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.
3 years ago, the Green Sports Alliance experienced a small revolution. That 4th Green Sports Summit in Santa Clara was the first time that ‘brands’ and corporate partners took a prominent place, ‘front of house’, among the assembled league and team representatives. For an organization with its roots firmly in stadium operations (‘back of house’ in entertainment speak) this was decidedly a crossover move.
That Santa Clara summit also marked the first time a more consumer-facing corporate sponsor presented the Summit, which was “Delivered by UPS” and whose marketing and sponsorship executives were present to deliver their message: “Sustainability is In Our Nature”. Their greetings to attendees cited the parallels of connections in sports and the connections they make for business, and called their partnership with the Green Sports Alliance ‘a natural fit’. The copywriters had arrived. And not a minute too soon, as the movement had grown substantially and word was getting out. From its modest beginnings of about 125 green keeners getting together in Portland in 2011, 2014 saw about 800 rubbing elbows in Silicon Valley.
In previous years, there had been an uneasy alliance between team ‘greening’ practitioners and sustainable solutions vendors. Corporate interests were held to roles as exhibitors on the often makeshift ‘trade show ’ area. They could not become members. One might manage an occasional (coveted) panelist role, as the ‘movement’ navigated its own journey from sharing energy numbers to more outwardly celebrating their achievements. The Summit was a place to learn and exchange ideas and needed to be kept ‘pure’ of commercial motives. I liken the feeling at times of a junior high school dance, with each side eyeing up the other across the gym – wary, but curious – how do we dance together?
Fortunately that same 2014 Summit also brought someone who began to show them how. One of the most memorable, and in hindsight, galvanizing moments, was the dramatic entry and keynote speech of Levi’s brand President, James Curleigh. He himself emerged from the dark, back of the house, with a solid a capella version of the Beatles ‘Revolution’. With all the charisma you’d expect of the leader of an iconic global brand, he did not rest until he had the entire room fully engaged singing, and dancing, with him.
The keynote followed suit, as he shared the philosophy behind the partnership with the 49ers on the shiny, new, ribbon-not-yet-cut Levi’s Stadium, and why the brand is heavily invested with the team.
There was an AHA moment. The Revolution belonged to all of us. Together. There were good stories to tell. Solid stories of real impact – waste diversion, energy savings, water stewardship. And there were trusted partners who were making those wins possible – Waste Management, BASF, National Grid, Skanska, alongside UPS and many others. It was time to take the message forward, with amplified voices. And so it came to pass that the Green Sports Alliance developed a long-awaited Corporate Partner category, unveiled at the 2015 Summit in Chicago. A sincere, but modest approach to beginning to work more closely together. Though no anthem was assigned, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” seems to fit the bill.
And so it is time to Come Together. And complete the triangle. The three-legged stool. The triple-bottom-line.
We have the builders and engineers who make responsible resource management physically possible in the room. The stadium operations people, the materials, construction and systems people.
We have the (team) owners and regulators (commissioners) who make responsible resource management financially possible in the room.
Who’s missing from the room? The front of house people.
The Marketing, Media Relations, Partnerships and Community Relations people. The people who work with partners(sponsors), create amazing gameday experiences, choose cool merchandise, feed the media compelling stories and drive the fans passion on social channels. A few have been present but too few.
We want to make sure the people who can make sustainability fun, sexy and cool – not just, ‘Oh, isn’t that nice’ are in the room. The people who harness armies of fans behind rivalry series and crosstown classics and playoff runs should balance out their operational counterparts at the Summit in the same measure as they do in the front office.
So let’s invite them out – let’s have them join us in Houston. They’ll have some interesting folks to chat with – from Dow, from Constellation Energy, from nrg, from Skanska, from UPS. Help them be better at what they do. Help them discover new inventory to sell and new partner categories to open.
So let’s Come Together.
Not over me – but over beers, and numbers and stories and ideas. I’m pretty sure there will be some great music, too.
The Green Sports Summit in Houston is 2 months away. If you’re registered now, that’s fantastic. If you’re not, don’t delay – here’s your Ticket to Ride.
If you’re coming from a team or league, remember everything’s more fun with a friend.
Bring a colleague from the front of the house. Come Together. Yeah.
Sports Are Often A Social Bellweather.
Not an earthshattering statement. Sports are by their nature social, so not a major leap to assert they often mirror and amplify social issues, but some may not always notice they can provide the catalytic focal point for these issues to be addressed – that is, when the leadership in sports steps in to that space.
