There have been an awful lot of conjecture and speculation that the current U.S. economic downturn portends trouble for recreational sports, travel and other leisure pursuits, particularly those at the higher end of the price spectrum. In fact, a report featured in MediaPost's Research Brief showed that current conditions have been a boon for the motion picture industry, while other forms of leisure are suffering.
One might say that this is reflective of a consumer mindset that is now favoring cheaper, "entertainment and diversion lite." But, based on research conducted by Sports and Leisure Research Group and others, we're far from ready to throw in the towel. Rather, our supposition is that many of the doom-and-gloom sound bytes getting daily coverage are as much a reflection of increased competition brought about by recent supply build-up as a condemnation of our leisure infrastructure.
It's no great secret that the greater part of the past decade has seen huge ramp-ups in capacity of a variety of sports and leisure options. Whether it be luxury real estate communities or the proliferation of high-end, daily-fee golf courses, until the last year or so, the prevailing mantras were that "bigger is better" and "choice is good."
This phenomenon alone created heightened competition and a further blurring of the lines in consumer perception as market followers created "me-too" offerings that often commoditized others and made it increasingly difficult for first movers to differentiate themselves. Couple this with unemployment affecting all strata of the socio-economic spectrum, the rapid degradation of real estate values, and stock portfolio valuations, and the perfect storm had ostensibly arrived.
Yet, just as work that we conducted on the amenity real estate market in 2007 suggested that high-end consumers were feeling persecuted and exploited in the ramp-up of real estate valuations that had just peaked at that time, our early 2009 consumer sentiment work with a representative sample of golfers suggests that this market, at least attitudinally, is looking for refuge from the pervasive negativity. In fact, this desire for "escape" is consistent with what we saw in research conducted immediately after 9/11.
So, it is within this context that we look at our early 2009 attitudinal study as more of an affirmation that such sentiments are still quite prevalent in this latest bump in the road. We observed that nearly 93% of golfers planned to play the same or more golf in the year ahead. Similarly, two-thirds or more of all surveyed strongly agreed that it was important to allow life to include a variety of unique experiences, to spend actively on useful pastimes, and that the best years of their lives were still to come.
Nearly 60% strongly agreed that they were spending more time with friends and family than in the past, and that vacations should include an element of adventure. The second most strongly agreed-upon response, generating top three box scores from some 70% of respondents, was that "it's important to try new things."
Clearly, there is opportunity for brands in the leisure space to differentiate themselves along these need states, and to leverage their marketing communications in ways that articulate these prevalent values.
Of course, evaluative research can assure the resonance of specific marketing messages and leisure offerings. It's our hypothesis that those with the greatest impact will accentuate a brand's ability to hear consumers' outcry that they are demanding and finding value in those marketing propositions that offer a unique, valued and needed escape.