News & Views

What to expect in 2019 at the intersection of purpose and sport

Nike is Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year

Nike is Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year

I predicted at the end of 2017 that the business of sport would make progress during 2018 in its move to purpose. 12 months on, it’s time to revisit these predictions to see how I did and highlight what to expect in 2019.

#1 : With 30% of the Top 100 Sponsorship spenders in the world being considered as purposeful brands, more and more sponsors will start to activate their purpose through their sports sponsorship platforms.

There was undoubtedly an increase in purposeful activation by sponsors during the year with Nike and Coca-Cola leading the way and showing that doing good while doing well through sport can be a lucrative strategy.

Nike’s latest iteration of it’s Just Do It campaign with Colin Kaepernick as headliner and also featuring Serena Williams and LeBron James firmly declared what the brand stands for by closely aligning with Kaepernick’s anti police brutality campaign. Nike’s “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just Do It.” tagline and supporting campaign is a great example of how to leverage purpose thoughtfully to drive win-win outcomes.

And Coca-Cola’s commitment to doing good through its sponsorship of the 2018 FIFA World Cup was also a strong move in the right direction. As part of the activation of its FIFA partnership, Coca-Cola partnered with Wallmart, One World Play Project and Jason Derulo to donate 100 000 One World Futbol’s to organizations around the world using soccer to improve people’s lives. 

Coca-Cola went a step further in linking its sponsorship to doing good by supporting football player Jimmy Durmaz when he was subject to a wave of racial hatred and threats on his Instagram after Sweden's loss to Germany in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Coca-Cola Sweden joined thousands of Swedes in showing support and taking a stand against racism in the viral campaign #backadurmaz.

#2 : With the B Corp movement emerging as a major force around the world, and under pressure from fans and sponsors, at least one major sports property will certify as a B Corp and set a new standard for doing good and doing well in the business of sport.

I got this one wrong. The B Corp movement still hasn’t been able to attract a sports property to join its ranks. This is surprising given how the B Corp community is growing – now +2600 companies strong across 150 industries – and how the B Movement is taking shape. 

For those of you reading this that don’t know what a B Corp is, Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.

As I reflect on this prediction I compromise that it is less important that sports properties become B Corps than it is that they embrace the opportunity and responsibility to leverage their powerful platforms to address the world’s biggest challenges. The successful United Bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup made great strides towards this opportunity as did Los Angeles’ successful bid for the 2028 Summer Olympics. Sustainability and a strong social legacy are central to both bids. The Volvo Ocean Race and Formula E are two other good examples of how sports properties can play an important role in society without compromising their shareholder obligations.

The mood during the closing panel discussion at the 2018 Beyond Sport and Sport United conference in New York also didn’t go unnoticed with representatives from the five big major sports leagues all confirming the growing relevance of the sport for good sector in their work and their role in society.

#3 : With an increasing number of sponsors and sports properties looking to increase their relevance to Millennial and Gen X fans, the role of non-profit organizations operating at the intersection of purpose and the business of sport will grow in importance.

There is definitely a growing confidence amongst the non profit community operating in the sports sector to leverage the business of sport to amplify their impact. Streetfootballworld’s initiative to provide the soccer community with a platform through which to do good – aptly called Common Goal – is a great example of this as is their partnership with EA Sports and their FIFA game.

Laureus USA’s expanded efforts during 2018 also signaled a heightened appetite to engage with the business of sport with their inaugural and hugely successful Laureus Summit and Sport For Good Fashion Shows being a big success and a sign of things to come from the ambitious non profit.

And the 26X26 consortium signaled the non profit sectors confidence in going it alone with their bold $30 million plan to leverage the occasion of the 2026 World Cup in the USA to, in the words of Fast Company magazine, make “USA Soccer Great Again” by driving positive social outcomes at a community level.

Another significant development during 2018 that I admittedly didn’t see coming was the rate at which athletes have stepped up their commitment to doing good while doing well. LeBron James’ “More Than An Athlete” World Tour and I Promise Schools initiative proved the power of this philosophy and the Athlete X Brand Summit in LA reinforced that this is the time for athletes to step up off the court and do more than just dribble.

So, what to expect this year?

Buoyed by Nike and Coca-Cola’s example, and under pressure from a growing segment of their customers, more sponsors will start leveraging their sponsorship investments in a purposeful way. Brands will be looking to partner with the sports properties they sponsor, relevant non profits and athletes as influencers to maintain their relevance in the communities within which they operate.

Under the growing expectations of fans and sponsors, more sports properties will start evolving beyond their traditional profits at all costs approach to join the broader global movement of people using business as a force for good.

Inspired by the example of the likes of LeBron James and Steph Curry, more athletes will start recognizing the potential they have to leverage their platforms to make the world a better place while also building the value of their personal brands.

And most excitedly, sports led Non Profit organizations will at last start to play a meaningful role as they put their individual interests aside and start collaborating with each other and with sponsors, sports properties and athletes to deliver collective impact at scale around shared missions that address important social and environmental challenges.

2019 is going to be an exciting year for those of us that believe in the power of the business of sport to do good and do well. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.