Want to guarantee regular attendance and fan loyalty? Time to start thinking about some fan club programs. We recommend a kids club and a fan club. One for the little kids and one for the big ones. There are a few basic rules for both clubs we think are good practice.
First, membership should be free. You are trying to turn casual fans into super fans. They are doing you a favor. Encourage them to keep it up.
Every member deserves a card they can show off to prove their loyalty. Membership cards can be paper or plastic, generic or personalized. We recommend starting with a combination of both. Design cards you can print at the office. Include a spot for the fan's name to be printed and a signature spot for them to sign their name to make it official.
The card design will depend on the program you offer but we recommend considering a stamp-friendly design as your team is not likely to have a computerized scanning system in place for tracking member rewards. Make a spot for every home game on the card and add a few extra spaces for trivia bonus stamps. You'll see why as you read on.
Show your fans you appreciate them all year long. Include a birthday spot on your sign up form along with address, email and phone. This serves two purposes. First, it allows you to send your fans a card from the team on their special day or make announcements at the field when they have home game birthdays. Second, it helps you know when your kids club fans have grown into full fledged fans. You can send them a little something extra with their birthday card when that happens. Start with a grown up membership card to replace their kids club card. If a kid is mid-season when the birthday hits, let them know they can still get all the rewards of the kids club membership through the end of season but now they can collect on both cards!
Most importantly, the demographic information you've collected can help your team in the future. Need to raise funds for an emergency replacement at the park? You now have the contact details of your most loyal fans. Want to send an invitation for kids camps or a special event for the off-season, you can do that too. If you have a new player coming in while the team is on the road and you need a host family for a night, again, you've got contacts.
There are some things that should be just for kids and others reserved for adults. Needs are different and your club offerings should embrace those differences.
Start by determining your age range. Some clubs stop at age 10, others 12 and some go as high as 14. Whatever age you chose, make it clear in the sign up materials. Keep in mind, the older you go, the bigger the sizes have to be on things you might offer for the kids to wear. Would a 14-year old in your area be willing to wear a T-shirt that says Jr. or has a cartoon of your mascot on the front? Keep the prizes age-appropriate all the way through.
Special offers only for kids club members can include:
Chance to be bat boy/girl for the day
Chance to announce an inning
Chance to throw out first pitch
Run the bases after every game on a Sunday or whatever special day you select (most kids in attendance)
Exclusive autograph session with the team
These are all free to offer for your club and things you can institute today without having to make any arrangements.
If you’re looking for longer-term inspiration try any combination of the following ideas which we’ve gathered from a variety of kid’s clubs across college, minor league and major league free programs.
We recommend a fan starter pack that includes either a packet of baseball cards, T-shirt or hat so that they can collect autographs, along with a special marker, with your logo printed on it, to help them get started the second they sign up. If you make the marker permanent and give out a T-shirt the kids will walk around advertising the club for you. Obviously you have to remember these are kids so let the parents know it is wash-proof so they keep a diligent eye on the marker if their child's age calls for it.
Does your team have a mascot? The club is a great way to utilize their talents. Let the mascot be the leader, in print, name and person when it comes to the kids club. The fan club stamp can be the team mascot if you have one and kids can have to search out the mascot to receive their stamp and/or prizes. If the mascot is the leader of the club, then include an autographed photo or baseball card of the mascot in the sign up packs.
Your mascot can lead treasure hunts between games if you host double headers so that kids can find clues that help them learn more about the game. Make sure these hunts have lots of physical activity in them so the kids get a chance to run around an enjoy themselves.
Here's a quick idea: Give kids a quick quiz or puzzle to solve to earn their daily stamp. Example: hide clues about the rules of the game at the field and let kids go on the hunt for the answers.
If you decide to create a dedicated area for fan club sign ups and prize redemption consider having players from the U-teams run the stand during the D1 games, at least for the kids club. Little kids look up to big kids and this will start to train the bigger kids for what is to come when they make it up to the next level.
Set them up by a slow concession booth to increase traffic to the area while not interfering with sales. If there are no extra concessions booths but your team has mascot use them to help out. Have kids find the mascot to receive their game stamp each day.
If your team hosts only double headers we recommend making the 2nd game a stamp-gathering opportunity. What we mean is, make it so that kids who stay through to the start of the second game get a stamp or engage kids in activities between the games that require prize pickups during the first inning of the second game.
This allows your staff to handle concession needs between games but it also ensures that parents and kids stick around until at least the first inning of the second game. It can be tough to keep a kid's attention through two games. By giving them engaging tasks they'll want to complete for prizes they'll want to collect, you are increasing their staying power and, in doing so, increasing your ability to generate more revenue from the parents via concessions.
Need some execution inspiration? Check out how they do it in the bigs. There’s no need to start from scratch. Borrow what you can execute immediately and tailor it to your own audience, schedule and budget as they years go on.
If you’re looking for inspiration a bit closer to home, see how they do it in Italy. Parma already has a kid’s club.
Of all the clubs we looked at, it’s the Junior Dodgers Club we found most inspiring. It offers the ultimate kid experience. The entire focus, from the membership to the page for sign-ups, is done with their audience in mind.
We’ve said it before, kids don’t come without parents. Get the kids, you have more fans by default. As long as they’re going to be there anyway, why not make it worth their time?
Involving adults in their own fan club can be one way to educate the parents and friends brought to the park out of love. Through education comes appreciation and respect. Add an understanding of the game to the fantastic baseball community you already foster and they’re sure to be come fans for life!
Special offers only for fan club members can include:
Special event with the players
Discount offer to the sponsor’s location
Discount on team merchandise purchases
Welcome back party prior to opening day with coaches and players.
Holiday party invitation
Fan club meetings each month or just in the off-season months. There they can learn the rules, participate in camps if they want to try the sport, attend lectures from guest speakers, have base/softball-inspired discussions.
During the games have adults answer trivia that you’ve included in the program or complete rules quizzes to help them learn more about stuff they only see a few times a year like the infield fly rule.
In the MLB the fan clubs are online and interactive so head to the page for inspiration!
One key element of either fan club is prizes. Throughout the season, every trivia contest or stamp they get for attending a game should be leading up to a reward.
Prizes can be anything from a free concessions drink for adults when they attend three consecutive games, to an autographed team ball for perfect attendance. For the kids rewards will need to come more often so make them all small, stickers and tattoos are great starts. Lapel pins or team buttons work great for kids of all ages too!
As we mentioned at the start, there should be no fee for these fan appreciation programs. Need to fund it? Find a sponsor.
Sponsored clubs afford a team the opportunity to expand the prizes and community. For example, if the sponsor is a local restaurant chain the restaurant can have sign up information available in their locations. The membership card can also be shown at the restaurant for special insider discounts and prizes throughout the season.
The only limits on what you do are your imagination and budget so get a sponsor involved and create the ultimate fan experience!