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Posted by: Sportslink on 07/08/2016

Talkfest: Participation, and how to grow it

Talkfest: Participation, and how to grow it

Among the themes of the National Sports Convention was participation in sport and how to grow it across Australia, with a collection of high profile speakers. Editor Maggie Coleman reports.

The two-day conference and expo was held in late June, examining the concurrent themes of synthetic and natural sports turf, sport and recreation facility management, technological solutions and play symposium.

David Gallup, chief executive of Football Federation Australia, told how “galvanising the wider community is our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity.

”Sport means a lot to us and to a lot of people and we all need to do what we can to make sport thrive at all levels.

“At FFA, we want to be the largest and most popular sport in Australia.

This is why we have developed the whole football plan, interviewing 20,000 people around the country to develop our plan, known as “We are Football”.

Gallup said, “To meet the plan we need to boost participation from two million to four million – an ambitious goal.

“It is critical to boost to boost refereeing skills and to boost facilities, supported by government. Currently demand for places to play exceeds supply, so this is a major issue.

“It is essential that there are many ways to play football. We need to build the current player base into a long-term club fan base, converting fans into players and players into fans” to grow our community across the nation.

“We also need to build our coaching skills – taking numbers from 24,000 registered coaches now to around 100,000.

“With the A-League and W-League, we know that the biggest challenge is to boost career paths to Socceroos and Matildas,” said Gallup.


Michael Cunico of Fitness First Australia agreed that it is a very exciting time for the brand, as it undergoes a total rejuvenation.

As National Fitness Manager, he reported that the rate of attrition is a major issue – “we needed to replace about 50 percent of our customers each year, which is very demanding and stressful on the team.”

Fitness First Germany has a retention rate of around 70 percent, he says but that in Australia was around 46 percent.

Among problems faced by Fitness First over some years has been “the influx of 24/7 clubs and low cost providers who did not run a contracts-based business model.”

Cunico said, “Trust is a major issue and lack of trust led to our decline in membership but we now have new owners who have invested substantially in the business.

“We have changed our culture and are working hard to rejuvenate the business, upgrading club facilities, investing in new equipment and the provision of more classes, focussing on   results for serious trainers, showing our members better ways to train, a new culture for staff and management teams…

Said Cunic, “We realised we could never win the equipment battle so removed some cardio in some clubs and put in major pieces such as TRX.

“In the Sydney CBD we have six clubs within a couple of   kilometres of each other so have created a specialised and complimentary network, to offer greater value for our membership dollar.

Said Cunic, “All of this has meant that membership has stabilised and retention has risen from the low of 46 percent to 55 percent in 2015 – very pleasing results.

“Improving the member experience is vital to retention,” he said.


Catherine Hamilton from New Zealand architects Opus International Consultants told of the development of a family playground in earthquake-hit Christchurch.

More than 100,000 visitors came to the Margaret Mahy Family Playground in the three weeks after it opened late last year, which is half the population of the city.

“We have created a place for people of all ages and by including the community in the design, we have given them a sense of ownership,” she said.

“We are thrilled that while children come to play during the day, adults are looking for play experiences too and enjoy it after work and the children have gone home.”

Manager of strategy and government relations for Tennis Australia, Robin O’Neill (pictured) told of the growth of the Australian Open, which he described as “the biggest event in the world in January.”

“We have been growing and expanding our reach since the early 2000s when our Davis Cup team started to do so well.

Said O’Neill, “Research has shown that 80 percent of players who play tennis now had learned the game before they were 16, and people who visit the Open have played regularly or still do.

“Plus people who have played tennis have a better recall on sponsors, and bought more tickets to events.

“So we realised we needed to boost the retention rate of 18-25 year-olds, so we have developed one programme for junior participants and one for fitness.

“When embarking on a new programme, you must get it right,” said O’Neill.

“We wanted to make tennis part of every school programme, working with coaches and developing the three-coloured balls programme.

“Tennis Australia has grown participation to 200,000 registered children in 12 months, with the focus on building a really good learn-to-play programme which we call HotShots, with support from companies like New Balance, Wilson and Rebel for apparel, footwear and equipment.

O’Neill said, “With the Open dominating January, we also have to focus on what happens during the rest of the year and tennis is an important part of the school curriculum in term one and term four.”

O’Neill described the fitness programme, called Cardio, now given a popularity boost with the signing of FitBit as a sponsor.

Research shows the target market is 33 year-olds with 85 percent being women, and many with interest in linking between the two Tennis Australia programmes, he said.

The final two speakers of the session discussed funding sport.

Tania Burston, who is chief executive of mycause, told how her crowdfunding company is concerned with seeking and obtaining donations, tracking reach, engagement, creating a marketing plan and testing support.

“Do it wholeheartedly, use social media, track your impact and always thank your donors,” she told the fascinated audience.

Patrick Walker, as chief executive of Australian Sports Foundation, pushed his major selling point – donations to the foundation are tax deductable – a great message at a late June conference!

“The foundation was established in 1986 to help sport raise funds and has raised $270 million since inception. Our ambition is to raise $100m a year by 2020.

“Sport is under performing compared to the arts for many reasons but if we present people with the need, the cause and the right reason to donate, they will do so,” Walker said.

• Other speakers over the rest of the two day conference included chief executive of Sport SA Jan Sutherland, Dr Clare Hanlon of the Victoria University, Stefan Grun of VicHealth and Tim Oberg, chief executive of ParkRun.