How demography helped Richmond Football Club double its membership

Sport and recreation

Client

Richmond Football Club

Challenge

To choose the best location for the club’s training ground, where they could engage with the community and build membership.

Highlights

Demographic analysis clearly showed the best location and gave the club the confidence to act decisively.

Results

The community responded and club membership doubled, making Richmond the most successful club at building membership.

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In the last five years, Richmond has been the most successful club in the AFL at building membership. Unfortunately for Richmond this hasn’t been driven by on-field finals success. So what is their secret?

The Business Challenge

Football in Australia is not a typical sports market. It’s not like in the USA where each elite team “owns” the fan base for a whole state. In Victoria there are ten clubs in one state all competing for fans.

This is a strategic challenge for the AFL. How do they grow the total membership pie, rather than taking fans from each other?

It’s a strategic challenge for each club. They have to decide where to build their fan base in this highly competitive landscape. Do they focus on areas where support for the AFL and their club is strong? Or do they look for areas where AFL is not strongly supported, and build a new fan base – a longer term strategy?

The location of a club’s training ground is an important part of this strategy as it provides an opportunity to engage with people in a new location. In 2008 Richmond began out-of-season training at Craigieburn in Melbourne’s northern growth corridor, where they hoped to tap into the rapidly growing population of young families and a brand new facility provided by the council and property developers. At first glance this seems like a good decision, but several years on and this decision was not bearing fruit. Membership growth was very slow, and it was disheartening and expensive to take a full, elite football department out to training for only 300 people to turn up to watch.

The .id Solution

The club engaged .id to see if underlying demographic patterns could explain the poor result and point the club to a better location.

We were immediately struck by the Craigieburn decision. Why would Richmond, a club with a long history in the inner southeast, go north? To a demographer it was clear why Richmond were struggling to gain traction there. But unless you had demographic expertise, it would be an easy mistake to make.

Football is generational. You tend to support the team your parent’s supported. To build membership, low hanging fruit are the children of past and current members. So the question is, where are they?

We started by mapping the location of current and past Richmond members. It showed a clear spatial pattern with membership strongest in Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs, fanning out from the club’s heartland in Richmond (the red areas on the map below).

Then the demography comes in. We know that when the children of current Richmond supporters grow up and leave home, we can predict with some confidence where they will move to. In Melbourne there is a clear northwest and southeast divide. People that grew up in the southeast have a strong tendency to move further southeast to a suburb they can afford when they buy their family home. Demographers call this outward sectoral migration.

You can clearly see people who live in Richmond strongholds fanning out across the east and southeastern suburbs (the yellow arrows on the map below).

RFC

Craigieburn is in Melbourne’s north, and people moving there are less likely to have a strong connection with a club based in the southeast. It would be a long, slow burn to build membership there.

We recommendeded the club move their training ground to Cardinia, in Melbourne’s southeastern growth corridor. It has a strong connection to Richmond’s heartland, strong migration from the southeast, rapid population growth, young families with kids the right age to make their allegiance to a football team, low numbers of overseas born (who take longer to bring into the football fold) and sufficient income to pay for membership.

The evidence was clear and compelling. The biggest future opportunity to attract fans and revenue were in and around Cardinia.

This strong narrative, supported by demographic evidence, enabled Richmond’s management team to quickly get the Richmond Board, AFL and Cardinia Shire council behind the decision and the Club announced the move to Cardinia in 2012. The hardest thing was convincing the players to make a 50km journey on a bus to go to training!

The Outcome

The club has broken membership records every year for the last five years (2010-2015) growing 9% per annum.

In Cardinia membership has grown 26% per annum since 2012.

As a result, membership doubled from 36,000 in 2010 to 72,000 in 2015.

Richmond is now the third largest club behind Collingwood and Hawthorn, despite not having finals success (fingers crossed for the 2016 season…).

First year member retention is the highest in the league and overall retention ranks consistently in the top three.

The community is right behind them. And the players are happy. When the team goes out to Cardinia for training, 4000 people show up to watch. Which makes the 50km bus trip all worthwhile.

By understanding local demographic patterns, as they relate to their business, Richmond ensured that their effort was being channeled into the right place.

Organisations are often looking for technology or innovation to deliver the big win. Richmond got a 100% upswing from understanding patterns of population change.

Further Reading

You can find a detailed set of slides about this case study here.

You might like to watch a 2 minute video about how demographics can help your business.

You can learn more about how .id can assist you to make location decisions here.

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