If only Stoke City FC had its fans’ creativity

I really don’t like the word ‘content’. It feels like a cynical, throwaway word YouTubers use to talk about their job. “I’m a content creator”, says a millionaire teenager who screams at a video game for a job. Good for you, but just say you make videos. ‘Content’ indeed. It’s also such a mediocre way to describe human creative output. I can’t imagine the Charlotte Brontë saying: “Wuthering Heights was great content, Emily, I’m creating some content called Jane Eyre at the moment”. Top influencers, the Brontë sisters (except Anne, who was in it for the merch). Anyway, I feel obligated to use ‘content’ here as an all-encompassing term for magazines, fanzines, videos, podcasts and anything ‘fan media’, so forgive me.

Over the past ten years, there has been an explosion in football club ‘content’. It is now no longer enough to keep producing a matchday programme (programmes incidentally, seem to be going the way of the wooden rattle and knitted scarves). Now, football clubs need to have an active social media presence. They need to be active, and reactive. They can’t just be funny on Twitter, they need to produce audio or video consistently and they need it to be of a high standard. Why is it important? Perhaps it isn’t. I’d rather my club’s time and energy went into matters on the pitch. However, in an age where footballers and football fans have less and less contact, ‘content’ offers fans access to a club that is essential for fostering a connection – particularly important for younger fans yet to have properly fallen in love with their side.

Which brings us to Stoke City. One thing to make clear is that I do not want to criticise the hard work the media team do. I believe any deficiencies with our off the pitch offering lie with a lack of resources, so this isn’t singling out anyone for individual criticism. Whilst I’m here, I should also mention that Jon Sidaway in the last couple of seasons produced two spine-tingling videos that were expertly put together.

Stoke have struggled on the content front though. YouTube series’ are short-lived, with good ideas seemingly shelved after a couple of weeks. Even on Twitter, the club account can sometimes adopt a strange or sometimes hostile tone towards fans. Outside of this, the club’s streaming service for games last year was borderline ridiculous – and the outlook for this season isn’t much better considering last week we were watching a home friendly on Leicester City’s website.

It’s Stoke – nothing’s going to be all singing and dancing, bells and whistles perfect. The media output just feels like there’s no strategy or direction to it. Like it’s being done reluctantly because it has to. Yet there’s a huge resource for creating fan engagement that the club haven’t tapped into – the fans themselves.

QPR at home sees the final ever issue of The Oatcake fanzine, a mainstay of going to the game for an incredible 31 years. At one time the only home of quality Stoke writing, The Oatcake thrived for so long because it was funny, honest and engaging – something you’d do well to find in a matchday programme.

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It sails off into the sunset having helped inspire a pack of Stoke City media that is continually growing and evolving. There’s Duck, The BearPit, Stoke Loud and Proud, our humble selves and new channels and projects like The YYY Files, Expected Kilns and plenty more besides that each offer something different. Books like Stoke and I: The Nineties and The Tony Waddington autobiography are also recent examples of what an articulate and thoughtful bunch our fans are. Joe Barbieri and Topher Knowles are producing better artwork than anything the club has done. The drive and creativity that the people behind these things demonstrate should embarrass the club when it comes to what it produces either online or in print.

This even extends to matchday too. As nice as having Delilah piped out the tannoy was, the QPR game will (fingers crossed) be the dawn of the biggest improvement to the bet365 stadium matchday since we moved from the Vic. I’m of course referring to UNITA 1863, which looks better and better with every banner and every swapped season ticket. The thought of banners,  sitting like-minded fans together and generally getting a proper atmosphere back in a stadium long starved of it, simply wouldn’t have occured to the club. Like so much else, it just feels like too much effort for them. The fact we’ve finally got card payments after all this time feels like a minor miracle.

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With Stoke’s lack of off-the-pitch creativity laid bare, involving these already established fan outlets could surely work as a temporary fix. Every Stoke ‘content creator’ (spit) I know would relish the chance to work with the club on a creative project, but the club have given us little reason to be optimistic for any potential collaboration. Understandably, given that you do often want a distinction between fan-produced stuff and the ‘official’ voice of the club, but when the club’s offering is so limited why not look for willing participants?

I’m not angling for a Wizards of Drivel interview with Nathan Jones (I am). Instead, I’m suggesting that much of the criticism directed at The Potters off the pitch could be alleviated by actually listening to the fans, rather than nodding along at Supporters’ Council sessions.

Supporters are reminded that Delilah’s Bar is open post-match.

 

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