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Growing the Sport of Curling: Leveraging 2014

Growing the sport of curling in Canadian communities.

All the media hype surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics, world, national and provincial/territorial events is a natural recruiting tool for our sport. We could nothing in the way of marketing and still people would be knocking on our doors because of the wall to wall coverage we enjoy. But that would be literally missing the boat on what is a great opportunity for our sport to take advantage of this increased public awareness.

Our objectives are simple:

  • Focus on the interest;
  • Use that heightened interest to build awareness on what we do and where we do it;
  • Focus on www.startcurling.ca; (download the image for your own website here. Right click and save as and then link it on your web site)
  • Personify curling. We are safe, family-based recreation businesses;
  • Boost membership. That’s what this is all about – more new members!!!

The CCA’s long range plan to help you take advantage of it with a marketing plan that is in four parts.

  • Build new commercials to air throughout the season on TSN & RDS (i.e. Johnny ‘the Hammer’ Chow);
  • Build a presence on the Internet with Facebook, Twitter & YouTube;
  • Design a planning guide to assist curling facilities in building membership;
  • Host Business of Curling symposiums to develop retention strategies and best practices.

Why will it work?
Leveraging 2014 – through this planning guide – is designed to help you capture public attention by emphasizing how easy and how much fun it is to get involved in curling.  The concept is to encourage people to investigate and experience the enjoyment of the game first hand. We firmly believe that when a new customer tries the sport for the first time – by throwing their first rock – they will become curlers for life!

The key to success will be your efforts in organizing events and subsequently inviting new customers to your building to try curling. We are confident our national efforts coupled with the interest created by television and your work on the ground, will drive people to the rink. When they show up, have them throw a stone and then work at convincing them to commit to a Learn To Curl program!

Why do it?
Attracting new curlers is essential to the survival and growth of every curling facility in Canada.  Implementing a campaign to bring new curlers through the doors will not only revitalize your membership but will pique existing members’ interest!

Your challenge
First, use your own enthusiasm for the sport to encourage others in your club to help out.

Second, use as many of the ideas in this planning guide; they work!

Third, encourage everyone at your club to share in the welcoming of newcomers showing interest or playing for the first time.  Everyone at the club becomes a salesperson to promote the club.  If people feel welcome and have fun, they’ll be back and everyone wins. Friend-get-a-friend or member-get-a-member campaigns are successful in most member organizations – not just curling!

Purpose of the Planning Guide
This Planning Guide is designed for curling club managers and volunteer Board members committed to building membership and overall curling participation at their clubs. The information on the following pages will provide ideas and suggestions to help with the organization of activities at your club. While the guide is intended to provide a starting point, ultimately, your most effective ideas will come from within.  Make use of the innovative ideas of your committees and your members.

GETTING STARTED AND GETTING ORGANIZED!
To launch your campaign, assign the task to the club’s Membership Recruitment Committee or form a new organizing group.  Areas of responsibility for your committee and volunteers could/should include:

  1. Chairperson – oversees the organization and the use of promotional material, people and finances.
  2. Publicity and Promotion – mandate is to spread the word about your activities – within the club and in the community – using the Internet, the media and promotional materials.
  3. Registration & Follow-up – track all potential customers.
  4. Welcoming & Orientation – develop ways and means of welcoming new people when they arrive at your club for the first time and also be responsible that every new customer has a reliable contact (buddy) to help answer questions. This will ensure the “first contact or first impression” to your club and its facilities is positive one. Personal contact is a powerful tool in encouraging new memberships. Make sure you have your friendliest people up front!
  5. Instruction / Training – explain the sport’s basics through clinics and/or lessons.  It is important that you also schedule appropriate clinics during the trial period and to have clinics throughout the season that will continue to enhance the new customer’s experience.
  6. Follow-up – can be as simple as a postcard to let people know you haven’t forgotten them, or as detailed as inviting them to another event during the curling or off-season.  Either way, remember to take advantage of all the fruits of your labour; getting new customers into the building is only the first step!

Timing of your Event
Ideally your event should be timed either just prior to your season (with ice available) and/or in mid-winter or spring to coincide with the tremendous visibility our sport receives during the televised coverage of the Brier, Tournament of Hearts and other championships.  The choice is yours on the length of the campaign. It can be as little as two hours on a specific night; or a full week of activity; or a month of activity.

Whatever timeline you choose for your campaign, your challenge will be to maintain contact with all new customers between the time they visit and the time you sign them up. The next and most important challenge occurs when you must be able to ‘painlessly’ integrate any of these new customers into your curling program.

