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Understanding consumer behaviour in evolving subscription markets – lessons from sports season tickets research

Heath McDonald (School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Steven Dunn (Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)
Dominik Schreyer (WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management, Vallendar, Germany)
Byron Sharp (Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 28 August 2023

Issue publication date: 11 January 2024




The purpose is to review literature on sports season ticket subscriptions to distil current knowledge and guide future research and practice.


A systematic literature review is conducted of research on sports season tickets, a long-established and innovative subscription category.


In-depth examination of 28 papers showed a focus on drivers of satisfaction, churn and renewal causes, and product utilisation rates. Subscription markets typically involve many “solely loyal” consumers, most purchasing one or two subscriptions in a category. From reduced barriers to entry and exit to “curated” subscriptions, subscription marketing is changing very quickly. Sports marketers build relationships with subscribers using behavioural data, tier benefits to distinguish between casual and subscribing customers, and create recall and scarcity around key aspects of subscription to combat churn and increase utilisation.

Research limitations/implications

Scarce research on subscription marketing practices remains the primary limitation. Existing research suggests that strong connections between subscriber and organisation, heavy product utilisation and/or strong barriers to switching drive customer satisfaction and retention.

Practical implications

Rapid expansion of subscription products should reduce “excess loyalty”, meaning that subscription models' main benefit will be limited to reoccurring revenue. Exceptions occur when consumers are heavily connected to the product or have little provider choice, so allocate their category buying exclusively. New subscription products face myriad challenges. Guidance on effective subscription marketing from sports marketing research and practice is outlined.


By combining research on market structure, marketing empirical generalisations and subscription marketing, this paper guides future research and practice.



This paper forms part of a special section “The Sport x Service Experience: an opportunity for sport service management research”, guest edited by Dr. Thilo Kunkel and Dr. Daniel Funk.


McDonald, H., Dunn, S., Schreyer, D. and Sharp, B. (2024), "Understanding consumer behaviour in evolving subscription markets – lessons from sports season tickets research", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 89-107.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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