February 14, 2013

How the wheel churns

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As we begin another year and enter another season of winter sports, the focus for professional sports clubs in Australia, who all rely heavily on fan membership nowadays, shifts from the renewal of existing members to the acquisition of new prospects – literally converting passionate supporters into card-carrying members.

The pre-season and early rounds of any professional sporting club’s fixture are vital when it comes to all aspects of their membership campaign. Signs of promise or better still, a few early wins and you can guarantee the membership department staff are all smiles. Not only will the tally counter continue to tick over, but the number of new prospects coming through the turnstiles is almost certainly going to increase. Unfortunately, what happens on-field cannot be orchestrated and in many instances rarely runs to plan.

Possibly the biggest challenge facing all professional sporting clubs in Australia is the churn rate of members year to year. This can sometimes be as high as 30 per cent for some clubs, and history shows that first and second year members are usually the most likely not to renew. The reasons for this are  many and varied, and in a lot of cases beyond the control of the club and its membership department.

However, research also suggests lapsed members very rarely come back – once you’ve lost them, they’re gone for good. Considering the numbers we’re talking here, up to 5000-6000 people per year for some clubs, the question should be ‘How do we stop the bleeding?’ before we worry about ‘How do we attract new members?’.

While lapsed member campaigns can’t be ignored, their likely success rate isn’t something you can hang your hat on. A better strategy would be to concentrate on making members’ experiences memorable and valuable – particularly new and second year sign ups – which may then hook them in for the long term.

And it’s not just members, the strategy should extend to new and casual game attendees – how can you engage them, and make their experience one that makes them want to come back next week and beyond? Because once again, what happens out on the field is beyond the control of virtually everyone bar the players, so if the fans turn up and their team loses, or worse, they’re bored or have a bad experience, there’s every chance you’ll lose the opportunity to either keep them, or convert them to, being members of your club.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to cost a fair chunk of your marketing budget to provide fans with ‘money-can’t-buy’ experiences on game days. Even if it is only a few people every week, multiplied by every home game of the season, can generate a massive amount of positive word of mouth and PR for the club.

Some examples of what could be done:

  • Choose kids and/or new members to walk out with, or form a guard of honour for the players each week. Most clubs do this in a limited form (i.e., once a season or one child per match), but this is an opportunity to involve a considerable number of fans on a regular basis. There is also a fair chance the friends and family of all those taking part would come along to witness the event.
  • Random lucky seat prizes where a lucky member(s), receives access to the rooms before the game and a seat in the President’s Function, escorted by a star player (who is injured at the time).
  • Two members are picked out of the crowd and brought down to the tunnel pre-game to meet and watch the team run out.
  • A number of members are chosen and upgraded to a corporate box or dining room experience hosted by an injured player, when there is availability.
  • First game certificates/vouchers and recognition for kids and new members.


Outside of match day, exclusive member benefits such as member only events, content and competitions will boost the perceived value that members feel they are getting for their money…

  • The chance to win a ticket to every Club Function for the year.
  • Train with the team and BBQ competition.
  • A loyalty rewards program for members where points can be redeemed for merchandise/vouchers or money can’t buy experiences.
  • Pre-release email and SMS news and offers.
  • Include members in decision-making via voting/questionnaires/focus groups or a dedicated members sub-committee that is consulted on various initiatives.


Any of these examples can be covered by and/or linked to sponsors, which improves the image and relationship of the Club and sponsor and can be targeted to specific member categories or demographics as required.

We must remember that for the average member or fan, the opportunity to meet and interact with their heroes, or to be granted access to the ‘inner sanctum’ is priceless. There are countless opportunities to extend these experiences to a Club’s fans and members – at little or no cost – that may make getting them to sign up next year an easy task.

Ask not what your fans can do for you, but what you can do for your fans… and you might just find the wheel stops churning.


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