Over the last couple of weeks I have found myself in a number of conversations about the concept of club membership. There seems to be a developing theme from some within the bowls community that club membership is a concept from a time past and that rather than focus on growing a clubs membership base, clubs may be better off developing their clubs diverse “customer base”, of which bowlers are just one.
While I agree that clubs need to take full advantage of their clubs sporting and social assets this should not be, must not be, at the expense of letting club membership to dwindle. In fact bowls clubs should follow the lead of the professional sporting teams competing in the AFL, NRL and even the very new Big Bash T20 competition who focus almost as much on membership numbers as they do on ladder position.
Why do the professional clubs throw so many resources at building their membership? The obvious answer is that it is an important source of revenue but to fully understand the power of club memberships we have to delve a little into human psychology.
In 1943, psychologist, Abraham Maslow published a research paper titled “Hierarchy of Needs” where he stated people are motivated to fulfil certain needs. Maslow created a hierarchy for these needs with basic human needs such as food, water, shelter as it foundation with the next level including safety related needs such as security, stability and freedom from fear but the third basic need of humans was to have a strong sense of belonging, whether it be within the family, friends or social groups.
This basic human need to belong is what professional clubs are seeking to take advantage. If you support a club you do not belong to it, you are not part of the club family but if are a member, you do feel like you belong to the club. This sense of belonging makes you a very important asset of the club which professional clubs are now utilising to achieve many goals and objectives.
Unlike customers who don’t want to receive a heap of information from businesses they use, club members crave information about their club and its people. Professional clubs are now going to great lengths to satisfy their members need for information, using communication tools like club magazines, email newsletters, social media, members only website access and even club TV which in some instances can be viewed on mainstream TV or on the club website. All this information produced by the club is building the sense of belonging between the club and the individual.
But why do professional clubs go to all this effort to build a strong relationship with their members? Simple, because all this investment in members means when the club asks them to do something they are highly likely to do so, whether it be:
- Come to a match
- Attend a social function
- Purchase club merchandise or memorabilia
- Buy a raffle ticket
- Upgrade their membership
- Become a club sponsor
- Volunteer their time
Even more importantly, highly engaged members are your clubs biggest advocates, they can become your club’s unofficial “sales” force, taking your clubs message to their friends and family in a way a “customer” never would!
Clubs need to look past the traditional basic membership structures of maybe a “full membership” and a social membership and be a lot more creative. Melbourne Storm rugby league club for instance has over 20 membership types (not including corporate memberships) developed to suit every type of club supporter they have. For example there is a NZ membership which includes admittance to the one NZ game Storm play each year. Storm wanted their NZ supporters to have the opportunity to be just as much part of the club as Melbourne-based supporters in the same time building a presence and value in a non-traditional market.
Rather than move away from the club membership model, clubs should be setting aggressive membership targets, like their professional sporting counterparts, and then introducing new membership categories and strategies that will reverse the general trend of declining memberships. The future of many clubs will actually rely on this!