Pursuit Of ‘Value’ Is Grounded In Shifting Values

It’s bothersome that, for many, discounting appears to be the catch-all cure to attempt to win back consumers who have cut back on their sports-related spending.

Discounting is difficult to wean oneself off of, with detrimental long-term effects. And our recent work asserts a more constructive and comprehensive definition of economic value, grounded in a set of social values particular to those adults that now represent the prime target for many of our products and services.

Rather, the explanation reveals that the choice to spend elsewhere is often easier to justify from a total (not just economic) return on investment of time, money and effort, particularly when you consider the attitudes of the target market.

Decisions to indulge in big-ticket recreational pursuits like golf club memberships or season tickets aren’t as straightforward to today’s 35-to-50 year olds. I call these folks the “sandwich generation” because they are caught between literal Boomer and Gen X definitions.

The most affluent of these adults are now at a place in their careers where one traditionally has reached a moderate level of success that allows for serious consideration of many luxuries. Things are different for this group, now confronted with the most severe, and for some, the first, demonstrable white-collar economic downturn in their adult lives. Factor these realities and perceptions with divergent values, and one can begin to realize that the decision to indulge is often directly at odds with other beliefs.

This generation is likely parents of children approaching or in their teen years. More of these children will be pushed to attend a four-year college than in any previous generation. This brings about unprecedented financial demands as the cost of higher education skyrockets at a higher clip than wealth accumulation, and competition for admission is more hotly contested, particularly at elite institutions.

Child-centricity is a driving force today and has manifested itself in more protective and focused parenting at an earlier age. This forces choices among allocating disposable income towards piano lessons, a pitching coach, country club memberships, season tickets or “my obnoxious sweet 16!” Child-centricity puts an emphasis on assuring that the children feel “special” in an age where participation trophies for all have deferred life lessons about winning and losing gracefully. In a more stable economic environment, these decisions might not be mutually exclusive, nor would they seem as daunting.

Further, these target customers face a self-entitlement reality check spawned by the emotional aftermath of the failure of many large institutions. Our tracking research shows them questioning whether their retirement will be as bountiful as that of their now aging parents (who they may have to care for as that generation lives longer). Couple this with the child-centricity reality above, and it’s not difficult to imagine the inner conflict that now fights the urge to indulge.

Pile on top of it a survivor’s guilt for those that remain successful amidst the recent gutting of corporate payrolls around them. Not only do these survivors have to manage greater workplace responsibility in leaner organizations, but the literal or virtual reminders of peers less fortunate reinforces the tenuous nature of the hand that feeds them. This in turn may beget a “right sizing” of expectations.

It all adds up to a new definition of value that includes high levels of consistent service and a focus on new and more inclusive definitions of “community.” Sports properties can clearly position themselves within this broader definition of value that is much more than simply competitive pricing.