And I feel they do, more often than not.
If you haven’t been watching – and no one can forgive you given all that has happened this week – the State of North Carolina is currently considering legislative rollbacks that would among other things rescind certain civic protection of the LGBT community. As I have a number of friends in NC, I’ve been following this story via their Facebook posts. But today it landed front and center on my desktop, via SportsBusinessJournal, in this post on how the NBA and the NCAA have made public statements on how they are monitoring the situation, and both were very clear about their stances on the matter:
The NBA in a statement said it is “deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect.” while the NCAA noted that it was “one of the first organizations to express concern about the religious freedom law last year in Indiana”.
One would think that the Indiana situation, which was resolved in favor of humanity, would be near enough history for the NC legislature to call to mind.
Naturally they follow several companies who have expressed similar positions, but my business is sports, so I note the happenings here more markedly.
And while individuals will speak out, it is hard for them to uproot their lives and speak with their feet, and they have no immediate way to revoke their tax dollars. And corporations, too, can threaten to leave the state, but that is also no mean or immediate undertaking – and in the end, harms like-minded people whom they employ.
But the NBA All-Star Game and NCAA tournaments can be pulled and moved without profoundly impacting the more civilly minded citizens of North Carolina’s livelihoods and families. And while it certainly is disruptive to the NBA and NCAA event organizers, it is more than offset through principled action that enables them to sustain, and perhaps elevate their business.
So, to the good people of North Carolina who are concerned about the turn their state is taking, I say have faith. In basketball. Your state’s universal foundation of faith. Because through basketball, all will be made right with the world.
There is beauty in simplicity. And a bit of magic in beauty.
And that’s the feeling I came away with from Monday’s ‘Cool 2016 Richmond’ (British Columbia) event. Largely because the City of Richmond has figured out how to make sustainable event and sport hosting simple. And accessible.
Which is beautiful. And a bit magical.
The former Olympic host city (speedskating and more importantly, Holland West in the guise of Heineken House during the Games) bestowed a legacy gift on local festival and smaller scale prospective sports hosts with a full evening designed to help local events – regardless of size – be as resource-conscious as possible.
COOL Richmond was put on in the atmosphere of a most festive event – inside the LEED-certified Oval with food trucks, craft beers, compostable serviceware, and green ambassadors – and circus performers.
And they did it in the language of the audience – in the form of a beautifully designed event:
– A Midway of sustainable service providers under the ever-awe-inducing ‘big top of the Oval’s stunning roof was a wonderful way to show key vendors in action and anable organizers to mingle in in a festival atmosphere. No stuffy trade show, info-expo set-up here.
– Storytellers shared wondrous tales of enchanting characters (volunteers) who whisked away the bad (garbage) while recognizing the hidden treasures (recyclables!) hidden amongst the villagers (event audiences). The various speakers sharing best practices kept their words light and messages practical, but positive. Event organizers told of how greening their events wove magical outcomes of cleaner streets during the events, binners providing valuable services while playing a key (and dignified) role in diverting recyclables from the landfill and the ever-present cheerfulness of Green Team volunteers adding to the happy, welcoming atmosphere of the party.
–Takeaway treasures for all in the form of Richmond’s new ‘7-Step Quick Guide to Sustainable Events‘ – shared widely as guests were invited from all over Greater Vancouver, and produced in conjunction with the International Academy of Sport Science and Technology (AISTS – Switzerland) . Vendors happily shared their wares, including event merchandise company STG sending us all home with a very cool T-shirt and Food Truck El Cartel feeding all with their wonderful Bulgogi Short Rib Tacos.
-And key to any fascinating tale, the Genie/Fairy Godmother/Wizard element who appears to give you just the bit the protagonist needs to power his/her own success:
in this case, the City of Richmond maintains the ‘Green Team’ volunteer base, fully trained, engaging the City’s youth and ready to be deployed in any configurations events may need. The City has two portable water stations that can be loaned out to events, enabling visitors to bring their own bottles and keep the waste down. The City has a ‘Wheel Watch’ bicycle valet service that can be booked for events. The City connects you to local Food Recovery programs to mitigate the food waste. The City will advise, support and reward you with it’s new ‘Sustainable Event Champion’ designation, which will certainly resonate with both participants and with sponsors.
