(As appeared in May issue of the Red & White supplement)
We have heard it all before, “just can’t seem to get the numbers in,” “we just don’t get enough people watching,” “every year we have the same problem recruiting younger players.” Yet how many times have you seen a poster out in the streets promoting a sports event other than the big professional tournaments, or seen a leaflet informing you of next week’s matches?
How many times have you heard there is a particular match taking place, before the match has actually ended and it’s being reported in the media or social pages, in any sport?
If you live in Gibraltar the answer is probably none to few times if any. You might have seen the occasional twitter post or the occasional facebook posting about this or that event. You might even have seen a mention in the newspaper. Believe it or not, many a time because the reporter found out through some obscure means or social media page, rather than someone actually sending them the information. Except for the rare few.
You will have seen posters or adverts for one-time small events, but few to little mention of the weekly fixtures, the season’s cup matches, or even the finals itself.
This is the sad reality of Gibraltar’s sports in which there is little in the way of promotion of regular domestic league or cup events. Mainly due to the fact that most people organising the events and leagues happen to be ‘amateurs’ where their last thought is on promotion. This even though a large number of them will be used to working in organisations, whether in the private or public sector where advertising and promotion will largely be used.
The lack of promotion in sport is largely due to a strong belief that there is enough work already to be done merely to organise a domestic league match schedule or build on the sports development to also have to stop and think whether they have done enough to promote the event.
Many a time the organisations rely exclusively on their participants telling others about their matches, or hoping that the media will mention them by sending out their season’s fixture list out at the start of the season. They will, nevertheless be disgruntled moans when attendances are low or there is no media exposure of events.
With associations primarily concerned on developing the sport its development programmes are ironically the ones that received their most attention in relation to advertising and promotion.
Many a time, the lack of promotion, is also because the organisation itself has as yet to allocate the role of marketing or communications officer to anyone person, or team. Even then, due to the fact these people are generally volunteers it can become quite a task to be asking of them, at least that is one of the many reasons which you will be confronted with when asking.
Local leagues fixtures get little to no exposure prior to an event actually taking place, this includes the more financially powerful football league. Yet in every turn you will find experts, marketing people, even events and local league organisers highlighting the importance of giving every match, every event some exposure. Not merely through main associations but through the teams playing.
The lack of fans, or persons attending to watch matches, races or any other regular domestic league event has been a factor that has concerned many in sports. Numbers tend to be higher when juniors are taking part, generally due to the fact parents tend to go and watch them. However, once the participants reach the secondary school age the numbers start to diminish substantially. Senior leagues across most sport see just a handful of people coming to watch regular matches. Something which does little to promote the sport among the younger generations. Even sports who have large youth numbers within their ranks omit from promoting senior matches and events to their own youth so that there is an added participation in events.
“Aside from organizing the event ahead of time, there are other important factors that can be highlighted. Among them are well defined roles and communication channels. How will you communicate the event? Who is your target audience?” writes the Johan Cruyff Institute in its website, highlighting the importance that is given to communications.
Sports, like entertainment, succeeds the most when there is a support base behind it and a public interest. While some purist consider that it is enough just focusing on play in the game and making it better, the development of most sport and its future tends to follow a general pattern in which the number of participants increase when more people tend to follow the sport. The importance of promoting events was highlighted by an article in the USA Today in which it reported that “the importance of supporters and increased attendances to sports events can also provide increased financial benefits to the sport if properly managed. As regular supporters provide a valuable recurring revenue stream for sports organizations. Organizations that promote regular events staged by football or basketball teams use communication to build loyalty among spectators and encourage them to join fan clubs or purchase a season ticket. Organizations use communication to strengthen loyalty by offering reduced admission charges, special merchandise deals or invitations to social events.”
Whilst many will feel that this refers to professional sports it is also true across all sports categories where even non-league and amateur leagues use the same policies to attract supporters and loyal fans from which they can build upon into the future. Both by attracting more participation in the sport and club, adding to their fundraising capabilities which also allows them to build on their development through additional funding.
A bigger audience also attracts sponsorship or investment.
With many organisations, not just in sport, looking to attract sponsors there is increased pressure to provide sponsors with an audience through which they can feel that the money they are spending has some added benefit to them.
Communication in sports marketing is important at many levels, including schools and colleges, professional sport and public sports venues.
Communication in sports also assists in attracting better players so they can compete at a high level and attract more spectators and sponsors.
Giving exposure to a team’s success and ambitions, as well as their everyday routine, sometimes, and crucially in many sports, involving some form of benefit to the community, also enhances the team’s profile. This in itself attracts both greater loyalty and can reward teams with attracting players.
Regular supporters provide a valuable recurring revenue stream for sports organizations. It also encourages supporters to form or join fan clubs assisting in strengthening fundraising initiatives in the long term.
With a supporters base, not just a players base, organizations can also increase revenue by attracting sponsors for a team or for a specific sporting event. The sport, or team’s success would also increase interest and commitment from the sponsors and fans.
