Growing the Game

The Power of Technology

By Scott Lowe - MYHockeyRankings.com

Hockey is a huge investment for everyone involved.

First, there is the time commitment required of the players and their families, the coaches who often don’t get paid, the other volunteers who keep the clubs running on a day-to-day basis and the board members. Then, of course, financially it is one of the most expensive sports young athletes can play. 

There still is no more powerful marketing tool than word of mouth. I remember clearly being sold on playing hockey as a 7-year-old sitting in my friend’s house listening to his parents tell stories about his first year participating in the sport. Just by talking to other people, happy customers often help ensure the growth necessary for organizations to proceed with essential future planning and budgeting in a timely fashion and with confidence that the organization will continue to function in an efficient and orderly manner. 

By taking full advantage of today’s technology, clubs can guarantee their customers have the type of experience that will make them their best salespeople. Happy members are more likely to recommend the organization to others they speak to or simply might sell a potential player and his or her family on giving hockey a try – with their club, of course – when it was something they may have never considered before.

Effective use of technology comes full circle when a parent hears about a club from another happy family and decides to do his or her homework about the organization. At that point, having a clean, easy to navigate, informative and organized website is essential – just as it is when it comes to the day-to-day operation of the club and creating all those happy customers in the first place.

An organization’s website is its most visible and effective marketing tool once interest has been sparked in a potential customer. Years ago, sales-based businesses had a few “closers” on staff who would swoop in after the sales force had built relationships and make the final pitch that would often seal the deal. Times have changed, though. Today, once someone is interested in a product or program, an enticing website that provides all the information a potential customer craves and answers all the questions he or she might have literally can close the deal.

In this era of computers, phones, emails, text messages and social media, many people prefer not to deal with real, live people and may be hesitant to do so. If they can find everything they need to make an informed decision – and can easily make the purchase or register with a few clicks of a mouse or touches on their phone – that is how you close a sale in the 21st century.

And if it’s not word of mouth that brought a potential customer to the website, it most likely was the organization’s strong social-media presence, a Google search or some other form of digital advertising that created the interest. So, much of any organization’s success these days comes down to its ability to embrace and implement the technology that so many potential customers now rely on so heavily. 

Unfortunately, youth hockey clubs mostly rely on volunteers who already have full-time jobs and family commitments to do much of the heavy lifting that keeps the organizations running, and most of those hard-working folks aren’t web programmers or IT specialists. That makes choosing the right web platform – one that provides the customer and potential-customer experience that allows the organization to remain competitive in the market while also providing the back-end ease of use non-experts with busy schedules need – essential to a club’s success. 

That’s where a company like Crossbar can make the difference for volunteer-based youth sports organizations. 

Crossbar has partnered with nearly 100 clubs in 16 states and serves youth clubs with as many as 800 players and high-school programs with as few as 40 players. The company has registered tens of thousands of players and processed tens of millions of dollars in transactions. Crossbar is a community-based company that works hand-in-hand with clubs to help them solve their problems and run their clubs as efficiently as possible.

“I spent six years on the board of directors of the largest hockey club in the St. Louis area,” said Crossbar CEO and founder Chris DeGroat. “In that time, I wore many hats. As the guy with a background in technology, I managed the website. I set up registrations. I helped run evaluations. I even helped with budgeting. What became abundantly clear to me was that the products on the market simply weren’t good enough. They both lacked features and were loaded with unnecessary features. They were overpriced, and they didn’t work for hockey.” 

At that point, DeGroat made a pitch to his board, which met without him in the room and made the decision that allowed him to launch Crossbar. 

There are many large companies on the market providing services to youth teams and organizations. Some of the larger ones continue to acquire smaller companies without a cohesive plan to integrate and coordinate the various products into one easy-to-use platform. Others continue to gobble up market share and generate revenue without adapting their outdated products and services to the market’s needs. And some products are just too cumbersome and complicated to make them practical for volunteers who already have a ton of responsibilities and limited time. 

Crossbar provides clubs with a clean, mobile-first design that allows for complete program information, team pages and a family calendar that syncs to members’ devices. Sites are powered by an easy-to-use page builder that doesn’t require coding, and administrators can set up their own season registrations – usually in under an hour. Future seasons take fewer than five minutes to prepare once the initial set-up has been done. 

One of the most time-consuming and complicated processes faced by most clubs is scheduling. Many web platforms in the team or club space provide one option that can be challenging and often takes a long time to understand and populate. Crossbar allows clubs to build out an integrated scheduler using a calendar view. Any time changes are made on the calendar, team schedules are updated automatically and synced with the coaches, parents and players. Many other products force clubs to pay for third-party scheduling software, but Crossbar’s is built in. 

In addition, Crossbar provides organization treasurers with a powerful set of tools that includes detailed reporting as well as complete control of player finances. Setting up delayed payments or altering payment plans is easy and can be completed without having to cancel the original payment structure first. 

Crossbar also takes the repetition and tedious busy work out of managing sports organizations through automation. Document collection, player availability tracking and even the CDC’s self-screening process for COVID exposure that was introduced last year are examples of tasks that have been automated. 

Of course, perhaps the most important piece of the technology puzzle is customer service. With any web platform there are going to be questions and unfamiliar situations that arise, so being able to contact a living, breathing human to provide assistance in a timely manner is as important – or more important – than the product itself. Crossbar has that covered, too. 

Support has been superb,” said Jeff Schneller, vice president of operations for the Natick Comets. “One of the biggest complaints from everyone with {our previous vendor} was the support. Crossbar support has been a breath of fresh air. They have always responded within a few minutes to a couple of hours. They have helped us on weekends to work through some questions we had. I know our finance person has reached out to them a number of times with questions. In fact, Crossbar added a feature that our finance guy asked about to help with reporting. {They} have been awesome.”

Fortunately, thanks to the advances in technology we’ve seen over the past 25 years – and companies like Crossbar – we have all the tools necessary right at our fingertips manage and operate youth hockey clubs of any size effectively and efficiently, even if our time and experience implementing the technology are limited.

That means there are no longer any excuses for clubs not providing their members with the type of experience they expect and deserve.

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