The Adult Competition Survey and why customer behaviour speaks more than their words

I recently filled out the RFU’s Adult Competitions Survey (and if you’re involved in running a club that plays at this level then I definitely recommend filling it out) and was interested to see some of the stats they had produced. Using the Electronic Match Card part of GMS, they had discovered that:

  • Most players choose to play an average of 15 games per season
  • Because the current leagues require more fixtures than this, 1st XV teams required more players over the course of a season and this was having a knock-on effect at 2nd and 3rd XV level
  • As a consequence of seasons feeling more like a slog (because players may feel obliged to play more games than they’d like so as not to let the team down) there is more player burn-out, leading to fewer players forming vets teams and club volunteers down the line

There was no wider data attached and so it’s hard to tell whether there are figures skewing the data (e.g. a player playing just one game as a favour to a mate or an old club would bring down the average if his one game was included) but let’s take the 15 games above as representative of the majority of amateur rugby players. If players generally want to play 15 games a season, then we should be building competition structures that get to around 15 games per season, right? It can only be logical to give our customers a product that matches their desires.

What about players who want more than 15 games?

Given that the survey is talking about centrally organised competitions, it would be sensible to have competitive rugby take us to our ~15 games and then have more local opportunities to reflect individual areas. For example, if a club was in a central league of 8 (i.e. 14 league fixtures) and a central cup with a minimum of 1 and maximum of 6 fixtures that team would be looking at 15-20 competitive fixtures per season. Bear in mind also that the teams playing more fixtures would generally be more successful in that season (since you’d get more cup games by winning the previous ones) and therefore would presumably be more motivated for the extra few games, even if it crept above the ~15 games that most of the players wanted.

Local CBs could then organise optional competitions for teams that wanted even more fixtures, although with the average figure in mind it’s possible that even these would be too much. Clubs would also then be able to arrange their own friendlies if desired.

Customer Behaviour vs Customer Opinion

If you go through the RFU survey, at the lower levels, they’re suggesting leagues of 10 which would mean 18 fixtures in a season, although they’re also asking about cup competitions. With a national cup and a county cup (mirroring the current structure at level 7 and below) clubs would be playing a minimum of 20 games with more games for good cup runs. Already the proposal is starting to creep higher than the number of games that players are actually playing.

Another thing that really jumped out at me was the question “how many games would you like your team to play?” The potential answers for this were:

  • Less than 16
  • 16 to 19
  • 20 to 23
  • 24 to 26
  • More than 26

While it is obviously possible to select the “less than 16” answer, there is a broad range of choice for people to select. What will be interesting is to see the average of how many games players say that they would like to play compared to the amount of games they are actually playing. I don’t know if the results of this survey will be published in any detail so we may never know, but I would not be at all surprised if it ends up being significantly higher than the amount that they’re actually playing.

Why is this important?

So now the question – how does this help me with my rugby?

First off let me say that there is nothing wrong with a survey. They can be a really useful way of gauging feedback but using that data alone to inform decisions can give you unexpected results. If we were talking about sales, a sale isn’t a sale until you’ve exchanged the product or service for the cost of that product or service. A response of “I would be very likely to buy this product at this price” from a survey isn’t a sale. It may help inform decisions around product development or marketing but until they part with their cash, there’s no guarantees.

A good example of this effect in action is gym memberships. Almost everyone has signed up for a gym, especially in January for their New Year’s Resolutions, and within a couple of months (sometimes shorter!) they’re no longer going. But most people don’t cancel the direct debit straightaway. They keep on paying for a service that they’re not using. If you asked them why, the issue is that they don’t want to feel like they’ve given up or that they don’t care about exercising. Their self-identity makes them feel like someone who goes to the gym but their behaviour – how often they actually turn up – shows that they’re not. So too with rugby – players may like the idea of a long season with 24 league and cup games (more if they go on a good run) but when life gets in the way, or they’re tired or carrying a minor injury, or the weather is really bad (like the storm that’s cancelled all the games at my club this weekend!) they’re suddenly less keen on the idea.

So we should always be mindful when running our clubs that a customer’s behaviour is more important than what they tell us. Another example is social media. It’s great as a marketing channel but we can often get caught up in chasing the social media stats rather than the “sales.” (Quotation marks to reflect the fact that sometimes a “sale” might be someone turning up for a recruitment event rather than a cash exchange.) For example, if 1000 people like your latest post, that feels great, but if none of them come down to watch the game you were promoting, how valuable are those likes?


While trying to devise a new league structure would be a cool thought experiment, it’s not the focus of this article. Much more important is to think – are my customers behaving the way they say they are/will? How can I use what they’re actually doing to better plan my rugby activities?

Having problems at your rugby club – maybe people telling you one thing but then behaving differently? Leave me a comment and we’ll see if we can figure something out.

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