Where do sports need to invest in and focus on heading into the future?
March 20th, 2023, Bhawna Singh

Where do sports need to invest in and focus on heading into the future?

Sporting organisations are continually faced with a range of areas and issues which require financial investment and attention. With this in mind, YouGov Sport Australia decided to tackle these topics head-on to gain a greater understanding of what the Australian public and fans think matters most.

In early March 2023, YouGov Sport Australia asked (n=1,032) Australians aged 18+ what they thought sports organisations need to focus on and invest in heading into the future. Respondents were provided 15 different options and could select those considered most important. The top 10 have been provided below (see full charted results at the back of the article or download the full report below).

Download report here

Number 10 – Cost of Live Sport Attendance (23%)

Due to the increasing cost of living and growing interest rates, Australians have been facing increasing financial pressures over the last 12 months. While the data revealed that live sport costs are not the most pressing issue, there are still around 1 in 4 Australians who want this to be a focus for sports organisations going forward. Whether this involves ticket prices, transport costs to games, or general food and beverage prices in stadiums.

One league with a key focus on this is the AFL who want to keep games ‘accessible and affordable’ for fans. In February the league announced a price freeze for all MCG and Marvel general admission tickets. Prices have now been frozen since 2019. – afl.com.au

Number 9 – Where Sponsorship Dollars Are Spent (24%)

In recent times, there has been greater expectations placed on sporting organisations to align their corporate partnerships with socially and ethically ‘approved brands’. Pressure has not only come from the general Australian public and sports fans alike but also internally, with several high-profile athletes speaking out against existing corporate sponsors. A key challenge facing sporting organisations moving forward is balancing corporate objectives while maintaining social approval among the general public, fans, and athletes.

Research conducted by YouGov Sport Australia in February 2022, highlighted that travel, leisure, automotive, and technology brands were some of the most appropriate for sponsorship within sport while fast food, sports betting, and alcohol were least approved.

Number 8 – The Environment & Sustainability (25%)

Over recent years, there has been rising importance placed on the environment and sustainability with YouGov Profiles highlighting that over 3 in 5 Australians demonstrate a preference for brands that are sustainable. Profiles further demonstrated that 70% of Australians think that brands should consider environmental sustainability when putting on events, which has seen a +3% uplift YOY as it grows in importance. These findings highlight the ever-increasing importance for sports and sponsors to work together to implement sustainable strategies that protect the environment.

The Australian Sports Climate is one initiative that in conjunction with Pat Cummins the Australian Test Cricket Captain is helping support Cricket Australia in becoming carbon neutral.

Number 7 – Athlete Support in Retirement (25%)

A 2019 study by local Melbourne university students around athlete transition into retirement concluded that ‘the majority of the athletes involved in the study felt that they had a lack of support from their sporting clubs and governing bodies both during their transition and retirement. This in turn affected their ability to flourish in retirement.

The issues facing athletes in retirement were also explored in the 2020 documentary ‘The Weight of Gold’ where Michael Phelps alluded to ‘What now?’. As the 7th most pressing issue for Australians, how can sporting organisations better invest and support those athletes and ensure a healthy transition takes place?

‘The End of a Professional Sport Career: Ensuring a Positive Transition’. Journal of Sport Management (2019). S. Knights. E. Sherry. M. Ruddock-Hudson. P. O’Halloran.

Number 6 – Athlete Gender Pay Disparity (26%)

Gender pay disparity in the sports industry has become a topical issue in recent times with female athletes not receiving equal pay to their male counterparts. While pay disparity ranked as the 6th most important issue overall, as fan avidity towards sport increased this issue became less important, ranking 11th among avid sports fans.

