How to increase chess club membership

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Hello ChessJournal fans!

On todays blog I want to return to a topic I have spoken about before and also what is becoming a theme in recent weeks, digital marketing of chess clubs.

I previously wrote about the dearth of digital skills at most chess clubs in my article on The Top Five British Chess Club Websites.

However this week I started to notice a trend:

Finally at the start of June I posted a call to arms to the Bristol & District Chess league about the state of many clubs web presence, the declining trend in membership in the last 25yrs.

However, all the evidence seems to suggest that the popularity of chess is on the rise. America is seeing a resurgence and online platforms have skyrocketing memberships (18 million players on Chess.com?!). Perhaps most noticeable is the additional activities online, beyond just playing games, that are proving very popular such as the excellent YouTube channel from GM Simon Williams (19,000 subscribers) or the fantastic range of podcasts that are emerging such The Full English Breakfast (150,000 downloads) or the Perpetual Podcast by Ben Johnson. People online are not just playing chess, they have a serious interest in getting better at ‘Over the board’

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So why are some clubs struggling with membership? Lets think about some numbers for a moment.

Just imagine…

Chess clubs across the UK obviously vary in size but lets break them into three categories:

  • Small: Less than 10 regulars. They probably have a single team that they field in a local league. They probably struggle to find replacements if anyone is unavailable in a given week.
  • Medium: 18-25 regulars. A good size club who can field an A, B and probably C team in a local league and also have room for some strength in depth.
  • Large: Up to 40 regulars. Might have up to five teams in a local league and are able to cater for all standards of chess. Most likely based in a city and due to the size of the club probably have regular friendly nights or training sessions from the resident titled player.

Lets use the above categorisation as a starting point. Imagine if your club had 20% more members?

“Jon mate you are crazy!”

Ok, lets part the skepticism and run with this for a moment. From experience, I think its fair to say that an additional 20% of members would be a massive help to clubs by:

  • Providing the additional strength in depth so the fear of a drop out doesn’t always result in a default board.
  • Perhaps allowing the club to field that elusive second team that you have wanted to field for the last three seasons;
  • More subs obviously lessening the financial burden that some clubs feel.

Using our chess club sizes above what is an additional 20% membership:

  • To a small club it is 2 people.
  • To a medium club it is 3 – 5 people
  • To a big club it is 8 people.

Is it just me or do those numbers not seem that scary when you consider the booming numbers that the chess community is seeing online and in other countries? Now lets looks at some numbers from a digital recruitment perspective.

Digital Chess Club Recruitment

So the drum that I have been banging recently consists of four premises. Chess clubs in the Uk (but also around the world) need to:

  • Have a clean tidy professional looking website that is optimised to work on smaller devices like mobile phones and tablets (over 50% of traffic now comes from mobile phones)
  • The contact details for the club must be ridiculously easy to find. Too many clubs hide their contact details, don’t have any (?!!) or protect themselves with ridiculous anti-machine CAPTCHAs
  • Have an active presence on social media such as Facebook page, Twitter profile or ideally both.

Six weeks ago I was made webmaster of Horfield & Redland chess club in Bristol, UK. Myself and friend immediately set up a Facebook page and also a nice clean responsive website. Despite not being massively active in terms of blogging or social media (less than 1hr a week), here are some numbers:

  • Per week we are receiving an average of 59 unique visitors to the club website
  • We are receiving an average of 213 page views or 3-4 per visitor
  • We have had 7 enquiries from potential new members asking to join the club.

To stress again, all of these activities are with a relatively low amount of effort or cost. The Horfield & Redland website cost a grand total of £18 to set up and took less than two hours.

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The Bristol & District Chess League runs September to May which means in the summer months a lot of clubs consolidate and just play friendlies. Now with 59 unique visitors a week for 12 weeks over the summer that is 708 visitors before the start of the next season. As a medium sized club to increase our membership by 20% we are only looking for 5 new players or in digital chess club recruitment terms, less than 0.7% of the total visitors to our website!

These are not scary numbers people! They are eminently achievable.

What are the next steps?

If you have made it this far then I hope by now you can see that I do not believe it is hard to increase chess club membership if the amateur chess community was willing to put some effort into the digitisation of its marketing efforts.

Across the country, hundreds of chess clubs are run by hard working, diligent volunteers who perhaps do not have the expertise or know where to start with setting up and looking after a website or social media page. But there are shining examples out there to follow.

Battersea Chess Club and Hammersmith Chess Club are both excellent examples of hard working chess clubs from a digital marketing perspective. They regularly publish articles, videos and games that really want to make you visit the clubs and become a member. If you are part of a chess club and do not know where to begin with digital then you could do a lot worse than start there.

Finally, I often hear chess players lament the growth of chess online impacting league or “over the board” chess. I disagree. Both can exist happily side by side.

Online is not a threat, it is an opportunity.

ChessJournal Update

In other news, myself and Matt are busy planning the next release for ChessJournal App. We are currently exploring some requests and feature ideas around a “Chess Calendar” for storing and recording all of the tournaments, league fixtures and coaching / training sessions for a given season. Its early days but if you have any thoughts on what you might want this feature to provide then give me a shout.

Thank you for reading and all your continued support. We can do this!

Cheers

Jon


ChessJournal is the companion app for club and tournament players. Store your games in the cloud for free and analyse them on the go on your phone or tablet. Get statistics for your season and set and track personal improvement goals. Leave your laptop at home the next time you visit that big tournament!

You can download ChessJournal on iOS and Android here:

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