For first timers on court, the social side of badminton has always been one of the sport’s biggest selling points. And it appears that the very same socialization is extending into Twitter and Facebook as a key recruitment for new club members.
For a sport with deep set roots in the 19th century, the digitally savvy 21st century with all things tech at heart was going to be a game of catch-up but one that clubs have been more than willing to play.
Whilst some have been early tech adopters of the brave new world, the traditional logic to growing player numbers has been paper based with leisure centre posters, leaflet handouts and community notice boards as voice – with word of mouth still core.
In fact, an independent survey of leisure providers back said that 55% of all new court bookings came from word of mouth as recently as 4 years ago whilst Badminton England’s own No Strings Badminton programme identified that every 2 in 3 new players came on the back of a personal recommendation.
Look ahead to the ‘New Year, New Me’ flurry of sports centre campaigning and that logic is not a dying age across the sports world but it is certainly fading in significance as clubs and facilities embrace a digital age.
The coming of new tech and user friendly dashboards and, significantly social marketing at lower entry costs have turned social media into a viable recruitment opportunity for even the smallest of clubs in remote corners of the country. Those 140 characters offered by Twitter have never been more important.
Whilst even the well formed tweets have a shelf life of less than 20 minutes, the power of the timeline is such that ringing recommendations no longer come from a close knit set of friends but a worldwide network of over 15 million active ambassadors – always online in the UK Twittersphere.
And each can have an influence.
Last year, Badminton England’s own social media and web channels grew by an industry trend busting 64%, putting the sport in front of more than 1.4 million individuals online – a sixth straight year of year on year growth. Tie that to more people consuming badminton on their mobiles via social timelines or responsive web pages than on and badminton are embracing but still playing catch up.
The 44,000+ who now follow on Facebook and whose numbers swell by more than 1,000 new people each month are made up of a healthy mix of members, social players but also large chunk of people looking to take their first steps (back) into the sport, inspired by taking a new look at badminton.
Last year, social media signposting led more than 60,000 people to Badminton England’s ‘find a club or court’ tool – it may sound like small fry to a sport seeing almost 1 million people playing twice monthly but as a key influencer in promoting what the sport has to offer locally it really does deliver real time returns by way of engagement.
But that level of awareness is not just an NGB phenomenon. The rise of club accounts on Twitter not only showcase local opportunities to swing a racket but always give clubs a platform to air their voices on all things badminton.
It is estimated that 1 in every 12 affiliated clubs in England have a social media channel of some extend with the an average 160 people following.
The golden goose remains conversion though – getting those active engagers to turn away from their timelines just long enough to swing a racket, smash some shuttles and ultimately join you as fullyfledged members or local league players.
In fact, Chew Valley are a good case in point after putting their focus on Facebook to recruit for their ladies only sessions. In Chew’s case, a facebook call out has attracted 40 new players in two weeks with ages ranging from under 12s to the over 60 silver servers.
That social awareness and extra promotion has taken work and some budget to get off the ground but has prompted extra court time and started to lure players from exercise class studios onto court.
And Chew Valley are not alone. Outside of the social norm, the rise of MeetUp badminton communities has given sway to a new way to arrange to play. It is estimated that there are near on 300 badminton groups on MeetUp all talking and arranging court time socially.
Clubs are even turning to Twitter to agree meet ups at the YONEX All England as they widen their social set beyond the boundaries of regular club nights.
Badminton is very much playing catch up though. But one can’t help but think its only a matter of time until some of the proactive clubs pull on wearable tech by way of using their core marketing assets – the arms and legs of their current players – to offer real time ways for onlookers to instantly ‘find out more’.
A running, smashing, lunching recommendation to ‘app, zap, sign up and play’ is an innovative step up on the walking billboard but the new generation of shirt sponsorship with mobile activated engagement points is sure to catch on.