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Some Post COVID-19 Questions for Australian Sport | Episode 3: What Will Member-Based Sporting Organisations Give Back?

Posted By Dale Wood  
15:00 PM

“These here are crazy times.”  When Dale Ryder of Boom Crash Opera sang those words in Onion Skin, I wonder if he foresaw COVID-19? I’m sure he did. But did he ever believe they could be this crazy?

The sporting, entertainment and cultural sectors have provided me with employment and my own business for over 20 years now.  And it doesn’t make me Einstein suggesting we’ve seen nothing so threatening in that time.

Here, we continue a series on issues that the industry will need to address as we come out of COVID-19.

In the third of the series considering the critical questions that need to be answered post the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, we consider how Australia’s sporting clubs are going to ‘repay’ their members after months of not being able to put on sporting events during the COVID-19 saga.

Episode 3: What Will Member-Based Sporting Organisations Give Back?

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for sport all around the world that most of us have never experienced. Most of Australia’s sporting clubs, whether they be tied to our major venues, in national competitions or in local level community sport are heavily reliant on the subscription or capitation fees of their members. In cases, those monies can be the difference between doors staying open or shutting. However, some of those ‘members’, under similar financial duress, are rightly questioning what they are getting for their money during the COVID-19 shutdown.

At the minimum, I think enough water has gone under the bridge for some clubs to announce policies or at least intentions regarding member subscriptions. There’s no point sticking your collective heads in the sand – the issue isn’t going away. Most winter sporting codes or other sports such as racing, are aware, that in most, if not all jurisdictions, events will be staged without patrons in the venues for the remainder of the ‘season’.

Yet, the silence has been deafening from many sporting clubs, with the exceptions being those who’ve come out to say times are dire. That they are, but it seems clear that many organisations are hoping that their members are willing to either not demand a refund, or continue to pay regardless of the dearth of sport actually taking place. Now that’s all well and good, but what has astounded me is clubs being unable to explain why their members should not request a refund or cancel their periodic payments. All I’ve heard is, “things are bad”, with either express or insinuated messaging that to do either of those things signals disloyalty.

There are two clear issues here. The first is how many clubs are communicating (or not). The second is what they are offering in return for loyalty.

Issue 1: why is it so difficult for clubs to explain their value propositions to their members instead of just remaining silent or demanding loyalty? A good club, will have members that feel their membership means more than to just watch or play a game. It’s about belonging to something bigger. A membership is an investment in a club. You invest in it because you derive happiness and connection from it. If the club isn’t driving those feelings (or doesn’t understand that it does), and the club can’t explain that, then it’s the club that is doing something wrong. It’s not the individual that wants a refund or decides to not rejoin. As an aside I know I’m reconsidering my memberships of certain clubs I belong, given their performance in relation to this issue over recent, albeit challenging, times.

Issue 2: after all of that, what are the clubs going to give their amazing members in return for this loyalty. Forget the bollocks rewards schemes. They are typically nothing more than tat in a show bag. What tangible benefits are going to be bestowed on those that have stuck firm?

  • Is it a tangible acknowledgement of their membership such as regular video content that goes over and beyond the typical, or something on event day even though the members can’t be there? (Ed: please, no TikTok dancing)
  • Is it discounts on future memberships or merchandise?
  • Is it cheaper food and drink at the events?
  • Is it converting membership subscriptions to tax deductible donations (as has been suggested by others)?
  • Is it greater transparency on where member funds are being spent (although this really should be a matter of course even though often it’s not)?

At the very minimum, clubs should be asking their members what they really want to ensure what is offered is truly meaningful.

Now is a great time for members to reset expectations regarding what they want out of their investment in sporting clubs, and for clubs to genuinely respond with more than guilt trips.

I’m not underestimating the challenge our clubs face, and some just aren’t in a position to have a definite position or policy in place at the moment. Community sporting clubs come to mind. However, it’s time for those that can, to announce their policy position. For those that cannot be as definite, at least an announcement of options would be appreciated. Your members are your club. They are entitled to know.

Let us know if you have any questions you think need to be answered during and post the COVID-19 pandemic.

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