World Wide Web (www.)
A number of clubs in Canada still do not have websites or any presence online and, with more than 2 billion users* world-wide, it is pretty safe to say that, if you don’t have a presence on the Internet, you don’t exist for the tech-savvy Canadian we are trying to attract to our sport.

For example, a person living in Anytown, Canada watches curling on television and says “wow, I need to try this” then Googles ‘anytown’, ‘curling’ and nothing pops up. There goes a potential customer that would have cost you little to recruit.  If you don’t have one already, build one!!

Check out www.homestead.com as one of the many and very inexpensive website services out there.
(* source: www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm)

FACEBOOK
Facebook is ranked as the most‐used social networking site, with more than 900 million active users annually*. It is used to stay in touch with friends and post videos and pictures for others to see, however, it offers a great array of applications that keep users coming back more frequently to the site. It also has an easily navigable interface that appeals to users.
(* source: www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics)

Relevance to your club: With a Canadian average of 190 “friends” linked to each Facebook users’ network*, the possibility for exponential growth as one user is converted to curling is impressive. Furthermore, the creation of a dedicated page for the campaign, as well as a fan page, will allow curling to tap into the 6 million+ users who become fans of pages each day. Creating a dedicated campaign page and fan site for your club will have many benefits to you and the sport, aside from direct targeting of a key age demographic:
- encourage people to curl via the networks of online users who are members of your club
- increase online presence of curling‐related posts
- drive traffic through from Facebook page to your page(s)

Identifying Facebook-ers: A designated club employee or a member/volunteer would be the ideal party to be responsible for updating your club’s Facebook presence (check out Cornwall CC), as this will ensure that the information is kept accurate and current.

Facebook content: Facebook content should reflect the club’s look and feel with content specifically written towards your members and potential new members. Creating a fan page your members can join while inviting others in their own networks to join, will allow you to take advantage of the viral capabilities of the site.

Facebook regularity: Facebook should be updated by the designee on a daily basis or at least regularly.

Facebook location: Facebook itself will host the account.

BLOGS
Blogs are web posts maintained by individuals who regularly post information, opinions, feelings, updates, etc. It is used as a social tool in letting others know what is going on at that particular point in their life. Since approximately 2002, blogging has become an increasingly popular form of social media. We want to give current and future curlers an idea as to what it is like to be a curler, how much fun it is, what serious curlers do to train and prepare, etc. This will give the viewers insight into what Canadian curling facilities have to offer.

Identifying Bloggers: Ask your membership. Identify the newsletter committee as the source. We try very hard to keep our members “in the know” via the club’s web site or newsletter. Blogging is a great tool to accomplish this.

Blog Content: (Note: content must always be kept appropriate and politically correct.) Bloggers who agree to participate should be encouraged to write about anything and everything related to the club itself or the curling’s place in their lives. Keeping curling as the focus will help achieve your objectives, but other elements of club life must be part of the story as well in order to give it depth. For example, interesting stories about specific members, articles about social activities, news about neat corporate rentals are some of the topics that could be covered. Your bloggers should be kept up‐to‐date regarding content posted to the www.curling.ca or www.startcurling.ca sites as well as any other social media that are being used by various curling outlets. This will allow them to integrate mention and links in their own posts, increasing traffic and search engine ranking.

Finally, blogs should have a side‐menu with links through to other relevant sites (www.startcurling.ca) as well as other blog sites where relevant subjects (curling, Olympics, etc.) are being discussed as well. This will help search engine rankings, generate an air of authenticity for the new blog and provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.

Blog Regularity: Bloggers should be asked to update their blog on a regular basis (i.e. at least weekly), keeping the content fresh. In this way, readers will become accustomed to the fact that they can return to the site often and always be presented with something new. More regular content also gives the blogger a chance to discuss a wider variety of topics, which increases the likelihood that at least one of the topics will catch a readers’ interest. Finally, more frequent updates create more activity and more content: two factors that help search engines to find the blog more often.

Blog Location: Blogs should also be posted to the www.startcurling.ca. This will help to drive traffic to www.startcurling.ca and improve the site’s search engine ranking. Posting the blogs on this site will increase the likelihood that the blogs is found and read, as will the promotion of www.startcurling.ca in other social media.

