Modeling the Process Used to Select Among Leisure Alternatives.

Modeling the Process Used to Decide to Participate
in Specific Recreation and Leisure Activities:

The Funnel Chart

by Polson Enterprises
The Boating Industry Information Specialists                        how to contact us
Each of us selects to participate in certain recreation and leisure activities while avoiding others. The Funnel Chart and references below explain the steps we use to select some activities while eliminating others. This process is modeled as a funnel with many activities entering the spout and few exiting the stem. This model may be useful to those manufacturing and marketing recreation / leisure equipment, industry trade associations and others trying to increase participation in certain activities, and to leisure researchers. Please email us any comments you may have about the chart.

An Updated version of the Funnel Chart above is now available as a two page pdf with the second page listing the references. Please feel free to print as many copies as you need, but obey the copyright notice at the bottom of the chart.


The FUNNEL CHART illustrates how we select among leisure alternatives. Potential Leisure activities enter at the top of the funnel. Steps in the process of selecting an alternative are shown as levels in the funnel. Constraints are shown as filters between the various levels. The decreasing cross sectional area of the funnel indicates we may be capable of investigating several activities at their earlier stages but only a few at later stages. Time required to go "through the funnel" is typically dependent upon the financial and time requirements of the activity. The size of the PARTICIPANTS RESERVOIR represents the capacity of the infrastructure (facilities used by the activity) and support structure (clubs, coaches, referees, leagues, web sites, newsletters, suppliers, retailers) for the activity.

Once an activity is encountered with one of our senses we have an AWARENESS of it. We tend to prefer certain types of activities such as sports, home based (tv, reading, crafts), motorized vehicles, or nature activities. If the activity fits one of our leisure areas and does not involve anything we fear (heights, flying, water, darkness) we begin to gain KNOWLEDGE about it. We screen the activity for our demographics (sex, age, income, marital status), our physical characteristics and abilities (sex, size, strength, agility level, disabled), and local availability. If we don't see others who look like us participating, if our body is not "up to" the physical requirements of the activity, or the activity is not available locally we will usually stop our investigation. We also mentally use this filter when purchasing leisure items as gifts for others. Those who cease to progress at a filter are DEFECTORS.

The next step is PARTICIPATION in the activity. In some cases we may only visualize ourselves participating. The quality of our first few experiences determines if we continue to progress toward LIKING the activity. We begin to compare it to other activities (alternatives) and to develop PREFERENCES for it. Some activities require actions many may consider hassles that consume time or money and must be done before or after participation in the activity. Hassles may include purchasing a fishing license, paying a lake use fee, cleaning fish, gassing up a boat, flushing a marine drive, backing down a launch ramp, marina fees, buying two stroke oil, and frequent repairs. If we and our family continue to have good experiences with the activity, we decide if the activity is worth the time, money, and hassle required. If it is, we develop a CONVICTION to purchase the needed equipment or services and participate more fully. High ticket items will often require approval of our spouse and making financial arrangements. Some time consuming activities may be put off until more leisure time is available. When the decision to buy is reached we begin SHOPPING for one or more suppliers of new or used equipment or services. Brands, models, and options are compared to select the attributes needed which may include soft side issues such as warranty, service, and financing. Some general shopping is usually done at earlier stages but the major shopping decisions are made at this time. If the proper equipment or service is available at a fair price we will PURCHASE it.

After acquiring the equipment or service we become NORMAL PARTICIPANTS in the activity. Typically 15 to 25% of the normal participants develop a zeal for the activity and desire to commit additional time and resources to it. They purchase the latest equipment, subscribe to magazines, join clubs, talk with others about the activity, encourage others to join in the activity, advise others in equipment selection, and account for almost 75% of the participation in the activity. This RECREATIONAL SPECIALIZATION often begins to focus on a specific area of the activity such as fishing for a specific species like trout or bass. A few become highly skilled PROFESSIONALS, like in professional bass fishing. Once in the professional or recreational specialization groups, individuals may regress to a prior level. Some participants will EVAPORATE (cease to participate) from a leisure activity due to age. Others may be driven off by overcrowding of the facilities or support structure. For example, water access issues impact boating participation.

