National Sporting Organisations all over the world can see the dramatic shifts and changes in the sports industry.

And they’re all responding in very typical – very predictable ways.

The problem is, all the things they’re doing are not working because quite simply – they don’t get it.

National Sporting Organisations are responding to the “competitive-crisis” in world sport by doing all the things they’ve done for the past 50 years, i.e. they’re doing the same things that have caused many of the problems the industry is facing.

Let’s look at what’s happening, how the National Sporting Organisations are responding, why what they’re doing is not working (and will not work) and throw up some ideas of what will make a difference in this New Sport environment.

Bigger Issues: What’s Happening in the Movies, in Music and the Media Industries?

People in the sports industry think that what’s happening in sport is really unique.

Well – it’s not.

The same global shifts we’re seeing in sports industry are happening in three much larger and far better resourced industries: Movies, Music and the Media.

  • Movies: The movie studios are struggling to control the movie industry. In the past, people had to go to the cinemas and purchase a ticket to see a movie or hire a DVD from a Video Hire store. Now anyone can watch, download and view anything – anytime – anywhere and quite often for free.
  • Music: The music industry has changed at an unprecedented rate. In the past, the music industry was owned and driven by the people who wrote and played the music, their management groups and the big music companies. Now you can find the music you want to listen to on line for free. No one buys full “albums” anymore….you just select a few of the songs you like and download or live-stream those….when, where and how you like without paying for them.
  • Media: The media industry is almost unrecognizable from the one which has existed for the past 50 years. In the “old-days” people had to physically walk into a news-agency or store, purchase a hard copy of a newspaper and read it. If you wanted to share it – you either handed someone your copy of the newspaper or photo-copied a page or an article. Now, people share articles, photos and other items they find on line at the “official” media web sites and send them around the world – usually through social media…..without ever needing to purchase of copy of the newspaper.

What people on the Boards and in the Executive of National Sporting Organisations need to understand is that what we’re seeing in sport has already happened and continues to happen in other industries and we would be crazy not to take note of it – and more importantly – learn from it.

The bottom line is…

People all over the world are rejecting the “old-way” of accessing the experiences they seek. They’re moving away from centralized, organized, managed systems of experience delivery, e.g. away from movies at Cinemas, music on CDs and media in newspapers, to creating their own unique experiences which they can access anytime, anywhere and usually for free.

Just as Disney, Universal Studios and Paramount couldn’t stop the changes in the movie industry, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles haven’t been able to stop the changes in their industry and Fox, the New York Times and even billionaires like Rupert Murdoch haven’t been able to stop the changes in their industry….what chance does Basketball, Athletics, Netball, Football, Cricket, Swimming, Tennis and all the other National Sporting Organisations around the world have of stopping people from choosing their own unique brand of sports experience?

None whatsoever!

Unless they think differently.

It’s all about people – understanding people and connecting with people is the key to success in sport.

What’s Happening in World Sport: the Big Three Issues of Importance.

The evidence is everywhere…

  1. The number of people playing competitive sport is declining considerably. People are quite simply disconnecting with competitive sport and are rejecting the way it’s been delivered for the past 50 years;
  2. Governments at local level, regional, state and national level are driving the health, fitness, well-being, family-sport-experience and community sport agendas. Funding is being directed into “hubs” and shared “sporting spaces” rather than into the traditional Club based sporting “places”;
  3. The number of people looking for personal sports “experiences” is increasing i.e. where they can do what they want, when they want, where they want, the way they want and with who they want.

And National Sporting Organisations in every nation are very, very worried. Why?

Because they can see their traditional power base and influence declining rapidly.

What are National Sporting Organisations Doing to Try and Stop the Changes?

National Sporting Organisations, in response to the changes the sports industry is experiencing are acting very predictably.

  1. They’re trying to legislate to stop the changes. We’re seeing sports introducing new rules, policies and regulations to try and force members to remain connected with the sport;
  2. They’re modifying their sports experiences. Many, many National Sporting Organisations are modifying their traditional sports experiences and attempting to evolve into more “client-focused” sporting organisations. Most popular of these modified sports experiences are the “transitional” games, e.g. fun, skills based modified sports to try and connect the participation side of sport to the competitive pathway.
  3. They’re rejecting the facts that the industry is changing. Some National Sporting Organisations, even faced with the considerable evidence that their sport and their industry generally is undergoing a period of incredible change, still refuse to make the changes necessary to survive…let alone thrive.

Why What the National Sporting Organisations are Doing Not Work: The Six Ps.

In response to the need for change, National Sporting Organisations will focus on changing one or more of the following:

  1. Plans: they modify their plans to target a different or broader market segment;
  2. Policies: they change their policies around junior sport, e.g. some sports are considering and trialing doing away with Junior Representative teams (more on this in a coming post);
  3. Practices: they change what they do, e.g. they teach coaches how to be more client-focused, athlete-centred etc.
  4. Processes: they change they way they do what they do, e.g. they modify competition structures to make them more family friendly;
  5. Programs: they introduce a new National Program of some kind and most importantly….
  6. People: they try to connect with people and get them to change.

