Season ticket holders (STHs) are vital to professional sport club revenue and are purported to be the most loyal and involved of fans. Nonrenewal (churn) rates among STHs, however, often exceed 20%. Low member satisfaction, poor on-field performance and low game attendance have all been posited as explanations of high churn rates, but rarely empirically examined. The research reported here employed a unique study of over 4,500 STHs, incorporating both survey research and measures of actual behavior, to determine which variables best explain and predict churn within two professional sport teams. A variety of analytical techniques all suggest that the key variables predicting churn are length of relationship and the number of games attended. New, low attending STHs are over five times more likely to churn than long-term, frequent attendees. Typical management practice is to run reward schemes designed to increase attendance and encourage renewal. The results of this study suggest that fundamental differences in the way new, low attending members evaluate the season ticket product may render those schemes ineffective. Shifting the focus of these STHs toward the intangibles of the product, such as stronger feelings of involvement, a sense of community and increased patron worth, could be more effective at reducing churn.
Heath McDonald and Emma Sherry
When assessing board performance, customers are often overlooked as a stakeholder group. Yet, dissatisfied customers have successfully acted to have boards removed, and we have seen this scenario occur repeatedly among professional sport organizations governed by boards. The purpose of this research was to identify the factors affecting customer perceptions of sport club board performance, and guide organizations in the management of those perceptions. After extensive qualitative research, over 20,000 season ticket holders (STHs) from 14 different professional sport clubs were surveyed. The results suggest that a combination of overt performance measures (e.g., profits) and subjective, nonfinancial measures (e.g., feelings of inclusion) are used by customers to assess sport boards. Overall perceptions of the board directly influence customer satisfaction, and are strongly correlated with on-field performance and customer inclusion, suggesting boards are perceived to have a role to play in both areas. Perceptions of board performance are, therefore, worth managing in a holistic manner, balancing strong financial and club management with a particular emphasis on inclusive practices.
Adam Karg, Jeremy Nguyen, and Heath McDonald
Predicting attendance at events is important for efficient facility management and marketing to maximize crowds. Most work to date is conducted at the aggregate level; however, the large crowd size being predicted often means important individual decisions are masked. In many markets, increased nonattendance by season ticket holders (STHs) is being reported, which is troubling given they have prepaid and are expected to be highly loyal. To understand who attends, rather than just how many, the authors analyze the “no-show” behavior of over 5,900 individual STH of one professional team over a season. Results show that in addition to game viewing and quality conditions, age, tenure, expenditure, and prior game attendance are predictors of individual attendance decisions, with differences in how individuals are influenced by winning and uncertainty of outcome. The paper expands understanding of drivers of STH attendance decisions and provides guidance toward managerial strategies for STH management.
Adam Karg, Heath McDonald, and Civilai Leckie
How consumers decide to consume sport is a complex choice. Broadcast options have widened through new channels and content options while live attendance has improved through enhanced stadium quality and tailored customer experiences. Past research has suggested that consumers have strong preferences for one form of consumption over the other, including “media-dominant consumers” who rarely attend live. The authors present two studies to examine the channel preferences of sports consumers. The first is a large nationally representative survey that allowed us to profile consumption channel preferences and profile four distinct groups of sport consumers. The second focuses on more highly engaged fans—season ticket holders and explores the presence of media-dominant consumers for how satisfaction with core products is assessed differently by groups of consumers. The results suggest a need to tailor products around channel preferences and challenge the role of media consumption established in fan development models.
Adam Karg, Ali Tamaddoni, Heath McDonald, and Michael Ewing
Season ticket holders are a vital source of revenue for professional teams, but retention remains a perennial issue. Prior research has focused on broad variables, such as relationship tenure, game attendance frequency, and renewal intention, and has generally been limited to survey data with its attenuate problems. To advance this important research agenda, the present study analyzes team-supplied behavioral data to investigate and predict retention as a loyalty outcome for a single professional team over a 3-year period. Specifically, the authors embrace a broad range of loyalty measures and team performance to predict retention and employ novel data mining techniques to improve predictive accuracy.
Hunter Fujak, Stephen Frawley, Heath McDonald, and Stephen Bush
Sport consumers and markets have traditionally been thought to exhibit unique behaviors from traditional consumer products, particularly in respect to perceptions of loyalty. Yet, despite sport landscapes becoming increasingly crowded, there has been scant research measuring consumers’ repeat behavior in the context of the dense sports market. Through this research, we address this gap by applying Dirichlet modeling against the behaviors of 1,500 Australian sport consumers. Two questions are explored: First, do sport attendance markets exhibit purchase characteristics distinct from typical consumer markets? Second, do consumers treat sport leagues as complimentary or substitutable goods? The results provide evidence that consumer patterns within the sport attendance market are consistent to other repeat-purchase consumer markets. This finding further diminishes the long-held notion that sport requires unique methods of management. Furthermore, it was found that fans consume sport teams as complimentary products. As sport teams largely share their fans with other teams, practitioners must reorient their expectations around fan loyalty.
Heath McDonald, Rui Biscaia, Masayuki Yoshida, Jodie Conduit, and Jason P. Doyle
Customer engagement (CE) is an emerging perspective that provides a holistic view of the ways in which customers’ interactive experiences with organizations create value for both the parties. Central to this, is the need to develop an understanding of why a customer would choose to invest their resources (cognitive, emotional, and behavioral) with an organization, to be able to better facilitate this engagement and properly value the outcomes from it. Sport, with its inherently strong interactions for both participants and fans, would seem an ideal setting to study CE. To date, however, the CE work in sport domains has largely followed established paths. Given CE’s potential to unify many disparate areas of sport research, this paper presents a comprehensive review of the CE work to date and highlights several ways sport can leverage and advance this work through both academic research and management practice.
Daniel Lock, Daniel C. Funk, Jason P. Doyle, and Heath McDonald
The propensity of strongly identified fans to contribute positive organizational outcomes for sport teams underpins why team identification maintains a central position in sport management. In the current study we examine the multidimensional structure, stability, and interrelationships between the dimensions of team identification, using longitudinal data (April 2011–April 2012) collected from fans of a new Australian Rules football team (N = 602). A Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) of the team identification items included (measured using the Team*ID scale), supported a five-dimensional model structure. This model was subsequently computed as a longitudinal CFA to test the configural and metric invariance of the Team*ID scale. We used a cross-lagged panel model to examine the longitudinal stability of, and interrelationships between, the dimensions: affect, behavioral involvement, cognitive awareness, private evaluation, and public evaluation. Each dimension displayed relative stability over time. In addition, public evaluation and private evaluation in April 2011 displayed a positive relationship with behavioral involvement in April 2012. Similarly, cognitive awareness in April 2011 predicted increases in public evaluation in April 2012. We conclude with implications for theory and practice.
Thilo Kunkel, Jason P. Doyle, Daniel C. Funk, James Du, and Heath McDonald
The importance of team brand associations in sport management research is well documented, but the formation and stability of these associations has not been investigated. The current research tested the development, change, and predictive ability of brand associations over time. Longitudinal quantitative data were collected from consumers of a new Australian Football League (AFL) team (N = 169) at 3 points in time. One-sample t-tests revealed that brand associations had developed through marketing communications and the launch of the team before the team had played its first AFL game. Repeated-measures multivariate analysis of variance and latent growth modeling showed that brand associations changed over time, reflecting consumers’ experiences with the team. A cross-lagged panel model highlighted that brand associations influenced consumer loyalty in the future. Consequently, sport managers are provided with insights on the development of and change in brand associations that new consumers link with sport teams.