Creating these solutions from a central source that provides consistency and solid expertise allows organizers to get on with what they do best. It makes the work of their many departments easier. And it assures that Richmond’s reputation for hosting is a notch above by creating zero waste, transit-friendly, procurement-sensitive grassroots events.
The best part of all – they are happy to share their best practices with you and your event wherever you are.
The City of Richmond has simplified creating responsibly managed, well run and enjoyable events and festivals. Which I find simply beautiful. And a little bit magical, too.
Cool Richmond indeed.
The evening was a collaboration of many, as all good things are: multiple departments of the City of Richmond, the absolutely stunning Richmond Olympic Oval, the AISTS, and the Ann Duffy Group and the many generous sponsors and partners of the evening, including compostable packaging company BSIBio who also provided a valuable pre-event workshop on the nitty gritty practicalities of incorporating compostables into food operations. Marc Stoiber provided an invigorating keynote, while organizers of Khatsilano Festival, Car Free Days and Richmond World Days candidly shared experiences and resources.
I feel a bit guilty about that headline — for one thing, I’m an unabashed supporter of women’s soccer. There are so many phenomenal things about it – the athleticism, the purity of the game (way less drama) and the metaphor it provides that escalates almost immediately every discussion of the game to a discussion on gender equality. In act, I’m not really referring to the women’s world cup missing the net, but rather the organizers – FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association’s Organizing Committee (and a few public entities as well). But that probably wouldn’t have caught your eye as quickly….so with apologies, here goes:
By so many measures, the 2015 Women’s World Cup was an incredible success. An expanded field of competitors (from 16 to 24). A bigger tournament (from 32 to 52 matches). And eye-popping television ratings in the U.S. (besting NBA playoff games, MLB world series, and, gasp, even the 2014 men’s world cup final).
It’s certainly a time to celebrate. But also time to begin the post-event performance analysis. Elite athletes share one trait – continually raising the bar for themselves; “What must I do to stay on top? Did I exhaust my potential or can I go even further?” are frequent refrains in their heads following even their most exceptional performances.
Given that that Canada currently ranks #2 for sport hosting in the world, and the CSA is musing on a Men’s World Cup bid for 2026*, I’d like to offer up a cursory analysis of where we can – and must – do better.
Sponsorship, Suite Sales and Merchandise Sales Fell Short
While no one has hard numbers yet, there are plenty of indicators that none of these areas of revenue generation were what they could have been.
The previous host, Germany in 2011, signed all 6 available National Sponsor slots at an estimated USD $5 million each, a full 15 months ahead of the tournament start. This meant the organizing committee had more capital to work with and more time to work with those partners to encourage their ‘activation’ or use/leverage of their sponsorships. When this is done in advance, it builds momentum, drives tournament awareness and supports healthy advance ticket sales.
By two months out from the opening ceremonies, the FIFA 2015 Organizing Committee had sold 2. And neither of those partners had begun to activate, leaving a void in the promotion build up. Several longtime Canadian Soccer Association partners declined to become sponsors of the tournament. As those decisions predated the recent FIFA debacle, it would appear that either the price or the sales effort didn’t resonate sufficiently.
At the 11th hour, a third was added. But that deal turned out to be more of an Official Supplier role than a Sponsor, meaning lower dollars. And as a B2B company, somewhat less compelling activities around the event, more corporate hospitality and less street-level fun. Interestingly some of that fun was provided by non-sponsors. Canadian Tire/SportChek’s Jumpstart, a CSA sponsor who declined a direct World Cup partnership, held a public pick-up tournament in Vancouver’s Gastown (and perhaps in the other host cities as well?) and ran an ad campaign during June featuring Canadian women’s and men’s national team players. And non-FIFA, non-CSA sponsor, Nike did a fantastic guerrilla marketing experiential program with the Nike Underground zone in the CBC parking garage in Vancouver. They were even so bold as to run a wrapped double-decker bus touting the venue. As sponsorship goes, it feel short on sales, leverage (except for non-sponsors) and on rights enforcement.
What can we learn? Sponsorship must be gauged in the bid phase and pursued/secured early on in operations. It is the revenue engine that drives every other aspect of the event operations. Granted Canada had no contenders for this host bid, but with a healthy stable of corporate partners for the national association, and for the popularity and appeal of the sport itself, not to mention the national and international exposure, I’d hope there is a good post-mortem on why those CSA sponsors didn’t step forward when the ultimate opportunity to capitalize on their years of investment in soccer presented itself. Given that women make 85% of household purchasing decisions, this was an occasion to align with the driving economic force that women have become in showing unfettered support for the Women’s World Cup.
