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Engaging Fans and Sponsors Through Sustainable Products


Editor’s Note: This post is part of a student blogging series on The Business Of Sports & Sustainability. Students attend the Presidio Graduate School which offers the only MBA-level sustainability program focused exclusively on the sports industry. You can follow the series here.

By Kari Brizius

How do you turn a waste stream into a fan engagement tool and involve sponsors?

First, take a billboard or a banner that was a piece of the stadium, the team, the sponsor or the event. Second, turn it into usable products. And, third, let the fans take it home! That’s a win-win for everyone.

The team and stadium reduce waste and their cost to ship non-recyclables to the landfill. The sponsor also reduces waste and gets unique branded products in front of the fans. And the fans get to take a piece of the game home with them. It’s a home run for everyone and almost as good as catching a home run ball at a baseball game.

Since vinyl (PVC or polyvinylchloride) is not recyclable, when it is no longer used it goes to the landfill -- where it stays, forever! It does not break down; it does not go away. It simply fills up space in the landfill. Over 600,000 tons of vinyl billboards and banners are produced each year and, traditionally, it goes directly to the landfills. There has to be a better solution or a new solution to make use of this material. So, instead of disposing of it, why not use it as feedstock for upcycled fan engagement products.

When we talk about banners and billboards here is a sampling of all the material this includes:

  • Vinyl wrapping posts at a stadium or jewel event

  • Vinyl outfield walls at baseball stadiums

  • In-ice mesh at hockey arenas

  • Player banners that hang around the parking lots

  • Finish-line material for marathons and bike races

  • Mesh that lines parade routes, construction sites and race routes

  • Street pole banners around each city

If the goal is zero waste, we need to devise cyclical systems, similar to nature, where there is no waste. We need to start looking at all material that is traditionally discarded and use it as feedstock for new products. This is not a new idea, but is still not widely accepted or practiced. Currently, most teams and venues do not realize the value of reusing this branded material and either store the vinyl or throw it in the trash. And few take any responsibility for the billboards they post.

But there is hope! Teams are seeing the value for fan engagement. The Portland Timbers mailed their season tickets in upcycled banner document cases. They also turned the banners from the MLS All-Star Game into one-of-a-kind messenger bags and totes. The NCAA Final Four turned their street pole banners from New Orleans into iPad cases (2012); banners from around the event at the Georgia Dome into messenger bags (2013); and will repurpose the banners from this year’s event in Indianapolis through a local organization. The Waste Management Phoenix Open turned the banners from around the course into totes that are sold online. The Super Bowl donates their banners to local organizations and nonprofits to turn into items like shower curtains and clothes to help raise funds. The Tampa Bay Lighting repurposed banners and uniforms into products for VIPs and to sell in their store.

So, how do you involve the sponsors? Why would they care? Sponsors frequently purchase fan engagement products to get their name out in front of fans. Their logos are everywhere. Creating repurposed products promotes a positive engagement with fans about their brand and what it stands for. The fact is, yes, fans do care about sustainability. The stats presented by the Green Sports Alliance and Turnkey Intelligence back up this assertion. The study shows that 81 percent of sports fans express concern for the environment, and 58 percent expect teams and leagues to use environmentally friendly practices. Taking responsibility for sustainability takes behavior change and teams willing to lead by example. Engaging fans through sustainable messaging, especially with items that they can touch and feel, is a huge win for everyone.

Teams and sponsors can promote sustainability to their customers and stakeholders through the repurposing/upcycling of their billboards and banners into unique, one-of-a-kind, branded products. The right products will engage fans, employees and stakeholders, and your brand will circle the world promoting the team, the sponsors and your sustainability mission. Ultimately, the value in upcycling this marketing waste stream goes far beyond just sustainability; it adds even more to the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits.

Teams and sponsors have an opportunity to drive brand loyalty and engage fans through their sustainability commitments. By creating new, sustainable, branded product incentives, companies can communicate their sustainability goals, engage fans and drive profits to the bottom line. The more products are created from existing materials, the less waste is going to all of our landfills and the lower carbon footprint of creating new materials.

Image credit: Della Simpson, Relan

Kari Brizius, President of Relan, is a mother of two, West Point graduate, U.S. Army veteran and certified personal trainer. Her love of a healthy lifestyle, exercise, and the environment led her to pursue a for-benefit company with her mother. LinkedIn Twitter: @RelanBag

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This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. Led by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist at NRDC, The Business of Sports and Sustainability certificate is housed at Presidio Graduate School, the nation’s top sustainable MBA program. Posts explore the connection of sustainability with operations, branding and fan engagement of the sports industry including leagues, teams, venues, sponsors, vendors and surrounding communities.

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