Locally the associations who put in the most effort in promoting their events or communicating about their sport are generally the ones that get the most exposure locally. They also tend to be the ones who attract the most participants to their sport by generating interest through exposure. Although in many cases this is far from the extend it should be, there is still little effort being placed locally by many sport in promoting an event before it has actually happened. Even less effort or thought in profiling the sports in a broader way such as providing insights into players, behind the scenes or other activities which can be utilised and generates interest in them.
As Onebox suggests “ The biggest mistake you can make when marketing annual or occasional sports events is to go quiet. Think you can sit back and relax after your event is over, because you’ve got months to go until the next one? Think again. You need to be using every part of the ‘low’ months in between your event to work to grow your fan base and build your marketing strategy ahead of your next event. This time is extremely valuable for your marketing efforts so be sure to use it to your advantage to make your event bigger and better each time.”
Attracting people to events has the added advantage of not only creating the potential for a “memorable occasion,” it also provides the opportunity to increase your own promotional potential through fans. By leveraging social media to track the live voice of your fans it will provide a further insight into how well your sports event is doing and ultimately increase audience interest levels.
This is one reason why agencies such as Onebox suggest that associations and clubs should have at least one person dedicated to social media on the day so they can respond to any complaints, queries and problems in real-time. “Buzz generated on social media on the day of the event is hugely important. Fans posting about your event gives you free promotion and content, and spreads the word about your event. This can be used to reach out to new audiences for next week,” it suggests.
It also highlights the importance of differentiating between growing your fan base and retaining past attendees as two separate strategies. The use of newsletters, early-bird sign-up forms and other promotions, should target the two differently. On the one hand working with the emotions and experiences of those who are already fans, whilst on another working to establish new connections with new fans.
As the GoRaise Guide for sports suggests knowing where to begin with marketing your sports club can be tough. Many options exist, some of which will not be effective. However, as the same guide suggest there are tried and tested marketing methods which can help recruit more members and supporters to clubs and which require zero budgets, importantly, they are also easy to implement so that you can save your precious funds and time for other important areas of the club.
Among one of the key areas it advises is for the creation of websites. A website is likely to be the first place that people go to when they want to find out more about your club, so make sure that you have one.
Whilst seemingly daunting websites can be free with many easy-to-use website builders out there not requiring to hire expensive developer nor get involved in expensive programme development.
Importantly many websites, such as WordPress sites, have their own plug-ins which are tried and tested by other sports organisation which can provide all the necessary services and features you will need. From match schedules, to fixture lists, match report templates, player profiles even methods of tracking or building supporters base and picture galleries. All requiring little work to put into practise.
There are even website builders specifically for sports such as clubwebsite and teamsnap, who cater exclusively for sports organisations and clubs at no cost to the users.
The presence of a website will, however, not be enough to build on to gain additional interest to events and matches. An active website should provide an active presence which brings users back. Blogs providing latest details on matches, insights into the clubs or sport, profiles on participants and other news stories are essential. Not only to keep users active, but also to provide the media with additional information which can be readily accessed and keeping them informed.
An active social media presence would also be necessary.
However, a reliance solely on social media and online services would limit the target audience to only those people who have come to know about you and have searched for you, excluding the many others who have yet to hear about you.
This is why it is also important to maintain an offline marketing policy. Posters and leaflets are a great way to reach people who might not have heard about you before. With free design tools now available and cheap printers in the market the cost of producing posters, leaflets and even small match programmes does not necessarily have to cut deep into a sports budget.
With Gibraltar being so small, and the target audience only limited to within a 6kmsq there is no need for thousands of flyers, hundreds of posters or hundreds of match programmes, reducing the overall costs.
However, there is an added advantage for clubs and association where such services also provide an avenue through which sponsors can be seen and therefore increasing their visibility, adding to ways in building loyalty. Although offline promotions are seen locally for major or one-off events it is the lack of such promotions for weekly fixtures which adds to the lack of information available to attract more people to a sport.
Importantly the lack of clear media/marketing promotions strategies in sport means that even the few people who attend local sports events find themselves disconnected from the sport. A lack of information on who might be playing, in football even going as far as there not being any scoreboard, means that persons watching can feel as if there is no real interest in their presence. This is why agencies such as GoRaise suggest that there should be a continued connection strategy with people even during and after events. Offering taster sessions to join clubs or associations, information on joining supporters clubs, or simply providing match programmes or offering opportunities to subscribe to newsletters would provide greater interaction and increase the prospect of greater interest in the sport.
With over a million pounds of public money spend on sport societies this past season and with many sports now bidding to keep the same sports people interested in the sport the importance of attracting new supporters, and loyal fans seems a logical step towards assisting sports to finance their development and even increase their participation numbers in the future. Attracting in this way new and varied players into the sports and relying less in the multisport sportsperson to fill in the numbers.
However, whilst many associations and teams in particular shun away from promoting their own sport or event, especially when it comes to their domestic leagues, the chances are that there will continue to be a disconnection between sport and the public. Especially when information is late in reaching the public as to their own successes.
Four thousand sports lovers have as yet to equate to four thousand watching sports fans.
(As appeared in May issue of the Red & White supplement)