Spotting and exploiting opportunities in sport and physical activity

“An opportunity is a real ingredient in your organisation, just like staff or computers… but it only exists when you can see it”

Sports Marketing Network introduces the Opportunity Search…the tool which can

  • help you develop your organisation’s culture and skills
  • help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your organisation
  • help you identify your opportunity space based on your skills and culture
  • help you identify cost-saving and revenue-generating activities
  • help you assess and decide on which of the above you should implement

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

Many organisations are tackling this challenge with cost cutting initiatives without really making any changes to the way they operate. What’s the net gain? Not much in the way of unique added value for your customers. At the same time to 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 organisation 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.

Many do not regard opportunities as something they need to focus on and certainly not an area where they need to devote any specific time and effort. They will have to introduce a formal focusing procedure which requires the organisation to spend time and resources…hence the Opportunity Search. Often people are trained to solve problems as they arise. The notion of throwing up ideas for no good reason is alien to many and those ideas are rarely used as few organisations know ‘how to handle new ideas.’ This is why the notion of the Opportunity Search is such a great one as it provides a framework that excites and focuses the creativity of the executives.

Opportunities could include introducing a new activity, say samurai aerobics, or improving your booking process to speed up time. Or you could identify a staff member with great social media skills and get them to develop better ways of engaging with your customers, or develop a community programme, sponsored by the local housing association or save £ ‘000.000 by refurbishing an empty warehouse and set up a inline skating/BMX centre (as opposed to building a facility from scratch). The list goes on…it is all about improving the vibrancy, visibility and viability of the organisation.

The Opportunity Search

Innovation is a people process and is a key competency at most organisations. Doing more with less requires employees that understand innovation — what it is and where to hunt for it. Once they understand innovation, the next step is to ensure they are equipped with a process and tools that will enable productive idea generation, idea building and planning for implementation.

How to grow your opportunity space.

“Opportunity space is all the worthwhile things we have in our power to do – if only we could think of them”!

Opportunity space is defined by the level of your skills and openness of your culture. The higher the skill levels within your organisation the better equipped you are equipped to take a advantage of the opportunities that you may identify. There is no point suggesting to a sport and leisure department with a Local Authority to start embarking on database marketing if the skills to do so are not available.

Also, the more open your culture is towards change and new ideas the bigger your opportunity space is. If your organisation leans towards a culture which favours a ‘the way we do things around here’ obviously you will reject most new ideas and thoughts. Badly run organisations tend to assume that all their troubles are external (the economy, the government, regulations, etc.) and that there is nothing wrong with their thinking. Successful ones feel they are successful because of the competence of their thinking, culture and skills and they regard external problems as difficulties to overcome.

Complacent organisations do not learn nor study. Why bother yourself with that new stuff if you already know everything? Complacency is not usually the characteristic of someone who is genuinely interested in a subject

Too many people find uncertainty uncomfortable and take the “Don’t waste time dabbling in what might be but get on with what is”. Since opportunity search involves uncertainty at least at two stages – the uncertainty of even finding an area of opportunity and the uncertainty that it will prove invaluable – such minds are reluctant to get involved in an opportunity search.

Some practical steps on how to run an Opportunity Search

  1.  Undertake an objective assessment of your organisation’s skill level and the openness of your culture, which will help you define the size of your Opportunity Space
  2. Talk to customers, staff (at all levels) and other stakeholders and get a clear feel for their feelings and thoughts. Let them know you want their ideas, big or small. When they put them forward remember if the penalty for coming up with an idea that didn’t work is bigger than the reward for coming up with a great idea – then no one will be putting forward any ideas
  3. Encourage an inquisitive culture whilst also ensuring that people know whom to speak if they have an idea and how to take it forward. You need to combine method and motivation. Method without motivation ends up on shelf and motivation without method is ineffective
  4. Make sure you have a complete overview of what information you have about your customers, local issues and other aspects which affect your operation. Ideas without information are pretty worthless. Information without ideas can still be useful. The best of all is abundant information, supplemented by ideas. The mistake which so many people make, is to assume that collecting more information will do away with the need for ideas
  5. Get inspired. Visit others in similar situations to yourself. Go outside your comfort zone and learn from organisations in similar sectors such as hospitality, entertainment, holiday parks, etc.
  6. Run an internal workshop where you asses, analyse and critique ideas and suggestions and decide whether they are within your opportunity space. You might want to invite outside support to get the ideas and process flowing
  7. Prioritise your opportunities based on which ones will give you most “bang for your bucks” and get going
  8. Revisit your Opportunity Space and work out whether you need to develop new skills and/or open your culture in order to be able to implement the opportunities you have identified

This is very brief version of the Sports Marketing Network’s Opportunity Search Programme.

Should you wish to find out find on how you could benefit from running an Opportunity Search, please get in touch.

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