In an age where many forms of entertainment clamour for people’s attention, it’s no surprise that even popular sports codes such as rugby league have to work hard to get fans along to the game or watching at home.
While league and union used to have an almost 100 per cent male fan base, sides have had to reposition themselves as family entertainment with half time events and giveaways in order to get mum, dad and the kids through the turnstiles.
On the flip side, clubs also face the challenge of keeping television free to air and pay per view broadcast partners happy with buoyant viewer numbers every week. So it should be little surprise that sports clubs and the venues and stadia which support individual teams are turning to technology to boost membership, get fans through the turnstiles, and improve player performance.
As any venue manager will tell you, a club rises or falls on the strength of its membership. So it's no surprise that sports clubs are turning to social networking sites as an excellent way to engage in conversation with existing fans while serving as a recruiting ground for new members.
For example, while National Rugby League (NRL) side Wests Tigers has a massive following on both Facebook (70,000 followers) and Twitter (10,000 followers), the club has taken fan interaction a step further by setting up its own dedicated social networking site, Wests Tigers Rugby League Supporters.
Hosted on the YuuZoo platform, the site is designed as an area for fans to chat purely on Tigers-related topics. The forum has attracted 5,500 users since inception five months ago.
Wests Tigers sales and marketing manager, Brett Clarke, says that while Facebook is a fantastic resource --because it reaches a large audience-- the social media services design created a challenge for the club in keeping fans informed.
“If we post a message on Facebook, within 10 minutes the message has disappeared because everyone’s timeline has filled up with their friend’s posts,” he says.
“It’s not as engaging on Facebook as it is having a dedicated social network. Our players go on the Wests Tigers network once a week to do a live chat with the fans which helps them get closer to the players.”
The other critical factor for the club in setting up its own social networking hub is that it retains ownership of the data and content.
According to Clarke, the possibility that companies may some day have to pay Facebook for data ownership meant that there was added incentive to go with its own social network in order to maintain control over its data and its destiny.
Super 15 rugby union side, the Waratahs, has also found social networking an ideal way to engage with fans.
By having a Facebook page the New South Wales club has amassed 24,000 likes and is currently trying to get live match data to fans via Facebook in a timely fashion.
The club also has a Twitter profile which now has 7000 followers. According to Waratahs rugby commercial general manager, Kym Aust-Howlett, this has enabled fans to engage in open dialogue with the Waratahs and the club is collecting this feedback to improve its services to members.
For example, this feedback led to the deployment of a mobile optimised website platform which allows fans to access game and transport information directly from the Super 15 rugby team’s website.
The platform, which was built by Blink Mobile Interactive, came about following three years of research into fan behaviour and website information needs.
“This enabled our website content to be delivered to mobile devices such as smartphones and personal digital assistants [PDAs],” says Aust-Howlett. “Supporters took to the technology quickly and within two weeks of launching, the site was being frequently used with overall usage surging by up to 250 per cent on game day.”
She adds that the side starting focusing on IT and engaging with club members 18 months ago.
“We got one of our partners, IBM, to rebuild our website and engaged an IT contractor to look at our mobile network to look at how we could ensure that fans got the data and statistics to keep engaged with the team,” she said.
Over the page, increasing attendance.