Why participation is the hardest challenge for NGBs

By The Earnie Team

Earnie has kicked off this year working with a number of governing bodies and rights holders. Some of our work includes ticket sales campaigns (NatWest T20 Blast), content marketing (BEF), lead generation (ISG), campaigns (RFL), event branding (British Champions Day), brand launches (All Out Races) strategic planning (ICC) and commercial planning (Basketball GB).

But in our opinion the hardest challenge of all, are those we are helping with participation. Unlike some other marketing challenges, it’s not just a case of knowing your audience and creating a well-designed campaign.

There are numerous factors that have to be considered when asking a range of audiences to change their precious leisure time behaviour.

Firstly the end audience is hard to reach. Often geographically spread and across the entire age spectrum, participation has to deal with national audiences via local budgets. From here, decisions have to be made about lapsed versus new, old versus young, cities versus regions. All with the added complication of tracking remotely.

Next up is the fact that many governing bodies do not talk directly to their participant. They rely on third parties in the form of clubs, facilities, local authorities, schools and volunteers. More audiences, more channels to deal with against tactical budgets. Sports need b2b buy-in to create b2c take up.

Combine elements around facilities, potentially weather, multiple entry points, the logistics of finding a local facility and you can see why it’s a tricky challenge for most. On top of which it is a fiercely competitive space where sports may often go directly up against each other. Big sporting moments come around to inspire our participants (the ‘Wimbledon effect’) but this summer, all Olympic sports will be trying to capitalise on their medal chances. The result – more logjam.

For many clubs and teams, the governing body provides no real added benefit to their sport and how they run their groups. At best it could be seen as passively supportive, at worst there is little relevance to the hoops they feel they jump through. Yet, these are the passionate time-givers, who are the sport’s biggest advocates. Trouble is they don’t feel the same about the governing body.

Outside of these fanatics, it’s a real challenge to move behaviour from short term trial to long term passion. When we run ticket sale campaigns we can point people to one event and use clever sales strategies like dynamic pricing, closed group offers and re-targeting. Participation is an on-going challenge.

All doom and gloom then? No, not really.

Clever thinking and passionate planning goes a long way. We think governing bodies can change the perceptions and behaviour of their multiple audiences by following some simple tactics. Here are eight quick wins.

1. Be brave

Given the hugely competitive world your marketing ideas need to stand creatively and strategically. Think differently about how you can reach wide numbers in cost-effective ways, such as non-competitive partnerships, social events that include the sport etc. Sports need to emotionally connect with potential audiences, so be prepared to divide the room.

2. Mobilise your fanatics

Start by building your sales army from existing players – these guys love your sport, so tap in and reflect their passion. Give them the chance to shape some of what you do and ‘surprise and delight’ them. Give them things that makes them feel valued, eg: group tickets to big events for their club, behind the scenes access, bringing your professionals down to training sessions etc.

3. Do less, better

We see this a lot. Governing bodies really benefit from doing a smaller number of programs in a more concentrated way. More time, planning and budget allocation will do more than a scatter gun effect. Big programmes help to build momentum, create more cut-through and allows you track more effectively. Also focusing your resource on a few key dates / events provides a more effective story and easier fulfillment.

4. Love your data

Get your CRM sorted and find useful ways to divide up your audiences. Try to avoid hammering your lists (potentially from ticket sales data) with internal facing / meaningless stuff – create specific calendar events to showcase your sport in a way that is easy, accessible, fun and social. Make everything you give your audiences valuable and making their lives better.

5. Get a partner, not just a sponsor

Recent work by Repucom showed how more and more brands are trying to get into sport. It has all the positive values that brands want to leverage. So give the right brand the opportunity to do this with the added CSR and community benefits. Choose a partner that gives you the right channels and marketing support, but do it without insisting on a hefty price tag and long-term commitment.

6. Go internally first

Participation should be an integral part of marketing, but often regional departments are distanced from the central (high impact) decisions. Ensure that you can leverage everything that is going on centrally and when signing sponsors make sure they’re supporting grassroots.

7. Measure everything

This is one of the hardest challenges when the audiences are fragmented and end providers disparate. But even providing some form of tracking locally and nationally will help when defining short and long term planning. It will also help when asking for budgets if you can point to a clear return on investment.

8. Differentiation is good

Given the multiple audiences NGBs need to reach, I reckon it’s ok to tailor your sport to give the best possible experience to that group. If it’s a school programme, it can be supported by curriculum ideas, if it’s young adults you can dial up the social element. Build hubs of passionate participants and the rest will follow.

We’re buzzing with ideas, so drop us a line if you’d like to find out more.