Port Adelaide’s on-field revival may be led by its young brigade, but the club’s investment in youth off the field is also paying dividends that will be felt long after the likes of Ollie Wines and Chad Wingard have hung up the boots.
Power supporters have an arsenal of jibes that have long been laughingly lobbed at their crosstown rivals – from the Chardonnay set to the crocheting nannas descending en masse on Adelaide Oval.
If the latter image persists, it’s perhaps because it’s not a million miles from the truth.
Figures obtained by InDaily from both SA-based AFL clubs show more than a quarter of the Adelaide Football Club’s membership is aged 60 or older, while the Power’s concerted strategy to court a younger fan base is paying dividends.
Port’s under-20 brigade accounts for 23 per cent of its more than 58,000-strong membership, compared to the Crows’ 17.2 per cent.
By contrast, 26.2 per cent of Adelaide’s 60,000-plus members are aged 60 or older, compared to just 18.3 per cent of the Power’s.
Matthew Richardson, Port’s general manager of consumer business and marketing, says while there has been a deliberate strategy to appeal to younger fans, the club has focused on building a strong brand and an ability for supporters to forge a shared connection to it. Put simply: “Everyone wants to feel part of something.”
“What we’re finding is generally people are attracted to strong brands that have a really clear message,” explains Richardson.
“Coopers is a great example – an old, established Adelaide brand that attracts young people – and Port Adelaide is exactly the same: an authentic, real, iconic SA brand.”
He concedes the marketing of the brand “lost our way” some years back, and “there were a whole range of factors around that through that period, not least of which that the brand was split in two”. The reconciliation of the SANFL and AFL wings of the football club has helped strengthen the branding.
“First and foremost, we put the club back together; now we’ve done that, it’s about how do we connect that (brand) to the game-day experience.”
While Port can always fall back on its history (“You have grandparents who bring kids to the footy and can share stories of when they watched Port back in the 1950s or ‘60s”) the marketing challenge has been “making that history relevant for the future and connecting current and future fans with that authenticity”.
Its membership products are designed to specifically cater to the younger generations, with parents offered “Baby” packages for their 0-2 year olds, and the innovative “Power Pirateers” designed to appeal to the 2–6 age group.
“Kids in that age group are not necessarily connected to footy … as they get to five or six they start to transition into getting more interested in footy,” explains Richardson. Instead, the early focus is on “stories and characters” that are incorporated into game day.
Port’s youth focus is no recent phenomenon: it’s been an aggressive part of the Power’s marketing since its inception. Indeed, former chief executive Brian Cunninghan – who steered the club into the AFL – told me 10 years ago that Port had to work hard to overcome the “polarising” effect of the Magpies.
“You either loved us or hated us,” he said back in 2005.
“Our key marketing focus was new people, particularly kids – we supplemented the black and white colours of our history with teal and silver, which are very popular for children and families.”
In the same article, the late demographer Professor Graeme Hugo noted that if there was a genuine “Crows supporter” stereotype, “it’s probably families and older couples”.
That persistent stereotype has now seen the Adelaide Football Club launch a more concerted bid to redress the balance.
Crows CEO Andrew Fagan tells InDaily the club is “investing significantly in our schools program this year, allowing us to visit more schools and reach out to more children and educate them in the benefits of positive choices and healthy lifestyles”.
“We’ve enhanced our match-day experience with a specific kids entertainment area, as well as some other digital initiatives which are sure to create excitement among a younger demographic,” he says.
“Match-day experience” seems to be the buzz-word of AFL clubs these days, and it’s widely acknowledged that Port has been a leader in the field since its move to Adelaide Oval.
“We’re really focussed first and foremost on actually making sure we deliver an outstanding members’ experience to our existing members, and making sure we look after them, and that remains our number one priority,” says Richardson.
“But at the same time there’s an eye to the future, and the next generation of Port Adelaide members and fans … (with) a lot of new people coming to Port Adelaide games for the first time, how can we make sure when they come they have a fantastic experience, outside of what’s on the field, and want to come back?
“And the data we’re seeing suggests that’s starting to have a really positive impact.”
Membership breakdown by age
Port have also been pro-active chasing the late-teens and 20+ year olds, who frequently opt out of memberships as they start to filter away from the family home and often don’t re-join until they have families of their own.
“It’s not necessarily a support thing – once you’re a Port Adelaide person you’re always a Port Adelaide person – but it’s about how do we keep them connected through that journey,” says Richardson.
“It’s about the product, tailoring our membership offering to suit that market … We’re driving value, which for kids and teenagers is a really important factor.”
The club ran a “registration of interest” campaign back in October, and has “seen some really encouraging signs not just in membership numbers but also registrations of interest”.
|PORT ADELAIDE MEMBERSHIPS (excluding AFL Members)|
Adelaide counts a higher proportion of women among its members, with 38.5 per cent female to 60.5 per cent male (Port’s breakdown is 35.2 per cent female to 64.3 per cent male; the remainder is unaccounted for). The club says that is among the highest percentage of female supporters in the league.
“Our club has started on a new path of engaging with our members and supporters of all ages like never before and we want as many people as possible to enjoy the excitement and energetic atmosphere of a Crows match at Adelaide Oval,” says Fagan.
“Further to that, we are developing programs which will allow us to engage with the more than 600,000 supporters of the club who do not form part of the ‘traditional’ membership model.”
For both clubs, that includes capping the number of season tickets to leave room for non-members (and prospective members) to attend home games.
Just like list management, getting the mix right is a balancing act.
According to Richardson: “It’s not a quick fix, it’s a medium to longer-term plan.”
“You’ve got to be consistent with it,” he says.
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