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Try Not to Suck (A few ideas for your environmental messaging)

In a past blog, we discussed how many very progressive brands are still not using their sports marketing platforms to share their environmental values, instead burying them in the annual sustainability report.

But maybe we should take a step back first, and look at sustainability messaging in general, before we dive into embedding it into any specific marketing medium.

Because frankly, sustainability messaging has typically sucked.

No, really. It has literally been about as enthralling as being asked to turn off the lights when you leave the room.


Many environmental ads in particular have worked from the premise that you simply need to educate folks and they’ll change their behavior. “If they only understood the consequences, they’d do the right thing!”. But to educate someone, you need their attention first.

And in the era of unlimited data packages and fidget-spinners, that’s a challenge.

So what needs to happen here?

In our overflowing-with-bad-news days, we could all use a little lift. So here are a few tips for making your environmental and social campaigns a little catchier.






You catch more flies with honey than vinegar (though according to a lot of amateurs on the web hasn’t proven to be true). What IS true is that people gravitate to positive people, vibrant colors and upbeat music. So if you want to capture their initial attention so you can share your message, be sure you’re getting off on the right foot. Fairy tales don’t open the story in the deep, dark forest.



The Philadelphia Eagles get a little cheeky at Lincoln Financial Field


An analog of the above. Has anyone ever said ‘I absolutely cannot use a laugh right now’?  (Seriously? Try to spend less time with that friend – they’re bringing you down, man.) A laugh will always put you in the ‘W’ column. And when the Ws accumulate, you have a winning record.



We have all – sadly – lost our ability to process the written word (yes, even you. Admit it – your eyes went to the images in this post first and more than once since you started reading it). That’s okay. We were built to process visually in the first place. Visuals evoke feelings. Visuals stay with us. So work with that.



Credit: World Wildlife Fund

If I can see myself in your story, then I could potentially be the protagonist of the story. While I admire Jane Goodall, I can’t see myself becoming Jane Goodall. But I’m probably not as connected / affected as you’d like. But if I see some way to be a hero….well, who doesn’t want that? Which

brings me to my next point.



This is a corollary of Relatable.

Connect the dots for me as to how my individual action fuels a larger impact – and try to be as proximate as possible, i.e. show me where I am the link in the chain, show me how the chain lifts the  ship’s anchor, then show me the ship sailing off into the world.   Whew…that’s an awkward metaphor.  You’ll do better, I’m sure.

But seriously, if you want me to conserve energy at my house, show me (visually) how my small action makes a difference in my community, my country and then the world (in that order). Once you’ve gotten my attention by being funny, that is.


Make a Clear, Reasonable Ask

To close the sale, finish with a solid ask. Preferably one within reach of your customer.

Have you noticed how foundations went from asking for donations to asking for more specific dollar amounts related those to actual items? (Buy someone a goat!) Voila, hella goats.

We have 37 media streams coming at us everyday.  We’re getting plenty of asks (Buy me! Like Me! Share Me! And of course, Save the Whales!)

If your message has managed to do all of the above, then Holy Moses, close the sale with a clear, preferably immediate, action-oriented ask. By immediate, I suggest you leverage those unlimited data packages and ‘empower’ me through my cellphone. You know THAT’S within reach..


‘Wow. Great.’ You say. How am I supposed to do all that? Well, as it happens, I brought along a little example that totally fits the bill (not to mention the title of this post).

Shout out to the Lonely Whale Foundation / Carla Sparks


And since I’ve gotten your attention and made you laugh, here’s my ask:  STOP SUCKING!    (yes, click on it)

We’d love to hear your comments on this post. If you’ve got a great example(s) to share, please do.

And if you feel your messaging can use a kick in the pants, give me a call. I live for this stuff.


  • Aileen



Dear Conference Organizer


Please don’t keep me in the dark.  And other hints to create a genuinely valuable experience.

It’s that time of year that many of us look out at the vast array of conferences (have these quadrupled in the last 5 years or is it just me?), and decide where to spend our time, energy and budget connecting with our peers.

While some people dread them, I love conferences – interesting conversations with great people doing cool things. Or sharing crazy client stories.

