LONDON — The Broncos' season has not gone according to plan, but the importance of their Week 8 contest has not lessened.
While the matchup vs. the Jaguars is a critical one to return to the win column, Broncos President Damani Leech said this week also represents an important opportunity to connect with fans who don't live in the Denver area.
"Clearly our focus — number one — is on our fan base in Denver, in Colorado, but we definitely want to grow," Leech said. "We talk about Broncos Country — it's borderless. It may not even be a country. It's global. We've got, I think, 25,000 fans on Facebook from the UK. So we're going to have some events for them over the course of the weekend. We'll be at a pub downtown. Just a really good opportunity to connect with them. I've met a few, we saw some at the airport. I met one yesterday in the hotel gym. For them, this is their first — and for many, only — opportunity [in 12 years] to see a regular-season game live and interact and it's really important for us, and I take that seriously."
The Broncos' main focus, of course, is to win a football game — but Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett also recognizes the importance of expanding the Broncos' brand.
"It's incredible," Hackett said of playing in London. "Just the fans that are here and being here all the time and in that stadium. It's an electric environment. People love the game here. They're so spirited and excited. It's great for our players to see that. For the branding of the game, that's what you're looking for as much as you can — to expand it and have everybody enjoy it as much as we do."
The game, though, is for more than just the fans in attendance. Players like Justin Simmons are also appreciative of the opportunity for the Broncos to travel across the pond.
"For me, that's what's so cool about the game of football," Simmons said. "There's so many things that have happened. Obviously the question of, like, would I have ever been to London? Maybe. But I'm out here enjoying a whole other country because of football. I'm experiencing culture. I practiced today at [Harrow School] where Winston Churchill went to school. That to me is surreal. It puts things in perspective. I'm just blessed and thankful. Who knew being talented at a sport could bring so many joys?"
Of course, the Broncos' trip across the pond would be accentuated by a win.
"It would feel great," Hackett said of winning in London, "but we just want to win, regardless of where we're at or what country we're in. Just being here is a special place to be."
'WE DON'T TAKE IT FOR GRANTED'
In the midst of the Broncos' tough start to the season, Leech said he's impressed upon his staff the importance of working even harder to ensure the fan experience. Leech and Co. have used a data-driven approach to try to improve the game-day process, and they're constantly evaluating the effectiveness of their method.
"So one of the things we do is we play a home game, and within 48 hours, we've collected all the data, we put on a dashboard, share it with ownership, and we're tracking everything from when fans arrive, when fans leave, how many hotdogs we're selling, how many people are watching, and how we're doing on social media," Leech said. "We monitor that all season long. We meet as a senior staff and talk about what are we doing to make things better. Everything from fan egress to the parking lot, all of those things so broadly we're focused on making every game as good as it can be driveway to driveway for our fans. Obviously, I don't control what happens on the field, but I'm aware of it. My message to our staff is understanding what's happening. We have to continue to work harder to earn and maintain the excitement and enthusiasm of our fans. We're incredibly lucky. We have 70,000 fans who show up every game. So we're incredibly blessed, but we don't take it for granted."
Asked how the data figures into the decision about a stadium, Leech said that "ownership is going to drive" a long-term plan for Empower Field at Mile High.
"I think our focus is more about how do we make improvements week to week and year to year and the fan experience," Leech said. "When we send out surveys, we get hundreds of surveys after every game, the feedback we get from that certainly impacts what we try to do in the following week but also as we think about plans for next year."