"The Sport Management resource for volunteers in sports"

No sports for free

Whenever you ask somebody if they find sports important, they always answer positive, no matter their own physique ;-)

The mind of mankind works in mysterious ways though, because if you then ask people to pay for the participation in sport events, workshops or seminars they tend to react negative.

During the organization of sport events I experienced the opposite…..let me explain:

In my job, working for the Olympic Committee, I used to organize a yearly Olympic Day Run, with the goal to let young and old participate in a recreational activity to promote sports in general. Winning the race or walk was not a priority, and as such we didn’t have any prices. In the beginning (about 10 years ago) we did not charge any entrance fee, in order to get as many participants as possible. With support of our sponsors we managed to give every participant a free T-shirt, drinks, fruit and of course the official Olympic certificate. What I experienced though, was that year after year the number of participants always was much lower than the persons who registered initially.

In other words, there were lots of people with the intention to participate, but they never made it !

Now we realized that if we kept organizing this event the same way, the outcome (number of participants) would also stay the same, so we decided to charge a fee. The reason behind this was to get the registrants to commit themselves with actual money to participate.

For reasons that we never really knew, the number of participants increased, and we didn’t have any complaints that we charged a registration fee. The next year we even raised the fee and again we got more participants!

Sport management courses

With the annual organization of a sport management course we experienced exactly the same. When we offered this course for free, the participation was low, and so was the commitment and interaction with the students. People didn’t finish the course, and basically were not motivated at all. But when we charged a registration fee for exactly the same course, somehow we got another type of sport volunteers, who were serious to finish the course, and saw the value of educating and upgrading themselves.

I know that these two experiences are in no way scientifically proven, but I know for a fact that people perceive things different when they need to pay for a service or product. You may expect them to dislike the fact that they need to pay, but my experiences show you the opposite.

What I think is the case, is that whenever people need to pay, subconsciously they value the service (product or event) of a higher quality.

So my advice is to STOP offering sport activities for FREE. First of all there are expenses that need to be covered, like sport materials, coaches or handbooks. Secondly we live in a time that most of us are accustomed to paying for quality. And if there are people who really can’t afford the costs, there should be always a way to get them on board.

So, what do you think….do you agree? Perhaps you have the same experience? I would appreciate it if you share your comment(s) in the section below.


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  1. I’m totally agree with you. The value of one product is the price poeple are willing to pay for it. So it your product is for nothing, his value is….
    That’s something very important even for the image of our events, for your sponsors etc…

    • Thanks for replying Stephan !

  2. Remco, totally agree.

    I recently accepted, reluctantly, to offer a workshop on negotiation for free to the staff and volunteers of an NGO that focuses on a cause I feel very identified with (not sports: migrants). I say reluctantly because I’ve had experiences before where people were not really committed or not valuing the service because it was FREE. I accepted because I really wanted to contribute to the cause and the decision to do the workshop was being delayed due to lack of willingness to pay my discounted rate (10% of my normal rate; a 90% discount!).

    The workshop went well and participants seemed very happy and thankful for the new skills. My co-trainer and I were happy.

    But we never heard from the NGO leadership - not even a “thank you”.

    I work with clients who pay a lot for similar services and at the end they are super grateful for the work. And my non-scientific impression is that the ones paying more are the ones valuing the services more and more thankful!

    Unfortunately FREE seems to suggest low value or even low quality to many people.

    • That is an interesting story……Happy to realize that others experienced the same!

  3. I total agree with you. I experienced on this issue. When our company organized a sports event named “Youth Futsal Tournament” with no cost (no sponsors) and then a little of participants would like to join because of no meaning and influence. So from that time on, any sports event organized afterward always was concerned because of cost and sponsor

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Hien !

  4. Dear Remco,

    I agree.Thinks in liife have a value. The value of competencies has a price.


  5. The experience in my country is that we run the courses (sport admin.) for free. Participants have dwindled over the years and in some instances courses have had to be postponed or cancelled because there were not enough participants for the course to continue.

    The Olympic Committee always books people at the course venue and those that have to commute are reimbursed for their travel expenses for the course duration. Participants get seriously angry should certificates not be ready at the end of the course. In essence they expect something from nothing.

    Football as a code has introduced a continental coaching license that people pay to do. They started last year (2010), that was the first time there was change from free to charging a fee. Attendance has been good I was reliably informed.

    Expectations are that people would take seriously their coaching positions which they would have attained through being charged a fee. In the past coaches and administrators would just disappear after the courses and reappear for the next courses. Looking at results where they operate from you would find nothing. Certificates decorate living room walls.

    We could perhaps learn from you as well as football in the country to experiment and await results. I suspect we would not see anything far from your experience. I once came across this saying in one of my readings, “THE ONLY FREE LUNCH IS FOUND AT THE MOUSETRAP”. I unfortunately can’t even remember the source to acknowledge it. So I also believe time for free offers is long behind us although for some reason we are afraid to act in a different direction. I commend you for your bold decision to charge fees for your activities. We would do well borrowing a leaf out of your book as they say.

    Then again it is a matter of convincing the top people for this to take off ground. I will take it upon myself to try and impress upon them why it may be necessary to look in that direction in the near future and see if it couldn’t be the beginning of an end to this mediocre and lackadaisical sport management practices.

  6. Yes I would agree the perception of anything free is that it is low quality or there is a catch. Value for money is a personal thing but I do believe if people can see the benefit and value they will buy.

    • If you really know how to apply this information in your sportsmarketing strategy, it will definitely give you value!

  7. I had an experience (one side of this kind experience):
    In first season 2011-2012, management of Astana Hockey Team decided not to charge any price for tickets, in order to attract more people on tribunes. But, as a result we see that only few people regularly came to watch matches.
    This season my suggestion was to sell tickets for maybe low price. Because in my opinion: when a person pays even 1$ for any services, he/she utilizes it fully.
    Management, again decided to show games FOR FREE this season. And all that we see are empty tribunes.

    • Well Talgat,

      It would be very interesting to see what will happen if management starts to charge a small entrance fee.

      Thanks for your comment!



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