Amidst recent uproar towards major Australian sports leagues regarding pay dispute issues, several sports have been taking huge steps to close the pay gap. In 2021, Cricket Australia announced a significant cash injection for female cricket players where CEO Nick Hockley expressed that the sport ‘won’t rest until there is genuine parity across all elements of the game.’ – Cricket.com.au

Number 5 – Inclusion & Diversity (27%)

YouGov Profiles shows that 2 in 3 Australians agree that diversity and inclusion should be considered when putting on events. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that sporting organisations want to provide a safe, fair, and inclusive environment welcome to everyone regardless of age, gender, race, religion, ability, or sexual orientation. Despite this YouGov Profiles highlights that 67% of Australians still believe that sports need to be more inclusive, so further work is required.

One league putting a strong focus on this space is the National Rugby League (NRL). They host several themed rounds celebrating diversity and include: Indigenous Round, Multicultural Round, and Women in League Round. – nrl.com

Number 4 – Support & Growth of Women’s Sport (30%)

Australia has seen women’s sport grow rapidly from both a participation and viewership perspective. YouGov Profiles currently highlights that over 2 in 3 Australians are fully supportive of the growth and participation of female sport which has seen continual uplift from 2021 (64%) to 2023 (69%). Profiles further highlights growth in consideration for watching women’s sport live in-person across that same period (36% > 40%) and growth in women’s sports being entertaining to watch (49% > 54%).

These results come as no surprise with the likes of Ash Barty winning the Australian Open in 2022, the female Dolphins Swimmers cleaning up in the pool and the Australian Women’s Cricket team claiming every major title available.

Number 3 – Off-Field Player Behaviour (32%)

Athletes are often viewed as role models. While their on-field achievements are admirable, their off-field behaviour can create complexities for leagues and clubs. Many sports leagues are attempting to minimise these issues with the introduction of programs and policies that provide education and promote responsible behaviour among athletes.

The NRL implemented the Integrity and Compliance Unit to promote honest and ethical behaviour. Furthermore, the NRL introduced the no-fault stand down policy in 2019 to provide guidelines for player misdemeanours. Since these initiatives, the NRL has seen strong improvements to its Brand Health according to YouGov Sport’s SportsIndex and was the only male league in Australia that has seen growth consistently YOY for the past 3 years and now has the 2nd strongest brand health among all male leagues.

Number 2 – Grassroots Investment & Participation (33%)

Participation in sport is not only healthy for the body and mind but is an essential part of any community. For a sport to ensure growth moving forward, it is essential that they appeal to the next generation. The grassroots space also provides ample opportunity for brands to add their support and involvement which not only drives brand awareness but increases the likelihood of Australians engaging, supporting, and purchasing from that brand.

YouGov Profiles highlights the impact a brand's involvement with grassroots and community sport can have. 35% of Australians said they are ‘more likely to support or purchase from a brand if it supports grassroots and the community in Australian sport’, this increases to 46% among sports fans specifically and 51% for those who are highly passionate.

The AFL is one league that is increasing its investment into grassroots programs. In 2023 the AFL will add an extra 17-million-dollar investment into its grassroots programs which is a 35% uplift from 2022 levels. – AFL.com.au

Football Australia has also established new grassroots objectives and has seen an 18% growth in its miniRoos Kick-Off Program since the pandemic and now runs more than 1,800 football sessions in schools across Australia each term. – Footballaustralia.com,au

Number 1 – Mental & Physical Wellbeing of Athletes (50%)

For Australians, looking after our athletes is the most important area for sports to focus on and invest in heading into the future. Half of Australians consider this important, and the general population is 50% more likely to care about this issue when compared to grassroots investment and participation which was in 2nd.

Physical challenges for athlete’s extend beyond just injuries and in recent times there has been increasing concerns raised around the long-term impact of head high contact particularly in the AFL and NRL. As a result of health and legal concerns sports are continuing to make changes to rules and selection testing to better support athlete safety on and off the field.

From a mental perspective, challenges range from the stress and anxiety which comes from the expectation to continually perform, media and public scrutiny, and the challenges of open source and free communication via social media towards athletes.

This article is co-written by Liam Randell (Research Director) and Ella Nesvadba (Research Analyst) at YouGov Sport Australia

For more information on this research or if you want access to Profiles or SportsIndex containing 1000s of sports data points please reach out to liam.randell@yougov.com