Connecting with people is the reason I go. But sometimes I feel the conference organizer loses sight of that. So, I thought I’d share some insights from the perspective of a veteran, and sometimes weary attendee.

I’ve roughly grouped them by time and space (the two things I have granted you in good faith for the next 3 days):



The most precious of commodities for all of us.  Conferences cost big blocks of time away from the office and family. Make people glad they chose to spend it on your event:

Networking time

Build it in. This is the primary reason for most people to physically go to a conference. Even for many speakers devoting their time. If we cannot interact, we may as well be watching a livestream of the event. 15-minute breaks typically allow for 1- 2 of these: a bathroom visit, grabbing a bite to maintain your energy, responding to something time-sensitive from the office or checking in at home. They typically don’t accommodate a conversation. Event organizers are ‘conveners’ –  purposefully schedule generous time specifically aimed at fostering spontaneous conversations.

And protect it. You’ve created an agenda. Stick to it. Ensure your emcees, moderators and speakers stick to it. Put together a guide and reinforce with all of them that you will stay on schedule, if that involves cutting a microphone, you’ll do it.

I’ve observed drama among ‘stage-managers’ when timing runs over but the concern seems more for how their boss will bark at them than for the actual impact, namely disrupts dozens to hundreds of attendees’ schedules, steamrollering over much-need breaks and pushing the end of the day beyond human limits.  Again, likely causing folks to bail out on end of day networking receptions because they are just spent.


Content is not always king. More is not always better.

Even with sufficient networking time & breaks scheduled, it’s still possible to over-do the content of your conference.  Conferences that used to be 1.5 – 2 days have now stretched to 4 (“We just have SO much to cover!” one organizer recently exclaimed.) Yes, but how much do you think we can take in? Have you ever had a hard time figuring out the difference between Track 1 – session A and Track 4 – Session F?  You’re not alone. They are the same topic. Different sponsors, though. Those extra 2 days are to cover promises made. Yet you seem to be the one paying for it.

Marathon Programming

I recently attended an event that had a 4-hour stretch with no scheduled break. 4 hours. Think about how you are stressing an audience with this kind of marathon programming block. Especially if they are sitting mid-row (see Breathing Room below).  You’re also forcing me to walk out on a speaker to take a break – and once I’m up I don’t want to climb back in and make a ruckus, so I’ll just hang outside until they’re done. Were they a big sponsor of the event? Oops, I may have given the impression they weren’t that interesting. Really, I just had a leg cramp.

Programming sins create attendee burnout. If I’m spending 4 days with you now, I may only come every second or third year.

(feel free to take a break here….I understand)

Poor Moderation

This deserves its own post – but briefly: Coach…no, INSTRUCT, your moderators to take a journalist mentality. And I mean a real, old-school journalist who understands they are not the story.  They should research, prepare questions and pre-interview each panelist. They should hold a group call to prepare the full panel for the flow of the conversation. Part 1 of the job is to bring out candid insights and relatable learnings from the panel for the audience. Part 2 is to facilitate the audience’s interaction with the panel. NOT to co-opt the audience’s opportunity to ask questions. The audience has their own questions. And they outnumber you. So statistically speaking, they’re probably more interesting than the moderator’s. They are also more likely to call attention to a point that wasn’t made clearly or a question that wasn’t satisfactorily answered earlier.  Have a quiver of questions ready if the audience doesn’t bring them, and of course get the ball rolling with an opening Q for the Q & A, but don’t dominate the Q&A time with your own questions. That was part 1.

Also, give your moderators some tips and tools (possibly including a cattle prod) to reel in the wayward, rambling panelist. I certainly wish I’d had one recently for a guest who if I didn’t know better began to recite the company’s annual report from memory when asked to briefly introduce himself. I apologized profusely to the other panelists who suffered that graciously. Lesson learned. Passing it along.

Okay, that wasn’t all that brief. Feel free to take another break. I will not be offended at all.


Facilitate Pre- / Post-Conference Networking

The best conferences have a killer app. One was so killer, it’s still on my phone 2 years later. I even transferred it from an old phone to a new one. Talk about staying relevant. There are great support apps out there, they don’t cost that much and it’s an infinitely sponsorable asset with staying power (2 years! 2 phones!). What to look for/include?