Surveys can be conducted to estimate the number of people in a specific population (club, college, town, county, state, country) at various levels of the funnel at a given time. The results can be used to forecast participation, equipment, and facility needs. Trade associations, equipment manufacturer's, and sports organizations can use the chart to identify and implement methods to help more people through the various filters (reduce DEFECTORS) and to help them move through faster. These methods are called FACILITATORS. For example the boating industry currently has a Grow Boating program to increase awareness and a dealer certification program to improve the "dealer experience".


A big thanks to all the researchers who developed the various concepts our funnel chart is based upon. The funnel chart is an outgrowth of our efforts to tie the research below into one easy to understand graphic. It would not have been possible without their work.

  • Adams, S.W. (1979). Segmentation of a Recreational Fishing Market: A Canonical Analysis of Fishing Attributes and Party Composition. Journal of Leisure Research. 11(1):82-91.

  • Barker, J. (1994). Reach Out for the Future. Industry Week. 243(14):12-16.

  • Bryan, H. (1977). Leisure Value Systems and Recreational Specialization; the Case of Trout Fishermen. Journal of Leisure Research. 9(3):174-187.

  • Donnelly, M.P., Graefe, A.R., and Vaske, J.J. (1986). Degree and Range of Recreational Specialization: Toward a Typology of Boating Related Activities. Journal of Leisure Research. 18(2):81-95.

  • Field, D.R. and O'Leary J.T. (1973). Social Groups as A Basis of Assessing Participation in Selected Water Activities. Journal of Leisure Research. 5(1):16-25.

  • Iso-Ahola, S.E., Dunn, E. and Jackson, E. (1994). Starting, Ceasing, and Replacing Leisure Activities Over the Life Span. Journal of Leisure Research. 26(3):227-249.

  • Jackson, E.L. (1990). Variation in the Desire to Begin a Leisure Activity: Evidence of Antecedent Constraints? Journal of Leisure Research. 22(1):55-70.

  • Jackson, E.L. (1993). Recognizing Patterns of Leisure Constraints; Results from Alternative Analyses. Journal of Leisure Research. 25(2):129-149.

  • McGuire, F.A., Dottavio, D., and O'Leary J.T. (1986). Constraints to Participation in Outdoor Recreation Across the Life Span; A Nationwide Study of Limitors and Prohibitors. The Gerontologist. 26(5):538-544.

  • Mullin, B.J. (1985). Internal Marketing - A More Effective Way to Sell Sport. In Lewis G. and Appenzeller H. (Eds.), Successful Sport Management, (pp:169). Charlottesville, VA: The Mitchie Company.

  • Reid, I.S. and Crompton, J.L. (1993). A Taxonomy of Leisure Purchase Decision Paradigms Based on Level of Involvement. Journal of Leisure Research. 25(2):182-202.

  • Ritchie, J.R.B. (1975). On the Derivation of Leisure Activity Types - A Perceptual Mapping Approach. Journal of Leisure Research. 7(2):128-140.

  • Stone, M. (1990). Marketing Strategies for Leisure Service. Long Range Planning. 23(5):76-90.

  • Wright, B.A. and Goodale, T.L. (1991). Beyond Non-Participation: Validation of Interest and Frequency of Participation Categories in Constraints Research. Journal of Leisure Research. 23(4):314-331.

  • Update

    Since this poster was prepared, two additional research areas have emerged in the research literature. We hope to incorporate them into future editions of the funnel graphic.

    In addition to those new areas, some references have re-examined some of the earlier work in this area.

    The Second Hand Market

    With the high costs of new equipment, many new first time buyers now turn to used equipment available from want ads, bulletin boards and online auctions such as eBay. Removing "hassles' from this "second hand" market might lead to greater participation in many activities. Several of these new participants may eventually purchase "new" equipment.

