Building a sports club in the social media age

Five years ago, the Braehead Clan ice hockey club had only just played its first game. To start this season, they won a game in the European Champions League, significant in itself given that only once before had a British team won a game in the competition.

While Facebook and Twitter can’t take credit for that, they can certainly help to explain how the fledgling young club has come so far in such a short space of time.

Clan play in the 10-team Elite Ice Hockey League, which comprises of four Scottish teams (Braehead, Dundee, Edinburgh and Fife), one each from Wales (Cardiff) and Northern Ireland (Belfast) and an English quartet (Coventry, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield).

The Glasgow-based Clan were formed in 2010, playing out of the 3,500 capacity Braehead Arena, attached to the shopping centre that carries the same name less, than two miles out of the city centre.

Despite a limited marketing budget, which Operations Director Gareth Chalmers admits contributes to their reliance on social media, the Clan sell out virtually every week and are eagerly awaiting news on a planned 9,000-capacity arena nearby due to be built by 2020.

Chalmers said: “We do a lot of our marketing online, very little offline. We’ve tried stuff at the cinema, flyers, traditional direct marketing, poster sites and school visits but our main focus is online.

“Our social media and website are where we focus. Twitter is so big for us now and it helps that we’re a family sport and one with a young audience, because it means we connect so well with our fan base who are so active on social media.

“What we’ve achieved probably could have been done years ago, but it would have been done very differently. You probably would have had to dish out a load of free tickets, whereas this way we’ve been able to not devalue our product as we’ve not needed to do that. We have a big demand for tickets.

“Without social, it would be very expensive for us to reach the sort of numbers we can. We’re quite forward thinking with our approach, even now some clubs still don’t get its benefits. There are clubs who still didn’t have a Twitter account even just three years ago.”

Braehead have a following of around 16,400 on Twitter and have more than 12,400 Facebook likes. Chalmers is the main driving force behind the digital strategy, and he is supported by an operations executive, media officer and commercial, who all contribute their respective parts to the collective effort.

“We do have a planned social media strategy.

“We tend to put a ticket story out at say 7am, 12 noon and 5.30pm, as we know that’s the time where people are going to be looking at their phones and are going to be online and most likely to want to go ahead and buy a ticket.

“We use Facebook and Twitter for marketing, and although the purpose is to link to the website, we find that people see the headline and don’t click the link. In some ways, that makes it impossible for us to track just how much of a success our social media strategy is.

“The way we look at it is that we’re engaging and raising brand awareness. People will go on at lunch time, see the ticket story and think ‘I’ll go and see the Clan this weekend.’ It gets them thinking about us.”

Establishing a new sports club in a football-mad city such as Glasgow would seem to be a challenge. However, many of the traditional football clubs are backward thinking in their marketing approach and seem to expect people to come and watch, without being pro-active and reaching out to their fan base.

Chalmers added: “We’re 100% a modern business. It’s quite eye-opening what’s happening to football up here. We’re actually standing up against and aren’t far behind attendances at the likes of Partick, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, and Hamilton.

“They seem to be reliant on people remembering that they’re there, and they expect people to watch it. People are starting to get tired of being taken for granted.”

Another benefit for the Clan is their location. Their arena is situated within the Intu Braehead shopping centre which boasts an annual football of 17 million.

What that means is there are very few people who couldn’t find where the Clan play on a match day, something that gives them the edge over their competition in other sports – such as Glasgow Rocks (basketball) and Glasgow Warriors (rugby union).

“The problem now is we’ve plateaued a little bit, due to the attendances reaching their maximum,” continued Chalmers.

“It makes it difficult to increase revenues. We have to stay competitive on the ice and the aim is to win something this season and get back into the Champions League. It would be great to win the league, but it’s a very good league this year.

“When the new building is in place, the aim is to be the best hockey organisation in the UK. With the demographic we’ve got, it’s achievable.”

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