Marketing Sport as ‘Entertainment’ is all about relationships!

If you’re the marketing manager or membership director of a sporting club, you have two goals: Get new members and retain the ones you have. This is sports marketing 101.

In fact, it doesn’t matter how effective you are at ‘social media engagement’ or ‘top of the line’ advertising or how convincingly you claim to know your membership base.

Even email marketing and loyalty programs are basic common practice in most clubs, these days.

So, how do you plan to stand out?

If you aren’t acquiring new members and ensuring that your existing members stick… well… then you’re already playing catch-up! Because this is how most marketing managers and membership directors of sporting clubs are judged. Acquisition, retention, referrals.

And that’s about it.

The following is a summary of five simple tips to attract and retain more members.

  1. Know Your Raving Fans

Standard marketing procedures dictate that you gather reams of data about the basic demographic composition of a target market. That’s true for all industries, non-profits, or sports-related organizations. That data delineates the sex, age, ethnic group, income, and geographic location of the people they hope to attract as customers.

My long-term experience, however, convinces me that such rudimentary demographic data mining is insufficient for organizations like sports clubs because they don’t sell standard products and services.

Sports clubs are marketing Entertainment, Lifestyle, Community.

This major difference suggests that clubs should modify their marketing approaches to transcend standard demographic customer targeting and upgrade to psychographic customer targeting.

This new class of data includes information about what customers want from life, how they feel about sports, what TV programs and movies they watch, what types of books and magazines they read, which kinds of restaurants they frequent, and what makes them tick in general. In other words, you must know your Raving Fans in flesh and blood terms.

Upgrading to psychographics doesn’t mean tossing the traditional data layer into the dustbin. It simply means adding a new class of information on top of the standard layer. The fused data layer creates in-depth profiles (Avatars) of your target market and provides effective ‘hooks’ to attract more of them.

  1. Understand Your ‘Real’ Competition

Active, educated people seldom confine themselves to one or two activities. That’s especially true for people who are part of the target audience for sports clubs. While conventional wisdom might point to other codes as your main competition, the reality is different and more fragmented than most marketing experts realize.

The competition for the scarce sports fan dollar is intense and wide-ranging. People enjoy all types of summer activities like soccer, basketball, jogging, hiking, sailing, swimming, surfing, and golf, just to name a few. Marketers must also consider other claims on family attention and budget such as sports on TV, mobile streaming, movies, time spent on the internet, hobbies, winter sports, and major international events like World Cups and the Olympics.

In short, digital disruption and market fragmentation are your real competition, not other clubs.

In addition, people who are likely to join your club must deal with important issues like their jobs, marriage, children, health and wellness, and financial pressures. That means your efforts to sell a lifestyle, entertainment and community is daunting, indeed. Understanding your competition is critical to attracting and keeping them as members.

  1. Audit Your Marketing Campaigns

Once your target audience and real competition are understood, it’s time to spend that marketing cash burning a hole in your pocket. Explaining the value of spending marketing money to company bean counters (CFOs), however, is often difficult because one-to-one return on the dollar is not always evident. Showing the CFO measurable Return On Investment (ROI) for marketing is difficult due to the nebulous nature of the data.

Demographic/psychographic data makes it easier to show value and ROI since the money is intelligently targeted. Creating an Avatar allows marketing gurus to highlight which channels are working when compared with their cost. Spending across all the fragmented channels (TV, radio, social media, etc.) can now be explained in measurable terms. The company can then create effective smart ads aimed precisely at the right audience.

Of course, presenting a well-conceived marketing budget to senior management that is based on clear, measurable costs and ROI significantly increase the likelihood of getting that budget approved. The only way that happens is by auditing your campaigns.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, local sports clubs should not rely on Facebook for the bulk of their marketing exposure. FB is crowded, controls its database, and changes rules without your inputs. Controlling data contained on your website and hosted applications, however, drives more effective and focused marketing campaigns.

  1. Drill into Their Heads

The best way to take advantage of the target audience you’ve acquired is to communicate with them. What a novel concept, right?

It’s important to treat members like real people rather than data points on a chart.

Believe it not, people appreciate the time and effort the club spends on such activities because they feel like their opinions are important.

Don’t only use big data to create assumptions about your membership. Sit down and talk to them. Understand their lives and aspirations. Talking helps determine the “Why behind the What.” That emotional connection builds long-term relationships and keeps you plugged into fast-changing trends or alerts you about looming problems.

Asking the right questions and drilling into their heads engenders a strong sense of community essential for the club’s success. Don’t simply ask members to take surveys, ask them to be part of your insider network by explaining how their suggestions and opinions help improve the club. This also helps identify who is more engaged. Members now have some skin in the game.

Not getting close to your customers can have devastating consequences. Recall what happened to Coke when it changed its original formula or when Leeds United changed its logo. Those were very expensive mistakes you can avoid by simply asking the right questions.

  1. Love the One You’re With

According to Stephen Stills, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” In this context, it means you need to work hard to keep members you’ve worked so diligently to land in the first place. As a matter of fact, organizations that offer entertainment, lifestyle and community prosper when they spend more time and treasure keeping existing members happy than by running around trying to lure new ones.

A well-known marketing axiom says it costs ten times more to lasso new horses than it does to keep the ones already in the barn.

Truer words were never spoken when talking about organizations that don’t sell products or services. Stores like David Jones and Myer can simply change inventory and lower prices to attract customers. Sports clubs, however, must rely on goodwill and loyalty to grow and profit.

Use the four other lessons outlined in this article and love the ones you’re with.

Want more? … You can Download the full Free Cheat Sheet here. Get your hands on practical Action Steps, and Worksheets to start your Fan Relationship journey.


Eriks Celmins is a specialist consultant in research, content, and strategy for media & entertainment

He passionately believes in the power of conversation to build fan relationships, and help marketers gather fast, real-time insights.

He is also the Co-Founder & Insights Director of cliizii, the new On-Demand Fan Forum platform

cliizii is entertaining & engaging in a social media-style, that bridges the gap between marketing and market research.


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