Playing a smart game

12 February 2010

At top level we expect sport to be run like a business, but knock off the top tier and most sports organisations are not run for profit. In fact they are “not-for-loss” organisations - run for their players and members’ enjoyment - and any surplus is usually channelled into maintenance or enhancement of club rooms or grounds.

Sometimes survival is a struggle and despite organisations like SPARC laying down guidelines for running successful volunteer sports organisations, many organisations don’t always have the right staff or finances to run profitable operations.

Two Waikato University academics, Associate Professors Ron Garland and Roger Brooksbank from Waikato Management School’s Marketing Department and Wayne Werder, CEO at Sport Bay of Plenty decided to survey golf clubs in New Zealand and Australia to find out whether they used strategic marketing as part of their long term strategy and whether it contributed to profitability and operational effectiveness.

In short, the answer is yes, but the obstacles to implementing strategic marketing are sometimes difficult to overcome. The trio carried out a web-based survey to clubs affiliated to national associations in New Zealand and Australia that had more than 100 members and income exceeding $50,000. They received 307 responses and also telephone surveyed a group of non-responders who agreed to be interviewed.

“The clubs often have a mix of professional and volunteer workers and sometimes a tension exists between board and management,” says Dr Garland. “They don’t always see eye to eye on how things should be run.”

Dr Garland says the majority of clubs acknowledged that strategic planning was important, but that didn’t mean it was present. “Clubs struggled with situation analyses and strategic overview, and the Australians fared better than New Zealanders in this area.”

Higher performing golf clubs placed importance on quality and adding value for their members whereas lower performing clubs were more price driven. “We classified high performing clubs as those that claimed to achieve most or all of their business objectives and outperform their competitors,” says Dr Garland. “Typically these clubs have some full time employees and acknowledged having current or past club officials who were strategic thinkers.”

The researchers say most golf clubs have got a long way to go to develop comprehensive marketing strategies. Only one in five or 19 per cent of the clubs surveyed in Australia and New Zealand placed much importance on situation analysis in their planning, “But 43 per cent of the higher performing clubs reported such an emphasis. They went through the key stages in the strategic marketing process – strategic situation analysis, developed marketing objectives and marketing strategies, organisational activities and implemented strategic control.”

The academics conclude by saying that provided golf clubs have a reasonably sound financial position, developing better strategic marketing practices will go a long way to maintaining or improving better financial performance.