Suite sales are tough – but it appears there was no dedicated strategy and the sales personnel infusion came too late; the effort too light. We couldn’t find definitive total numbers for Germany (though we did see they sold 28,000 packages over the 32 matches) to say whether Canada fared better or worse, but it was disappointing and a little disheartening to see those mothballed suites. Imagine if they’d gotten creative enough to sell a la carte suite tickets to all the US fans that streamed into Vancouver for the final? When it comes to premium and group sales for large events, it may require a Plan A, B and C to ensure that bums are in seats – and with a tourney like this, a contingency plan if the host country isn’t in the final.
My vantage point for much of the tournament was Vancouver, where I attended all 9 matches. I make it a habit to note the suite occupancy at every sports event I attend (much to the annoyance of my husband, who often asks if I can just watch the game without counting seats). Not only were roughly 60% of suites unsold, they were actually boarded/papered up – an odd move that only drew more attention to their vacancy. Roughly two months prior to the tournament opening I was contacted by an outside sales rep who had been brought on to bolster suite sales. As it happens, I told him, I work with several organizations who have a collective reach to roughly 150,000 women business owners. I’d be happy to distribute the information as I felt the tournament was a great backdrop for business hosting and corporate team-building for them. The rep never followed up.
The takeaway here may be for FIFA – while MATCH Hospitality manages this for them and Olympic Games and has done for some time, it seemed that a lack of local presence early on to develop and drive uptake of suites left some high-dollar returns unseen. I had the sense that the local host city organizing committees were focused on individual tickets sales and were leaving the suite sales to MATCH. In the 12 months leading up to the tournament, I saw no pursuit of these sales at business networking functions or via targeted emails to organizations prior to that one outreach call 8 weeks out.
A Plan B might have been outreach to local companies suggesting they sponsor a girls’ team or charity organization’s ability to see the event from the rarified view of a suite and gain the dual benefit of a tax receipt and the shiny glow of supporting girls’ soccer. Food for thought when the suites aren’t filling up as expected in our next round of hosting.
Merchandise was a complete headscratcher. PanAm Games have had items in the Toronto airport for at least a year. Grey Cups do the same at least 4 months out– with gear acting as a promotional tool for every inbound passenger. Even the Canada Games in Prince George had a selection of tees, fleeces and hats waiting for you at partner retailer Canadian Tire and SportChek and around town. Every impression was a reminder the games were coming. Locals are prompted to think, ‘I’d best to get my tickets’ (and maybe a logo travel mug, too.) The array, designs and abundance of 2010 Winter Games items had perhaps spoiled us. But the complete absence of merch at any of our usual retailers was confounding. Imagine if all those Alaska cruise visitors had stumbled on 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup caps as they strolled through Gastown. With a family of 5 coming in from the US for the tourney, I scoured Vancouver for something I could send ahead. Attending the Opening Game in Edmonton, I thought I’d come away with the first grab of goods direct from the stadium stand. Couldn’t get near it. Not a prayer. And I’d come to watch the game after all, not stand in a merch line. So when I finally found myself in front of the goods, and with a strong buying intention, an unfortunate, and I would argue unnecessary, obstacle stood in my way.
Germany 2011 booked roughly USD$4 million from their merchandise sales in 2011, a tournament that saw 845,711 tickets sold across 32 matches. In stadium and event operations-speak, that works out to a $4.73 merchandise per cap (spectator) ratio. I hope it turns out well, but among the 15 people I attended a combined 10 games with, we collectively bought one $25 ballcap. So while a hardly a scientific way to explore this, it works out to a $ .60 per cap on merch. And I think a big opportunity was missed to sell to those who weren’t attending games – whether they were tourists passing through or locals who wanted to pick up a memory.
The real surprise here? FIFA’s primary merchandise partner for global tournaments is a Markham, ON based company! So I have to feel we lost out on two fronts here – suppressed merchandise revenue in general, but the tax income and effect of a Canadian company reeling in those sales. This merits a full on look, but given that scrutiny of FIFA is a moving target on every front, we probably won’t be able to forensically break this one down. We CAN however plan well for the next opportunity – again, in the bid and planning stage, examine the models of past successful events and direct the appropriate resources and manage timelines to capture this revenue stream.
