What Price Participation in Sport – About £4,000 per person!
Early last month the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts in a report entitled “Preparations for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games” stated:
“With only 109,000 new people regularly participating in sport against an original target of 1 million by March 2013… the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has got poor value for money for the £450 million spent through sporting National Governing Bodies.”
Poor value for money? I’ll say! That’s over £4,000 per person!
And why is anyone surprised by this?
When I first heard some years ago that Sport England, via some strong ministerial ‘guidance’, were to focus funding for community sport through the National Governing Bodies I said to anyone who would listen that this wouldn’t work.
Well – sorry – but - “I told you so!”
It’s not that I’m a genius or some prescient Nostradamus, it’s just that I have worked with many governing bodies of sport and they really have little understanding of their existing market - those who currently participate in their sport, let alone, for most governing bodies, that small sub segment that is the affiliated members that form the core of their existing ‘customer base’. And they don’t have any understanding of those who might participate.
Few have done much in the way of research into motivations, attitudes and profiles to understand what, where and how to attract new participants.
Yet these are the key tools that commercial marketers, eager to find new customers in increasingly competitive markets, use on a daily basis.
And what of their existing affiliated members? How well do they know them? And how well do they look after them?
In fact the chances that governing bodies of sport have any capabilities in relation to significantly driving up participation in their sport, or even retaining and involving existing members, is slim.
Here’s an interesting indicator of their lack of understanding of the basic principles of marketing.
What is the fastest growing demographic segment in the UK population? It is those aged over 55 years. Yet how many of the 46 governing bodies (the ones that Sport England funds of behalf of DCMS) have programmes to actively recruit from this age range? These are the very people with more time to get involved in some way or another and more interest in being active.
Yet compare and contrast that with how many of these very governing bodies actively and aggressively compete with each other to attract young participants – a shrinking segment – through their youth programmes.
The fact remains that almost all governing bodies focus on two issues – performance (wining medals at the elite end of their sport) and enforcement (fining participants and managing the rules). There are some important exceptions to this of course – for example both Cycling and Netball have both succeeded in growing their numbers of grass-roots participants.
But too many too often focus on these two issues – performance and enforcement – to the detriment of so much else. And if this is their true focus then how can we ever progress in relation to participation and get real value for money by funding NGBs?
Maybe I’m not alone in thinking this and good old Sport England (everyone’s traditional sports punch bag – even now the great Lord Coe in his elitist LOCOG fortress calling them a ‘failed organisation’) are realising something they always knew in the first place but, because of the short sightedness of their previous political masters, were unable to push back on. I notice that they recently reduce the funding for Tennis and Judo for failing to meet their targets.
Channel much more of the participation funding through those working at the grass roots of sport – The County Sports Partnerships and those they work with. And, when it comes to participation – let them work with the governing bodies at a local level where appropriate.
Because until NGBs improve their understanding and usage of some of the basic tools of marketing what hope can we or Sport England have for their being the channel through which we increase participation in sport – with or without a clear legacy strategy from Lord Coe and the Olympic and Paralympic Games?