Of all the “Ps” – People – are the hardest and most challenging to change.

However, people are the most important thing of all – and – if the National Sporting Organisations spend a lot of time, energy, resources and effort on the first five Ps without genuinely engaging with their People…the first five DO NOT WORK.

Why National Sporting Organisations Programs Don’t Work.

The most typical response by National Sporting Organisations to the rapid changes being experienced in the sports industry is to roll out some sort of National Sporting Program: a one size fits all, guaranteed to work, fix-all solution to the sport’s problems.

The National Sporting Program process looks something like this:

  • The National Sporting Organisation does some market research and realizes there’s a problem;
  • They get a sports marketing company or sports consulting firm to come up with a solution, e.g. a modified game;
  • They spend a big pile of money developing the solution, building the resources, creating the web sites, designing the social media campaign, publishing and printing posters, booklets, stickers, manufacturing the marketing materials etc. etc. etc.
  • They do the big national program launch…and they start to roll out the new program through their state, regional and club networks.

And they all make one simple but critically important mistake…programs don’t change people: people change people.

People don’t change by being sent posters, stickers and links to web sites.

People don’t change because a Sport Development Officer paid them a visit.

People don’t change because you’ve invited them to a seminar or a workshop.

People change through emotional connection. They change when people take a personal interest in them, listen to them, try to understand their needs and try to look at life through their eyes.

Change is hard. Change is personal. Change is challenging.

And spending a bucket of “dough” on a national program designed to increase sports participation – or to try and change the trends in competitive sports registrations – even if that program is done with all the right intentions – is mostly a waste of time and money.

The Painful Reality of Sport Right Now.

All over the world people in sport are hurting.

Good people. Selfless people. Caring people.

People in clubs, in associations and even yes – in National Sporting Organisations are hurting because they can see what’s happening and yet – all the things they’ve done in the past like designing, developing and delivering national sporting programs are not working.

Think about the reality of what’s happening in sport for a moment.

In a small country town, there’s a man called John. He’s been the manager of the local football club for 40 years. He scored the winning goal for the Club in the 1975 Final. His children – and now his grand-children played for the Club.

For John, the Club is more than a Club: to him it’s his family, it’s his identity, it’s his home, it’s who he is.

Ten years ago, the Club had 48 teams made up of athletes aged 7 to 25 years of age competing in strong local and regional competitions.

Now, sadly, John is managing 7 teams. He’s disappointed. He’s frustrated. He’s angry and he’s looking for someone to blame.

No one is playing competitive football anymore in his club, his town or in his region.

He’s blamed the internet. He’s blamed parents for being “soft” on their kids. He’s blamed other sports. He’s blamed his national sporting organisation.

But….no one’s the blame. He’s just another victim of some very large and very significant global trends which are affecting everyone.

And – as sports professionals – we owe it to John – and to every John and every Julie – in every sporting Club and in every sport around the world – to help.

Summary and Solutions: Think Global but Act Local!

  1. People – not programs – are the solution. National Sporting Organisations need to be working with people – in the Clubs, the district associations, the regional sporting bodies, the State Associations and help them to develop the skills, capabilities and knowledge to change: not to change THE world – but to change THEIR world;
  2. Modified sports are NOT the answer unless you combine it with a commitment to coaching and coach development. All the time, money and effort being invested into these cute little modified sports programs will not work unless National Sporting Organisations start investing seriously into coaching and coach development. The best designed and most brilliantly marketed modified sport will not make any difference unless sports’ “shop-front” – i.e. the coaches who are out there working face to face with children and families – embrace the modified sport and deliver it with energy, enthusiasm, passion and real connection. Unless the coaches believe in the national program being rolled out by the National Sporting Organisation – they don’t and won’t deliver it.
  3. National Sporting Organisations need to think, talk and act differently. The world is not about centralized power, politics and policies anymore. It’s about individuals seeking, creating and doing things they want to do – when, where and how they want to do them. If National Sporting Organisations try to overly control things right now – if they try to promote and push new “instant-fix” National Sports Participation programs and if they don’t find new and better ways to connect with people and respond to their unique sports experience needs, they will fall.
  4. If people can’t get the sports experience they want – they’ll start creating their own competitions, their own groups, their own teams and they’ll do it independently of the influence of the national sporting organisations. Right now – the best way for National Sporting Organisations to survive is to establish overall national strategies but inspire, help, motivate, train and empower people to deliver those strategies locally through their own clubs, districts and regions – in ways which are contextually relevant, meaningful and of value to the people who really matter: the children, the families -and all of the people playing and delivering sport.

If your Sporting Organisation is looking for new and better ways to grow in this increasingly challenging and rapidly changing sports industry environment, contact me now.

Bring people together – provide the opportunity for them to learn – and to create their own learning experiences. It works!


Wayne Goldsmith