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YouGov Australia survey shows sports must prioritise athlete wellbeing and grassroots investment

YouGov Australia survey shows sports must prioritise athlete wellbeing and grassroots investment
March 22, 2023

A newly released survey from YouGov Sport Australia has revealed sentiment for sporting organisations to focus on the mental and physical wellbeing of their athletes, grassroots investment, and off-field player behaviour.

Conducted in March, the survey, which included 1,032 Australian respondents aged 18 and above, aimed to gain a greater understanding of what the Australian public and fans think sports organisations should prioritise in coming years.

The mental and physical wellbeing of athletes was identified as the top issue, with 50% of respondents highlighting its significance. This includes addressing long-term impacts of high-contact sports, anxiety from performance expectations, and dealing with public and media scrutiny.

Grassroots investment and participation ranked second, with 33% of Australians considering it vital for sports growth while off-field player behaviour was the third most pressing issue.

The survey invited contributors to respond to 15 different options, selecting those considered most important.

The top 10 responses, with comment from YouGov Australia Research Director, Liam Randell and YouGov Australia Research Analyst, Ella Nesvadba, were as follows:

1. Mental & Physical Wellbeing of Athletes (50%)
For Australians, looking after athletes is the most important area for sports to focus on and invest in heading into the future.

Physical challenges for athletes extend beyond just injuries and in recent times there has been increasing concerns raised around the long-term impact of head high contact particularly in the AFL and NRL. As a result of health and legal concerns sports are continuing to make changes to rules and selection testing to better support athlete safety on and off the field.

From a mental perspective, challenges range from the stress and anxiety which comes from the expectation to continually perform, media and public scrutiny, and the challenges of open source and free communication via social media towards athletes.

2. Grassroots Investment & Participation (33%)
Participation in sport is not only healthy for the body and mind but is an essential part of any community. For a sport to ensure growth moving forward, it is essential that they appeal to the next generation. The grassroots space also provides ample opportunity for brands to add their support and involvement which not only drives brand awareness but increases the likelihood of Australians engaging, supporting, and purchasing from that brand.

YouGov Profiles highlights the impact a brand's involvement with grassroots and community sport can have. 35% of Australians said they are ‘more likely to support or purchase from a brand if it supports grassroots and the community in Australian sport’, this increases to 46% among sports fans specifically and 51% for those who are highly passionate.

The AFL is one league that is increasing its investment into grassroots programs. In 2023 the AFL will add an extra $17 million investment into its grassroots programs - a 35% uplift from 2022 levels.

Football Australia has also established new grassroots objectives and has seen an 18% growth in its miniRoos Kick-Off Program since the pandemic and now runs more than 1,800 football sessions in schools across Australia each term.

3. Off-Field Player Behaviour (32%)
Athletes are often viewed as role models. While their on-field achievements are admirable, their off-field behaviour can create complexities for leagues and clubs. Many sports leagues are attempting to minimise these issues with the introduction of programs and policies that provide education and promote responsible behaviour among athletes.

The NRL implemented the Integrity and Compliance Unit to promote honest and ethical behaviour. Furthermore, the NRL introduced the no-fault stand down policy in 2019 to provide guidelines for player misdemeanours. Since these initiatives, the NRL has seen strong improvements to its Brand Health according to YouGov Sport’s SportsIndex and was the only male league in Australia that has seen growth consistently year-on-year for the past three years and now has the second strongest brand health among all male leagues.

4. Support & Growth of Women’s Sport (30%)
Australia has seen women’s sport grow rapidly from both a participation and viewership perspective. YouGov Profiles currently highlights that over two in three Australians are fully supportive of the growth and participation of female sport which has seen continual uplift from 2021 (64%) to 2023 (69%). Profiles further highlights growth in consideration for watching women’s sport live in-person across that same period (36% > 40%) and growth in women’s sports being entertaining to watch (49% > 54%).

