If you build it, those with vouchers will come
Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - 09:00
In 2015, the Town of Milton, Ontario, constructed the $56 million Mattamy National Cycling Centre, which hosted the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games’ track cycling competitions. The Mattamy National Cycling Centre is the only indoor 250m cycling track velodrome in Canada. Milton hoped that staging the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games would enhance the visibility of track cycling and improve access to this unique sport community, inspiring cyclists of all ages and abilities and creating a track cycling culture for years to come. However, as evidenced in the literature, simply stating these goals/staging these events does little to ensure sustainable participation legacies (Misener, Taks, Chalip, & Green, 2015; Weed et al., 2015).
With this in mind, our research team partnered with the Town of Milton and Cycling Canada to develop an event leveraging strategy. Event leveraging is based on the premise that targeted promotional strategies are necessary to achieve participation impacts from elite sport events (Chalip, Green, Taks, & Misener, 2017; Taks, Green, Misener, & Chalip, 2014). Strategic leveraging efforts are especially important for communities like Milton, which construct new facilities for previously unavailable sports. Unfortunately, little evidence exists about effective strategies for promoting novel sports in communities.
Developing and testing an event leveraging engagement strategy
In response to this deficiency, we designed a study to investigate the impact of distributing vouchers for free trial sessions to spectators attending Pan Am Games track cycling competitions. Our aim was to explore the efficacy of these vouchers in generating new participants to the sport.
Our research team approached 338 spectators who had just watched track cycling at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre and asked to what extent they intended to try the sport. We then randomly assigned spectators into one of two groups. Those in the experimental group received a voucher to try track cycling within six months. Those in the control condition received $5.
Of those sampled, 40 spectators (12%) eventually tried track cycling following the Pan Am Games. Of those 40 who participated, 31 came from the voucher group and 9 came from the control group.
We found that the likelihood of participation for spectators who had low or no intentions and a voucher was 11%, compared to 10% for those who had high intentions but no voucher. The likelihood of participation for those with high intentions and a voucher was 21%, compared to 0% for those with low intention and no voucher.
We concluded that the voucher was a powerful tool to promote track cycling, especially to engage those with low or no intentions to participate. The voucher program appeared to be a cost effective way to drive post-event engagement at the Centre. Receiving the voucher removed any cost-related barriers to trying the sport for the first time and made registering to participate easy. While the voucher seemed to be effective at getting people in the door, it is equally important for sport organizations to nurture newly formed relationships to ensure sustainable participation legacies.
Given fiscal and capacity constraints, we were unable to provide vouchers to all of the more than 6,000 spectators that watched these events over four days of competitions. We wonder if the participation trends we observed in our sample would have held across the larger population of spectators. If so, we would estimate the voucher program would have resulted in over 700 new participants to the sport.
While there is little evidence about the effectiveness of various event leveraging strategies, voucher programs represent an easy, low-investment initiative facilities and organizations can pursue as part of comprehensive sport promotional efforts. Future research should examine the efficacy of trial voucher programs in a variety of different domestic and international sport event contexts.
Potwarka, L.R., Snelgrove, R., Drewery, D., Bakhsh, J, & Wood, L. (in press). From intention to participation: Exploring the moderating role of a voucher-based event leveraging initiative. Sport Management Review.
Chalip, L., Green, B.C., Taks, M., & Misener, L. (2017). Creating sport participation from sport events: making it happen. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 9, 257–276.
Taks, M., Green, B. C., Misener, L., & Chalip, L. (2014). Evaluating sport development outcomes: the case of a medium-sized international sport event. European Sport Management Quarterly, 14, 213-237.
Misener, L., Taks, M., Chalip, L., & Green, B. C. (2015). The elusive ‘trickle-down effect’ of sport events: assumptions and missed opportunities. Managing Sport and Leisure, 20(2), 135-156.
Weed, M., Coren, E., Fiore, J., Wellard, I., Chatziefstathiou, D., Mansfield, L., & Dowse, S. (2015). The Olympic Games and raising sport participation: A systematic review of evidence and an interrogation of policy for a demonstration effect. European Sport Management Quarterly, 15(2), 195-226.
About the Author
Luke Potwarka is an Associate Professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at the University of Waterloo. His research examines the behavior and experiences of sport spectators, with a specific focus on the role elite sport events play in inspiring grass roots participation.