Breaking down the barriers – increasing participation from low-income earners at your club

By Stuart Wilson
Sports Community
June 27, 2013

All sports clubs want to increase participation and as a by-product, membership, for their organisation. While it is easy to set up different membership options for potential new members and make it an attractive proposition for those looking to join a sports club, there a certain demographics, such as low-income earners, who are often forgot about when it comes to membership sales.

Much has been said about the current economic climate and the difficulties many Australians are facing in terms of finance, which is impacting on their ability to put expendable income towards a membership of a sports club as much as they’d like to. This obviously doesn’t just affect those Australians wanting to join a sports club but not being able to due to financial limitations, but also sports clubs who are always looking to attract new members.

A recent report found that low-income earners were more likely to find memberships to sports clubs as more expensive than their high-income earning counterparts (47% vs. 38%). This was also backed up with the findings that there was a positive trend between household income and sports participation rates. The higher the household income, the more likely there was a chance of participation in physical activity.

So how are sports clubs to attract and retain people from the low-income demographic, without resorting to gifting or being charitable with a free membership? In most instances this would not be a positive for either the sports club or the individual, as many people feel uncomfortable receiving what is essentially a handout for nothing.

There are many ways clubs can use their initiative to help create a mutually beneficial partnership with those from a low-income demographic, while still upholding a sense of self-worth for the individual who may not be able to afford a club membership outright.

One of the easiest ways is to get the individual involved voluntarily with the club by helping out with its fundraisers. Even something as simple as selling raffle tickets for the club may bring in enough resources to allow that person to gain ‘free’ membership, or at the very least at a discounted rate.

Even general roles around the club, whether it be helping operate the canteen, the setting up of equipment or running water for the club can be ways that low-income earners can ‘earn’ their membership without having to pay. This is also a great way to get young university students involved in the club, giving them a role within the club where they can help out that is related to their study (ie. Massage therapist, trainer, journalist etc.).

Another way might be to have a flexible payment plan which allows for payments in installments over the course of the year. A lump sum payment at the beginning of the membership period may not be realistic for those low-income earners, so a ‘pay as you go’ scenario can help ease the burden of any up-front costs.

Another resourceful way for clubs to attract low-income earners might involve the individual bringing in an extra sponsor on board for the club. If the sponsorship is lucrative enough it may bring in enough money to pay for the individual’s membership as well, creating a mutually beneficial situation. Other initiatives such as 2 for 1 membership discounts or free beginner sessions are also other ways to bring in further members who may not have the funds to pay for an outright membership.

If the current economic climate is to continue, sports clubs will need to become more flexible and innovative with the way they attract and then retain their members. Making sports accessible and inclusive for all is the way forward for all sports organisations if they are to be operating at their optimal level.


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