These results come as no surprise with the likes of Ash Barty winning the Australian Open in 2022, the female Dolphins Swimmers cleaning up in the pool and the Australian Women’s Cricket team claiming every major title available.

5. Inclusion & Diversity (27%)
YouGov Profiles shows that two in three Australians agree that diversity and inclusion should be considered when putting on events. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that sporting organisations want to provide a safe, fair, and inclusive environment welcome to everyone regardless of age, gender, race, religion, ability, or sexual orientation. Despite this YouGov Profiles highlights that 67% of Australians still believe that sports need to be more inclusive, so further work is required.

One league putting a strong focus on this space is the NRL with its hosting of several themed rounds celebrating diversity and include: Indigenous Round, Multicultural Round, and Women in League Round.

6. Athlete Gender Pay Disparity (26%)
Gender pay disparity in the sports industry has become a topical issue in recent times with female athletes not receiving equal pay to their male counterparts. While pay disparity ranked as the 6th most important issue overall, as fan avidity towards sport increased this issue became less important, ranking 11th among avid sports fans.

Amid recent uproar towards major Australian sports leagues regarding pay dispute issues, several sports have been taking huge steps to close the pay gap.

In 2021, Cricket Australia announced a significant cash injection for female cricket players where Chief Executive Nick Hockley expressed that the sport “won’t rest until there is genuine parity across all elements of the game”.

7. Athlete Support in Retirement (25%)
A 2019 study by local Melbourne university students around athlete transition into retirement concluded that “the majority of the athletes involved in the study felt that they had a lack of support from their sporting clubs and governing bodies both during their transition and retirement”.

This in turn affected their ability to flourish in retirement.

The issues facing athletes in retirement were also explored in the 2020 documentary ‘The Weight of Gold’ where Michael Phelps alluded to ‘What now?’.

8. The Environment & Sustainability (25%)
Over recent years, there has been rising importance placed on the environment and sustainability with YouGov Profiles highlighting that over three in five Australians demonstrate a preference for brands that are sustainable. Profiles further demonstrated that 70% of Australians think that brands should consider environmental sustainability when putting on events, which has seen a +3% uplift YOY as it grows in importance. These findings highlight the ever-increasing importance for sports and sponsors to work together to implement sustainable strategies that protect the environment.

The Australian Sports Climate is one initiative that in conjunction with Pat Cummins the Australian Test Cricket Captain is helping support Cricket Australia in becoming carbon neutral.

9. Where Sponsorship Dollars Are Spent (24%)
In recent times, there has been greater expectations placed on sporting organisations to align their corporate partnerships with socially and ethically ‘approved brands’. Pressure has not only come from the general Australian public and sports fans alike but also internally, with several high-profile athletes speaking out against existing corporate sponsors. A key challenge facing sporting organisations moving forward is balancing corporate objectives while maintaining social approval among the general public, fans, and athletes.

Research conducted by YouGov Sport Australia in February 2022, highlighted that travel, leisure, automotive, and technology brands were some of the most appropriate for sponsorship within sport while fast food, sports betting, and alcohol were least approved.

10. Cost of Live Sport Attendance (23%)
Due to the increasing cost of living and growing interest rates, Australians have been facing increasing financial pressures over the last 12 months. While the data revealed that live sport costs are not the most pressing issue, there are still around one in four Australians who want this to be a focus for sports organisations going forward. Whether this involves ticket prices, transport costs to games, or general food and beverage prices in stadiums.

One league with a key focus on this is the AFL who want to keep games ‘accessible and affordable’ for fans.

In February, the League announced a price freeze for all MCG and Marvel Stadium general admission tickets. Prices have now been frozen since 2019.

Click here to download the full report.

For more information on this research reach out to Liam Randell on email: liam.randell@yougov.com

Images: YouGov note ongoing growth in Football Australia's miniRoos (top) and the AFL has again frozen ticket prices at Marvel Stadium (below).

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