Increasing participation rates in grassroots sport by varying competition format

Increasing participation by varying competition formats

Greg Norman says golf needs to “think like a kid” and we couldn’t agree more

In a recent article published on the website (Click to read the full article) Greg Norman discusses the low golf participation rates of young players in the US.  In the article written by Neil Harvey, Norman called on the golf industry to “get outside the box” and “think like a kid” to attract missing young players to the game.

Norman encouraged golf to “get rid of the navy blue suits” and “think like a kid” to connect with the young generation.  He talked about bringing social media to the game by connecting golf carts to the internet.  This would even allow competitors to compete against each other online from two physically different golf courses around the world.

Greg Norman, we couldn’t agree more!

In fact, I struggle to think of another industry, at least until the last couple of years, which has innovated less in the last 30 years than the sports industry.  By saying the sports industry I mean the format of the competitions themselves.  It is my strongly held belief that this lack of innovation and failing to adapt the traditional game formats to cater for our modern lives that is causing the trend of participants moving toward unstructured recreation and away from organised sporting clubs.

Look at how our lives have changed over the last 20 years.  We now have late night shopping, Saturday and Sunday trading and of course we now have the internet offering all its associated leisure opportunities.

In April 2013, the Australian Sports Commission released research undertaken by the CSIRO titled “The future of Australian Sport – The mega trends shaping the Sports Sector over coming decades. (View full report)  One of the key findings of the research was:

People are fitting sport into their increasingly busy and time-fragmented lifestyles to achieve personal health objectives. Participation rates in aerobics, running, walking, along with gym membership, have all risen sharply over the past decade while participation rates for many organised sports have held constant or declined”.

There is nothing like the need to make a profit, which for commercial businesses is the only factor that allows them to remain in business, to drive innovation. Take the gym mentioned in the Mega Trends Report. Gyms are constantly evolving from the Olivia Newton John inspired aerobics classes of the 80’s to Spin classes, to individual personal training, to army style boot camps, to Bikram yoga to the 24 hour gyms we see today.  If gyms don’t constantly evolve and provide new products and services they would go out of business.

In contrast, many sports have suffered membership decline, year on year, for many years but have failed to respond to this market “feedback” and continued to run the same competitions (products) in the same format.

In recent years sport has started to evolve, some faster than others.  Cricket has probably led the way with the introduction of the T20 cricket format which overcomes so many of the barriers to grass roots sports participation (lack of time and inflexibility of scheduling for example).  Not surprisingly cricket has seen a surge in participants in this form of the game at the local level.

Another great example is the sport of Bowls. Barefoot and social bowls has grown exponentially over the years while memberships and participation in their flagship pennant competitions have fallen dramatically.  Finally bowls has started to listen to their participants (consumers) and create a format they want. A new format of bowls was created called Jack Attack which is a short and fast version of the game. It will be very interesting to see how Jack Attack resonates with bowlers both social and competitive.

Innovation doesn’t have to be driven by the peak sports body and a great example of that is Bendigo Orienteers who recently secured a significant Vic Health grant to incorporate orienteering into a community treasure hunt aimed at encouraging children and families to explore their local neighbourhood.  Now that is, as Greg says “thinking like a kid”.

Adding further value to their concept, Bendigo Orienteers are planning to partner with local schools to engage large numbers of not only kids in the program but their families.

The Bendigo Orienteers treasure hunt is a great concept on so many levels including:

  • It is reframing a sport (product) that few of us even consider as an option and incorporating it into a treasure hunt, an activity we all love, no matter how old we are.
  • Partnering with schools to access and engage in large groups of children for an activity they will want to participate in which allows them to introduce the orienteering club and more importantly their club members to them.
  • The treasure hunt is structured in such a way that families participate together with their children meaning the parents are also introduced to the sport and the club
  • It is such a novel concept that I am sure the media will pick it up and promote it further.

The world is changing. It is getting faster. There are more demands on us and more options for our time.  Our lives are constantly changing and evolving so too must sport, if it wants to remain relevant.  Sometimes, like Greg Norman says, we need to just “think like a kid”.

Steve Pallas
Managing Director
Sports Community
Office: 03 59736404