Aug 10, 2020 • 7 min read
As part of TeamSnap’s Customer Success team, I work closely with sports organization administrators to set up and manage their TeamSnap accounts. Some of you may even know me as your club’s customer success manager!
Over the three and a half years I’ve been at TeamSnap, I’ve partnered with many different types of organizations to bring their registration online with TeamSnap. While every organization is unique, there is one factor I see time and time again: they’re working with understandably tight budgets. Under normal circumstances, that isn’t a problem. But when the financial environment around the world changes as we’re seeing today, it can threaten the organization’s survival.
While many ideas crossed my mind, I knew I’d need to speak with someone who was more of an expert in this field than I am. I called on Jonathan Justice of the Millburn-Short Hills Lacrosse Club in Millburn, NJ, founded in 1996, who joined the board and worked together with the MSHLAX leadership to continuously grow the club’s enrollment numbers. Their efforts over five years also increased the club’s revenue and reserve funds enough to allow them to successfully weather the coronavirus pandemic outside one of the nation’s largest COVID-19 hotspots.
I spoke with Jonathan to dig into this topic and find out his secret. It turns out, it wasn’t some complicated financial strategy. The solution was quite simple: he raised his registration fees.
While the solution itself is simple, I know from years of working with registrars and treasurers that implementing it is not. Increasing registration costs is about as unpopular as it gets for sports organization admins and parents alike. So I pressed further: how exactly did you do this? Here are the three strategies Jonathan used.
For some sports organizations, it’s sponsors, schools or fundraising. For MSHLAX it was parents and volunteers willing to donate their time to coach or work on the board to help reduce costs. An all-volunteer staff allows for lower costs for the organization, while also ensuring those involved are truly passionate about lacrosse and the programs they are a part of.
“For us, parents are the financial resources both with actual dollars spent but also with time. Building a nonprofit is about constituency and co-opting tasks. You can’t grow as a nonprofit without time and service donations, parents have to be willing to participate.”
Reevaluating the MSHLAX program to ensure it wasn’t another nondescript program or too similar to that of a neighboring town was essential. They wanted to provide high-quality coaching, long-term player development and plenty of opportunities to play. They also chose to adopt a sliding scale for their fees. An 8-week kindergarten program doesn’t cost the same as the more robust 8th-grade program.
“What bang for my buck am I giving? How many practices, games and tournaments do I deliver per season? What are they getting for their money with our program versus other programs?”
“Don’t overcomplicate this,” Jonathan notes. Just because you know people will pay top dollar, doesn’t mean you should charge top dollar. Fair pricing is essential. Jonathan and the board evaluated their program’s pricing and compared it to other lacrosse programs offered in the area to ensure they settled on an ideal price point based on what they offer. MSHLAX delivers programs on par with for-profit clubs in their area that are much more expensive. While they aren’t the most inexpensive lacrosse program, they certainly deliver the most value for their price, ranking higher than town rec programs yet a fraction of the price for a for-profit club.
Because their spring coaches are all volunteers with extensive lacrosse experience, the funds received from registration can go right back into the program, allowing MSHLAX to hire reputable professional coaches for their post- and off-season programs. Since no one profits off of their programs, they are able to bring in professional training, at competitive rates, increasing the value provided to their players.
Over the course of 3 years, MSHLAX raised its fees by 30-33% and didn’t see a dip in enrollment. In fact, in 3 years their enrollment in their boys program increased by 20%, and in just one year, their girl’s program enrollment increased by 35%!
As their enrollment numbers grew, MSHLAX increased its offerings, adding an intramural box league and including lacrosse sticks or practice pinnies for regular season enrollment. Jonathan emphasized you need to lead with the value you are providing, rather than the money you are charging and that little things like free lacrosse sticks add increased value to your program.
While COVID-19 forced everyone off the fields, the MSHLAX didn’t let that stop them from providing training and lacrosse to their members. To ensure their members received a meaningful experience this season, Jonathan leveraged technology to offer remote conditioning and skills training through an online resource library comprised of HIIT and conditioning workouts, mobility, and strength training from a local physical therapy clinic they partnered with, plus stick and shooting drills to continue sharpening their technique.
With their spring season entirely canceled, they also quickly organized a 7-week summer session, coached entirely by professional high school and college coaches and players, for boys and girls in grades 3-8, only charging $100 to encourage sign-ups. MSHLAX implemented comprehensive and clear COVID-19 protocols to keep children and coaches safe, including pre-participation health screening before sessions.
Through transparent communication to members on the club’s financials and offering training in a remote environment, they were still able to retain registration dollars, offering full refunds to non-returning players and credits to all returning registrants in 2021. They also reduced fees for all upcoming registrations, regardless if registrants had enrolled in programs from spring 2020. With some of their cash reserves accrued over the last 5 years of succession planning, they were able to cover any nonrefundable overhead costs the club incurred that year.
Despite challenges with Coronavirus, MSHLAX held fast to their belief to do the most with what you have, in order to provide players a memorable experience in exchange for registration fees and instead of throwing in the towel, all of their players were still able to play and practice lacrosse in various capacities.
There’s no question–this season looked very different for organizations across all the country. For some, raising registration rates might not be in the cards this year. Many organizations are faced with the challenge of how they’ll provide their members with any semblance of a season, without being able to be on the fields in their usual numbers or on the fields at all. For MSHLAX, building on everything they’ve learned over the last few years and doing the most with what they had meant they could still provide a memorable experience and hold onto registration dollars.
Marika is a Client Success Manager at TeamSnap. When she’s not supporting our TeamSnap partners, she can be found on the mats training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Boulder, CO. Either that or in the CrossFit gym.