Case study 73 researching the sports market

Westbourne Research Consultants is a small market research consultancy based in the west of England. Recently it was approached by the local authority's Leisure and Amenities Department to solve a market research problem.

Leisure and Amenities had decided to conduct a survey of its own to find out the sports in which local people participated most frequently. It had conducted the research outside local sports centres and had come up with some surprising results; for one thing, it appeared that far more local people claimed to participate in sports than could be accounted for by the usage figures obtained from the sports centres themselves. Second, the researchers had the impression that respondents had had real difficulty answering some of the questions. These are the questions that proved problematical:

Q4: Why do you play your favourite sport?

Q8: How can sporting facilities be improved in the area?

Q12: What is your opinion of the Leisure and Amenities Department and why?

Q23: Who do you think should have the most say in deciding which new facilities can be developed?

In fact, the study seemed to be so flawed (and was proving so difficult to analyse) that the Leisure and Amenities Department wanted Westbourne to run a new research project altogether.

Westbourne's research manager asked Leisure and Amenities' management the following questions:

1 What are you hoping to gain from this research?

2 What management decisions will be based on the research?

3 Who are the people whose opinions you wish to canvass?

The managers of the Leisure and Amenities Department explained that the research aim was to improve their knowledge of the needs of the local population in terms of sports provision; they would be basing investment decisions on the results, particularly in the area of sports centre design and playing field provision; and they expected that a representative sample of the local population, including children and the elderly, should be included. In particular, Leisure and Amenities was interested in those people who rarely (or never) took part in sport, since there was a possibility that their needs were not being met at all by the present provisions.

Westbourne Research immediately identified a sampling problem: the original Leisure and Amenities survey had been conducted close to the sports centres and therefore the sample had contained a very high proportion of people who were either entering or leaving the centres. This sampling bias accounted for the very high proportion of people who participated in sport regularly, since clearly people who were entering or leaving the sports centre would be likely to participate in sport.

Leisure and Amenities had not pretested its questionnaire, which possibly accounted for some of the problems, but Westbourne immediately saw a need to redesign the questionnaire somewhat and rerun it. Unfortunately, Leisure and Amenities indicated that it had only very limited funds remaining; having spent considerable staff time on its own questionnaire, the management found it financially embarrassing (and embarrassing from a career viewpoint) to admit that the original study had gone wrong, and asked Westbourne if it could make any use at all of the data already collected.

Overall, Westbourne agreed that the original questionnaire was not entirely useless; apart from the questions already identified, the remainder of the questionnaire seemed to have been reasonably well designed and the researchers had no reason to doubt its worth. They agreed to seek ways to use the information in some way, in order to save costs.

(Case contributed by Jim Blythe)


1 What should Westbourne do to minimise the sampling bias?

2 How might Westbourne be able to comply with Leisure and Amenities' request to use some of the existing data?

3 What was wrong with the questions that could not be analysed?

4 What are the problems associated with designing a questionnaire to be completed by such a broad range of respondents?

5 What preparatory work should Westbourne do before redesigning the questionnaire?

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