ACTION PLANNING
(The organizing committee could use the following suggested action plan. Make sure to identify someone responsible for each item and give each item a deadline)

  1. Hold meeting to make preliminary plans.
  2. Identify target market (Refer to ‘Targeting’ in next section)
  3. Determine date and time for the event.
  4. Reserve ice and facilities.
  5. Establish incentives for new customers (optional).
  6. Begin communication with membership to inform them of event dates and request for volunteers.
  7. Plan and implement advertising and promotion activities for inside and outside the club.
  8. Develop follow-up strategy.
  9. You may want to solicit sponsors / suppliers who may wish to support you.  Offer fair value and visibility in return for their support.
  10. Get busy with internal promotion.  Inside your club, intensify your efforts to let members know about your event(s) and your campaign.
  11. Contact media to reserve ad space and provide members with details of planned activities including sign-up information.  Request names of potential new recruit contacts from members.
  12. Start your advertising and communications plans outside the club.  Personal contact can help for media or large company groups.  Personally invite individuals and/or groups to tour the facility and try the game.
  13. THE WEEK BEFORE – Remind media, particularly community newspapers, about events and photo opportunities.
  14. THE EASY PART – the Day of the Event! Lights, Action, Camera!!
  15. AFTERWARD – Thank each person who volunteered.
  16. Post-event publicity.  Let your membership, the public and media know what happened.
  17. Photos are an excellent way to emphasize the fun aspects of curling especially on your new website!
  18. Prepare summary report which will help future organizers.
  19. Hold wrap-up committee meeting to evaluate event and to confirm follow-up activities.

Targeting Prospective Customers
If you focus your attention specifically on people you want to attract to your club, you will greatly enhance the possibility of success.  Two important areas to investigate before you start:

  1. Determine the strengths and weaknesses of your membership. Concentrate your efforts in those areas where you may be weak. Consider the following sectors: couples, families, women, commercial league curlers, occasional renters, or any organized group that will increase participation and build membership in your club.
  2. Look at your community to see if there are any other opportunities.  Look for groups of people that are not using your facility but could be if the invitation was extended (i.e. Chamber of Commerce, 4H Clubs, Girl Guides, church groups). Knowing who you are hoping to attract and then concentrating on them makes it easier to choose and plan activities.

Member-Get-A-Member Campaigns
A successfully used practice in business is to ask current clients to recommend prospective new customers.  This concept can work well for you and it is very simple.  Ask current members to identify individuals/office groups/ corporations who may be interested in attending your open house. Offer them incentives when they recruit for you. Be sure to find someone on your committee to extend invitations to the people on the list.

Preparing the Welcome
When new people arrive, they will be unfamiliar with the ways of your club and may have limited knowledge about the game itself. To lessen any anxiety and ease new people into life at your club, it is important to do everything possible to extend a friendly and informative welcome.

The following are some things you may want to consider:
1. Orientation sessions and tours – Take time to talk to newcomers about your club. Finish the explanation with a tour of the facility. Show them as much of the club as possible including lockers, the ice area and even the refrigeration room!

2. The club should be spotless. This is the first contact with your building and if cleanliness is an issue, you will have made a poor impression and chances are good you will never see those customers again.

3. Information hand-outs – Give every newcomer written details of how your club operates.  Include contacts, information about leagues, instruction, social activities, and any other services offered by your club. Note: this information should be on your web site too!

4. Incentives – Consider start-up incentives such as trial or provisional memberships (e.g. a one-month membership), equipment packages and group or family rates.

5. Special touches – Often little things can count a lot.  Your creativity in making that all-important first impression will go a long way toward making someone feel welcome.

Delivering your activities

Registration: Obtain vital information on everyone who attends your open house.  Details could include name, e-mail, home address, phone numbers, place of business, curling experience and other information you can use to help make them feel welcome at your club. Make sure your privacy policy is clear on the registration form.

Instruction: Provide the opportunity for new curlers to receive some brief instruction on the basics of the game. Have brooms and sliders or sliding material available. And then get them out on the ice to throw their first rock! It’s amazing to see their reaction when they finally throw a stone. Smiles all around and they never say “this is dumber than I thought”!

A key reason we encourage clubs to leave one sheet available for instruction is that there should be other games happening on the other sheets. Your prospective customers / new members will be able to see curling by others and will see up close the broad cross-section of the Canadian population that curls.

Getting Started: The age old problem for Canadian curling clubs has always been what to do with new players who join as singles. Where do we put them? They are very inexperienced; they are by and large shy and often intimidated in their new surroundings. Yet, we continue to take their money and hope like heck they will return year after year. Of course that is the definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over again hoping for better results. We’ll help is on the way with a new instruction program called Getting Started for Adults.