  • All attendees are pre-loaded, preferably with their LinkedIn profile and optimally with an in-app messaging option.
  • Conference schedule is detailed (full conference description, speaker bios) and users can build their own schedule within it. (some allow attendees to rate the session right after they end)
  • Embed the social media stream for the conference in the app and allow users to directly link their accounts to encourage interaction and user-generated content.
  • Include links to local info and utilitarian apps (Yelp, Uber, etc.)

Other pre- and post-bonuses? If you’re a conference organizer, I know you have a killer email list. Use it. Find out why I’m coming – what do I hope to achieve, and then suggest how I can best accomplish that at your conference. Too many attendees you say? Well, there are probably about 4-5 key reasons, so you can group them. And really? I’m going to spend $1500-2000 and 3-4 days of my time on you and you can’t spend 5 – 10 minutes on me. Well, I know where we stand then, I guess.

Prompt attendees post-conference on ways to capitalize on conversations they had at the event.  This can be a mass email (but with any skill it will not be addressed ‘Dear Attendee’ – that just hurts).

The best organizers make me feel that they are truly interested in my business success all year, not just my annual registration fee.



Heart of Darkness

Typically, the plenary room is pitch black. ‘All the better to see the slides, my dear’, you say. Yes…..well…. Two things I can’t see? My notebook to take notes on your session, and my fellow attendees. The plenaries are my only opportunity to see who else is in attendance. (Unless you created that killer app).  Notice how often speakers also joke about not being able to see anyone in the audience? Yeah. Lighten up.


Conferences come in 2 forms – icebox and oven. And despite this being the number one topic in every on-site washroom, are almost never adjusted. I really don’t need to elaborate here. Just work on it. Preferably during the conference. Ideally on Day 1.

Breathing Room

We all know sitting is the new smoking. I appreciate that space is at a premium (we’ve all seen hotels’ conference rates- harrowing), but you are in the interactive learning business, not the institutional torture business.  People will hang at the back because they arrive late, need to leave early or simply can’t do long stretches of sitting. Try to set up the space to plan for that, rather than forcing dozens of folks to hug the wall and feel awkward doing it. This also helps avoid 3 days of tension between your AV people and attendees.

Avoid setting 60-seat wide rows in the plenary sessions (excuse me, pardon me, whoops, sorry!) with knee-space for the vertically-challenged.  Especially if you plan to pin folks there for up to 4 hours in a row. Yikes.  Set the seats up a few inches apart from one another – not linked together like business-clad chain gang. Since you’ve endowed us with attendee bags, we have our own stuff and we’ve got our winter coats on to survive (see Temperature above), we need a little elbow room.

If you want to get extra jiggy, curve the rows set-up so I might see the faces of others in my row. When I’m forced to sit face-front, rod-straight it takes me back to the days of awaiting my turn in the principal’s office.


OK, getting down to the nitty-gritty here, but remember you are holding me captive for several days. Snack breaks, like Temperature, also seem to come in 2 extreme forms: sugar-bombings and vegan, gluten-free, bunker-ready breakfast bars. (I go to a lot of environmental conferences). But just one or the other. <sigh>

Again, try to consider the attendee’s plight. Sleepy. Out of synch with their normal time zone. Sequestered.

Don’t skimp here (again, I revisit the $1500-2K price tag) and put some thoughtful choices out. May I suggest, a mix of fresh fruit and packaged snacks – both of which can be recovered and donated if not eaten, as well as a few more indulgent doses of sucrose. It is difficult to meet everyone’s expectations, but try and at least make the attempt. Sometimes I see that sad platter of cookies and can almost hear the words ‘What else can we cut from the budget?’. When that question comes up, I suggest you take another look at the Agenda, Day 4.



Back in the day (circa 2006) only 1 conference I attended that had a price tag north of $1K. And it was in New York, had quite a high profile and no doubt much higher per-attendee costs. Back then there were only about a half-dozen conferences I’d consider each year. Budgeting time and money was much easier then and I typically managed to make 4-5 of them.

