Sporting Future – A New Strategy for an Active Nation
Last week the UK government published Sporting Future, its new strategy for UK sport. This strategy is a very welcome step forward for the sport sector and the UK as a whole.
Sporting Future has defined the market opportunity, clear priorities, supporting measures of success and why these choices are important. Without dictating how it is implemented, it gives a strong steer to the sector about when to say yes – and no. Of course this is common sense. However too many strategies become a shopping list of wishes that can’t be implemented.
The strategy also talks about a strong desire to set high standards of organisational performance. Standards that, just like our high performance system, become a benchmark for other countries. My belief is that this is possible beyond the desired governance reforms. The UK can also become a leader in successfully growing sports activity, participation and revenue.
Of course Sporting Future just provides a framework and not the answers. However it recognises several important themes that give me confidence we can unleash sustainable customer-led growth. Each of these themes provide both exciting opportunities and difficult challenges for sports organisations.
The Minister for Sport has emphasised “the need to put the customer first (and) to understand the differing needs of different groups”. Bringing sport and physical activity together, to reflect how participants rather than providers define sport, is a great first step. I’ve seen first hand how the combination of relevant technology and customer-led sport can impact on inactivity. Life Leisure’s actiLIFE project uses a combination of personalised coaching, group support and tracker technology. Over 12 weeks the project successfully encourages and supports inactive people to develop a ‘sporting’ habit on their own terms.
The challenge for sports organisations is how they create the customer understanding to deliver scalable customer-led offers. The risk is everyone invests in replicating similar insight work. The opportunity is to create a shared resource for understanding potential demand. This could work in the same way that government proposes creating open data about supply.
This new customer understanding must then be used to develop targeted campaigns that influence people’s choices and behaviours. As Sport England’s ThisGirlCan demonstrated, participation growth requires targeted marketing to support insight-led delivery. Before behaviour can be changed, current behaviours and the influences on it need to be fully understood. Then marketing expertise is required to reach and engage the target audience.
The challenge for sports organisations is how they can allocate additional resources. They need to be able to run marketing campaigns with measurable impact. But at the same time, there are calls for them to reduce ‘back office’ costs so that more money can flow to the ‘front line’.
The organisations funded to deliver the strategy need to improve both what they do and how they do it. Becoming customer-led requires more than new insight. It requires developing a purpose, structure and culture that consistently puts customers at the heart of decision making. It’s a proven model for success in other industries as customer demand ever greater levels of personalisation. But many sports organisations aren’t used to consistently doing the right things right to put the customer first. Instead they juggle the competing needs of members, funders and other national and local stakeholders.
The government’s desire for greater collaborative working and more sharing of good practice is a good start. However for good practice to be understood and re-applied, a common language and framework is required for sharing it. Organisations need to see not just what others did well, but how the principles could be evolved and applied in their own context. This was one of the reasons I led the development of the original high performing NGB framework. It’s not intended to prescribe a standard answer. Instead it helps each NGB to find their own answer, by giving them a common frame of reference for sharing good practice.
To survive and thrive many sports organisations need spectator, viewer and volunteer growth, as well as more participants. The previous singular focus on participation left NGBs torn between the short and long-term needs of their sport. Growing a healthy sport means growing the volunteer base and the number of people engaging with their sport as a live or broadcast experience. Increasing this reach will make a sport far more relevant to wider investment.
Improved insight, marketing capability and community reach will boost the commercial relevance of sports organisations. All sports organisations, whether publicly funded or not, need a variety of revenue streams to survive. Sport provides a shared context and strong emotional bond that many commercial organisations would love to tap in to. But the challenge for many NGBs and sports facilities is that they don’t have a direct relationship with their customers. To develop the ability to directly engage with current and potential participants, organisations may need to review their purpose, priorities, insight and media channels. They will then have a much stronger value proposition to commercial organisations and other organisations seeking to fund community outcomes.
Sport is a means to an end for most people and organisations. Creating a focus on the end benefits that sport’s customers want to receive, completes the circle for a customer-led sports strategy. People play sport for individual physical and mental benefits it provides. Meanwhile organisations provide sporting opportunities to create wider community and revenue benefits.
Many traditional sports organisations were established to promote sport for sport’s sake. Consequently they may not know the ultimate benefits that their potential customers and partners are seeking. But delivering these end benefits will make sport relevant to more and more of the population.
Doing the right things right
The Sporting Future strategy is a great framework that the sports sector can align to. If you haven’t read the strategy already, you can get it here.
Now NGBs, CSPs, Leisure Trusts and a host of commercial providers need to look at what, how and why they do what they currently do. To start the ball rolling, I’ll be asking my clients three tough but important questions.
- Are you consistently doing the right things to align with future priorities?
- Are you doing these things the right way?
- How would you know?
I’ll pick up these themes in future posts. For now I’d like to wish everyone a happy Christmas and I hope you have a great year ahead of you.