This article is sponsored by Players 1st – one of the partners making “Sportstech 2021” possible.
Morten Bisgaard and Jacob Buksted Poulsen have helped some of Denmark’s largest companies sort out their data and translate it to workable insights for improving their businesses. They also have a passion for golf. And in 2012, they decide to merge competency and passion with the company Players 1st, whose goal is to help golf clubs optimize their members’ experiences.
And since then, it has become much more than a passion project.
“Our main purpose is to go in and analyse the gaps between what the club offers and what its members want. And then we work on closing those gaps. We started in Danish golfing, and like ripples in the water, we spread to the other Scandinavian countries, and then on to Europe and the US,” says Bisgaard, CEO and co-found of Players 1st.
The concept is really quite simple. The company has specialized in compiling questionnaires for club members, which the company then processes effectively and translates to intelligent reporting in a dashboard, which the club can then act on: Does the playing area need better maintenance? Is there a lack of social events? And how do the club’s sales compare to others in its field?
It may have started with golf, and Players 1st are the de facto leaders in their field worldwide, but over the last years, the company has been expanding its model sporting disciplines.
For Players 1st, the bottom line has been the commercial aspect of sport, as golfing clubs with big investments in facilities have been reluctant to also run the business side. But even though a badminton club is not based on the same economic incentives as a traditional business, it needs to be able to understand its members if it wants to keep them.
“Our product resonates with the current tendency and trend of focusing on recruiting and retaining. That is what we support – and we can document it in writing instead of just by gut feeling,” says Bisgaard.
This foray into the world of sporting clubs in a wider sense has accelerated through deals with associations like the Sports Confederation of Denmark, the Danish Gymnastics and Sports Association, and the Danish Golfing Union, all of whom have since implement the questionnaires from Players 1st in more than 500 clubs across disciplines. And according to Bisgaard, this is only the beginning.
“If the sport is to evolve, we need to know the needs and expectations of consumers and club members, both for the club and the discipline – and that includes everything from community activities to practice. And in that area, we are seeing that demands are only getting bigger and bigger,” he says.
The clubs are seeing a general tendency of moving away from set practice hours and towards more “on demand” services. And the corona shutdown has exacerbated this development.
“The shutdown pushed many athletes to newer, more independent sports activities, and what can the classic sports and disciplines do as a reaction to that? It is obvious that they need a way in if they want their old customers back. But what does that require of their product, compared to what they used to offer? Are there new demands, or have expectations changed? That is what makes our product incredibly relevant right now, as we measure both loyalty and experience,” says Bisgaard.
About: Players 1st
- Players 1st is the leading company providing solution for measurement of members’ experiences. The company’s digital questionnaires and online result-displaying dashboard is designed to help sports clubs retain and recruit members, coaches, and volunteers.
- The company works closely with several Danish associations – including the Sports Confederation of Denmark, the Danish Football Association, the Danish Gymnastics and Sports Association, and the Danish Swimming Federation.
- Using intelligent reporting, Players 1st makes it easy for clubs to stay informed on what members want. And because the solution is digital, clubs can get started for as little as 1,500 kroner (200 euro/170 British pounds) annually.
- Read more on www.players1st.dk.
The Pulse of Sports
The golf solution was rolled out through the Danish Golf Union. Partnerships related to other disciplines were subsequently initiated with (among others) the Danish Handball Federation, the Danish Gymnastics and Sports Association, and the Sports Confederation of Denmark. More recently, the company has added organisations like the English tennis association and the Norwegian swimmer’s association to its list of international partners.
“Making deals like that takes a bit more time, because of the political side of these organisations, but when we’re in, we’re in firmly,” says Bisgaard.
Players 1st’s implementation strategy has an advantage businesswise, as they get access to many clubs in one deal. And because of this strategy’s wide embrace, the company can also pursue their mission of giving something back to sports and help the various associations and clubs develop and evolve.
“We have a finger on the pulse of sports, as we are constantly measuring what is happening out in the clubs: What is the pulse of swimming, what is the pulse of handball? And within handball, who is good at retaining and engaging club members, and who aren’t? And from there, we work with the associations to send a team of consultants and raise the bottom line – and in that way, we raise up all of Danish sports life,” says Bisgaard.
This kind of insight relies on having the necessary information mass to benchmark across clubs and even across countries. And Players 1st have that mass, allowing them to spot shared trends affecting the market in real-time, and thereby help sports develop in a positive direction.
“Right now, our challenge is that we have so much data, and we need to open up even more data – for the benefit of sports. Therefore, we are working on partnerships with universities and other actors that can help us identify the good stories and the best cases and get them out in the world. In that sense, we have something of an open-source mentality, and we want to use that to give something back to sports,” says Bisgaard.
Clubs Are Businesses Too
While individual-focused sports like running and mountain biking have wind in their sails, more traditional association sports like handball and football are – with a few exceptions – struggling to attract new players. And while the volunteer factor is one of the major advantages of club sports, then maybe they also need a commercial incentive if the clubs are to resurge.
“It is very interesting to see how the American clubs take a far more commercial angle. We try to bring that up in our dialogues with Danish clubs, because they need to change their mindset and start seeing their members as customers. Members have increasingly disloyal mindsets, because they have access to so many other offers out there,” says Bisgaard.
That does not mean that the local gymnastics association needs to think strictly in terms of profit. But the social macro-trends of flexibility and raised expectations of experiences have hit the clubs hard, and the clubs can benefit from taking some lessons from the business world.
“There are many interesting dialogues about sports facilities and what to do with them. But the question is just as much about the clubs needing to change their membership model to increase flexibility and target new audiences – or maybe retaining those who are leaving, through a different type of membership,” says Bisgaard.