Speedway life is a beach for Edinburgh Monarchs right now, on track and off. Yet less than a year ago the Capital team lurched towards the financial cliff and were only pulled back from the brink by the generosity of their long-standing supporters.
But with this season only four months old, Monarchs are already drawing bigger crowds to Armadale helped by a series of initiatives which have put the fun back into Friday nights compared to the somewhat staid and routine presentation of days gone by.
Monarchs’ atendance figures are almost at the break-even mark which is testimony to a mountain of hard work put in by various individuals behind the scenes. For last week’s home clash against Leicester Lions, Monarchs organised a Beach Party themed evening and supporters responded in great numbers, including co-boss John Campbell, by getting kitted out in their Hawaiian shirts and shorts.
To some it might not have seemed like a big deal, but the feelgood atmosphere in the stadium was almost palpable and all the riders joined in the japery as well. Campbell is aware that much work is still needed to entice more people along, but says Monarchs are now heading in the right direction.
“We are in a much better position compared to the size of the crowds we got last season. We just need a few more, but our crowds are up almost 20 per cent compared to last year. A lot of things have had an effect so far this season. However, the greatest thing is always the weather. One of our best ideas was to introduce our mascot, Ed the Monarch, and he is proving to be as important a member of our team as the riders.
“A lot of people come along to see Ed – it’s not just children who love him – and his introduction has proved to be a huge positive.”
Campbell added: “We now have a substantially higher 5-18 age group who now attend than we had in 2012, although it’s still not a big proportion of the numbers who come along each week, but it’s a refreshing trend for the club and we are doing everything we can to make them come along every week.”
Monarchs admit they have been slow to react to the benefits of the social media, but Campbell revealed: “The Facebok/Twitter situation is entirely down to my two sons, but we also decided at the latter part of last year to put a news story on our official website every day which links into Facebook and we were running into almost 800 hits on the site each day.
“We are now up to 1500 hits per day because we change the story daily, and recently we had 2500 people looking at just one story. This has got to have a big effect on how we operate, simply because people are going on to our website to see what we are saying.
“Also on Facebook we put up a weekly poster advertising the club so that people can share that with friends and we had as many as 7000 people looking at it not so long ago.
“You couldn’t put enough hard copy posters in shop windows to get that audience, and these are the sorts of things that are helping to lift our crowds, but it’s important to maintain crowd levels as well.”
This year could be a bonanza time for the Monarchs team, who are through to two cup semi-finals and are in fourth place in the Premier League and well on target to make the end-of-season play-offs.
Campbell admits the club made a conscious decision in March to launch a publicity drive, which they have been averse to doing in the past, in a bold bid to implant the Monarchs’ name in the capital and West Lothian areas.
He said: “I always felt, if we had enough money, which we did, that this sort of thing would help, and we have been greatly assisted on track this season by our No. 1, Craig Cook, who has been great at simply winning races all the time.
“That is a big help, and of course our other riders are also contributing by doing great things on occasions.”
Asked if Monarchs were guilty of falling down previously when it came to the important matter of publicising the team, Campbell replied: “It’s all about developing ideas and having the people to see them through. I would say now we are miles ahead of anybody else in terms of what we are doing in the social media area, and when I see what some of our rivals are doing, they should sit down and take a look at our efforts, because it doesn’t cost anything, other than somebody’s time.
“On the British Speedway Forum, for instance, there is constant criticism of club promoters who don’t promote. Edinburgh cannot be accused of that this season. The Beach Night idea was fun and caught everybody’s attention and we have other similar plans in the pipeline for later in the year.”
Monarchs are certainly riding something of a crest right now and Campbell admits the fixtures have worked out in their favour in terms of building their attendance numbers.
“We are in the marvellous situation at the moment that all the best teams in the league are arriving at our track,” he said. “We host Ipswich Witches on Friday in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final, and they are the best team in the country right now. It’s going to be another tough meeting for us, but it’s also another great attraction for our fans.
“In stark contrast, last year when we going well and were on a good run, it seemed to rain every Friday, and our crowds went down. It’s so different this year and everyone connected with the club is buzzing over the prospect that the second half of the season promises so much for our team and our supporters.”