Former North Melbourne onballer Leigh “Patch’’ Adams is coaching the historic Coburg Football Club this year.
April 3, 2018 3:00pm
VFL stand-alone clubs are pushing to turn support into memberships as they battle to compete with their AFL counterparts in the state league.
With little prospect of their annual dividends from AFL Victoria increasing, the clubs are out to boost their coffers by luring hundreds of new members.
AFL Victoria is supporting the campaign by hiring membership expert David Friend to help the clubs — Coburg, Frankston, Port Melbourne, Williamstown and Werribee — to develop strategies encouraging supporters to sign up.
Friend is on Frankston’s board and oversaw the Dolphins’ rise to 1250 members last year as they fought to regain their VFL licence.
The Dollies are aiming to have 1500 paid-up supporters this year.
Friend was also general manager of Hawthorn’s membership and merchandise department when the Hawks’ membership soared after the aborted merger with Melbourne.
He later joined St Kilda in a similar role. More recently he has worked with NRL and A-league outfits.
Friend said VFL clubs hadn’t previously put an emphasis on membership because they didn’t have the resources.
Port Melbourne supporters were ecstatic when their team nosed out Richmond in last year’s VFL grand final.
He said AFL Victoria’s funding support gave them “an exciting opportunity’’.
“We are all working hard in developing a membership culture that’s involves the entire organisation,’’ Friend said.
“My role is to work with them and to develop a strategy to get it happening. It’s crucially important, because the stand-alone clubs don’t have that injection of funds that the AFL-aligned teams get from the AFL clubs.
“To anyone who supports a stand-alone club, I say support them with a membership. It’s vital for their future. We don’t like to use the word ‘survive’, but if they want to see their team at a game or watch them on TV, they need to help them financially. Membership makes a huge difference.’’
Friend has encouraged the clubs to develop a “rewards’’ program in which companies and businesses offer deals and discounts to VFL club members.
Frankston’s program involves retailers at Bayside Shopping Centre, a fitness centre and restaurant, similar to the other four clubs.
Werribee and its star onballer Tom Gribble are going it alone after cutting ties with North Melbourne.
“Membership has changed. People don’t buy a membership just to attend the games any more,’’ Friend said.
“You’ve got to offer them a lot more than that. People are time-poor. They can’t get to every game. So they pull out the calculator and say, ‘Well, I don’t go to enough games, it’s not worth me buying a membership’. So what we did last year at Frankston was develop a rewards program where we’ve got special offers for our members. For example, we’ve got a fantastic deal with a travel company where, if you become a member, you get amazing deals on accommodation for overseas holidays.
“So if membership is $70 you can save hundreds and hundreds of dollars through the various reward offers. Yeah, we’d love supporters to attend every game but it’s about supporting a club, keeping it viable and financially strong for the future.
“The money adds up. If you’ve got 2000 members paying $70 that’s $140,000. It’s a big hit for clubs and gives their sponsors more people to talk to and a bigger market. My experience is, the larger your data base, the larger your membership and therefore more sponsors want to get involved.’’
Friend said clubs needed treat members as “part of the family’’.
“A lot of the strategy is teaching them (clubs) how to work with a membership base. They have to be shown the utmost respect. Answer all their phone calls, answer all the emails, answer all the texts. You’ve got to make them feel part of the organisation.
“To me, the test is if you’ve had a club that’s had a poor season on the field, the supporters will say, ‘Yeah, I’m disappointed, but you know what, I loved being involved, there’s no way in the world I’m going to let my membership go’.’’
Friend said members themselves were a club’s best recruiting tool for membership.
Port Melbourne: https://www.portmelbournefc.com.au/product-category/membership/