A free wi-fi network is helping fans, staff and sports journalists interact with each other and the wider world at the UK’s biggest member-owned football club, FC United of Manchester.
When FC United of Manchester was looking to develop its own stadium, the club wanted to deliver not simply a football venue but a facility that benefited the whole community. It’s a philosophy that lies at the very heart of the club set up as a community benefit society, a structure which means it is run not solely to serve its members but the interests of the wider community.
Thus Broadhurst Park, FC United’s new £6.3m home in North Manchester, is not just there for when Saturday comes, but supports a wide range of activities, from accredited adult education courses for local unemployed people, to play schemes and breakfast clubs for youngsters.
Explaining the reasoning behind the club’s founding in 2005, General Manager Andy Walsh says: “Football was becoming financially beyond the reach of very many ordinary people, so we wanted to create a club that addressed those issues. It was no good just sitting in the pub complaining. Having a football club that was established as a community benefit society with one member one vote, was a key part of that, to actually make sure the fans had a say in how the football club was established. We then also wanted to make sure that the community were involved.”
It’s a philosophy that also led the National League North club to invest in a free wi-fi network at its 4,400 capacity ground, a move that enables both home and away fans to access the internet and make use of social media on match days. This then saw the club partnering with Pennine Telecom, a data and telecommunications specialist which not only shares FC’s community-centred values but could offer extensive wi-fi networking expertise.
The Bury-based company’s engineers visited Broadhurst Park whilst it was still being developed and installed a network comprising a Motorola RFS6000 wireless service controller and AP7532 access points linked to both internal and external antennas to ensure coverage across stands, offices and wider facilities. The network operates across two tiers, one serving fans and a second conference facility dedicated to FC staff and the press pack.
On Pennine’s recommendation FC also opted to incorporate Purple WiFi software which, by providing fans internet access through their social media, helps the club communicate more effectively with supporters. It also enables communications via SMS text messaging,
“We chose to have free fan wi-fi here in the ground to improve the fans experience of coming to a game, explains Andy Walsh. “Good communications are vital for a supporter-owned club like ours and we wanted to give our fans, the club’s owners, the opportunity to participate in real time on social media when they come to matches. Our Facebook page has over 840,000 likes and we have over 64,000 Twitter followers, so social media is a really effective way for our supporters to engage.”
Indeed since the network was installed and the ground inaugurated by visiting Portuguese giants Benfica, the club has benefited in a surge of social media interest, its Facebook likes increasing by over 140,000 and Twitter followers by more than 9,000.
Sophie Tierney-Kenyon, a FC fan since day one, is among those championing the service. “The free fan wi-fi is brilliant!” she enthuses. “I’ve been to loads of clubs following FC around, and when I supported Premier League football, and I’ve never been to anywhere that does the same thing.”
So is FC United Business Development Manager Amanda Tudor who welcomes the flexibility a reliable and far reaching network offers. “It is really useful for both office and coaching staff to access wi-fi within the building because it means we’re able to work anywhere. We do work on laptops and can even go and work in the stand if we want to.”
One person who might be spotted on the terraces tapping on his keyboard is Press and Communications Officer, Andy Walker. “The wi-fi here at Broadhurst Park is proving very reliable,” he reports. “Our conference wi-fi, that I use to update our social media feeds and website, is seamless.” He’s delighted too at the response from the many journalists who have reported from the ground.
“We get a lot of interest in the club from the press and the media and often get quite a number of journalists using our press box on a match day. They tap into our conference wi-fi facility which enables them to file stories, to update their social media and many of them have commented that the wi-fi facilities at Broadhurst Park are actually better than some grounds way above our level in the football pyramid.”
Pennine has also found the project rewarding as Managing Director Andrew Roberts explains: “When we heard about FC United’s vision for the new stadium at Broadhurst Park we just wanted to get involved,” he said citing Pennine’s own long commitment to reinvesting in the local community through projects such as the provision of a pioneering school home broadband and free public wi-fi network which serves a deprived estate in the company’s home town.
“To us FC United hold the same values, they want to support their local community, so it was a pleasure and a privilege to be one of their partners and provide this free wi-fi for them at Broadhurst Park”