Again, we were fortunate to have the 2010 games and the strong BC Business Network put together by RBC and the Province to help local suppliers and service businesses understand the procurement needs and tourist traffic they could expect. And more importantly, running a number of events, workshops and online resources to help them assess and capitalize on the opportunities the Games presented. The Toronto 2015 PanAm Games went a step further, reaching out to diversity suppliers specifically (women-owned, minority-owned, aboriginal-owned and LGBT-owned companies) and reporting on their progress regularly – an impressive effort that can and should be emulated. Even the Canada Games held in Prince George ensured that the local area companies had the guidance to tap into contracts with a strong business engagement program through Initiatives Prince George and other local economic development agencies. Sadly, the 6-city Women’s World Cup did not.
Seeing this, Women’s Enterprise Centre (of BC) did its best to educate and advise potential suppliers, traveling coast to coast running workshops, online webinars and publishing several articles and resources via its Supplier Diversity Canada website and through partner organizations. There was also a year-long, targeted marketing campaign directed to the many inbound soccer federations, international broadcasters and FIFA sponsors and official suppliers, but without the direct involvement, support and specific procurement information provided by the organizing committee on what was needed, by whom and when, it was difficult to pinpoint opportunities.
It became clear that much of the information was either not forthcoming from FIFA itself, or that contracts were being handled either offshore or at the last moment, leaving little opportunity for Canadian companies to gain sufficient insight or have a realistic chance to bid for business. Finally, with few sponsors putting forward any significant ‘activation’ it appeared that contracts were quite limited in quantity and scope. This could have been an outstanding occasion to create a real economic opening for Canadian businesses, and to showcase the quality and strength of women-owned businesses in particular.
This could have been an outstanding occasion to create a real economic opening for Canadian businesses, and to showcase the quality and strength of women-owned businesses in particular. For many a contract might have represented a first international business deal, or a significant reference client propelling them onto larger clients, but the limited amount of communication (coupled with the limited activity of sponsors) meant that an important element of ROI for Canada was missed.
Guaranteeing Shots on Target
In short, we need to look hard, in the bid and even the bid consideration phase, at what events will provide beyond the tourism dollars (hotel nights, bar and restaurant uptick). If tourism is the only sector to benefit from hosting, then we may be best off just amping up tourism marketing budgets, rather than seeking out sport and event hosting occasions.
We need to include a business engagement and procurement facilitation program with every sport hosting bid going forward. Every host city must look after not just its tourism sector but its core businesses as well, and take advantage of the opportunity to showcase them when the world is watching and visiting. Canada has a rich array of service and good providers who can meet every need of a large-scale international event, whether it’s halal catering or multi-language mobile app development. And we have proven models and tools to support this. This is money left on the table. Let’s stop doing that.
Agree? Disagree? We’d love your comments on this post. And we’d love for this conversation to be amplified.
Three is a magic number. Yes it is. It’s a magic number. All you Schoolhouse Rock grads can hum along.
For those not in the know, sports have always embraced threes on the field/court/rink/track. The Triple Crown in horseracing, triple-double in basketball, hat tricks in hockey and the epically elusive triple that has kept hundreds from hitting for the cycle in baseball. It turns out, the front office is becoming as enamored of the three as the lockeroom, as countless franchises and leagues have embraced a triple-bottom-line approach to managing the business, that is putting equal emphasis on profits, planet and people, in their pursuit of success.
The State of Green
Next week marks the 5th installment of the Green Sports Summit, the annual conference of the teams, leagues, facilities and universities who are forging a smarter, more resilient path to maintaining a competitive advantage in their operations – gameday and beyond. What began as a like-minded group of clubs and venues in the ever-tree-loving Pacific Northwest has now blossomed to over 200 members, committed to sharing numbers, experiments and pushing one another to greater efforts in driving costs and carbon footprints downward while remaining committed to providing exceptional fan experiences.
So it seems like as good a time as any to reflect on each of the major North American leagues’ ‘State of Green’.
The graphic above gives you a quick visual rundown of where each of the leagues currently stand in terms of team awareness/engagement in responsible operations, but it doesn’t really tell the whole story. At the league level, we have had early innovators who have plateaued in their commitment and laggards who have leaped ahead with great gusto.
