Voucher programs can help leverage participation in new sport opportunities

Friday, April 12, 2019

Wide angle view of Milton velodrome

Cities that want to get the best use of sport facilities built to host novel events might want to give out vouchers for free trials to spectators.

A recent University of Waterloo study examined the impact of presenting vouchers to spectators attending elite-track cycling competitions to test whether they would participate in the sport. The study found that spectators who had a low intention to try the sport but were given a voucher were more likely to try it than those who had a high intention but did not receive a voucher for a free trial.

“Hosting major sport events is an opportunity for people to try sports that were previously unavailable in their communities, but sometimes it is a challenge to get some to try the unknown,” said Luke Potwarka, a professor of Recreation and Leisure Studies at Waterloo. “We think receiving the voucher helped remove everyday barriers to participating in this new sport opportunity. There was no cost, and program information was clearly communicated: where to go, how to cycle, what to wear. It made it easy for someone to just try it.”

The researchers approached 338 spectators who had just watched track cycling at the Pan Am Games at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, a new facility built for this sport. The researchers asked if the spectators intended to try the sport themselves. Then the researchers randomly assigned the participants into one of two groups: Those in the experimental group received a voucher to try track cycling within six months. Those in the control condition received $5.

Of those sampled, 40 spectators (12 percent) eventually track cycled following the Pan Am Games. Of those 40 who participated, 31 came from the voucher group and 9 came from the control group.

The researchers found that the likelihood of participation for spectators who had low or no intentions and a voucher was 11 percent, compared to 10 percent for those who had high intentions but no voucher. The likelihood of participation for those with low intention and no voucher was 0 percent. Spectators with high intentions and a voucher were 21 percent more likely to try the sport than those with low intention and no voucher.

“The voucher turned out to be a powerful tool in persuading people who reported little or no desire to participate in the sport,” Potwarka said. “Governments and industry spend millions on building new facilities, so we don’t want these venues to sit idle. We wanted to examine the effectiveness of voucher programs as a means on leveraging post-event participation impacts.”

He added, “The next step is to see if we can replicate these results in other sport and community contexts. We need to build a robust body of evidence that help sport organizations determine the most effective ways to invest in promotional efforts. Capacity and resources are critical to the success of any post-event leveraging strategy. ”

The study, “From intention to participation: Exploring the moderating role of a voucher-based event leveraging initiative,” was written by Luke Potwarka, Ryan Snelgrove, David Drewery, Jordan Bakhsh and Laura Wood, and was published in Sport Management Review.

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