Commercial creativity in the time of COVID

Amersham & Chiltern RFC recently told Rugby Blindside how they have been coping during the time of COVID and what actions they’ve taken to adapt to the circumstances.

Like all grassroots clubs, Amersham & Chiltern RFC ended the 2019/20 season very abruptly with takings for the financial year well below projections. Despite the best efforts of management, hopes that some of the losses could be recouped during the 2020/21 season took a further hit when the second lockdown was announced in November.

With a First XV playing in London 1 North, two further regular senior sides and a thriving youth section including colts, juniors and minis, the club has big ambitions, all of which need underpinning by steady income streams.

Huw Thomas took over as chairman of A&C in July. “It’s certainly been a challenging start to my chairmanship,” says Huw. But, like many organisations, we’re finding that adversity brings out the best in people. I’m beyond grateful to the volunteers who help run the club who have really pulled together and adapted to the changing circumstances.

“The sense of community within the club that we’ve worked hard to build over the years has come into its own.

“The vast majority of members have continued to pay their subs, despite the fact that training has been disrupted and none of the teams have played a significant game of rugby this season. We’ve also received some generous one-off donations for which we are extremely thankful.”

The sense of community has also been reflected in the support the club has received from sponsors.

“We’ve always worked hard as a club to create proper partnerships with our sponsors and make sure they get value for their investment,” says Liz Bradshaw, who has been overseeing the club’s commercial partnerships for the past eight seasons.

“We’ve been very lucky that the majority have been able to continue supporting us at similar levels to previous years so we’ve managed to retain almost 80% of our usual income from this source.

“To adapt to the circumstances, we’ve changed the way we communicate with our members. Our match programme has gone digital and is now emailed regularly to the membership with direct links to sponsor websites, so this move has actually enhanced what we were able to offer. It’s also saved us on printing costs, so we hope we’ll be able to do more of this in the future.”

Although some of the club’s sponsorship agreements came to a natural end, one or two of its long-standing supporters from industries hardest hit by the pandemic found themselves unable to commit to their usual levels of funding.

In these cases, the committee took the decision that now was the time to repay the loyalty those sponsors have shown to the club.

“Income is obviously hugely important, but so is staying true to the spirit of the club,” says Liz. Where local businesses have been supporting us for years, it was time for a bit of payback.”

Huw is very aware that it’s not just the commercial side of that has had to make big changes. “This has really been a time for pulling together across the club. Our volunteer coaches and age group organisers have been amazing at adapting to the new requirements that ensure we are COVID-secure. Players, and parents of the younger age groups, have continued to turn out whenever we’ve been permitted to train, observing all the new protocols, and there’s still a strong sense of camaraderie.

“There’s so much to be proud of at this club, it gives me great hope for the future.”

This article appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Rugby Blindside magazine – Read the full issue here