Getting those rugby fans back for more

Leading rugby clubs tell us how they attract customers to the bar beyond match days and training

2019 is the Chinese year of the pig, but rugby will be one of the sports hogging the headlines over the next 12 months.

Right now we are in the midst of a Gallagher Premiership title race between Saracens and Exeter Chiefs that has the hallmarks of a classic.

We’re also reaching the knockout stages in the Champions Cup, where Leinster are once again looking like the team to beat.

You can watch all of the domestic and European drama on BT Sport as it unfolds between now and the season’s finales in May.

But that’s not all there is. The Six Nations is about to get underway and then later in the year it will be time for the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Interest in the sport will be heightened, which means if you run a club or a pub now is the ideal time to think about not only how you attract rugby fans but also get them to stay with you for a little bit longer.

So, to get some insight into doing just that, we had a chat with some rugby clubs who have their eyes firmly fixed on the oval-shaped ball.

1. Showing the rugby

Yes, it’s stating the obvious but if the rugby is being played, get it on the screens in the bar. It can encourage players and supporters to stay that little bit longer after matches and training sessions and bring people in on other days.

Northern FC, which is actually a long-established rugby club in Newcastle, despite what the name suggests, has recently refurbished its Terrace Bar and is reaping the benefits.

Rugby is our point of difference because football dominates. We’re the only venue in the area showing it.”

Assistant manager Michael Giles says: “We have two boxes with the rugby on. If Newcastle Falcons are playing it always brings in a few extra people for us.”

Philip Foster, operations manager at Burton RFC, says the club experiences a similar uplift with live rugby.

If it’s on and we can show it we will. The Six Nations are very big for us. It is also a point of difference because football dominates and we are the only venue in the area showing rugby.”

2. Sport for all

Unlike many clubs which open primarily on match days, training days and for functions Northern FC is open every day of the year (including Christmas Day) and while rugby is at the heart of the club they also see themselves as a community facility.

This means that there is no prejudice against those who may prefer to kick a ball instead of run with one in hand.

Michael continues: “We will show football on the TVs as well and we do get a crowd in when Newcastle United are playing, even though they are not doing great at the moment. There’s always some sport to show but the priorities for us are Falcons, Newcastle and internationals.”  

3. On the bar

The rise of crafted products has made a clear impact on pubs and is having the same effect on clubs.

Crafted drinks from local breweries are key to Northern FC’s differentiated offering.”

Until recently Michael actually brewed a beer at the club, making a firkin at a time. They are now focussing on bringing craft beers from local breweries to the club to ensure there is always a point of difference on the bar.

He adds: “There’s a craft shop in the area and we are finding that some of the customers from there are coming here to drink with us too.”

“You’ve always got to be thinking of the next thing to get people to come to see you.”

4. Functions and private hire

Rugby clubs have also been highly regarded for the social side of things and many are expanding their offer to bring in more people from different walks of life.

At Burton RFC you’ll find Northern Soul, dinners and private hire of its three lounges. Northern hosts a regular pie night and was looking forward to a Burns Night supper in January.

Michael adds: “You’ve always got to be thinking of the next thing to get people to come to see you.”

“We let people know what’s on with a mixture of social media, our website and posters.”

5. Shout about it

And of course you have to tell them about it to.

At Melrose RFC, marketing plays a vital role according to president Douglas Hardie.

“It’s a mixture of social media, the website and posters. There’s no one catch-all way of doing it,” he says.

And with more than 6,000 followers on Twitter, thousands more likes on Facebook and their own YouTube and Instagram channels, the club is reaching out far beyond the 2,000 population of the Borders town.

Similarly, at Northern FC, social media plays a vital role, as does advertising internally. The club uses TV screens to keep customers posted with what’s on next.

Big events such as Rugby World Cups are the best opportunities to convert non-rugby fans.”

6. The Next Generation

Big events such as Rugby World Cups are the best opportunities to, if you’ll pardon the pun, convert non-rugby fans. However, clubs should also always have an eye on the next generation. As well as running junior sides (which keeps many a rugby club bar busy on a Sunday) the likes of Northern are also reaching out in different ways. During the week its lounge is rented out as a nursery and soft play area. It also hosts a Pilates group.

The best clubs don’t just serve their sport of choice; they provide a hub for the entire community.”

Meanwhile, Burton RFC, which has won multiple Club Awards, has forged close links with a neighbouring school as it builds a new site which is establishing it as a major community facility.

And perhaps that’s what all of the best clubs have in common. Not only are they providing a facility and club for rugby players and supporters but a hub that can be enjoyed by all of the community and keeps them coming back for more.



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