February 26, 2015

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An amazing thing happened here in Hawke’s Bay this week. A group of sporting legends came to play a game of cricket on a field that, 3 years ago, only existed in the imagination of a small group of cricket tragics.

The Legends of Cricket Art Deco game was proudly hosted by the Clifton County Cricket Club. It wouldn’t have been possible without the work of a lot of committed individuals, and it’s been a real pleasure to help the club get to this point.

Three years ago, a group of us, led by Sam Howard, resurrected the CCCC. The vision was to create a lasting institution making a positive contribution to the community. Promoting, you know… a healthy, active lifestyle, socialising, family community involvement  – the sort of stuff that it’s too easy to neglect these days.

In other words: not just a group of guys getting together after work to have a quick hit and then get on the p*ss.

I immediately saw the potential of the idea, but I knew that it’s pretty hard to get 22 guys along to a game on a regular basis, let alone get them to pay to cover the costs of a BBQ sausage sizzle and a few beers.

But we needed a lot more than just sausage and beer money. The vision of the club as a complete cricket club meant we needed gear, bats, a pavilion, an all-weather pitch, uniforms, and an army of volunteers to get stuff done.

So we needed a lot of members fast, and we needed them to pay upfront. Then we would have a critical mass of players, fans, and infrastructure, so that others could see we were the real deal and would commit too.

As a web guy, I saw that we were going to need to set up a high-quaility online presence ASAP.

The priorities were to

  • recruit new members and get them to pay upfront
  • encourage donations
  • encourage members to recruit other members
  • encourage members to participate in club activities and working bees; and eventually…
  • encourage existing members to renew their subscriptions

With e-commerce, mass email, and social media, the web enables all these things to happen a lot more smoothly and painlessly than in the past.

But it’s hard to capture and keep your audience’s attention these days – Facebook is always there as a distraction – and membership of sports clubs and voluntary organisations has fallen considerably in the last 20 or 30 years.

So here are the steps you need to take if you want to create something like CCCC.

  • Design a logo. Logos are very powerful symbols. So put some effort into it.
  • Identify your target market. Prepare to speak to them in their own language.
  • Tell a story about how the organisation was formed and what the vision is. The more specific and detailed the better. We have pitched the CCCC as a return to a bygone era of endless summers and long moustaches, but with a forward-looking focus on family-friendly activities and conservation.
  • Get buy-in from local (or even better, world-famous) celebrities. In our case, we’re lucky to have NZ cricket legend Mark Greatbatch as a member. He can pull some serious strings.
  • Set up a website. We tried using Tumblr but found that WordPress was better. WordPress is extremely easy to set up and use, and keep updated. And it’s free!
  • Get someone to write some really good content. Kate Howard and Chris Ormond provide some wonderful copy for the website and email newsletters. It’s funny, engaging, and makes you look forward to hearing news about the club.
  • Take some really good photos. a picture is worth a thousand words and all that. It helps when your home ground is one of the most photogenic in the world, of course!
  • Set up a Facebook page. Facebook is the social network of choice when you’re building a sports club. It’s about photos, sharing stories, and building a group identity. And that’s where our audience is. Twitter doesn’t have nearly enough penetration in our target demographic.
  • Set up an account with an email marketing service, e.g. Campaign Monitor or Mailchimp. This is absolutely crucial for sending notices about upcoming events and reminders to renew subscriptions. You cannot rely on any other medium to get important messages out (especially now that Facebook reaches only 5% of your audience).
  • Design a branded email template. Your messages need to be branded at every touch point. Unless it’s a personal email from the Club Secretary or a team captain, every communication should have the club logo and colours.
  • Start collecting email addresses of people who are keen to get involved. The biggest mistake in online marketing is to ignore this advice. You can’t communicate with your audience if you don’t know how to get hold of them.
  • Set up a PayPal account to take subscription payments and donations from wannabe members. It’s free and there’s no need for an expensive merchant account. You’ll pay a % of every transaction but that’s OK. Just build it into your cost structure or charge your subscribers an admin fee.
  • Create a membership form with something like Wufoo. Creating online forms used to be really hard and fiddly. Now it’s unbelievably easy with products like Wufoo.
  • Hook up the Wufoo form to the PayPal account so new members can pay by credit card as they sign up. There’s no programming skills required to get this integration set up – and it gives you an instant online subscription payment system. Every time you want to sell tickets, take donations, you just create a new form in Wufoo.
  • Send regular emails to your audience, but make sure it’s relevant. That means segmenting your lists. People who have donated, players, supporters. They all have different needs for different types of information. Don’t bore them with irrelevant content.

So far, it seems to be working. We’ve now got members from all around the world, we’ve redeveloped our home ground, we’ve built a beatiful pavilion, and we’re starting to host some serious events. Most of all, everyone is having an great time and it’s starting to look like the CCCC is here to stay!

So if a handful of cricket tragics in the back blocks of Hawke’s Bay can create a club like this, then I’m sure there’s plenty of opportunities for you to start something too. With the array of online tools at your disposal, it’s never been easier.