Local Sports Clubs as Accidental Social Enterprises

Local Sports Clubs as Accidental Social Enterprises
Social Traders, by Jonathan Robertson

Sport is central to Australia’s cultural identity. With events such as the F1 Grand Prix, the Australian Tennis Open and the showcase Sydney 2000 Olympics sport is an iconic institution in contemporary Australian society. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics over 4.5 million people were involved in organised sport in Australia in 2009. Australian households spent over $6bn on sport and physical recreation in 2003-4 and nearly half of the 112,000 people who worked in the area of sport and recreation worked for organisations who sought to make an economic surplus. Increasingly Australia’s sport industry has been seen as a social institution that may address wicked social problems in our society such as our obesity epidemic, disengaged youth and declining levels of social capital.

Joe Barraket of Queensland University of Technology in her ground breaking Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector (FASES) report estimates there are up to 20,000 social enterprises in Australia. Of which up to 31.7% could be arts and recreation services, the second most represented social enterprise category behind education and training (41.6%). In the FASES report social enterprises were defined as possessing the following features:

* Are led by an economic, social, cultural, or environmental mission consistent with a public or community benefit.
* Trade to fulfil their mission
* Derive a substantial portion of their income from trade; and
* Reinvest the majority of their profit/surplus in the fulfilment of their mission

This definition of social enterprises has strong links with how a local sports club might be defined. As incorporated associations most local sports clubs have a central ‘social’ mission toward community sports provision consistent with the public policy benefits. Sports clubs trade to fulfil their mission via the sale of club memberships, facility access, advertising space, fundraising events and canteen sales. A substantial proportion of local sport clubs derive their income from these activities and inturn the majority of this income is reinvested into the hiring of facilities and staff, purchasing of equipment and buying stock to sell through their canteen and bar facilities. Under these definitions local sports clubs may be considered, by definition as social enterprises.

However, a more accurate definition of local sports clubs may be that they are accidental social enterprises. That is they often lack a strategic intent to be social that may result in ineffective or even negative social outcomes from sport at the grassroots level. This position is advanced by what Alex Nicholls describes as sociality or ‘the extent to which an organisation intentionally and effectively pursues the advancement of social objectives’. In short, this means that despite local sports clubs producing social benefits and by definition being social enterprises, it does not mean they always wish to act like social enterprises – in this sense they are accidental social enterprises.

For example a local sports club may exist to fulfil a mission of maximising community participation in soccer in the local area. The participation in a local soccer club has the implicit benefits of an active healthy lifestyle, community involvement and a place for youth (socially disadvantaged or otherwise) to participate in team sport. However, although these benefits are implicit, explicitly the club exists to remain viable year-to-year, is largely run by volunteers with minimal paid staff and has no explicit healthy eating strategies, social workers to promote community cohesion or roles for youth mentors – in short the local sports club is not intentionally a social enterprise. Furthermore, due to the lack of intentionality toward social outcomes the effectiveness of any social mission may be eroded or even reversed. In this same community obesity is a large problem and the local soccer club is seen as a great social benefit that allows community members to be actively involved in team sport that leads to a healthy lifestyle. However, after each training session the club puts on a pizza or pie night and many participants have a few beers thus reducing any health impact from their exercise during training and possibly allowing a drinking culture at the club – in this scenario the lack of intentionality on producing social outcomes has reduced the effectiveness of any social outcome already being produced implicitly through the sporting club.

In summary, local sports clubs can be considered social enterprises by definition and many produce significant social benefits that are intrinsically related to their sports provision orientated social mission. However in practice local sports clubs are voluntary run, primarily concerned with fielding teams on a week-to-week basis and remaining financially viable year-to-year. They therefore lack the strategic and organisational intent to pursue explicit social outcomes that often reduces the maximisation of any social benefits already being produced implicitly. There paradox produces an incredible opportunity for social enterprise acumen to be applied within the context of grassroots local sport organisations in Australia. If seized this opportunity may take thousands of inefficient social enterprises (e.g. local sports clubs) and assist in an explicit shift toward best practice social outcomes that may be able to realise the long held belief that local sport, at least intrinsically is a social good.