Now I’m lucky to see offerings where ‘early-bird’ registration is under $2K. Before airfare and hotel.  And I’m bombarded with promos for at least 25-30 options per year. I haven’t yet increased my hours on the planet (or my budget) five-fold.  So hard choices need to be made.

Cost is never my primary issue. If I feel it’s worth it, I’ll be there. But I’m not too keen to pay you the big bucks to torture me for 3-4 days.


Conclusion   (Thank God, right? You’ve spent half a conference reading this now)

Think hard about your attendees needs.

I’m looking for equal parts personal conversations and learning. If your event isn’t interactive I can just catch a webinar. Much lower carbon footprint and my family will be happy I’m home.

Everyone’s Time is Valuable

Use the time attendees’ have granted you respectfully – from agenda to event management. ROI on their time investment should be top of mind in your planning and execution. It’s far more important than ROI on the registration fee.

Create a Special Place

Curate the conference space as carefully as the content, to allow the latter to truly shine, foster the best possible outcomes and realize many happy returns.


So, dear conference organizer, I look forward to seeing you this year. And maybe even the next year, too.


Fellow travelers, I’d love to hear what you love, hate and would change about the conferences you attend.

Organizers, if you know I’ve attended your conference and wonder what I thought about it, get in touch.






Come Together : the 2016 Manifesto (part one)

beatles-come together

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.   


Beatles cartoon1

One and One




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.

Right Now. 

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.








Where the 2015 Women’s World Cup Missed the Net

money soccer cash dollar bills currency bills football ball manmade_wallpaperswa.com_31

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

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.


Economic Impact

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.

FIFA merch streetvendor03_300

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.





Major League Sports’ Magic Number Is 3

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’.

Team Effort

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.




NBA logo


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.

Puck-Bettmann quote


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.




Best and Worst of Green Sports in 2014

David SuzukiPhoto:


The Green-Sports movement not only grew in 2014, it matured. Yes, the growth came from new LEED Certified stadia/arenas and from many more Zero-Waste games. Maturity comes from the fact that greening is increasingly the rule rather than the exception. With this maturity comes responsibility. In 5T Sports Blog’s case, our responsibility is to offer our readers a Best/Worst of Green-Sports, 2014.

While this is our first run at calling out these examples, we’d appreciate your feedback.  Maybe next year we can entice



The National Hockey League (NHL) broke new ground with the issuance of the first-ever sustainability report sanctioned by a North American sports league.  You really should read it. The report is rigorous–it measured the league’s CO2 footprint from Scope 1 (direct), Scope 2 (indirect) and even some hard-to-get-at Scope 3 (other indirect) emissions, like NHL League and Club business air travel, as well as waste disposal at NHL arenas and offices. And, as the saying goes, “what gets measured gets managed”: Measured league Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions declined 28% from the 2011-2012 to 2012-2013 season!




JedTweetonLEED Gold

Owner Jed York Walks the Talk


While the 49ers have been a disappointment on the field, at least that less than stellar play has taken place at our Greenest New Stadium. Levi’s Stadium, the club’s new LEED Gold home  in Santa Clara, which opened in August, gets major plaudits for its green roof, recycling 86% of its water, on-site solar, access to mass transit and many other greening features. That greenness, which has set the bar for all new stadia going forward, will be on display for the world to see when Levi’s Stadium hosts Super Bowl 50 in February, 2016.



OSU ZeroWaste Icon 

Ohio State University (or, to Buckeyes fans, THE Ohio State University) will play in the first-ever college football playoffs on New Year’s Day vs. Alabama. That is a big deal. Perhaps an even bigger deal (or to Buckeyes fans, a close second) is that Ohio State’s 7 home football games this season were all Zero-Waste –which means they diverted  90% or more of the waste from the landfill, produced by over 106,000 fans at Ohio Stadium (aka The Horseshoe).




New Braves

Artist’s rendering of an aerial view of the Atlanta Braves new home stadium, SunTrust Park. Located in suburban Cobb County and scheduled to open in 2017, SunTrust Park will not be served by the MARTA light rail/subway system. (Photo Credit: CBS Sports)


What were the Atlanta Braves thinking? I’m not talking about the artist’s rendering of their planned new stadium, SunTrust Park, scheduled to open in 2017, showing the Braves losing on the scoreboard ( Honest mistake, that.


