Innovation aids Table Tennis Vic to target casual players

Utilising a human-centred design-based innovation process, Vicsport has assisted Table Tennis Victoria (TTV) in a project aimed at engaging and connecting with casual table tennis players not currently a part of TTV’s membership.

Through a combination of anecdotal industry experience and formal research, TTV found almost 250,000 self-identified casual or informal table tennis players in Victoria. To find a way to approach this group, TTV submitted an Expression of Interest through ‘Vicsport Guiding Sport’, a program supported by Sport and Recreation Victoria which assisted sports requiring consultation services.

“Given the large number of people in question and their location state-wide across Victoria, we assumed that a traditional face-to-face initiative was unrealistic,” said Table Tennis Victoria CEO, Ritchie Hinton. “We were keen to explore modern ways in which consumers interact with the items they buy and the entities they buy from and imagined that any potential solution would be digital.”

Tom Dixon, Vicsport Participation and Innovation Manager, came on board to join TTV in targeting the group and gaining a deeper understanding of their motivations, habits and barriers to playing table tennis.

Dixon began by designing a survey that would focus on the thoughts and feelings of the casual table tennis player. The survey was promoted through Vicsport and TTV staff, social media channels, professional networks, key stakeholders and Table Tennis Australia (TTA) with results of the survey indicating where participants played, how often they play, who they play with and why they play.

“Human centred-design is a great process for sport to explore the desirability of new products and services,” said Dixon. “We can get creative, beginning with a survey and delve deeper via in-depth one-on-one interviews, thinking about potential solutions and ideas which can then be built upon to create value for the casual table tennis playing group.

“From the survey results, we found 86% of respondents were not part of a table tennis club. What also stood out were three key feelings people ‘use’ table tennis to obtain; confidence, joy and connectedness. Based on the research, we were also able to identify four personas within the casual table tennis player market.

“‘The Enthusiasts’ love the sport, want to play more, are likely aged 18-35, born overseas and enjoy competitive but social games. ‘The Sport Lovers’ love sport in general, are already part of a sport club, see table tennis as a game rather than a sport and play it casually but could be tempted to play more. The ‘Fun with the Family’ group has played before, are aged 34-55 and has an affection for table tennis but is not necessarily looking for more opportunities to play. Finally, ‘The Creative’ has played before and values the social aspect of playing but also enjoys creative pursuits and a creative challenge.

“While there is some overlap between the groups, each category presents different opportunities for TTV to consider when developing new products.”

With all that research compiled, Dixon ran two ideation workshops with TTV, TTA and some of the interview respondents. They utilised Miro to analyse their mission statement of connecting people to find a table tennis table and adding value to the home experience of playing.

Image via Table Tennis Victoria's Facebook pageImage via Table Tennis Victoria's Facebook page.

“Using the Miro platform was revolutionary for us at TTV as it provided an interactive way to engage with each other in real-time,” said Hinton. “Ultimately, any solution that an organisation develops to an identified issue needs to be people-centric and data-led if it is to be successful. Our clients are individuals with critical insights and unless we drill down into their opinions and motivations, we cannot accurately propose a solution which genuinely addresses their behaviors and needs.

“’Ask The Customer’ needs to be the number one priority for any organisation looking to improve its offerings. Ideation or a similar process is a wonderful way of stepping up those insights from the basic starting point of a questionnaire.”

Across the two workshops, the group collated almost 300 possible solutions including digital products such as an app and creating an online social hub where casual players can congregate. TTV are now working on finalising the finer details of these projects but are aiming to launch them in the first half of 2021.

“The initial goal was to find a way to capture data of casual players and discover a new way to commercialise to that group but through the survey, ideation workshops and gaining insights into players’ motivations, we realised it would be a missed opportunity to create something gimmicky that does not truly offer the player something they are looking for,” said Dixon.

“There is a large group of players that nobody is currently offering a product or service to and that is a gap that TTV can address while also setting something up that keeps those players engaged long-term. The goal of the innovation process is to continually test and learn and the exciting part is finding new solutions as you go.”

Image via Table Tennis Victoria's Instagram page.

“Throughout this process, everyone involved needs to be committed,” added Hinton. “It is important for clients, TTV in this case, to understand they will only get out as much as they put in. The process is important but sanity checks which apply sport specific context are also key to keep you on track. Guided by Tom’s professional expertise in the innovation space and his passion for the sport, this process resulted in a great prototype solution.”

A new program from Vicsport, the Vicsport Innovation Lab assists sporting organisations and local governments to develop and advance new ideas to increase participation in sport or recreation by less active Victorians. Organisations can receive support in the form of innovation mentoring and workshop facilitation to the value of $5,000.

Expressions of Interest are open until 29 January 2021 with the projects to be conducted between March – June 2021.

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