Thought Leadership

Level Playing Field: Making Sport Accessible in the Sharing Economy

TL;DRBuilding supply-side liquidity on a sharing platform in the leisure economy can be tough. Meet two companies that are attacking the challenge head on in order to make sure people of all economic backgrounds can experience the joy of sport.

Growing up, I was a pretty solid athlete. I was a standout high-school high jumper (being nearly six feet tall helps), a surprisingly fast sprinter (being nearly six feet tall does not help), and an international level figure skater. Sport was—and still is—a huge part of life. And I know I’m not alone. According to a report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), studies have shown that children and youth who participate in sports, compared to peers who do not, exhibit:

  • higher grades, expectations, and attainment;
  • greater personal confidence and self-esteem;
  • greater connections with school— that is, greater attachment and support from adults;
  • stronger peer relationships;
  • more academically-oriented friends;
  • greater family attachment and more frequent interactions with parents;
  • more restraint in avoiding risky behavior; and
  • greater involvement in volunteer work.

Yet, sadly, due to the rising costs of gear, sport is becoming less and less accessible to those who need it most. As Obama remarked in his SXSW keynote remarks on Friday, the growing economic divide in the U.S. is creating (sometimes insurmountable) barriers of entry for marginalized individuals. But ask those in the know, and you’ll quickly learn that dissolving these barriers isn’t easy.

SXsports: Can Platforms Improve Access?

Making sport and sport gear more accessible was the topic of conversation during the Sports and the Sharing Economy panel that took place at SXsports Saturday inside Austin’s Four Season Hotel. Included on the panel were representatives from two different sport-focused platforms: Andrew Batey, CMO of Spinlister (an online hub for renting bikes from individuals and bike shops), and Dan Driscoll, Founder and CEO of reQwip (a hyperlocal marketplace that enables individuals and shops to buy and sell cycling, triathlon and outdoor adventure gear). Athletic guys themselves, both Andrew and Dan have encountered the same supply-side liquidity issue while scaling their platforms: incentivizing people with gear to share it is a whole lot harder than you’d think.

While money is a great incentive, it isn’t always the best one #sharingeconomy Click To Tweet

The Economics of Sharing Gear

According to Dan and Andrew, there are two interesting factors that impact what I’m going to call the economics of sharing gear. The first issue is that the product in question (underutilized sports gear) is most often stuffed in a middle- or upper-class individual’s garage. Incentivizing these people to load their gear to a marketplace for others to use isn’t as easy as pitching the idea of making a few extra bucks.

Demand for bikes on @Spinlister is nearly 4:1 - generating supply-side liquidity can be a (good) problem. Click To Tweet

Such is the inherent struggle of lifestyle economies. According to Batey, the demand for bikes on Spinlister is nearly four to one—for every one bike listed, there are four people looking to rent one. That’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

The other factor is a bit more confounding. When asked why people should rent their gear on ReQwip rather than just give it away on a site like Craigslist, Dan explained what many economists refer to as the “fallacy of free.” Dan quoted a number of studies that found donated gear (sports or otherwise) is discarded at a much higher rate than items that are purchased, even if for a nominal fee. “When you offer something for free it becomes dispensable,” he explained. “When you sell something it retains value, and that’s psychologically important, especially when it comes to sports gear.”

Suppliers aren’t in it for the money; they're there to share the experience of sport. Click To Tweet

This is because sport is a very communal, connected experience. Sport brings people together. Both Dan and Andrew have found that suppliers on their platforms aren’t in it for the money, they’re in it to share the experience of sport with someone else. These are not frivolous or impulse purchases; when something is rented or purchased on these platforms it’s with the understanding that the item will go to good use. And that’s a meaningful experience for everyone involved.

When Money Isn’t Enough

While money is a great incentive, it isn’t always the best one. When it comes to attracting and retaining suppliers on ReQwip and Spinlister, I think the focus needs to be less about monetary value and more about experiential value. There’s a variety of ways to achieve that using the Hyperwallet payout platform and our integrated Loyalty feature. Here’s an example scenario:

Joe is a pretty competitive road cyclist. He likes taking his bike with him when he travels so he can check out new routes. He’s been dying to ride the Sea to Summit route in San Francisco, but he isn’t familiar with the city and doesn’t want to have to research hotels himself. Spinlister, with the help of Hyperwallet’s Loyalty feature, could help Joe fulfill this experience with a well-targeted incentive program. For one, Joe could rent out his bike on the platform to generate money that he could use for his trip; but that’s not even the best part. If Spinlister was hooked into Hyperwallet, Joe could collect his earnings onto a Spinlister prepaid card that’s automatically connected to an experiential loyalty program. Now, when Joe uses his card to buy a new bike, he could be rewarded with a hotel voucher for a free nights stay at a hotel on his SF biking route. Now it’s easier for Joe to have the unique experiences that sport gives, and all he had to do was share one of his underutilized bikes on Spinlister.

It’s a simple addition, but one that can have impressive loyalty-building powers on a platform where money isn’t the most important factor.

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