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Proper positioning imperative for sport club's success

This is an excerpt from Sport Club Management by Matthew Robinson.

Marketing can be defined as activities that meet the wants and needs of consumers (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2007). Because the wants and needs of sport club consumers vary, there is no magic bullet or a cookie-cutter model for developing a sport club's marketing efforts. The club must understand its customers' wants and needs and then offer the right product at the right price and in the right place, and promote that product and use public relations in the right way. To achieve this goal, the sport club must develop a strategic marketing management plan. This plan helps the club determine how to position itself in the marketplace.

Positioning is how consumers view the product—in this case, the club (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2007). Is the club viewed as an expensive, highly competitive club that produces high-level players, or as an inexpensive club that focuses on participation and fun over competition and player development? Perhaps consumers view it as a multisport club that achieves both of those objectives. With its vision of a position in mind, the club can then develop goals and objectives to achieve that position in the marketplace. These goals can be related to the number of customers in the club; the number of college scholarships awarded to players; or the number of regional, state, or national championships won. Once the club has created these goals, it can develop a plan that incorporates the five Ps of sport marketing (see figure 6.1) to achieve them (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2007).

Next, the marketing plan needs to be incorporated into the larger strategic vision of the club. In fact, the marketing piece is central to the achievement of the larger strategic plan. The marketing plan drives the revenue streams, which ultimately funds all of the club's initiatives, services, and long-term plans.

The club may spend a great deal of time developing a strategic marketing plan, but it must also manage it and evaluate it. Managing the plan means being sure club leaders do what they said they were going to do. Evaluation involves an ongoing review of the plan as it is being implemented and at the end of the year to determine what worked and what didn't work.


The sport club as a product can be defined as a bundle of experiences, products, and services that will satisfy club members (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2007). What makes marketing a sport club different from marketing a traditional product such as toothpaste is that the wants and needs of customers vary. Toothpaste consumers want clean teeth and fresh breath. Sport club customers, on the other hand, have a variety of wants and needs, and the experience itself is intangible and subjective. One player may be very satisfied that her team won the majority of games in a season, whereas another may be disappointed because she did not improve as much as she would have liked. They were both on the same team, but their experiences were quite different.


Price can be defined as the exchange value of a good or service (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2007). A soccer club charges a $250 registration fee for an in-house recreation league. In exchange, an eight-year old gets a T-shirt, a water bottle, 10 games, training from a volunteer coach, and a trophy at the end of the season. The pricing of a product is important because consumer satisfaction is usually tied to value. Value is the measure of the worth of the product in the mind of the consumer. If the customer believes he got what he deserved for the price he paid, he is satisfied. If he believes he did not get what he paid for, he is dissatisfied. Club managers must be able to explain to consumers the connection between the price and the services offered.

Price can be easily manipulated depending on the circumstances. A club may originally announce that it will charge teams $500 to enter a tournament it is hosting, but that fee can be increased to $600 for teams that do not pay by a set deadline or reduced to $450 per team for a club that enters more than three teams.

Price is also highly visible and plays an integral part in the positioning of a product (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2007). One of the first questions a customer will ask about a product is, How much? If she believes the price is too high, she may not even inquire further. If she believes the price is too low, she may question the quality of the product.

Because a club is a business, it needs to charge a price that will at the very least cover the costs associated with providing the experience to participants. When determining the price to charge participants, the club needs to consider expenses associated with the coaches, facility fees, uniforms, registration fees, and the overall operations of the club. To earn a profit, the club must add a markup to the cost of providing the experience. Nonprofit clubs can use a markup to fund future capital projects.

The club must also consider what its customers can afford to avoid pricing itself out of the market. An awareness of what competitors are charging will help club leaders position the club. If a club views itself equal to another club in terms of quality and services offered, its pricing should be in the same range as that of the other club. If a club is looking to position itself as affordable and less competitive than other clubs, it should be charging less than those that are considered high end and competitive. On the other hand, if the club wants to be viewed as the Cadillac of clubs, it should price accordingly to position itself as better than or of a higher quality than other clubs.

Pricing should also consider the goals and objectives of the club. The club may be interested in having the most players of any club in the state. In this case it desires a large market share. The club may decide not to charge as much to achieve the desired market share. On the other hand, the club may want to be selective and offer a high-quality experience to a few. If this is the case, it should price accordingly.

