Being there…

One thing I’ve been truly thankful for during Lockdown is the continuation of Premier League football. I have to admit though, watching the games without fans in the stadium has taken some getting used to. I started off thinking it was terrible! Huge empty stadiums without fans cheering, singing or shouting at the referee just seemed wrong. Players even appeared to treat some games more like training ‘kickabouts’ losing any sense of spectacle or occasion. More Sunday League than Premier League. I, like many, started to worry about The Beautiful Game.

Thankfully things have improved a little. We’re now into the final phase of the season and it’s leading to some typical ‘seat of the pants’ drama around Champions League qualification and potential relegation. Normal(ish) service has been resumed. Phew! 

I now even find myself accepting the ‘fake fan’ noise, which has come on leaps and bounds since the comedy balls-ups at the start of the season.  

This got me thinking about fans in general and what impact the lack of fans in the stadium has had on performance. Statistically, there’s evidence that shows over the course of a normal season, clubs will win more games at home than away. With no fans therefore you’d expect this advantage to disappear, however results don’t necessarily support this view.

Liverpool FC we’re last year’s runaway PL champions, undefeated in a record-breaking run of 68 home games. During lockdown however, without their ‘12th man’ at the KOP, they have remarkably lost 9 (nine) PL home games. Teams arriving at Anfield are now feeling more confident and no longer appear to be overwhelmed and pressurised into making errors. The lack of fans looks like it’s made a difference on Merseyside!

Conversely, and more strangely, there’s also evidence of some clubs performing better without their home support present! West Ham for example, who had a dismal home record last season, have been posting impressive home wins during lockdown. Not such great news for fans wishing to rush back to the stadium!

Clearly, results, good or bad, cannot be exclusively attributed to the lack of fans. Far from it. There are many other factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as new managers, new players, tactical changes etc. all of which are more likely to have a greater impact upon performance than the presence of fans in a stadium.

We may never be able to accurately quantify any impact of fans on performance during lockdown, but one thing is certain, a fan-less stadium looks wrong and frankly, very sad! I’ve missed seeing fans in stadiums as much as I’ve missed being a fan supporting my own team, Southampton, at St Mary’s stadium.

I can’t wait to get back to the terraces with fellow fans to start feeling the tension, drama (and frequent disappointment!) first-hand once again. Anthropologists and sociologists will tell us that fandom is a deep rooted, social and ritualistic behaviour that’s part of our human nature and indeed our very identity. Being in the stadium might not make a difference to my team, but it sure makes a difference to me!

Thinking inside the box

A friend of mine recently received a fantastic present through their letterbox. Not a free flight to New Zealand or an Invisibility cloak, but something nevertheless rather nice: a bottle of red wine. Posted. Through the letterbox.

‘Letterbox wine’ is part of a growing trend within the gifting world to create versions of products that are small/squidgy/slim enough to push through your letterbox and delight the receiver. Letterbox flowers are another good example.

Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen lots of different brands adapting and changing due to COVID. I’m sure you are aware (or maybe users) of the plethora of new apps that have been developed (e.g. House Party, Noom and even contact-tracing). Then we have the prolific music industry, where artists have united millions of viewers around the world through online gigs and special releases. But something I’ve found particularly innovative and somewhat amusing is how brands have become more inventive to help you send gifts directly to others … through the letterbox.

Being ‘locked’ inside has created a delightful opportunity to treat others in a way that we haven’t seen before. Sending something directly from your home to theirs opens up a whole new world of gifting. Rather than grabbing a doughnut with a friend at your favourite fairground, or sharing a brownie slice from your local café, you can simply click online and deliver one straight into someone’s house. Doughnuttime and The Dessert Box Co., for example, nail this idea with their affordable, letterbox-friendly gifts providing an extra little treat.

The drinks industry has also risen to the challenge particularly well. We’ve seen the likes of flat-pack whisky, for example Master of Malt who send miniature tasting packs, and an exciting new craze of letterbox cocktails to ‘change it up on the weekend’ by building your own cocktail night, (e.g. Mothership). Now we even have wine: look out for rectangular-shaped wine, in a recycled plastic bottle, that slips right through your letterbox. Letterboxwine.

All of these are great examples of how organisations are adapting to the pandemic, attempting to zig while others zag and displaying true characteristics of creativity, or to put it another way, ‘thinking inside the box’!

Is this the future? Miniaturised, malleable versions of our favourite brands/products designed to slip nicely through our letterboxes? There are certainly some good arguments in favour of the trend. Not only are there huge reductions on packaging, i.e. no more hefty boxes, with unnecessary, wasteful fillings (which is a huge bonus), but also, you don’t even need to be in the house to receive your lovely gift!

I am slightly hesitant, though. What if your letter box is too small? What if the carefully designed product simply doesn’t fit? Then it would be delivery as normal, dropped on your doorstep (or thrown over the side gate). All that excitement thrown away. I guess that’s a risk that every brand owner takes when designing their products. Or perhaps this opens up a new opportunity for house builders, architects and door manufacturers, to modify the size and shape of letterboxes in the future? Are we creating a doorway (literally) for new innovation?

My final thought is around taste. Wine aficionados (and correct me if I’m wrong) would probably turn their noses up at the idea of a flat-packed plastic bottle of their favourite tipple. The concept actually takes me back to college years, sat on the bus sipping wine from a water bottle on route to a party. I think I’ll simply have to try one to find out!

Anyway, back to the reason I decided to talk about letterbox wine in the first place. We all love receiving gifts from people and we especially love receiving gifts that make us think “Wow!”. Gifts that are creative. So, maybe thinking ‘inside the box’ is the future? What about groceries? Inflatable furniture? Flat pack SDA’s? Foldable footwear? I’ll let your minds wander.

This piece was written as part of the AQR In Brief series (March 2021) for AQR members.