Swinburne has developed a new tool to help AFL clubs grow and thrive.

Getting – and, most importantly, keeping – members is one of the major challenges faced by clubs and other organisations that rely on subscription and membership.

The Swinburne Membership Satisfaction and Retention (MEMSAT) tool measures member satisfaction and predicts the likelihood of membership renewal. The tool was developed in a collaborative ongoing research project by Swinburne and the Australian Football League (AFL).

It's all about service delivery

The tool measures an organisation’s performance against key drivers of member satisfaction. An important finding of the research was that sporting club members were more likely to stay if the club had good services, even if the team performance was poor.

The research helped identify best-practice service standards, and the tool used these to measure how the club met those standards. This allows clubs to identify the areas that can be improved on, to yield the greatest returns.

Kicking goals with the AFL

The MEMSAT tool, alongside other strategies and initiatives, has made a key contribution to changing the way AFL clubs interact and market to members. All 18 professional clubs in the AFL now use the tool as part of their suite of activities. The tool was launched in 2002, since that time AFL membership numbers have doubled from 449,534 to 871,528 in 2016. Club membership has grown even in clubs with poor on-field success, with the tool assisting in this growth.

First launched in 2002, the tool was revised and improved in 2010 and 2013 based on continued research at Swinburne Business School. More than 30 organisations have now adopted the tool and it is recognised as helping to establish industry best-practices, leading to membership growth in the long term.

And across other codes

Beyond the AFL, the MEMSAT tool has been adopted and adapted by other professional sporting teams and industries. For example, all eight clubs in Cricket Australia’s Big Bash League have used the tool since the competition started in 2011. Melbourne Victory A-League soccer club started using the tool as part of their membership approach when it was established in 2005. The club has had the highest membership in the A-League for all 13 seasons, and its membership of 27,054 is more than double that of clubs such as Sydney FC.

Broader applications

The research has also been applied beyond sport. For example, it formed the basis of a research project into how to improve public engagement with heritage, conducted for the Australian Government Department of Environment and Heritage. The outcomes of the study informed Australia’s National Heritage Strategy, delivered in 2015.

Helping AFL explore new opportunities

The research has also examined how people move from being casual users to more highly engaged members. This research, again carried out in partnership with the AFL, helped to establish membership bases for the two new AFL teams and is the cornerstone of fan development activities across AFL clubs.

Richmond Football Club, in particular, has embraced the insights derived from Swinburne research, and has expanded its role into fitness and health centre management. In 2015, Richmond formed Aligned Leisure to compete for the business of managing leisure centres for local councils. Aligned Leisure used the advanced knowledge of membership management gained through the tool and has been highly successful in winning local council contracts and now has revenues of more than $20 million after two years.

Project lead: Professor Heath McDonald

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