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How I came to love football

My relationship with football pretty much fits the Kübler-Ross model to a T. I have tried to deny its existence. I have felt anger over the seeming incessant number of games. I’ve unsuccessfully bargained over social arrangements during various tournaments:

“Pleeeease can we go to a pub without a big screen for once?” And then there’s the depression I felt that so many people could throw such fervour and adulation into such triviality. When acceptance finally arrived, it was more in the form of lethargy and stoicism than recognition and acknowledgement.

While the Kübler-Ross model concludes at stage five, I have stumbled upon stage six: I’ve got a bit of a crush on football!

My love affair began at Aqueduct, an agency who have a handful of clients in both the Premier League and Championship. As their Head of UX, it was only a matter of time before I was assigned to work with one of them.

The format of most projects is that the client and user bring the domain knowledge to the table, and the agency brings the strategic, creative, digital and technical expertise into the mix. As a UX professional it is my role is to absorb sufficient domain knowledge to be able to confidently recommend useful, usable and delightful solutions. By becoming a ‘pseudo-expert’ I can empathise with the desires, the pains, the attitudes and the behaviour of both the user and the client.

Here’s what I did to develop my crush:

  • Academic research

  • Quantitative research

  • Qualitative research

  • Experiential learning

Academic research

Being an academic at heart, my first port of call is always theoretical literature. I located numerous articles, papers and texts written on the psychology of sports fans. There’s a LOT out there and it’s fascinating stuff! Football is definitely  not just a game. It is identity forming. It is raw emotion inducing. It is community building. It is self esteem elevating.

The emotions of football fans have been classified into two categories – BIRGing (Basking in Reflected Glory) and CORFing (Cut Off Reflected Failure). BIRGing is considering a team’s victory as one’s own and enjoying the slice of glory that comes with it. CORFing, on the other hand, is the feeling of shame at the loss of the team one roots for.

Researchers have deduced that fans go through major physiological changes while watching their teams perform. Studies have shown that fans experience 20% increase in testosterone levels when their team is winning, leading to feelings of euphoria, while a 20% decrease in testosterone levels during a losing situation which causes stress. Such a contrasting range of changes in the body during a short span of time is believed to be dangerously addictive. As a result, once a true fan commits to a team there is no going back. The roller coaster ride of highs and lows leaves them craving evermore. (Eric Simmons – The Washington Post)

My knowledge of ‘fun football facts’ is growing ever more bounteous, and for the first time in my life I’m performing above zero in the sports round of the pub quiz.

Quantitative research

Analytics provided the core demographic data that would later inform my personas. I looked at age, location, gender, device and time of visit to give a rough sketch of the user and their browsing habits. I start to identify behavioural patterns by looking at entry & exit pages, user journeys, popular landing pages, search terms, pages per visit, dwell time and bounce rate. I can then make assumptions about how they use the site, what they are looking for, and how well it integrates into their lifestyle.

Qualitative research

Having spent hours digesting literature and data, it was a delight to finally start speaking to the fans. The people that I had been observing from a distance were now sat in front of me. They have names, families, pets and pastimes. They have likes, dislikes, loves and hates. They tell me about their passion for football and their connection to the club. It’s infectious. And I finally begin to understand what it means to be a fan. I plot the attitudes of the users against the behaviour that I observed in the analytics and begin to identify where they match up and where they conflict. What a user tells you they will do and what they actually do can be wildly different. Snippets of our conversations are pulled into personas and empathy maps. Soon I will have portraits of the fans for my team to get acquainted with.

Experiential learning

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” -Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Knowledge comes from experience. And so what better way to learn than to climb into the skin of a fan. This is not a traditional UX research method, but I believe that to truly understand a user you must walk in their shoes for a day. So to become a Rangers fan, I toured the Loftus Road Stadium. I watched some of the greatest QPR moments on YouTube. I indulged in the club history. I digested match reports. I even dressed my children in the team kit. Just, you know, to see what it felt like. My final right of passage is to attend a match. I’ve got my outfit sorted and I’m planning a manicure in club colours. It’s all part of the research phase… honest.

Come on The Hoops!

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