How Adding Purpose to Sports Amplifies ROI

By Lesa Ukman Oct 3, 2014

How Adding Purpose to Sports Amplifies ROI

Sports is not just a game. It’s big business. (On the backbone of sports, Red Bull built not just a brand but an entirely new category, energy drinks.)

Sports is at the center of globalization (Man City and the New York Yankees formed a Major League Soccer team) and new technologies (think Levi’s Stadium).

Sports is the lifeblood of broadcast and cable networks. Sports apps, video games, fantasy leagues and stats are fueling the growth of new media and new delivery channels.

And increasingly, sports is being used to create social progress.

The link between sports and social progress is found in two of the biggest trends in business today, social media and corporate social responsibility or what we at IEG call corporate social opportunity.

People seek out brands that deliver both great value and great values, so companies need to communicate their values. Sports—with its built-in fan base, media coverage and attention-grabbing athletes—is the highest profile channel for companies to promote their values.

One early example of this trend: In 2008, Hublot became the first luxury brand to sponsor football. But rather than use football to build awareness of its brand, Hublot used football to build awareness of its values. The watch company gave all of its signage to a nonprofit working to stomp racism out of football. As people discovered what Hublot had done, they learned more about the brand and its values and Hublot sales grew.  

Hublot understood that luxury watches are not purchased for their time-telling attributes. Phones and $50 Swatches tell perfect time. A watch like Hublot is a signaling device, it communicates the values of the wearer. A strong social idea or purpose becomes a rallying cry for the entire company and its many stakeholders.

Had Hublot just donated money to Unite Against Racism and skipped the UEFA partnership, few people would have known about it. More importantly, the issue of racism would remain buried. Hublot’s bold move put it front and center on screens around the world.

Beyond cash, awareness and conversation, brands are in a unique position to trigger significant shifts in behavior, with the potential to leave a legacy of positive change long after a sporting event is over.

For example, around the London 2012 Olympic Games, Coca-Cola, a leader at integrating its corporate social agenda into its sports partnerships, made sustainability one of its goals. It recycled all clear plastic waste at the Games and turned it into new Coke bottles, back on the shelves within six weeks.

To achieve this, Coca-Cola built Western Europe's largest food-grade plastic recycling facility. It also invested in biogas trucks to deliver product for London 2012 and incorporated sustainability into its supply chain. None of this would have happened without its Olympic partnership. The sponsorship was a catalyst for mobilizing action with environmental benefits well beyond the Games.

Purposeful Rightsholders 

Purpose is as relevant to sports rightsholders—the leagues, teams, events, broadcasters and athletes—as it is to their corporate partners.

With sports news so often about the negatives: match fixing, violence, racism, doping and more, the power of sports needs new narratives.

For example, 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.

And 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.

Purpose Pays

Linking an organization’s reason for being to improving lives and impacting society amplifies the ROI of any sports partnership.

  • The most viewed ad around the 2014 FIFA World Cup was Shakira’s “La La La (Brazil 2014),” which featured her official song of the tournament and a partnership with Danone’s Activia yogurt in support of the World Food Programme’s School Meals initiative.
  • Chobani, sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team, incorporated opposition to Russia's anti-gay laws into its packaging and creative during the Sochi 2014 Winter Games. Its visible support of human rights provided a point of differentiation and measurably increased purchase consideration, according to YouGov BrandIndex.
  • Research by Lloyds, official bank of London 2012, revealed that customers aware of its Olympic partnership were 40 percent more likely to recommend the bank, but customers aware of its Olympic tie as well as its community overlay to the Games, Lloyds Local Heroes, were 60 percent more likely to recommend Lloyds.

Purpose can take many forms—breaking down barriers for disabled athletes and normalizing views on disable sport, combatting childhood obesity, empowering disadvantaged communities, and more.

What they all have in common is a new approach to driving shareholder value, a shift from marketing to service, from pushing messages out to drawing people in by making a positive difference—to individuals, communities and/or the planet.

Everyone in sports should be looking at the social value of what they are doing, because there is a cause-and-effect relationship between financial performance and purpose.

Brands that mean more make more. People connect with products and services that speak to powerful emotional drives and give meaning to purchasing decisions or strengthen loyalty to a team or club.

To help elevate the world of sports, the value that you create as sponsor, broadcaster or rightsholder should be in this zone.

So how are you working to help make the world a better place through sport?


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steven cardinale 2/8/2015 8:21 PM
this is what the world needs just have them all open their eyes and this would be a better place for everyone here

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