as toilets, the club shop or concessions stands; and the attitudes of club staff towards people with disabilities.

A comprehensive ‘mystery fan’ process over a number of months had highlighted that many clubs were falling short in some of these critical areas, meaning that disabled fans visiting their grounds were receiving a  second class experience, sometimes bordering on the discriminatory.

Our Solution

The conference was designed by Juice to give participants a clear understanding of what it is like to be a disabled football fan, and to effectively present the legal, business, and moral cases for attending to the needs of this important customer base.

Based on a concept taken from the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, Juice created an experience for delegates before they even arrived at the event. Participants were arbitrarily allocated a classification, either non-disabled or disabled.

Those classified non-disabled received an exceptional experience from receiving their joining instructions, through convenient car parking spaces, to the warm welcome they received from the Pride Park ‘staff’, actually being played to great effect by Juice actors.

Those classified as non-disabled received a very different experience; late joining instructions, poor directions, distant parking spaces, rude staff, substandard refreshments, illegible delegate materials... all of which were analogous to or the direct experiences of disabled football fans across the country. This mechanism helped participants to actually feel the frustration and humiliation that some of their customers feel on a weekly basis, and provided a powerful start to the day.

Further pieces of theatre, including a simulated courtroom with genuine expert witnesses, enabled participants to explore concepts such as ‘reasonable adjustments’ and encouraged them to challenge the standard to which their clubs attend to the needs of their disabled fans. Sharing good practice and a tour of Pride Park enabled delegates to consider both practical and creative solutions to the challenges faced by disabled fans.

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