Nigel Rattray : The man who reinvented the twilight league

April 27, 2023

Pretty much every bowling club in New Zealand has discovered the benefits of running a weekly twilight league.

Some clubs call it a ‘twilight league’ … others call it a ‘business house league’ … or some just call it plain old ‘community bowls’.  Some clubs run them in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Others in the later summer months.  Quite a few run leagues both before and after Christmas.

Clubs have found that these leagues are great at binding the club to the community … and the community to the bowling club.

A twilight league gives everyone in the community the chance to take a look at the game of bowls and have a lot of fun … without the commitment.  And if they do want to commit, then they’ve proved to be one of the best membership recruitment schemes that clubs can run.

Anecdotes abound of clubs bolstering their membership through running fun-filled twilight leagues.  And Hobsonville Bowling Club in West Auckland is no exception … with the help of a cohort of club members, a bloke called Nigel Rattray has turned running a twilight league into an art form.

If Nigel’s name rings a bell, then it should,  He was heavily involved with an oval ball game as a rugby league player, manager (including the 2007 Kiwis) and as a scout.  Three years ago, he became involved with a round ‘ball’ game, at the Hobsonville Bowling Club.

“I had a dream about how we could bring people into the game,” explains Nigel.  “And I asked the club committee to let me loose setting up a twilight league … but also to allow operational decisionmaking to bypass the club committee.”

“I told the club right from the start,” he adds, “That the goal of the twilight league wasn’t to make money for the club … it was to get members.  I told them I didn’t want any money from the club, but I wanted carte blanche to reinvest all the money we made to create the best possible league.”

Nigel more than delivered on his promise.

Not only did he raise money through selling two full greens of entrants at $180 a pop (32 teams playing Bowls3FIVE), but he and a team from the club twisted the arms of more than 20 local businesses to donate goods, services, money and vouchers.

“We only approached potential entrants and businesses in the local community … we wanted this to be a Hobsonville thing … for the community to feel that it was ‘their’ bowling league … and for entrants to feel connected to the local businesses supporting the league.”

Right from when the gates opened at 5:00pm on a Thursday night in early October the tournament has been a blast.

“We wanted people to feel they were at a party,” says Nigel. “They could eat as many free sausages as they wanted … with heaps of onions (I love onions) … wrapped in great breads.  I wanted gourmet sausages … not just ho-hum sausages.  So Burton & Baz came to the party.  And Wattie’s provided the mustard, the BBQ sauce and the ketchup.”

“I didn’t want us to be miserable, and run out.  As a result, people were taking left-over sausages home every night!”

To add to the party atmosphere, the club had continuous music playing every evening.  “On the last evening, we even had a live band.  People loved it!”

“And every evening we were always giving away heaps of spot prizes, raffle ticket prizes, prizes for winning, prizes for losing …  We even had a jar for donations for throwing down a wrong bias.  At the end of the league we had $450 in the jar, and gave it to the local hospice.”

“Halfway through the league, I realised we had far more money than we needed, so we went out and bought a heap of portable kitchen appliances to give away.  They went down a treat.  I’d have to think that every one of the 96 players walked away with something … a raffle prize, a spot prize, a bar tab, an appliance, or whatever …”

“Players were bringing their families down .. their partners and their kids.  We were always giving out free ice blocks.  The club was always happy … they were making $1500 out of the bar every evening.”

However, probably the trump card in the whole entertainment experience was Nigel himself.  He mc’ed every evening with relentless gusto and pizzazz … poking fun anywhere and everywhere … giving stick to others and himself .. making sure that everyone was having a great time.  The crowd loved him.

Looking back after the first league, the club’s faith in Nigel has been repaid spectacularly.

Through his leadership and drive, the gregarious and very verbal Nigel Rattray has been instrumental in adding 34 new members to the Hobsonville Club membership.  It’s a staggering statistic

And despite all the giveaways, Nigel’s team ended up giving a few grand back to the club … they were VERY happy.

“We’re repeating the exercise later in summer,’ says Nigel, “And it’s already booked out with a waiting list of 5 teams.  All the same sponsors also want to be involved again … and even though competitive sponsors have offered us more money, we want to be loyal to those who supported us first.”

Word’s spreading around the bowls community about Nigel … the cheery bloke at Hobsonville who’s not short of a word.  He’s quickly gaining a reputation as a sort of ‘Mad Butcher’ of bowls.  And like the Butcher not so mad!

“It’s not difficult running a twilight league,” Nigel adds humbly. “The secret is to have a well-oiled machine running things … and to make sure everyone has a great time.”

They obviously did.