The percentages associated with each of the leagues refer to the number of clubs in the league who also maintain an individual membership in the Green Sports Alliance. Nice to see MLB batting .750. Hockey and basketball teams are also posting up playoff-worthy stats, and hopefully moving toward conference champ levels. The NFL seems to be in a position that describes the league itself – a bit lagging on the social leadership front (despite a few shining stars – more below). And perhaps most surprising of all, the MLS. With an outdoor summer season, a veneration of natural grass surfaces and a disproportionate fan base of 18-34 year olds who are arguably more environmentally aware, it’s a bit of an eye-opener to see them with a relegation-level number of engaged clubs.
The great news is that all of the major U.S.-based leagues are members of the Green Sports Alliance, an organization dedicated to “Leveraging the cultural & market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities where we live & play.” The pretty good news is that many of their individual teams are as well. But as you can see, there is still room for improvement.
But a parent can only do so much with its adult children – so to gain some insight into these participation numbers, we feel its best to start with a look at their most fundamental relationship’s influence and guidance to date. In this post, we characterize each league’s approach and most notable efforts to date.
The critical thing to remember is that we are making candid observations about what has been undertaken to date and not ‘grading’ each of them – every action undertaken by these leagues is noteworthy and commendable. We hope our exploration will ignite their innate competitiveness to move the ball down the field even more.
Strategy synopsis: League Leadership, Continuous Improvement, Strong Acknowledgement of Individual Clubs’ Efforts
The league was the absolute forerunner and a early champion of leading all its clubs by providing practical resources for greening operations. They established the first ‘Greening Advisor’ in 2006 in collaboration with the NRDC to guide clubs toward resources, and Commissioner Bud Selig was recognized for his active advocacy in providing league office resources to all member clubs. MLB has certainly played a role in encouraging its franchises to adopt and share best practices, though the 81-game schedule and lower ticket prices are likely also a factor in incentivizing clubs’ efforts to root out efficiencies in operations. It didn’t hurt that Green Sports Alliance chairman, Scott Jenkins, was coming from MLB, but other early leaders including Joe Abernathy of the St Louis Caridnals, Brad Mohr of the Cleveland Indians (now working his mojo for the Cleveland Browns), and the Phillies and Twins organizations were equally instrumental in leading the way with novel energy, water and waste management solutions.
Strategy synopsis: Unified Voice, Fan-Facing Communications, Community Connections
A league with a similar, aggressive early move on greening, the NBA Green Week remains one of the most visible with fan-facing efforts, starting in earnest in 2007. Whatever the NBA does, it does with the entertainment and celebrity factor in mind. While individual club efforts are less celebrated than the league-branded and promoted Green Week, the Portland Trailblazers early, aggressive stewardship of their facility and their community is notable. This could well be that Blazers owner Paul Allen who also owns the NFL Seahawks, was an instigator of getting the original clubs together to discuss energy savings options. The league’s began by doing environmental assessments of its offices and the NBA Store. One small, but remarkable outcome was eliminating BPA from its licensed products – 4 years before the US FDA required this. NBA Green Week was started in 2009 with a heavy and very public focus on community service projects involving health & greenspace, specialty apparel and PSAs featuring players. The NBA has done the most effective job of harnessing star power in its community-directed messaging. Additionally innovative, they have taken their sustainability values with them overseas, incorporating responsible event practices and associated fan-messaging into the NBA EuropeLive Tour.
Strategy synopsis: Clinical, strategic and unrelenting. Taking it to the boards.
While arriving a bit later than its peers, the NHL has taken no small measures since beginning its NHL Green program in January 2010. Moving as fast and forcefully as its game, just shy of 2 years later the league’s stewardship of investment and commitment to greening all of its events, its own operations and those of ALL 30 member franchises led to the 2011 Beyond Sport ‘Sport for Environment’ Award. This recognized the greening of its Draft, Winter Classic, All-Star Game and Stanley Cup Championship, the establishment of a Greening Advisor, but more importantly a dedicated team to put all 30 clubs through en environmental audit, and experimentation with new technologies on behalf of all its venues to guide their investments and upgrades responsibly. It also acknowledged the adoption by all 30 teams of the ‘Rock and Wrap It Up’ food recovery program. Again, to emphasize – all 30 clubs. Astonishing, really, for a league that has had two significant work stoppages, including the loss of an entire season. Other firsts include the first League Sustainability Report, issued in 2014 and the first league level Official Energy Provider with Constellation Energy. It doesn’t hurt that they have a passionate spokesman in Andrew Ference and another in former New York Ranger great, Mike Richter, who now runs a venture capital firm investing in clean technologies.
