What is a football club if it’s not playing football? A lot, it turns out. As COVID-19 forced the postponement of the football season, we pivoted quickly to support and entertain our fans as many were forced to stay at home and adapt to lockdown conditions.

As restrictions began and the world went instantly virtual, we went with it. Within two weeks of the first lockdown announcements, we launched ‘Cityzens at Home’, a dedicated online resource to enable fans to remain close to the Club whilst we were apart, including fun educational resources, links to the latest government guidance, and a special video message from Pep Guardiola to help keep spirits up.

We produced pre-match, half-time and post-match TV shows, ‘We’re Not Really Here’, all live from the Etihad Stadium, and featuring City legends providing live match analysis and commentary. We organised watch-at-home parties during live games so fans could connect with one another, and aired famous past games, selected by players and fans, for ‘CITY+ Watch Together’ virtual gatherings. CITY+ was made free for the entire Premier League season break. Meanwhile, Sergio Agüero delivered a Spanish lesson for children on the BBC’s education channel, BBC Bitesize.



“BBC Bitesize Daily was designed to help UK families up and down the country, during the most challenging time of national lockdown. Sergio Agüero’s contribution – which he delivered with such enthusiasm – was a real highlight of our programme. He helped to engage countless children in their Spanish studies and brought a smile to the face of everyone who watched it.”
Alice Webb, Director of BBC Children’s and Education

Knowing that many people were isolated, we consulted with Age UK and with our safeguarding team, and our staff and players made more than 3,000 phone calls to our Seasoncard holders over the age of 60. A full refund was made for the seven postponed home games that were played behind closed doors.

As a tribute to the many amazing people who are helping us through this crisis through their hard work and unselfish dedication to keeping us safe and well, we replaced our Etihad Player of the Month with a new Cityzen of the Month award to recognise the efforts of those fans – from NHS heroes and supermarket workers, to charity workers and teachers – who had gone the extra mile during the pandemic.

We created a ‘design your own kit’ competition with PUMA, won by nine-year-old Lucy from Dublin. The competition had thousands of entries, and a shortlist of four was put to Cityzens to vote. Lucy’s winning design was made into a shirt, and Sergio Agüero got in touch to congratulate her personally.

Esports became an even more important connector for younger fans. In a digital first, we launched the City Football Group (CFG) EA SPORTS FIFA 20 challenge, in which CFG’s esports teams, pro FIFA players and fans put their skills to the test on the virtual pitch, with nine hours of competitive FIFA action broadcast on Twitch. Players from Manchester City’s men’s and women’s teams took part, including Sergio Agüero, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Georgia Stanway and Ellie Roebuck, and we also teamed up with FaZe Clan to see their player FaZe Tass go head-to-head with City’s Shellzz. The event included the announcement of CFG’s first female professional FIFA player, Xiao Jie.

As we geared up for the Premier League restart, we produced a documentary, ‘Project Restart’, so fans could follow the process of getting the players back to training. The film was aired on Sky and NBC, bringing it to wider football audiences in the UK and US.



“I always love a look behind closed doors. It helps us all feel closer to the club – we’re not just a corporation, we’re a family united across the world.”
Fan, Cityzens Voice
Read More

WE’RE NOT REALLY HERE: CREATING STUDIO GAMES



Jeremy Maxton, Head of Events

“We know how important the stadium atmosphere and fan support are to the players, and we know how important the close connection is for fans, so our starting point was ‘How do we make this feel real?’

We started by setting up workshops across the business to come up with a list of ideas and ended up with more than 250. A smaller team then assessed and ranked every idea, and we settled on ten initiatives which we started testing and planning for.

We used our global network to look at what leagues had done around the world to see what worked and what didn’t, and what we might want to do differently.

Having fans at the centre of the action from a player and a broadcast perspective was really important to us, so we had screens using Cisco technology, so-called ‘Wonder Walls’, integrated right at the side of the pitch, so that players and fans would be visible together on TV.

We worked with the winner of the 2019 City Start Up Challenge, Salsa Sound, to create a bespoke crowd noise DJ platform using real Manchester City crowd noises. This alternative soundtrack to the one used by the main broadcasters gave viewers on our own digital channels a more authentic experience. This was highly appreciated by fans: 91% of them rated our artificial crowd noise as excellent, good or okay.

We also incorporated more than 10,000 fan images and faces, and names of supporters clubs all around the stadium and in the player tunnel, so the players could feel the support, and knew exactly who they were playing for, despite the distance.”

WE’RE NOT REALLY HERE: CONNECTING FANS TO STUDIO GAMES



We wanted to bring fans close to the action despite not being able to attend games in person, and help provide some sense of normality, despite the entirely abnormal situation. Never before has ‘We’re Not Really Here’ felt so appropriate.

During the period when matchdays were virtual, we created a virtual matchday programme too. We recognised that this would not be enough for paper ticket collectors, so we also created special limited edition commemorative tickets so that no collections would be lacking.

We produced pre-match, half-time and post-match TV shows, all live from the Etihad Stadium, featuring City legends from Joleon Lescott and Shaun Wright-Phillips to Richard Dunne, Shaun Goater and Paul Dickov. These shows were made possible with the support of our partners Etihad (for pre-match and half-time shows) and Nexen (post-match shows). Together, they attracted more than 14 million video views from our fans.

Official Supporters Clubs held online watch parties, with each branch being able to host their own party, regardless of geography, thanks to the Cisco technology that we made available. And Cityzens submitted thousands of photos which were displayed throughout the stadium to support the team in our largest ever user-generated content initiative to date.



“I like the connection with fans and bringing fans closer to the team virtually when we can’t be there at the stadium.”
Fan, Cityzens Voice