    Push or Pull?

    To get more people (customers) through the funnel, some manufacturers and facilities try to PUSH them through with hard sell tactics (low price if you buy today, specials, rebates, bundle with a "free" vacation, tell you how you will regret it if you don't become a participant, put babes in the show booth, build shoddy low cost equipment, hide "hassles of the activity", hide total cost of ownership, etc) while other try to PULL their customers though by making their activity fun and easy to participate in (the activity itself may be difficult and challenging, like mountain climbing or scuba diving, but they try to make the equipment easy to operate, easy to understand, reliable, safe, provide easy access to facilities, sponsor participant clubs, provide good equipment support, etc) . Others try a combination of both ways, and some try nothing at all. Which route does your activity take?

    The Funnel is Rediscovered!

    The basic "Sales Funnel" or "Buying Funnel" concept (steps people take while moving toward a purchase with no recognition of competitive alternatives) has been around a while. It has received a lot of attention from high tech companies and especially from Internet firms (trying to move more people to purchase goods or services on their sites). A nice example of a Sales Funnel is on page 27 of Marketing for Fast-Growth High-Tech Companies by A Mindlin of RealWorld Marketing, Inc. 16 March 2004.

    The Grow Boating movement seems to have discovered the "Buying Funnel" and may be on their way to rediscovering the funnel chart concept I presented in the early 1990's that also includes alternative leisure activities.

    NMMA Barriers & Competitors Quantitative Study. Final Report. Sept 2004. by Left Brain Marketing. The Executive Summary (slide 7 of the Power Point presentation) mentions a certain number of families being "in the buying funnel" but no graphic is presented.

    Boating Industry magazine's Jan/Feb 2005 edition has a segment titled "Grow Boating Update" edited by Matt Gruhn and Lizz Walz on page 13. The article includes the sketch of a funnel and quotes Thom Dammrich of the NMMA talking about trying to get more people into the funnel to buy more boats. The funnel drawing accompanying the article shows 3 stages (Interest, Consideration, Shopping) and a matrix beside the graphic indicates the percentage of people at each of the three stages for boats and for RVs. The graphic lists the data source as "Barriers and Competitors Quantitative Study". 2004.

    "Understanding Barriers to Boat Sales" by Jerry Mona of Left Brain, Inc. published by Soundings Trade Only in their April 2005 issue on pgs 34-35 shows a funnel proposed by Mr. Mona that has 5 stages (No Interest, Interest, Consideration, Shopping and Purchase. It also indicates the percentage of targeted consumers not currently owning a boat (incomes of $50K or above) at each stage of the funnel. He reported introducing this "buying funnel" for boats while presenting some other research at the Grow Boating meeting at the Miami International Boat Show.

    "Funnel Vision" by Matt Gruhn published in Boating Industry magazine in their May 2005 issue on Page 12 brought our Funnel Chart back to light! The article covers our Funnel Chart, its history and encourages the industry to consider the concepts raised by it.

    In March 2006 we became aware of a 1999 British dissertation that seems to share several general concepts with the funnel chart. "Participation, Motivation, Physical Exercise and Psychological Well-Being Among the a Long Term Prison Population". Garret James Busby Phd. Queens Univ of Belfast U.K. 330 Pages. AAT C802365. Abstract available on ProQuest. Dissertation explores how many variables work in concert to influence participation in sport and exercise. The author creates a model showing how inmate begin to develop and intention to participate in an physical activity due to influence of significant others, personality and exercise history. Then they decide to participate due to perceived intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. If barriers can be overcome, they participate and begin to internalize the rewards. Evaluating these rewards, the inmate then takes one of five paths back through the model. We will do some research on Dr. Busby and see if he has done any more work in this area, or if others have built upon his work.


    Please email us any comments you may have about the chart.

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