Two of Saturday's Ulster Bank League Division 1A fixtures ended in draws, leaving just five points between the clubs aiming for a home semi-final and only three points splitting the sides battling against relegation.
This is an IRFU initiative which provides a road map and training for the "team off the field" to assist them in running their sports club as efficiently as possible.
In today's economic climate it is becoming increasingly difficult for clubs to find the income necessary to make them sustainable.
The available sponsorships and grants are vastly reduced and there is huge competition for those that remain. There is also competition from other sports and clubs for "customers" such as players and families who might join the club.
With limited resources it is therefore essential that the valuable volunteers have the skills to optimise the business opportunities that the club has. "Welcoming Clubs" provides the road map and training to support the clubs in this area.
The objective of the IRFU is to create a family of rugby clubs who work together and share best practice for their own benefit.
Parents have a choice about which sport or leisure activity they introduce their children to. The clubs need to understand what the parents want (fun, safe activity, challenging activity, social outcomes) and sell the club to the parents by telling them that the club has "what they want".
All of the customers of the club (parents, members, sponsors and supporters) are very valuable people. It is essential that the club works to retain all of them since to replace them is expensive and time consuming. Retaining players, members and parents is achieved through the application of basic of "customer service" principles. Does the club always provide a positive and consistent experience? Does the club welcome new customers and find out what it is they want or need?
Sending out 50 letters to 50 local businesses without any research or targeting will rarely be successful. The starting point should be the knowledge that for a business to invest in sponsorship it needs to achieve one or several of the following business outcomes: They need to find more customers, retain customers, build their brand, build their reputation and/or motivate their workforce. The club needs to analyse which of these it can offer a business. It then needs research the needs of their target businesses and match it up with what they have to offer. Only then should they contact a business and try to sell the sponsorship on the basis of fulfilling those business needs.
It is vital that every person who interacts with the club is on some form of club database or record. This will allow the club to communicate with all stakeholders, inform them about all activities, sell them club products and it will also increase the club's sponsorship value. The communication strategy may include communication channels such as social media, email and web sites. In early 2012, the IRFU will implement the 'Clubhouse' system which will allow clubs to manage and communicate with their players, coaches, parents and members.
The club isn't able to do everything. They need to have a basic plan/strategy in which it decides what it can realistically achieve with the resources available and when it can be achieved. It should also cover how do you resource the road map through the recruitment and motivation of volunteers who are committed to achieving the outcome.