From Sport Facility Management to Community Facility Enterprise

In our everyday work SMN come across a number of leisure facilities which are underperforming, both in terms of number people using them and in their financial performance. And it has to be said at those facilities that we also often experience a lack of leadership, customer care, community engagement and enterprise and a focus on procedures and programmes and a ‘can’t do’ mentality.

At the same time we also meet many people from clubs and from public bodies who are working really hard to get that facility built/developed, being focused on getting the facility developed. Not on what it should deliver and how they are going to make it financially sustainable.

They are completely focused on getting the facility developed. Raising the money, getting the permissions, writing the applications and securing support from the ‘important people’. Part of that includes getting letters from local sports clubs and bodies stating that ‘they would really to have this facility and they have got plenty of people who want to use it.’ Not a word about how they will achieve that, their values, their skills and attitude.

The so-called ‘business plan’ is often just a spread-sheet which bears little resemblance to the real world and is rarely tested with some poking questions, as the two key deciding factors are whether the facility gets build seems to be a) the drive and connections of the person(s) behind the project b) local and national politics. Sorry, but it had be said.

The facility then gets built/developed, a great opening ceremony is held and often the people behind the project resign, exhausted. Then, and often only then, does the attention swift to how the facility is going to be run and become a vibrant, visible and viable Community Facility Enterprise.

We need to focus on what we are trying to achieve at our facilities and then look at how the bricks and mortar can help achieve that.

It may not be rocket science, but SMN is convinced that we must develop facilities that are WICE2: Welcoming, Innovative, Community-focused, Engaging and Enterprising. They can then develop best practice in terms of how they follow the WICE2 principles and become sustainable hubs for their communities, delivering better sport and physical activity.

A few words about the five elements of WICE2 :


Remember, you are in the Experience Industry, competing for people’s leisure time and spend. You, your coaches/instructors and the rest of your team must focus on providing the best sporting and customer experiences possible and remember: we are all different, so what you think is a great experience, may not be the same to a 26 year old recreational player or a 42 year old ‘returner’.

Help newcomers ease into the place, so the initial ‘like-first-day-at-school’ nerves disappear and they become advocates. Your best marketing tool is a customer who has just had a great experience at your club/centre.


More than ever before people involved with sport and leisure are being asked to do more with less. It isn’t easy.

Too many people are too busy solving the everyday short-term problems that they ignore the important medium and long-term opportunities and therefore they rarely get ahead. With fewer resources available this then becomes a vicious circle. If you only come up with solutions when the problem is ‘blocking the road’ you will always be panicking and fire fighting.

The trick is to spot practical opportunities everywhere in your organisation and to explore them. Some people and organisations/ in the sport and active leisure sector have been very successful in spotting and exploiting opportunities whereas others, often from within top-heavy, centralised organisations have found it very difficult to be innovative. Informal, commercial and self-organised sport and physical activity is growing because they listen to people’s lives and speak their language.

Innovative organisations and people make mistakes and have failures. Analyse and learn. This also applies to your successes. Then you will gradually increase your success rate with your innovations.


The notion of ‘sport for sport’s sake’ which implies that sport sits in glorious isolation from the rest of the communities it is supposed to serve simply is no longer valid (I doubt it ever was).

Whenever I come across great sports providers they work for and with their communities, and as a consequence, both parties benefit. They are in reality Hubs for their Communities.

So how well are you connected to your community? Do you know them and do they know you?

Draw up a list of your Community Connectors (people in official/unofficial roles within your community). Invite them to your place, show/tell them what you do, ask them about their needs and see if there are overlaps.   Can you work together, benefitting both parties?


It has never been easier (and less costly) for sports providers to engage and communicate with their audiences, using texts, emails and social media such as Facebook and YouTube.

If you are of a disposition or a generation which is a bit baffled by all this, get some of your younger digitally savvy people to do all this for you. This is also a brilliant way of keeping people in their late teens/early twenties engaged with your club (the age with the highest dropout rate).


At SMN we encounter many great, enterprising people in community sport on a very regular basis.

Many of them succeed outside the established ‘sporting landscape’ and do not wait for a policy or edict coming down from on high. They go out there and develop some great community and sporting events and raise money (often very impressive amounts) in the process.


So here you have it: five simple questions you must ask yourself at least every quarter. Or, even better, ask your customers, members, guests and stakeholders. Please remember, that miracles don’t happen overnight and major improvements require hard work and dedication, day in, day out. But trust me, it works.

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