No, what garners the Braves this unwanted but deserved award is that the club decided to buck the trend of building stadia and arenas in urban areas, close to mass transit. Instead, they are moving to the suburbs, in Cobb County northeast of downtown Atlanta, next to the confluence of two already super-crowded highways, I-85 and I-285. There will be bus access to the new ballpark and maybe a trolley line. Unfortunately, the MARTA light rail system does not go anywhere near the stadium. When one considers that transportation is, by far, the largest source of carbon emissions associated with sports events, one has to think that Braves management either didn’t factor sustainability/the environment into their decision on the stadium site. Or they did think about it and decided it’s not a big deal. I’m not sure which is worse.


And the thing is, the club’s current downtown home, Turner Field, is at least somewhat close to a MARTA line . It is a 20-minute walk from the closest stop to the ballpark, true. But there are frequent shuttles that take fans to the stadium from the station.


If the Braves were interested in greening, they would’ve built their new stadium closer to MARTA, not further away. But greening seems not to be part of their stadium site calculation, or, to be part of any of the club’s calculations, as there is nothing about sustainability on their new stadium website. Wait, they do list “lack of consistent mass transit”  as a reason for leaving Turner Field, yet they go to a place where there are fewer mass transit options (maybe they are more reliable? Who knows). Yikes! The Braves clearly have earned their LEAST GREEN NEW STADIUM PROJECT designation!




Photo: Stefan Krasowski

Photo: Stefan Krasowski


The Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia this February easily won this award. The Sochi Organizing Committee and their enablers at the IOC made grand proclamations about the greenness of the Games in the run up to the Opening Ceremonies. The reality? Uh, well, let’s just say if the Sochi Olympics were green, I’d hate to see what a brown Olympics would’ve looked like.


To see the emptiness of Sochi’s green promises, click on this Time Magazine  story. Or this from The Guardian. Or this one from GreenSportsBlog . You get the idea.




Dale Vince, Chairman of Forest Green Rovers, Stroud, England. (Photo Credit: Forest Green Rovers)

The Greening of Forest Green Rovers (FGR), a soccer/football club in England’s 5th level (the baseball equivalent would be A-League or Rookie League ball) is not the Biggest Green Sports Story of the Year but it’s certainly the Best. Club Chairman and “Zerocarbonista” Dale Vince also owns Ecotricity, an innovative clean energy/energy efficiency company based in Stroud, England.

Vince has taken Ecotricity’s disruptive, anything-green-is-possible ethos and applied it to the operations of FGR . From the first ever meat-free concessions menu in sports to searching for lighting technologies more efficient than LEDs, from the world’s first organic pitch/field to electric vehicles for all of the players, Vince and FGR are demonstrating that what the sports world thought was green is not green enough. Going forward, Vince is looking to take the FGR approach to bigger clubs. That’s a story for 2015. For 2014, Vince and Forest Green Rovers is, without doubt, the Best Green Sports Story of the Year.


And a shout-out to Dr. David Suzuki, whose incredible Blue Dot Tour inspired the citizens across Canada to ‘engage’ on behalf of our common future.  Perhaps we can enlist him as a presenter next year — or as the model for the ‘5T Greenies’ Award Statuettes …….



Where Schools Aspire to… Nothing

The biggest news in college sports in 2014-2015 will no doubt be the brand new 4-team playoff system at the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) level. Another story that merits significant attention is that the Zero-Waste Movement (i.e. diverting 90% or more of waste from landfill via recycling and composting) is gaining real traction at stadia and arenas across the country.  We take a look at 3 schools moving towards the Zero-Waste route this season:



Leveraging Social Media for Security & Guest Safety

Much of the buzz around social media in sports has been largely marketing & media centered, with teams pushing out their promotions, shoring up ticket sales and getting the latest game day lineups out.  The teams using social channels for sales are still at the vanguard, believe it or not.

 But the utility of social for security & guest relations is pretty well untapped.  The availability of inexpensive, off-the-shelf solutions to know who’s in the building and what they’re talking about is right at safety personnel’s fingertips.