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Jun 24, 2014

Man City regime gets it mostly right

ESPN FC's Mark Donaldson takes a look at the recently released 2014-15 Premier League fixtures, with a glimpse into Manchester United and Manchester City's upcoming campaigns.

When Manchester City were in the right place at the right time in the autumn of 2008, one worry often expressed by many an outsider was the concern that the club would become far removed from the fans. As the millions and millions of pounds were splashed out on improving the playing squad (or not improving it as some would argue with some of the early post-takeover signings), dissenting voices began to talk about the effect it would have on the supports -- or customers as they would most likely become known.

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The fans no longer mattered, right? The super-rich owners could do whatever they liked, without care of what anyone who'd followed the Blues for decades thought.

But back then nobody knew quite the extent of Sheikh Mansour's plans for his new toy. Most (myself included) expected investment to improve the first team squad and many (again, myself included) didn't foresee the development of East Manchester to go with it, creating jobs and opportunities for an impoverished area of the country.

In fact, television pundit Mark Lawrenson quite openly bemoaned how all of the money the Blues were blowing on players could have gone to help those in need by building a hospital or a school, for instance. Not forgetting that the owner's money is his to do what he likes with and there's no obligation for him to spend it on healthcare or education for others, it's worth noting that almost six years on there's a sixth form college under construction at the Etihad Campus.

But the concern that the fans would no longer matter (providing there were 47,000 people paying their way into matches) proved also to be unfounded. As the club has grown, the supporters' voices have never been more prevalent -- in fact, the fans are consulted more now than ever. And, while City do occasionally miss the mark when they're trying new things, there are many more hits.

Take the bloggers, for instance. Every club has them and they must be nuisances to all of the press offices up and down the country, asking for information on this or their position on that or for a comment on the other. While other clubs ignore them or begrudgingly deal with the queries and questions that arise from them with a quick email, City has actively encouraged them to critique the club by giving them a platform (albeit a heavily-vetted platform) to do it on the official website.

Not only that, but they are given access to the inside of the club -- bloggers and amateurs are routinely allowed to see new features to provide the club with both honest feedback in the style of a focus group and to give them genuine reviews and publicity. If it's rubbish, the club wants that to be said.

Sheikh Mansour has seen Manchester City win two Premier League titles since becoming owner of the club in 2008.
Sheikh Mansour has seen Manchester City win two Premier League titles since becoming owner of the club in 2008.

Even the video content that came with the rebranding of the club in 2008 is often over-looked. The club led the way with 'tunnel cam', a behind the scenes look at what happens in the tunnel on a match day. It's become the norm for the supporters to see free, high-quality video that they're now so comfortable with it that there have been complaints about it not being as good as it used to be.

The latest strategy the club has released involves next year's season tickets. It's nothing huge, but the access cards to the electronic gates at the stadium are customisable for the 2014-15 season, meaning fans can upload an image to the website that's personal to them. It's not a new idea in general, given credit cards have been doing it since the day someone had the bright idea to put a panda on the front of it, but it's a cute touch that other Premier League clubs haven't done.

Equally, some things don't go down as well -- the mass exodus of the North Stand in order to create a family-friendly end of the ground left plenty of noses out of joint. Then there was City Woman, a section of the website aimed at the female fans -- but so quite clearly sexist that it's amazing it didn't get anywhere near the bad press it deserved.

Ticket price rises weren't particularly welcome, either, but that was both to be expected and still fairly reasonable in comparison to costs at other Premier League grounds. The need to meet Financial Fair Play regulations isn't going to be forcing them down any time soon, either.

The early criticisms that the new plaything of Sheikh Mansour would become far removed from the supporters have since been proven unfounded. The club is leading the way with its relationship with fans and it's the little touches that make a huge difference. As is the way when new ideas and schemes are regularly being implemented, sometimes they are very much miss instead of hit. But that's far better than nothing being done at all.