The greatest challenge with any recruitment campaign is placing these new curlers in your league. Generally, they are novice curlers and it is difficult integrating them into existing leagues and, if you do not have a draw from the board or a pick ‘em league, then the chances are your club will not be able to hang on to many of these new recruits. They’ll be frustrated because their skill level is not up to the standard of the league. They will be overwhelmed and eventually (after the first year at the latest) they will quit. All that hard work in recruiting new customers will go down the drain.

The premise behind it is to offer up superior customer service to your new recruits by immersing them in a year-long instruction program using trained (and paid!) instructors. Believe me it works! Novice curlers are graduating from this program as experienced and well schooled members and they are ready to join regular leagues!  The manual can be found at here as well as instructional video clips to assist you.

Follow-up: Although all aspects of any recruiting campaign are important; the key to the overall success will be the interest your club shows in the new customers. While the timing of your campaign may vary, it is important to find ways of offering to include new curlers in as many of the club’s activities as possible. Stay in contact through written correspondence and consider organizing a welcome-back event prior to the fall opening.

Here are a couple of tips that have proven successful in many parts of Canada but mostly in the United States where the sport has grown exponentially since the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Trial Memberships
Most people prefer to ‘test drive’ a product before buying and why not test drive the sport of curling. Many facilities have introduced the concept of trial memberships allowing new recruits the opportunity to play for a few weeks or more before settling in to becoming a lifelong member. Here are a few versions that are working in North America. Build one at your club that makes sense to your operation and you will almost guarantee that the money you spend recruiting members will pay back with customers buying memberships or at least using your building on a regular basis.

1. Novice Instructional League – This type of league is usually 4-6 weeks in length with a two hour session once a week. The league is created and scheduled around major recruitment campaigns. They are often seen early in the year; early in January or late in the spring.

During the two hours, the novice players receive up to 60 minutes of lessons that are a little more advanced than the standard one day novice clinic (if necessary, contact the CCA for lesson plans). The rest of the time can be used to play a few ends, for practice or for 2 on 2 games.

The fees generally range from $40 to $80 for this short period and almost every club allows the fee to then be applied to a full membership if and when they choose to join the club. If they choose not to continue then that is their decision.

One of the difficulties with this type of league is the shortage of trained instructors and the volunteers to manage it. For example, we have noticed that many clubs are ‘hiring’ their instructors and paying them a portion of the fee they collect. Now you have paid instructors (like at the golf course) and the league will have a better chance at succeeding because of the strengthened commitment.

Hint: Be careful when you schedule this league. Giving them the worst time on your weekly calendar won’t do much to help your image. If you have an evening slot open, use it. If not, look at a weekend time that won’t inconvenience the residents of your community. Check around and see what other activities are scheduled and when.

2. Wrap-Around League – This is one of the better ideas we have encountered in recruitment and comes courtesy of the United States Curling Association.  Most of the clubs in the U.S. schedule their recruitment campaigns in the spring when awareness for the sport of curling is at its highest. Hundreds of people will show up in March to try the sport and sign up for four week instructional time. The difficulty they were having was keeping people interested in the sport over the summer and to convince them to come back in the fall.

In response, they developed the Wrap-Around Membership which consists of 6-8 weeks of instruction with the curling programme wrapped around the last 3-5 weeks in the spring and the first 3-5 weeks in the fall. They no longer had to worry about the new recruits returning in the fall because they have already paid a membership for this league! Beautiful!

The fees for this league could be anywhere from $75 to $125. The amount could also be applied to full membership fees when they join. The leagues should offer the same combination of instruction, game time and fun as the basic novice instruction league.

Hint: Even though they will return in the fall to complete their membership, try and stay in touch with this group over the summer. Invite them to the club golf tournament, summer social or whatever you do at the club in the off season.

3. Rookie Leagues – Season-long leagues / programmes for novice curlers are becoming popular and can be found in a few clubs under different names: Greenhorn, Getting Started, etc. The stories we are hearing from these leagues are inspiring and we believe this is the way of the future for recruiting.

The objective of this league is the same as the first two examples except it operates year-round and new recruits – who can call on your club at any time of the year – can start to play right away in an environment that is suitable to an enjoyable experience. Fees generally range from $100 – $300 per year. The interesting trend is that more often than not, instructors are paid (avoids volunteer burn-out).

As in other instruction leagues, timing is critical so do your research. If you want a how-to-manual, please click here! Finally, if your club has a success story in this area of recruitment and development, please share it with us and we will share it with the rest of the curling world as we grow the sport together! E-mail them to Danny Lamoureux at danny@curling.ca

THANK YOU!!
On behalf of the Canadian Curling Association and our country’s curling community, we would like to extend a very big thank you to each of our curling facilities for the work they do in growing the sport at the community level.

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