Consider a club that can charge $100 per player for a season and get 1,000 players in the club. In doing so, the club will gross $100,000. Another club may select only 100 players and charge each player $1,000. That club, too, will gross $100,000. Both clubs have met their goals.

Lastly, the strength of the brand dictates the willingness of people to pay. A club known to have great coaches, a tradition of success, and a first-class facility can charge accordingly. A club that does not possess those traits may not be able to charge as high a fee until its brand is stronger and more people make positive associations with the club.


Promotion is any activity that increases interest in and awareness of the club and that ultimately leads to someone deciding to become a member. Promotional media include print and electronic advertising, printed and electronic materials, mailings, telemarketing, and personal selling (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2007). All of these media can communicate the benefits of the club to potential customers and play an important role in the positioning of the club in the mind of the customer. A printed brochure or a 30-second advertisement on a local cable station that has images of kids having fun playing a sport and that explains that the cost of participation in a 10-week league would equal the cost of babysitting positions the club in the mind of the potential customer as an affordable, enjoyable experience. A brochure or television ad with images of past players who are now intercollegiate athletes or of teams holding up trophies positions a club as one that is competitive.

Because promotion does have a cost, it should be accounted for in the budget. The success of a club's promotional efforts is based on the ability to reach the target audience, generate a return on the club's investment, position the product in the mind of the consumer, increase consumer awareness, and most important, affect sales or registration fees. To reach a target audience, club leaders need to know who they are targeting and then determine the best way to reach them. What newspapers and magazines do they read? What Web sites do they visit? What radio stations do they listen to, and at what times? The club can also acquire the names, addresses, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers of potential clients and reach them either through phone calls, mailings, or e-mail blasts.

The most effective way to gather information to communicate with current customers and to assess current marketing effortsis through market research. Clubs can initiate a market research study of current club members by distributing a survey via e-mail or at the facility.

Mullin and colleagues (2007) identified the following promotional efforts that a club could incorporate into its marketing efforts:

  • Advertising entails paying for publicity in newspapers and magazines and on television, radio, billboards, the sides of buses, and the Web. The larger the circulation of a medium, the more expensive it will be because the club is paying for exposure. An ad that 1 million people will see will be more expensive than one that only 1,000 people will see. That means that an ad in a major metropolitan daily newspaper will be more expensive than an ad in a local weekly newspaper. A radio ad that is played during people's morning commute, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., will be more expensive than an ad that is played at 2 a.m. The club should see a return on its investment in an ad.
  • Mailings and e-mail blasts forward information on the club via the postal system or through e-mail. The key is having “good” addresses, those of people who are likely to purchase your product. The club should develop a database of information on anyone who has ever interacted with the club. Another way to secure good addresses is to partner with businesses related to the business of the club. For example, a soccer shop may have contact information on customers that the club could purchase. The store's list may be smaller than, say, a list of everyone in a given area, but the potential of securing one as a customer is greater because the people on the store's list most likely have a specific interest in soccer. The beauty of e-mailing is that it is free. The downside is that an e-mail could be identified as spam and never be seen by the potential customer.
  • Personal selling involves any person-to-person interaction in which a club representative has the chance to persuade a person to join the club. A coach may see a quality player and approach that player's parents, or a club representative may respond to an inquiry from someone looking for the right athletic environment for her daughter.
  • Sales promotion includes a variety of techniques that make the product attractive to a potential consumer. These may include price discounts, coupons, and added benefits. A common sales promotion practiced by clubs is decreasing the cost for more than one child from a family. Coupons for a reduced cost for admission can be mailed in a brochure or printed in a newspaper ad. Increasing the value of membership is a good strategy that can enable the club to increase its customer base while not lowering its prices. Included in the membership fee for a league may be a ball, a trip to a professional game, or several individual training sessions.
  • Sampling gives the customer an opportunity to experiment with the product. One way to do this is to invite a potential player to come for a tryout and work with a coach to get a sense of what the training would be like and get a feel for the facility. Another approach is to hold a free clinic to give potential customers a chance to experiment with the product. If they enjoy the experience, they may make the commitment to join the club.
  • Tabling incorporates personal selling, advertising, sales promotions, and sampling. In this case the club pays for the right to have a presence at an event. A club representative attends the event and interacts with potential customers and distributes brochures. Again, the key to successful tabling is targeting. What types of events do families attend? Parades, community events, and minor league games are potential places. The idea is to be where potential customers are to make it easier for them to learn about the club.
More Excerpts From Sport Club Management