Swinburne Business School


The Challenge 

Membership-based organisations like sporting clubs had few ways to measure the relationship between an organisation’s member marketing strategies and rates of member acquisition, experience and retention.

Research Impact Summary 

  • The research defines and measures service experiences of professional sport club members, providing evidence that services are stronger contributors to member retention than on-field team performance. Australian Football League Clubs have built large and loyal memberships and improved service standards consistently alongside 10 years of research.
  • AFL teams have grown membership numbers by over 65% between 2010 and 2019 with comparable growth in the revenue derived from membership. Aggregate AFL Club member numbers reached over 1,000,000 in 2018. This means 1 in 25 Australians are a member of an AFL club.
  • The research and its extensions have resulted in the creation of membership satisfaction and retention instruments that have been used by over 40 sport and leisure organisations to build and retain their membership bases.

Membership Satisfaction and Retention Tool

Goods and services bought by consumers over time, for example cable television or streaming services, gym memberships and magazine subscriptions, are called subscription markets. Long-term research into subscription market behaviour in sport has been developed and led by Professor Heath McDonald (now at RMIT University) and Dr Adam Karg (Swinburne University) with the Australian Football League and 18 clubs over more than 15 years. The research has resulted in the ongoing development of a Membership Satisfaction and Retention tool (MEMSAT) that measures an organisations performance against research-identified drivers of member satisfaction.

Senior AFL managers have acknowledged the annually used MEMSAT tool as ‘a key industry measure’.  Andrew Twigg, Membership Projects Manager at the Australian Football League noted the league and clubs ‘look to the research to help identify risk and opportunity within membership programs, with clubs relying heavily on the results to guide and assess their strategy.’

First launched in 2002, MEMSAT was revised in 2010, 2013 and 2018 as a result of further Swinburne-based research. Twigg noted the ongoing implementation of the tool has assisted with measuring change and benchmarking, while recent innovations to the tool and process allow clubs to improve the implementation of results.

10 Years of Data

‘For many clubs, we now have over 10 years of data, allowing us to track the impact of changes in membership programs and set benchmarks by club and industry. Over the last couple of years, we have seen new innovations in the tool and its delivery. This has included the clubs conducting multiple collections throughout the year, allowing for more prompt action to be taken’ Twigg said.

Extension phases of the research, carried out in partnership with the AFL, have examined ways in which people change from casual users of a product to stronger engagement. These stages have resulted in segmentation frameworks that divide customers into groups based on particular characteristics. Other extensions to MEMSAT have explored determinants of fan conversion, understanding what factors lead to membership renewal, and have sought to calibrate ad control for the impact of a teams on field performance on MEMSAT results.

Jonathan Lee, Insights and Strategy Manager at the Geelong Cats has worked with Swinburne for over five years, noting ‘industry benchmarking provided by MEMSAT is critical to our strategy development’.

Results are presented annually to the entire club, recognising the importance of members and their insights as a critical stakeholder. Lee acknowledges the operational and strategic value of the research, where ‘insights enable the club to address member issues proactively, ensure our products and experience are best designed to engage members, and help us effectively plan for future seasons’

Kicking Goals with More than 40 Organisations 

MEMSAT has been used by over 40 different organisations, including all 18 AFL clubs, to enlist new members—and keep them. It has also been used to establish membership bases for new AFL teams, cricket’s Big Bash League and soccer’s A-League. Teams in Netball’s ANZ Championship (now Super Netball), Super Rugby and the National Rugby League have also used the MEMSET tool in the last decade.

Melbourne Victory soccer club of the A-League has used the tool from its inception in 2005, with its membership base more than double that of some comparable clubs. Renata Lazarovska, Head of Consumer Business for Melbourne Victory, said, ‘Melbourne Victory has used this research to better understand our members and fan base. We believe it has played a significant role in helping us shape our new membership campaign each season and improve our service to build a strong and loyal member base.’

Out of Bounds

Beyond the sports field, the Australian Department of Environment and Energy used the tool to inform its 2015 National Heritage Strategy. Recent adoption of the tool has helped to better understand service delivery in the setting of leisure and fitness centres, including Peninsula Leisure.

Tim Gledhill, CEO of Peninsula Leisure and Peninsula Aquatic and Recreation Centre (PARC) said ‘over the past four years our customer research with Swinburne has provided significant value to all areas of the business. The valuable insights inform a range of critical business strategies, with the scope and flexibility of the research allowing the business to receive a regular, deep view of the customer that is not available in other industry products’. Gledhill noted PARC’s impressive performance over this time, including membership numbers in excess of 10,000, 1 million visits per annum and ongoing industry recognition (PARC was awarded Aquatic and Recreation Victoria 2019 Health Club of the Year) ‘would not have been possible without the support of Swinburne research’.

For further detail, read the Impact Study on the ARC website.

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