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How Good Amplifies the Value of Sports Partnerships

By 3p Contributor

By Lesa Ukman

Businesses that mean more, make more.

And, sponsors who dedicate a portion of their activation budget to improving people and planet, almost always out-perform sponsors without a purpose-based overlay.

Uniting brands and fans, and the sports and entertainment they love, around collective action for social good is a more powerful cocktail than any of these pieces on their own. It goes beyond marketing, cause marketing and sports marketing into helping to effect substantial social change.

Each player has something the other needs. Commercial partners have financial resources and distribution channels, nonprofits have knowledge about a problem and how to fix it, and rightsholders have the cultural spotlight, media platforms and loyal communities.

But sports have a special role to play. The power of sports to bring people together on a much deeper level than other types of businesses puts them in a position to both incorporate positive change and advance it.

Brazilian pro team Sport Club Recife, known as having some of the most passionate football fans in the country, launched a program created by Ogilvy Brazil called “Immortal Fans” to combat the lack of organ donors in the country. Within the first year, heart transplants had quadrupled and the waiting list for corneal transplants was eradicated.

In response to a survey showing 82 percent of the French population had a negative opinion of the national football team, the French Football Federation created a program to connect unemployed fans with the companies of the sponsors.

To ensure there would not be ill will created by its hosting of the Super Bowl, the San Francisco Super Bowl 50 Host Committee committed 25 percent of all monies raised for Super Bowl 50 to be invested back in Bay Area communities. This prompted the NFL to make a $1 million grant to 50 Fund as part of its annual Super Bowl Legacy Grant Program.

And, sports act as high profile advocates, changing attitudes and behavior. When racial tensions escalated on the campus of the University of Missouri and the administration failed to take action, student groups protested for President Tim Wolfe to resign. After two months of no results despite clear instances of racism on campus, athletes of color on the Missouri football team took a stand. They refused to play until their voices were heard. Thirty six hours later President Wolfe stepped down.

And, the first Refugee Olympic Team competed in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Recognizing the opportunity to a global audience to take action in support of refugees, UNICEF and UNHCR commissioned a series of social media graphics with the hashtag, #TeamRefugees. It included video and editorial content, Snapchat stories, microsite, rapid response memes and influencer strategy and led to impressive organic social media engagement around refugee issues. The brand and hashtag reached over 500 million impressions, received the second largest spike of the year in positive Twitter mentions of refugees and some three in four Team Refugees tweeters were reportedly new to the cause.

Sports and sports sponsors can raise awareness around underexposed issues, spark important conversations and shift public opinion. They play a huge role in people-powered social movements around big issues like LGBTQ rights and climate change which require the ability to organize a large community, reach them during moments inspiration and build sustained, long-term engagement. Fans bring these elements to sports and music.

Using sports and entertainment partnerships as channels to activate social initiatives and/or add pro social overlays to sports and entertainment has advantages that cannot be duplicated by other media.

Research reveals that simply ‘badging’ a sport or event is regarded as superficial and inadequate. Fans and the public expect and want more. For example, research commissioned by Lloyds around its sponsorship of the British Olympic Team, found that Olympic sponsorship on its own increased brand appeal: forty percent of customers aware of the bank’s Olympic sponsorship would likely recommend the brand to friends and family.

However, 55 percent of customers aware of the bank’s Olympic sponsorship and its Local Heroes Olympic-themed community overlay had a higher propensity to recommend the brand to friends and family.

A Performance Research study conducted in March 2017 looked at what most impacted purchasing. Sports sponsorship came in at the lowest at 32 percent while support of good causes had the greatest impact on purchase, 72 percent of respondents said it would factor into buying decisions:

The conclusion is not to quit sports and dump money into causes. Instead, sports sponsors should use the reach of sport to let people know what they are doing in the area of social good.

Given the importance of social good to corporate partners and prospects, all sports rightsholders should be proactive in building out their offerings in this space. Rather than the league or team foundation working in a silo, relevant assets should be used to upsell current partners and attract new companies and categories. The real win for all is when there’s substance. Take the Cincinnati Reds’ Urban Youth Academy, an after-school program for inner city kids that pairs tutoring by graduate students from the University of Cincinnati with on-field training, often led by current and former Reds players. Designed to break the cycle of poverty and prepare underserved kids to become the first in their family to go to and graduate college, the Academy hosts games, tournaments and camps as well as educational and vocational programs out of its four classrooms. Team sponsor Procter & Gamble, also sponsors the Academy providing both cash and employee volunteers who act as mentors.

Yes, sports sponsorships and nonprofit partnerships each work on their own. But, when combined, they can work measurably better.

Lesa Ukman is a thought-leading entrepreneur, writer and speaker in assigning value to marketing collaborations. In 1982, Lesa founded IEG in Chicago and built a company that spawned a new industry, one currently worth more than $85 billion. In 2006 she sold IEG to WPP, the world’s largest advertising, marketing and communications services group. Lesa is an avid champion of sponsorship’s potential for a broader impact on society and has now launched ProSocial Valuation as she believes in the fundamental power of business to do good. 


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