The next step will see how these very significant and substantive actions are translated to fans – and beyond.
Strategy synopsis: First mover with strong influence potential, several superstars, must lead strongly to keep pace
As with many things, the NFL has been a pioneer, and this is true on the sustainability front to some extent as well, with greening of the SuperBowl going back to 2000. Improving the environmental aspects of championships and all-star games is no mean feat, as they are moving feasts, with multiple venues, stakeholders and local regulations changing every time it comes around. Their focus has been in five key areas: solid waste management, material reuse, food recovery, sports equipment and book donations and greenhouse gas reduction. The man at the head of the parade is Jack Groh, Director of Environmental Sustainability for the NFL, who begins speaking with the host city and organizing committee up to three years ahead of the event to move the needle as much as possible with the various moving parts. And measure and report it each time. As of 2011, the league has also been addressing responsible management of its three primary offices in Manhattan, Culver City and Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The league also benefits from having one of the earliest pioneering teams in all of sports ‘greening’ in the Philadelphia Eagles. Their efforts date back to 2003 when building Lincoln Financial Field (where a guy by the name of Scott Jenkins was in charge). The Eagles are committed to becoming the first net positive sports facility, by generating more energy than they use. SuperBowl 49 was the first played under LED field lighting reducing the electricity demand there by 75% (and eliminating that tricky blackout problem). SuperBowl 50 has an even more broad-ranging plan with its dual commitment to sustainability and social impact, but these need to be showcased more prominently. In fact, the last 4 SuperBowls have made it a point to proclaim themselves loudly the ‘Greenest Super Bowl Ever’, bringing the topic front and center while millions are watching, fan and non-fan alike. The annual one-upmanship of this claim is a laudable practice under Mr. Groh’s leadership.
While the NFL may have been the earliest league onside, it has not been as aggressive as other leagues in pushing the ball down the field or in field coverage through stewardship of its franchises. Then again, they may well have the most difficult owners to wrangle.
Strategy synopsis: Read and react. Looking to the yeoman to report back.
The new kid on the block, and with many items to manage as the league continues to grow and develop, but to our minds the one with the most to gain, and the fan base most likely to reward their efforts and fully engage and amplify both team and sponsor messaging (18-34 year olds). While the league has a ‘Greener Goals’ designated initiative under its broader MLS Works community relations program, at present this is in transition while a number of new MLS partners settle in to their chosen activations.
In truth the league has learned it may be best to take its cues from the best practices that emerge from its teams and fortunately there are a fair few doing some terrific community-based work. The Portland Timbers #StandTogether Week is a terrific example of combining social and environmental measures with a week full of projects that has fans and non-fans alike working with players, front office and mascot on community improvement projects. Portland was also the site of the 2014 All-Star Game where a strong recycling initiative was on tap. The rival Sounders play in the very responsibly managed CenturyLink Field and have emulated their Cascadia rivals with their ImpactSeattle program, also focused on a series of community projects centered on a single week and partnered with existing non-profit organizations. These are smart in several ways – the single week enables the club to get player participation up and simplifies this for the players. It also provides the media with several options to provide profile. It helps the club manage the partner relationships & requests, and finally it provides a solid focal point for the supporter groups and the community-at-large to direct their energy and time. It’s easily incorporated into the clubs’ existing media buys as an ad ‘snipe’ or tag in radio and TV. Naturally the social media on the lead-up and in the activity capture is also easier to manage and more impactful.
The LA Galaxy are celebrating their 20th anniversary with the 20 for Twenty campaign, consisting of 20 community service projects focusing on human and environmental health over the course of the 2015 season.
The MLS would do well to take note of the simple, yet effective framework of these team initiatives: they leverage their more ‘accessible’ players’ willingness to go out into the community and the mobilization capacity and fanatical civic pride of their supporters groups to reach into the community providing both tangible service outcomes and connection to the casual and non-fans of the club. This is what we’d call a triple bottom line impact effort (social good, environmental gain and club ROI on marketing and likely sales).
We are the champions, my friends
So who’s winning? We all are for now, but you know you’re only as good as your last outing, so we look forward to reporting significant ball movement by all of these leagues heading into the 2016 Summit.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be going into greater detail on the actions of each of these leagues’ franchises in a framework that provides both an assessment and decently fair context for comparison. Hopefully, we’ll give you enough stats and insight to draft your fantasy green team.