Increasing Club Membership in Golf and Lawn Bowls in New Zealand: An Action Research Study
Declining sport club membership is a pervasive issue. The main research question of this thesis is how can a member-owned, non-equity golf or lawn bowls club increase adult membership in New Zealand, while sub-questions explore the retention and recruitment of adult members. This thesis comprises qualitative and quantitative studies of the wider environment for golf and lawn bowls and action research case studies within two clubs. The underlying pragmatist philosophy embraces contributions to both theory and practice. While pragmatism is not constrained to one paradigm, the dominant epistemology in this thesis is interpretative, given the issues are examined from many diverse perspectives. This thesis makes four contributions to knowledge: 1) application of the customer retention concept of controllability to discontinued membership; 2) a seesaw effect in club membership, 3) a framework for balancing the membership seesaw; 4) application of the marketing orientation to a member-owned club. A club has good retention when none of the membership loss is preventable. However, a club may be surprised at the extent to which discontinued memberships are within its control. The seesaw effect articulates an overlooked truism that growth occurs when new members outnumber discontinued memberships. The framework for balancing the membership seesaw summarises factors influencing retention and recruitment. The marketing orientation in a member-owned club recognises the dual role of members as ‘customers’ and ‘marketers’, and places players as the central focus of club activity. The practical contributions take two forms: 1) a process for clubs based on the action research used by the case clubs; and 2) successful initiatives from these studies. Membership is a club-specific issue, influenced by environmental factors, but the main drivers are within the club. The processes within this research can assist a club to diagnose membership ‘health’ and tailor initiatives to address the membership drivers within its control. The successful initiatives in this thesis were modification of membership categories, removal of discounts, addressing member irritations, attraction and support of new players and promotion of alternative forms of the sport. Achieving growth in club membership is complex. Complexity increases when membership drivers are not well understood, information is fragmented, and a power imbalance exists among stakeholders with conflicting interests. However, the passion of club members for golf and bowls is strong. When this passion is combined with the fortitude to look thoughtfully at club processes, the seesaw can swing towards increased membership.