The Great Reprioritization’s Evolving Impact On Sports Biz

In the July 2023 Marketing Insider piece, Jon Last opines on how the demand for greater workplace flexibility has both positive and negative implications for the sports industry.

One of the foundational impacts of the past several years has been what we’ve defined as “The Great Reprioritization”: how the pandemic and work from home facilitated a pivot in how people choose to balance personal and professional time.

Despite a continued push to bring people back to central location office settings en masse, our research continues to show resistance to such a model and a greater demand for flexibility.  In April of 2021, 35% of American office workers were back to those locations on a full-time basis. In our latest June 2023 data, the percentage of those exclusively in the office has only grown to 45%, with a majority still working in a hybrid (34%) or exclusively at home (21%) environment. Concurrently, two-thirds agree that “The ability to work from home is something that I value or would value from my job.”  Subsequent attitudinal research continues to show people place a greater value on both work flexibility and holistic balance.

The implications for the sports business are twofold.  From the demand side, this shift has spawned and sustained greater engagement in a number of participatory activities as people gained greater control over how they spend their time.  For example, golf and racquet sports have seen a surge in participation — particularly in “bite sized” derivatives like gamified golf ranges (AKA screen golf) and pickleball, that can easily be inserted into a less rigid, nontraditional workday. Even more time-consuming recreational pursuits have seen shifts in daypart use patterns to accommodate more flexible schedules.  This has been a positive from a revenue generation and yield management perspective, but has concurrently stressed the supply side’s need to staff up to cover this increased and more diffused demand.

In recent interviews with facility operators and management across multiple participatory and spectator sports, the most ubiquitous challenge they’ve cited has been retention and recruitment of customer-facing and front-line staff.

Gone are the days when the allure of being “with the crowd” or at a recreational facility is universally valued as a non-monetary benefit, particularly as other gig work has offered greater flexibility and often higher compensation.   Managers have observed a much less vested, increasingly transactional relationship with staff.  To combat this issue, several are focusing on managing staff culture for the better, along with identifying and developing top performers who ultimately advance into more managerial roles. This is often easier said than done, but they’ve begun trying more creativity and broader reach to find these workers beyond traditional entry ramps.

Net-net, the great prioritization has been a bit of a double-edged sword for sports and leisure properties.  Increased demand and the associated revenue are certainly welcomed, but at the same time, management will need to be more creative to both contain operating expense while still delivering exceptional guest service that keeps people coming back.