Earlier this week, I met up with Iain Campbell, Chairman of the Ulster Rugby Supporters’ Club, to discuss their new website, how recruitment has gone this year, and Iain’s own personal quest for world domination!
How did you first get involved with the Supporters Club and how long have you been a committee member?
I used to visit one of the earlier message boards (let that be a warning to people!) and I received an email from one of the committee members, asking if I would like to come along to a meeting and possibly lend a helping hand. Out of curiosity and my love of rugby, I decided to go along and soon after I found myself getting involved with the club. Slowly but surely, I’ve found myself getting stuck in to more and more with the club.
I’ve never actually stopped to think about how long I’ve been on the committee, but I would guess it would be 4 or 5 years now.
Is it difficult being so involved in the committee, when you have other commitments?
It can be difficult and it’s more demanding than people would think. There’s about a dozen ‘hard core’ members who work hard to organise various things within the club, so there’s not too many of us.
Niki Wild looks after our membership and she is very busy at the minute as we’ve over 600 members – it averages about 50 new members a week, so that is quite demanding on her time. Our treasurer, David Halleren, is also very busy at this time with the new subscriptions coming in.
Last year was a difficult year for us, as our membership had fallen and it was often a struggle to move forward. This season is quite different though as our publicity is much more high-profile thanks to Shane Logan and Ulster Rugby.
How successful has recruitment been for the URSC this season?
Last year we only had around 500 members, which was probably our lowest figure. This season however, we are happy to say we’ve around 600 members. It’s a great improvement, but there are still lots of fans out there who can and are able to still renew. It’s not bad value for a tenner!
You’ve mentioned the Supporters Club is great value for money, as you have various events throughout the rugby season. Do you find many people, who aren’t members, turn up and then join on the night?
In a way, yes, but many of the events tend to be supported by members. There’s a hard core of fans who are always at the events, come rain, hail or snow, which is a great thing for us – as a club – to see.
This year, I think one of the big potential advantages we have, is the access to International tickets for the Aviva stadium. We are guaranteed 40 International tickets for each home match at the stadium and it will work as a ballot. All of our adult members qualify for the ballot and because each member is only allowed to win once, you’ve a very good chance of being picked and earning the right to buy a ticket. As well as the chance to buy the tickets, the first name out the hat will win a pair of tickets to a match.
What do you think has been the key factor with regards to improvements in recruitment?
I’m a firm believer that membership will improve, if the results on the field are also improving. Nevertheless, the main difference for us this year has been our presence at match nights. We have our own spot in the marquee which provides us with much more visibility to fans inside the ground and we have plastered posters everywhere we can, to promote the club.
Along with the co-operation from Ulster Rugby, we’ve been joined at the marquee by players each match night – it’s a great chance for the kids especially to get autographs from the guys and a few photos taken too. We’ve had a lot of encouragement from Ulster Rugby this season to help try and drive our numbers up and it appears to be working. We’ve still a long way to go before we are on the same level as Munster, for example, but hopefully our future plans will go a long way to achieve this.
Can you divulge any of these future plans?
I think if we can provide special privileges to the members. For example, there is always a high demand for tickets for international matches, and I think if we could provide more tickets for events such as this, then it is certainly an incentive for the supporters to join up.
Is the Supporters Club purely funded by the membership fees from supporters?
Yes, our income comes solely from membership fees. We have some sponsorship, in kind, from Crystal Clear engravers as they kindly provide the ‘Player of the Month’ trophy to us, at no cost. We are also very indebted to Alan Ferris from McNeilly’s Jewellers, who sponsors the ‘Player of the Year’ award, which includes an exclusive watch for the winner.
Part of our purpose, as a Supporters’ Club, is to provide funds back to Ulster Rugby and I feel that as the profile of the club increases and we achieve greater numbers, we will be able to do this in a greater regard.
Last year we were again able to make an award of the Jack Kyle bursary, £2,000 to Paddy McAlister, and to provide £3,000 towards training equipment for the squad.
And what about the players themselves. Do they help support and promote the club?
That’s an interesting question. I know a number of the players are aware of the club and what we do, but then there are others who are maybe not as sure. Certainly their presence on match nights is a big plus.
It’s similar to the supporters, because despite a blitz of posters within Ravenhill, our new website and publicity through the e-zine Ravenhill Roar, there are still a lot of people who aren’t particularly aware as to what the Supporters’ Club provides, including travel for away matches and access to International tickets.
What are your plans for future recruitment?
We’re currently in talks with Ulster Rugby to help promote our profile in a number of different ways. I would hope to provide more detail on that later this season.
Your new website is now up and running. How has it been received by the members?
We are very pleased – we didn’t have any previous experience with running a website, so we weren’t quite sure where our benchmark would be. However, we are getting 300 – 400 views a day, with many coming through the UAFC and The FRU which is brilliant.
We have posted a lot of information and topical stories on the site, as well as upcoming events. We promoted our trip to Connacht on the website and we’re currently doing the same for the Biarritz trip.
There are topics or articles which attract more views than others, but it’s a vast improvement on what we had, which was an out-of-date page on Ulster Rugby’s website. It was not the fault of Ulster Rugby, but we discussed our options and eventually made the decision to start our own site, where we could update our own content.
We don’t intend to compete with the UAFC or The FRU. They both serve different functions as I think the UAFC’s strength is the message board, while The FRU is very informative in other areas, such as travel and club and women’s rugby. We’re probably somewhere in between and I feel there’s room for us all.
What are future plans for the site?
The Supporters’ Club prime purpose is to provide up-to-date information for our members on upcoming events and away travel. Obviously, we’ll be including some background information on different aspects and hopefully some match statistics over time.
What do you discuss in your Committee meetings?
The committee meets once a month now at Ulster Rugby. We usually meet with the CEO of UR at the beginning to discuss matters of mutual interest, before we get down to business proper.
The meetings themselves revolve around organising travel, our posters, the website, our finances and general publicity. They tend to last a couple of hours and everyone is sent away with tasks to do.
And finally, you’re Chairman of the Supporters’ Club and now you have the new website to manage. It’s been rumoured that this is your next step to World Domination. Is this the case?
(After a sly smile)… That remains to be seen!
You can visit the URSC site by clicking here.