Brands with strong sustainability stories should look to their most expensive and visible marketing platform to truly make their mark.
Sports sponsorship in North America is estimated to hit US $16.37 Billion in 2017 (ieg).
The top ten spenders, who combine for $2.3 billion (14%) of that have a few things in common, none of which you’ll find surprising:
They are Business-to-Consumer (B2C) companies.
They have partnerships with multiple professional leagues and teams.
They advertise and activate heavily around those partnerships.
But here’s something perhaps you didn’t know: All have also invested heavily in responsible business practices, such as decreasing their energy and water demand, developing more environmentally friendly-packaging and using fair labor practices. They all have detailed, articulated goals, aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And they issue detailed, substantive ‘sustainability reports’, alongside their annual reports to share their progress and achievements.
Much of what the top ten sports sponsorship spenders are doing to protect the planet is truly, truly impressive, and should in no way to be underestimated or underappreciated.
But here’s something they don’t do: effectively leverage their substantial investment in sports partnerships toward those goals. In other words, put their mouth where their money is.
But it’s time.
And here’s why.
The Greenwashing Backlash Has Subsided
Brands who began promoting their environmental efforts years ago quickly found themselves on the defensive. The long reach of the citizen journalist exposed areas where companies’ business practices were less than stellar, or pointed to gaping holes that had yet to be addressed. There was a quick retrenching on the ‘green communications’ front, no matter how advanced and notable their efforts were.
But even the most strident climate activists began to acknowledge that collaboration, rather than confrontation, was the better path forward, and that the largest manufacturers, shippers and stuff-creators were critical to moving forward on urgently needed solutions if they brought even some of their weight and influence to bear.
Consumers have also become a more understanding audience and saying ‘We get that it’s a journey. If you are transparent with us about your faults, we’ll acknowledge your progress.’ So companies have begun to cautiously step forward again to share how they are minding their resources,
But still, most of the ‘Sustainable Brands’ continue to share their efforts largely within the ‘green community’ of like-minded companies and environmental professionals.
For real momentum to get going, these marketing budget endowed firms need to step out onto a larger public stage. And really, there is no larger stage than sports.
But how does that fit together? How is it logical to talk about conservation in a palace of excess?
Glad you asked. Let me tell you a story.
The Magic of Emerald City
Once upon a time, in the faraway Emerald City, a handful of professional sports teams and venues pondered their bottom lines and their place in their community, and formed an alliance. The Green Sports Alliance. This motley band of slightly off-the-radar teams (let’s face it, sports dynasties of the Pacific Northwest would be a very slim book) began comparing notes on efficiency measures in back-of-house operatons (concessions, lighting retrofits). Seeing incredible savings (documented in their first Gamechangers reports), they invited others to learn how they were doing it and held their first Summit in 2011.
And these teams represent a brand strategists’ dream:
a high-profile, credible, value-aligned, multi-faceted messaging platform.
Joe and Jill Q. Public Do Care
And they show it with their wallet.
As the movement has grown, the Green Sports Alliance is increasingly looking to the ‘front of house’, to share their efforts with their fans. To gauge sports fans’ thoughts and expectations, they commissioned Turnkey Research to determine how much Joe & Jill Q. Fan care about the planet. And even the green sports folks were surprised at the results: an astounding 81% indicated they are concerned to very concerned about the environment.
In another study, Natureworks, a company providing compostable cups, plates and utensils, provided some additional terrific insights to tie teams’ environmental efforts right back to their bottom lines.
Finally, a Cone Communications report (among several others) has revealed that 43% of consumers believe that individuals will be most effective and have an important role to play in acting responsibly and stemming climate change. Many of them simply aren’t sure what they can or should do – but given direction they are ready to do it.
And honestly this shouldn’t be all that surprising. Sports stems from community, belonging, banding together. Many sports fans are parents, coaches, volunteers. Of course they have deep ties to their surroundings – people and place – and feel natural stewardship and shared responsibility for that.
In a shift a few years back, the Green Sports Alliance opened its doors to corporate partners, hoping to bring allies into the work to reach fans. And several terrific companies have stepped in: BASF, UPS, Constellation, nrg and Dow. All of them are doing some solid activation with their sports sponsorships. And while their efforts are laudable, these are not lifestyle brands with everyday influence.
The allies we are missing still? The top ten – or even the top twenty – spenders in sports.
The top content generators, amplifiers and activators.
The companies who, day in and day out, have the most direct, loudest and most frequent conversations with consumers.
The ones who urge us what to be, how to live, tell us what’s cool.
So to all you extraordinary brands who are keeping up a brisk daily pace to be the best, to capture consumers’ hearts and minds, I’m calling on you.
It’s Time to Speak Up.
Bring us your skilled copywriters, your cutting edge marketing tools and your budgets. We have fans who will follow us anywhere, take on any challenge, show up when we ask and bring their all to the cause.
Let’s work together to find some creative and entertaining ways to help fans work, live and play in a way that protects and strengthens their community for many potential championship seasons to come.
We just need to make it fun. And simple. And competitive. Because that’s what they come for. That’s what you come for. To be present in the moment that counts.
Which is every moment.
Is it a challenge? Absolutely. Just like every single season, every game, every play is a challenge. But the key is a strong playbook. And together we can create that.
Like a team of coaches with key expertise in various aspects of the game, we need to come together to coach our fans – and communities – toward some very worthy goals.
So, top ten, we need you to get in this game. You know who you are. The auto manufacturers. The alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The apparel makers. The wireless service providers.
It’s time to put your mouth where your money is.
Happy to hear your take. And stay tuned for our next installment on this topic – the Joe Maddon edition:
Try Not to Suck (at Environmental Messaging)
And hey, if you are looking to join this tribe, you can find us in Sacramento June 27-29 checking out the very cool, very LEED platinum, very digitally hip Golden1 Center – home of the Kings.