How To Get Started With Organizing Game Play Successfully

Club Pickleball USA
June 17, 2024
2 min

Devan Egan, the founder of Club Pickleball USA, brings extensive experience and a deep passion for the sport. Having made all the mistakes himself, he now shares valuable tips to help you avoid them. Read on to learn how he started his club, how he keeps it on track, and how you can get your club moving too!

When Club Pickleball USA first started, The initial assumption about what pickleball players wanted was quite narrow. Most players would interact with the sport the same way. It was shocking how quite the opposite it is.

After years of playing and running an extensive programming experience for thousands of pickleballers, Devan has identified 4 key principles for organized play. Let’s dive into each one:

  1. Help Players Find Each Other
  2. Create the Right Schedule
  3. Treat Open Play Differently 
  4. Market Your Club

Help Players Find Each Other

The first thing to understand with organized game play is to realize that most players have nobody to play with. The purpose of organized play is to bring people together by skill level, age, gender, or interests (casual play, competitive play, social experiences, etc.).

Many people are mistaken here—not everyone wants to reserve a court. A lot of people prefer the simplicity of signing up for an event individually, showing up, and having a predictable, quality experience with lots of other players. 

Some events (open play, socials) help players meet each other, but you also need to create a culture of connection. One helpful secret for Devan has been using GroupMe. With GroupMe, he organizes the groups by skill level, and the players become some of the best marketers to help fill events while also creating player connections for private court reservations. 

Pickleball brings people together and sometimes your players just need a little guidance and help to make the quality connections they’re looking for.

 

Create the Right Schedule

A lot of clubs focus on what they do, but far too many forget about the importance of when to do it. The right timing and schedule can make all the difference in whether or not an event fills up.

The most effective strategy has been to schedule events that align with specific groups we observe visiting at those specific times. If most of your court reservations with a specific group are from 10 am to noon, it’s likely that others in their same group type (for instance, age range) would join an event at that same time. Let the players give those signals out; be observant and responsive to those player habits and pay attention to the audience. Don’t let the players dictate the entire schedule, but there are a lot of opportunities and events that are born out of their suggestions.

One of the key practices that Devan and Club Pickleball USA adheres to is maintaining a balanced schedule of offerings at various times. Create a calendar sheet (separate from your regular court management software) that outlines your event offerings by day and time of the week, specifying the intended audience (such as skill level, age group, etc.). This will help identify the gaps and opportunities within the programming schedule for new or additional events. 

Additionally, it’s ideal to maintain 2 to 4-hour gaps between similar or larger-scale events to provide two reservation windows in the calendar. For instance, a 3-hour gap between a large morning event and a large midday event minimizes the ability to fill the courts only during those events. Most groups like to play for 2 hours – so now an hour of opportunity (in most cases) is thrown away because it failed to gap the experiences sufficiently. A 4-hour gap would have allowed for 2 different groups to make a 2-hour reservation in between the 2 large events.

Lastly, don’t give all of your courts to one experience. Set aside at least 3 or 4 courts for private reservations; otherwise, players will feel excluded or limited from equal access to court time, particularly in peak hours. Within reason, we will wait until we’re within 48 hours before adding people from a waitlist for an event to take most or all of the courts.

 

Treat Open Play Differently 

If there's one key takeaway from this article, it's this topic. This is where most clubs go wrong with their programming schedules. Let's break down the DOs and DON'Ts:

DO (Be sure to read and use the don’t section in conjunction with the do’s.):

  • Offer an extensive and frequent open play schedule (three 3-hour sessions per day). Ideally one in the morning, one midday, and one evening.
  • Book the event for 2.5 or 3 hours, 2 hours is not enough time for a rotational experience.
  • Utilize challenge courts to give higher-skilled players an outlet.
  • Use wristbands at check-in to verify players who registered are actually the ones playing. You may have other members who didn’t register bleed over from their expired court reservation and throw off your numbers. “Wrist band check!” is how to catch the rule abusers.
  • Post signs about paddle-up rules and gameplay.
  • Depending on the number of players, have an ambassador/employee helping direct traffic and monitor for abuse.

DON’T: 

  • Don't assign skill levels to courts or open-play events. This approach can undermine your skill-specific events and force you to choose who to accommodate if all skill levels are waitlisted and you only have one court left to offer.
  • Don’t allow players to use more than 1 paddle in the paddle rack.
  • Don’t allow more than 8 players per court. We like the 7-7.5 player-to-court ratio.
  • Don’t use prime court hours for open play. Instead, use open play as a filler for the second and third-tier court hours.

 

Market Your Club

This is what sets Club Pickleball USA apart from its competitors: a deep understanding of marketing and sales principles. This includes knowing how to create effective funnels, both online and in-person, for both prospects and existing players. It's essential to allocate a marketing budget to attract new players to the club.

Their marketing efforts are always focused on 3 primary initiatives:

  1. Growth! Always be adding players to your database; this creates opportunities for new members and keeps your club busy.
  2. Repeat Business. The most probable customer is someone who has already engaged with the club. Utilize retargeting ads to remind your audience of the club's offerings, including the training academy, events, tournaments, memberships, and more.
  3. Increase Revenue. Invest marketing dollars in experiences that yield a return. Avoid "branding campaigns" until the club has been established for several years with a loyal audience. Instead, focus marketing efforts on achieving a positive return on ad spend (ROAS) that can be meticulously tracked. Monitor every penny spent and measure the resulting revenue. Allocate funds to experiences that offer a higher margin per court hour, such as tournaments and corporate events.

As the club evolves, strategies and implementations can become more refined and targeted. In the early stages, prioritize enhancing the player experience and ensure its delivery. When a 5-star experience is consistently provided, most other challenges tend to resolve themselves. Achieving this top-tier experience involves connecting players, offering flexible scheduling options, being strategic yet generous with open-play opportunities, and leveraging social media marketing to enhance efforts.

By integrating these best practices from Club Pickleball USA’s Devan Egan, clubs can cultivate a winning culture among players and see positive impacts on both player satisfaction and financial success! To learn more about their way of running a Club, check out the 100+ Mastermind Network they’ve built.

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