In 2015, the Parramatta Eels introduced a first in the NRL with the launch of the Eels Member Council. This Member advisory group was established to create an open dialogue with Members, with a focus on increasing Fan Engagement and improving Member satisfaction.
Best described by inaugural Councillor Peter Johnson, the Eels Member Council is “an effective avenue for the Club to canvas a diverse group of Eels supporters on issues which relate to them” as they “feed into the Member experience, provide innovative ideas and give feedback on options to better promote Membership”.
In the three years since its inception, the Eels Member Council has already significantly contributed to the development and implementation of Membership and Fan Engagement strategies and projects. With the club temporary relocating to ANZ Stadium in 2016, one of the Member Council’s key tasks was to assist with the stadium transition process. Concerned about the impact of seat relocations and possible confusions and disruptions this may cause to Members, the Member Council proposed a Pre-Season Stadium Open Day, where Members could come along, see their new seats and gain a better understanding of how the stadium will operate on Match Days. This Open Day proved to be very successful and Members that attended the event were extremely grateful at how the Eels had eased the stadium transition process.
With the temporary relocation to ANZ Stadium, the Member Councils’ shared a common fear that the relocation would lead to the loss of a ‘home ground feeling’. This quickly became a common talking point in meetings and lead to the Eels decision to launch Members Lounge ‘47; a family friendly space where Members can come together on game day and experience live entertainment, access exclusive Member-only giveaways and player appearances, plus enjoy free pre-game catering. Since temporarily relocating to ANZ Stadium, Members Lounge ‘47 has fast become Eels Members’ favourite place to be on Match Days and it is so popular that fans have been begging Eels staff to replicate this Members-only space into the new Western Sydney Stadium.
In addition to the ANZ Stadium transition process, the Eels Member Council has also provided extensive feedback and assisted with the selection of Membership pack inclusion items, offered Member support for the introduction of the Eels Express Bus and contributed to the development of a soon to launch Member Loyalty Program. Plus, they were offered every sporting fan’s dream when they were asked to provide input into the design of the team’s 2018 playing jersey and merchandise range.
The Member Council initiative has proven to be so successful for the Parramatta Eels that other NRL Clubs are taking note. Both the Cronulla Sharks and Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs have since implemented similar Members Advisory models and the Gold Coast Titans are also set to launch their own Member Council in 2018.
It is not just the advisory council concept that has made this member engagement initiative so successful, but also the structure and model of the Eels Member Council. Made up of 20 passionate individuals whose Membership tenures range from one year to 30 years, Members Councillors’ hold all types of Memberships from the Non-Ticketed Blue and Gold Army Membership to the premium Captain’s Club Membership. When developing the Member Council concept, the Eels wanted to ensure that it would include a true cross-section of Members to encourage a wider range of ideas and feedback.
When reflecting on the Councillor selection process, Parramatta Eels Head of Membership and Fan Engagement Larissa Paegle said “we have a very diverse fan base here at the Eels, our oldest Members are in their 90s and the youngest only a few days old, we have Members that live next door to the Stadium and others based abroad, and being located in Western Sydney we also have a very multicultural fan base. During the Councillor selection process, it was important to us, that our Eels Member Council was a true reflection of all of our Members and fans as we wanted to ensure that the feedback and input of Councillors relating to Membership and Fan Engagement strategies and projects catered to the needs of everyone whilst working towards the common goal of continuing to improve our great Club.”
The Parramatta Eels Member Council is a three-year minimum term, with six Councillors stepping down each year to make way for six new Councillors. This model provides Councillors with an extended period to provide feedback and input to Membership projects, whilst ensuring fresh ideas and new perspectives can be brought to the table each year. With hundreds of Members self-nominating for the Council each year, this initiative has proven to be a very successful Member engagement strategy in itself.
When reflecting on his role on the Eels Member Council, inaugural councillor Ryan Lahodiuk revealed that he originally thought the Council would be a ‘token effort by the Eels’ where ‘voices would be heard but no action would be taken’. Instead he “found the experience to be very rewarding meeting with Club officials and getting an insight into understanding what it takes to run a successful Rugby League Club”. Meanwhile, fellow Councillor Melissa Muscat believes that as a result of Member Council “inroads have been made for the Club, its’ Members and fans”. Melissa was passionate about improving the merchandise pack delivery timeframe to ensure “children could open them on Christmas Day”; she was very impressed that the club was able to deliver on her request and she “thinks it has been a huge success”.
With so much competition in the Australian sporting market, the Eels knew that one of the keys to ensure that they remain Westerns Sydney’s largest Professional sports organisation was to improve Membership satisfaction whilst improving fan engagement strategies to attract new fans and supporters. Since the creation of the Eels Member Council, Member Satisfaction ratings have increased by 16% with the Eels currently ranked second in the NRL for member satisfaction, whilst Membership numbers have risen from 20,312 in 2014 to 24,501 in 2017. Not only has the Eels Member Council proven to be extremely successful in just its first three years of operation, but it also poses an exciting opportunity for the future of the Eels’ Membership and Fan Engagement programs.