Running a rugby club can be financially challenging, especially if that club pays its players or has other major outgoings. Attendances are a focus for all clubs and this article seeks to stimulate thought as to ways that a rugby club can increase match day attendances.
Host a Ladies/Gentleman’s Day
The idea stems on rewarding the regular fans that consistently rock up for the 3pm kick off on a Saturday, and creating a standout fixture that is a more sophisticated affair, where they and their guest can dress up and enjoy a special rugby experience. If marketed correctly and orchestrated effectively, you could be looking at doubling your attendances (not just on the day), as not only will the loyalists and their partners turn up, but their friends and family may be tempted to head down for 80 minutes of rugby too.
Such an approach has been used extensively in horse racing, whereby ladies days are often standout events in themselves, which drive people to return annually.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Another way for clubs to create a larger fan base target a wider pool of supporters, is to consider all free communication tools available. I would break these in to two overlapping areas: PR & Social Media.
In terms of PR, I believe it’s essential for the rugby club to invest energy in creating a relationship with the local press. They can become an extension of the natural communication of the rugby club and be used to amplify all news, meaning that much of the local community are kept up to date with the club's news and events.
In today’s digital age, this aspect of a clubs marketing mix cannot be overplayed. Utilising the likes of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook gives you a direct communication platform to anyone who chooses to follow your club, thus an ideal target audience. An effective digital strategy will see the fan base connected with the club throughout the week and create more of a united atmosphere, which would make fans much more likely to reengage each weekend. In order to achieve this, documenting things such as match day commentary, results and fixtures, as well as promoting different parts of the club, all work well. This will give followers continuous access into what’s going on inside the club and how and when the club is playing, which should lead to more local people turning up to watch the side.
Schools & Community
Unless you’re a Premiership side (which of course doesn’t fall under ‘grassroots’), clubs don’t tend to operate extensive community departments, due to lack of budget or manpower. One way a club can directly increase attendances is by engaging more with local schools. A player or staff member can visit the school, with the desired result being inspiring local players to come and watch the senior side and also get involved with the juniors (if the club has a juniors – if it doesn’t, an increased demand may encourage the club to form one).
I recently attended a 7s tournament hosted at Saracens. It was an amazing day and featured great rugby, skills schools, ex professional players as guests and lots of associated sale items. Overall I left feeling great about Saracens (even if they themselves weren’t playing) and warm to the idea of attending matches at the ground.
I would wholeheartedly propose that local clubs, starting with a focus on their community, consider how to maximise the opportunity of tournaments. Begin by thinking about all age groups and both genders, and rationalising to a format that you think will work. Overall what I learnt from the Saracens experience was there are indirect fan base opportunities that could result in higher attendances.
I am lucky enough to have played my mini rugby at Dorking, where Elliot Daly and George Kruis are ex minis and sometimes visit the club on match days. Similarly my school, Epsom College, boasts a number of pros including Kyle Sinkler and I believe we should embrace the positivity of the inclusiveness of our sport. Players often make themselves approachable and I would argue that every club can forge some sort of partnership with a professional team and look to have famous players down on certain match days or training days. There are lots of benefits of this, not least the motivational impact within the club and on the players of all age groups. However my view is that the club will see a surge in attendance if a famous name is attending; after all we can’t escape the fact many of us are selfie or autograph hunters.
Youth Players Involvement
This type of initiative could involve juniors playing at half time, such as seen with London Wasps when they played at Adams Park. Youth matches could also be held before the senior games, which would likely result in both the player & his parents staying on for the senior fixture, resulting in a potentially significant increase in attendances at games. I believe youth focus needs to be a club culture rather than an add on, as after all they could be the future of the club.