Lawn Bowls clubs are innovating to attract new members, even running bare-foot bowls and speed dating bowls for new and existing members. If the sport of Lawn Bowls can embrace the internet and social media to reinvigorate its brand, increase participation, grow its members and lift revenues, then so can we all.
Lawn Bowls has been around for hundreds of years with its origins supposedly dating back to Ancient Egyptian times along with its cousins, Bocce and PÃ©tanque. It’s often been seen as a traditional sport for older people with rigid rules and recognisable but rather unattractive white uniforms. I can remember my grandmother, Clare playing bowls for years all around Victoria and South Australia. As a child and teenager it appeared to me to be a rather stiff and formal pursuit, certainly not aimed for youth participation. We were in fact actively discouraged from pursuing it as a suitable sport. You would think this perception as a recipe for a dying brand, yet Australian Lawn Bowls is seeing a strong resurgence like never before at both the elite and social level.
Memberships are growing, participation is high across a wide range of age groups and revenues are strong. So what have they done to reinvigorate their brand?
I came across this good news story while listening to ABC radio on one of my early morning walks which coincidentally passes right by our local Lawn Bowls club. I was delighted to hear the Chief Executive of Bowls Victoria, Peter Hanlon telling us that the sport of Lawn Bowls now has a whole new lease of life: especially in attracting a much younger demographic from teenagers to Gen X ‘s & Y’s. In fact some of their current national champions and elite players are teenagers and Gen Y’ers.
Bowls Australia and its state entities realised some time ago that the sport wasn’t growing and this was largely due to its brand perception; ‘strict rules, old person, white uniform’ image. They commissioned extensive research and found that there were many people of many ages and abilities who wanted to play Lawn Bowls and the beauty about the sport is that almost anyone can play. So the answer was simple: communicate with the people that want to play.
Australian Lawn Bowls clubs quickly flung open their doors to people of all persuasions; people with disabilities, teenagers, families, community groups, even speed dating agencies; providing a venue and activity great for introducing people to one another. Corporates and businesses were also quick to see the benefits of lawn balls as a team building exercise and social outlet for out-of-office activities. The sport read the signals right and embraced its new members. So much so, clubs have even introduced Barefoot Bowling to make it even easier to participate.
There are no longer barriers to playing Lawn Bowls now. Anyone can play and anyone is welcome.
Here is what Bowls Australia now stands for:
BOWLS – THE SPORT FOR ALL AUSTRALIANS
We will stimulate innovation of the business and sport of bowls so that peak bodies and clubs become known for their delivery of excellent services and resources and facilities become contemporary community venues and the game attracts people of all ages and backgrounds.
To provide leadership and facilitate a collaborative approach for the growth, development and success of the sport and business of bowls in Australia.
- Teamwork – national unity through constructive relationships;
- Autonomy of state and territory associations;
- Professionalism – demonstrated through integrity;
- Progressive – adapt to the changing needs of society through the coordinated efforts of BA, state and territory associations and clubs;
- Innovative – proactive culture attuned to environmental changes within and outside the sport.
‘A new game plan’
In March 2009, Bowls Australia released the strategic plan for 2009 – 2012 entitled ‘A new game plan’. No longer considered an old person’s pastime, the sport now has a whole-of-community approach. Other sporting bodies have taken Bowls Australia’s lead and done the same, an example of this flow-on effect is Swimming Victoria, now ensuring everyone, at every level has an opportunity to participate.
Once the signals were read, it was time to communicate. Social media has been a large part of Bowls Australia’s strategy for connecting with its new members and potential new members. The organisation embraced the online phenomena. Social media tools proved to suit its needs and Facebook, YouTube and Twitter proved to be the best way to connect with a new audience, promote events and report results, all the while bringing people together to share in a revitalised sport and social activity. By embracing new media, the brand breathed new life into what was becoming a tired and tried age-old activity. Check out their website to see how they did it.
Lawn Bowls is now one of the most socially inclusive sports across all levels across Australia. It gives people of all persuasions a place to socialise, participate and compete. As the Chief Executive of Bowls Victoria, Peter Hanlon said ‘it takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master’.
Thanks to Peter Hanlon, Bowls Victoria and Bowls Australia, my husband and I are now looking at getting into the sport much earlier than we would have otherwise anticipated and who knows we might just get the whole family involved too. Bring it on.
Remember everybody lives by selling something.