When the Nationwide Building Society announced in May 1996 that it would launch a Web site dedicated to the 72 clubs outside the Premiership, it must have seemed like manna from heaven to the fans. Already, the first, second and third division teams were finding themselves increasingly overshadowed by the elite, and there was a danger that the only way to get instant information about them was via Teletext, Ceefax and the expensive club call phone lines that are, for some fans, their only lifeline to the club.
The Nationwide Football League Web site, when it's working properly, goes some way towards addressing the fans' needs. Scores from every match are posted and reports fed through from a Press Association newsfeed appear within half an hour of a match finishing. There is also a club page for all 72 clubs, each containing brief team details, club strips, ground addresses, travel information and key headlines. Unfortunately, the player profiles that were promised as the season progressed have still not arrived as the season draws to a close in April. Plans to create hyperlinks to other club sites were scotched because Nationwide was worried about its image.
The task of producing the site was initially given to a department within Nationwide called the Advanced Technology Group which had cut its teeth on the company's PC banking scheme and the building society Web site. However, it was decided that time and resources precluded the development of the site in-house and the design was contracted out to Motiv Systems, New Media Factory and ISP UUNet Pipex on whose servers the site is hosted. Despite the possibility that too many cooks might spoil the broth, Beverley Nolan, Project Manager at New Media Factory, admits the time frame was so tight that a consortium approach was the only way to meet the project's deadline.
According to Motiv, the scale of the task was daunting, which might account for the fact that on the day I chose to review the site, it wasn't fully functional. Clicking randomly on Watford, the message "document contains no data" appeared on the screen. Both Lincoln City, Wigan Athletic, Crewe Alexandra and 20 other clubs produced the same result. Alarmingly, an attempt to look at the league table ended with "serious error getting league details: connection error: database connection invalid, SQLError: (CODE 29) illegal seek", which looks suspiciously like a design problem. For the fans that rely so heavily on this site, mistakes like this must be very frustrating.
The pressure was on
With the go-ahead given at the beginning of July, the consortium had just five weeks to develop the site. Web pages had to be developed for each of the clubs while a match results service had to be built that could be updated automatically, with automated calculation of league table positions.
New Media Factory was responsible for project management and design, while Motiv developed a database for the match results information. The live results feed would be supplied by email with the emails sent in a preformatted structure. According to Jeremy Donaldson, Motiv's Business Development Manager, it was crucial that there be no discrepancies between the information on the Web site and the stats published by the league.
In all, some 500 pages were created for the site which went live on 16 August 1996, in time for the first game of the season. Not surprisingly, it's particularly popular with British expats. But Nolan is keen to stress that the site is not a finished product. "It's still evolving as feedback shows that fans want more interactivity."
The Nationwide Football League site looks good, but it has gone overboard with Nationwide's advertising. Over half the home page is dedicated to Nationwide mortgage offers. It also has some way to go before it can hope to compete with Carling, sponsor of the Premiership site. But if player profiles, transfer news and merchandising opportunities are added, it could be elevated to the Premier League of football sites.
Launch: August 96
Design: Motiv Systems and New Media Factory
Target Audience: Football fans, potential and existing Nationwide customers
Competitors: When Saturday comes.
Club sites (official and unofficial)
Setup: Hosted by UUNet Pipex
Size: Over 500 pages.
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