The rise and fall of the local Sports Club
Most of my life has been in and around sports clubs. In the Adelaide Hills where I grew up, sports clubs bonded the community and gave us not only something to play, but somewhere to go and socialise. When our local football team won the grand final, half the town took the week off work to celebrate.
After a childhood of sport, I focused on tennis, playing junior tournaments and winning a tennis scholarship to the USA. Eventually I started my own tennis coaching business, Scarborough Tennis Academy.
At the risk of sounding like an Presidents AGM speech, the lifeblood of sports clubs are the volunteers that run the club. Good volunteers will be passionate stalwarts of the club who put in hours of work keeping the club going.
But where sports clubs survive with volunteers, there is a growing trend of declining memberships. They have a lot of competition now. Not just other sports clubs but 24 hour gyms, yoga, pilates and any number of other health, wellness and social activities. For the next generation coming through, E Sports, is also growing in participation by the week.
But the game gets unfair. It becomes a volunteer run club vs a profit making enterprise who doesn’t just catch up for the monthly meeting but competes in the marketplace all day, every day.
So where within 10 minutes I can sign up to join a Gym on direct debit with no ongoing commitment, a sport club membership may require me to meet the club captain on a Sunday afternoon at 3pm to see if I would be fit to join before I hand my $400 cheque across for the year.
So where the volunteers work IN the business, they rarely work ON the business.
A club needs a brand with a professional looking logo, website, newsletter system as well as at least 2 of the major social media channels with regular, engaging content. They need to have a clear target market and point of difference. Not just WHAT they do but WHY they do it. They also need a point of contact who doesn’t check the answering machine on Friday afternoons but can text, email or instant message straight back to the interested member.
Clubs also need flexibility. Where potential members are reluctant to join for a year, they will get inspired to join for a month. Potential members are unlikely to want to do the annual working bee and even less likely to want to get involved with the committee.
See, professionalism does not mean you lose the community aspect. The tribe of like minded friends with a shared interest is at the core of any club, gym, studio or academy.
Sports Clubs rely on local and federal government funding but this funding is geared towards facilities or equipment and no funding seems to be available for brand, marketing and other means of lead generation. So clubs can be left with a scattered marketing approach. Perhaps a flyer drop once every 2 years but often no website or a slapped together site with blurry photos lost in the back pages of google.
So what is the answer? As well as clubs adopting a more flexible membership model, they need at the very minimum, become a hybrid model of volunteer/private. Employed club managers and marketers need to become responsible for attracting members, sponsors and holding events. Clubs need to be regularly engaging with their members and potential members through social media as well as using other lead generation strategies to drive traffic to their website and give people a reason to come and try the sport.
Because if not, then local community clubs may be something our Grandpa used to do.