Major sports events and their ability to benefit local sports clubs: A case study of the Auckland professional tennis tournaments
Tennis clubs suffer as participation declines. The increasing popularity of the casual ‘pay-for-play’ concept results in further decrease in membership for complacent sport clubs. Yet strategic documents from government sport agencies in New Zealand continue to emphasise the importance of sport clubs.
A review of sport event literature reveals a gap with regard to how major sport events directly benefit the sport itself, in particular the potential link between second-tier elite events and participation at non-elite level. This study investigates the question of how local sport clubs can leverage a major sport event for increased participation and/or membership. The research question is explored within the context of two international tennis tournaments held in Auckland, New Zealand in January each year. Specifically the project takes a participatory action research approach with a three-phase collaborative process. During the first and third phases, qualitative research is undertaken with people in the national sport organisation, two regional bodies and sport clubs. In the first reconnaissance phase, participants demonstrate universal agreement about a lack of profile for tennis clubs at the tournaments. They agree this missed opportunity forms the basis for the second phase, the intervention, which comprises three initiatives: a club information stand; a promotional offer of a free tennis lesson at a tennis club for non-club members; and information in the tournament programmes to support these activities. At the third phase of evaluation, participants conclude the intervention is successful. Whilst there is mixed reaction about the outcome of the tennis lesson promotion, the overall perception is that the process used for the study has benefits. Some operational issues are identified as reducing consumer interest in the tennis lesson offered during the promotion. Consumer behaviour theory, however, indicates some drop-off in interest after the tournaments is inevitable. In conclusion, clubs can benefit from sport events by operating as a co-ordinated group and developing a leveraging plan for a specific event or sport using a process similar to the one adopted in this study. In developing plans, local sport bodies can consider the broad principles behind the intervention in this case study of ensuring a profile for clubs at the sport event and providing a direct link between the event and clubs.