Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Recreational Soccer Participants as Potential Consumers of Professional Soccer Games: Segmenting Based on General Characteristics

Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Recreational Soccer Participants as Potential Consumers of Professional Soccer Games: Segmenting Based on General Characteristics

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Market segmentation, a process to segment potential consumers (market) based on consumer characteristics (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2000), is an essential element of marketing (Sheth, 1967; Smith, 1956; Tynan & Drayton, 1987; Yankelovich, 1964). In fact, market segmentation is widely recognized as a useful practice utilized in many industries (Davidow, 1989; Greenberg & McDonald, 1989). Segmenting potential consumers into subgroups enables marketers to develop more specialized and effective marketing plans.

To date, there has been a plethora of sport marketing research segmenting current spectators on a variety of personal demographic, psychographic, and behavioral factors (e.g., Greenwell, Fink, & Pastore, 2002; Gwinner & Swanson, 2003; Kahle, Duncan, Vassilis, & Aiken, 2001; Kennet, Sneath, & Henson, 2001; Pons, Mehdi, & Nyeck, 2006; Ross, 2007). Yet, the sport spectator pie can only be sliced so finely while still keeping pragmatic value. Sport participants represent a market segment, ripe with potential spectators which have been relatively untouched with respect to sport marketing research. Sport participants, then, can and should be viewed as potential consumers of spectator sport organizations-especially those who desire to increase their consumer base.

U.S. Soccer Market

Soccer within the United States represents a market that is rather unique. Soccer is one of the most popular sports throughout the world with 175 countries considering "football" (soccer) to be their national pastime (Hauser, 2009). In a number of countries soccer is viewed as one of the most popular participant and spectator sports. In the U.S., however, the situation is starkly different. Soccer is one of the most popular participatory sports in the U.S., with 13.5 million Americans participating in the sport as of 2010 (Sport Business Research Network, 2011). The soccer spectator market is where the U.S. diverges from many other countries with a strong soccer participant base. While Major League Soccer (MLS) drew a respectable 1.7 million fans in 2009 (Sport Business Research Network, 2011) the reality is that MLS is still seen as a second-tier sport league in the U.S. (Collins, 2006; Wilson, 2007), illustrating the participant and spectator markets are severely unbalanced in popularity. This is particularly evident when compared to American football with 9.3 million participants and 56.8 million attending NFL fans, or hockey with only 3.3 million participants and 7.8 million fans in attendance in 2009 (Sport Business Research Network, 2011).

In other words, this may indicate few of those soccer participants turn into professional soccer spectators within North America (Brown, 2007). Major League Soccer is not alone, as other professional soccer leagues in the U.S. such as the United Soccer League (USL), National Indoor Soccer League (NISL) and the Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL) are looking to expand their fan bases. Thus, these professional soccer leagues may be well served focusing on soccer participants to enhance their fan base. As noted above, targeting different segments of soccer participants would allow marketers to create specialized and effective marketing plans to attract participants as spectators.

It appears some practitioners are aware of the uniqueness of U.S. soccer industry and have started targeting soccer participants within their marketing efforts. For example, MLS has attempted to reach soccer participants by sponsoring grassroots tournaments throughout the U.S., revealing the league's desire to broaden their fan base within the soccer participant market. Marketers within MLS and other professional soccer leagues realize they have a market of 13.5 million soccer participants potentially ripe to significantly enhance the size of their fan bases. Yet, sport marketing research appears to be behind the practitioners in this vein as the majority of soccer spectator studies have focused on examining current soccer spectators (e. …

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