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IRX 2012: PREVIEW: Interview with Mark Stokes of Barnsley Football Club

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In our latest preview of one of our major events of the year, Internet Retailing Expo (IRX 2012), we have an interview with Mark Stokes, head of media, marketing and communications of Barnsley Football Club. Stokes will be speaking at the Fast Track Conference on March 21, the first day of the free-to-attend two-day event. In our interview he explains how Facebook has helped the club boost its revenues.

Using Facebook has helped Barnsley Football Club not only to get closer to its fans but also to boost its revenues. The Championship team now has about 10,000 fans on its Facebook page making it, says its head of media, marketing and communications Mark Stokes, a very useful way to stay in touch with fans.

“There’s a perception,” says Stokes, “that the club belongs to the people, to the fans. One of the things they want is more engagement with the club. This is a great way.” Not only can fans post general enquiries and comments that can get fast responses, but it’s also a way to let management know if something isn’t working on the website, and to take part in what’s going on. There’s a real sense of ownership, says Stokes. “That ownership gets the most out of people – they’ll buy more products off you, and spend more time involved in what the club’s doing,” he says. “They feel they’re helping to shape it.”

Thus when the club wants to develop a product, such as a t-shirt, Facebook fans comment on early designs and help to shape the final look, producing something that people want and that will sell. In something over a year around 3,000 t-shirts have been sold in this way through a Facebook shop powered by VendorShop. “Profit margins in t-shirts are quite high – you’re looking at over £30,000 extra revenue, so that covers me,” says Stokes. Among the t-shirts is the ‘keep calm and do the wiggle’ t-shirt, celebrating the wiggle dance performed by player Jim O’Brien. It has sold as far afield as Australia.

Turnover on the Barnsley Football Club on-demand video service has also risen by 50% in the current season, compared to last season. Again, the successful strategy has been to listen to what fans want and giving it to them. Featured videos include Come Dine with Me-style shows featuring different players and subscribers are encouraged to tell others what they think of it, both on Facebook and through fan forum sites. “It’s another person like themselves who’s really benefitted from it,” said Stokes. “That has more weight.”

Over the last year the club’s Facebook following has also grown quickly. Today, says Stokes, “we have more Facebook fans than people coming into the ground,” at around 10,000 Facebook fans compared to the average 7-8,000 Barnsley fans who turn out to a game. That makes Facebook a key way to keep in touch with fans both now and for the future.

Mark Stokes, head of media, marketing and communications of Barnsley Football Club, will be speaking at IRX 2012 alongside Chris Small, chief executive of VendorShop. Their presentation, Engaging and monetizing the fan base, will be in the Fast Track Conference at 1.30pm on March 21.

Entrance to IRX 2012, which will be held at the NEC in Birmingham on March 21 and 22, is free. More than 4,000 visitors are expected at the event, which features an exhibition of 150 suppliers to the ecommerce and multichannel industries alongside a two-day learning programme, Selling in the Digital Age.

The programme features four conferences, dedicated to Mobile and Social Commerce, Fast Track, Enterprise and Customer Experience, as well as a series of workshops, learning sessions and demonstrations of the latest technology.

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