SBJ/Oct. 7-13, 2013/In Depth

Sports marketing carries the message of green-friendly living and its benefits

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

On paper and beyond, the Portland Timbers embrace their name and the green-friendly region they call home.

Look no further than Jeld-Wen Field, the Major League Soccer franchise’s home field. Oregon-based Jeld-Wen makes and sells doors and windows, which, of course, requires wood. As for the Timbers, the team name derives from the main industry responsible for building the Northwest.

All of which inspired the naming-rights company and the soccer team to form a partnership with nonprofit Friends of Trees. Since 2011, the Timbers, Jeld-Wen and Friends of Trees have planted a tree for every goal the team scores.

Portland Timbers forward Darlington Nagbe tags a newly planted tree.
Photo by: Craig Mitcheldyer / Portland Timbers
“Like any sports team, we reflect our community,” said Mike Golub, Timbers chief operating officer. “We represent the fans who support us. And the ethos of our city is green and sustainable.”

Portland serves as one of the most prominent examples of a trend gaining momentum across leagues and franchises: using sports marketing relationships to tell the story and benefits of green-friendly living at home and at work.

NASCAR hosted former vice president and “An Inconvenient Truth” Academy Award-winner Al Gore at its annual green summit this year. This in a sport where most of the drivers and executives lean far to the right of the Democrat who sounded the environmental alarm long before it became mainstream.

Executives with companies, leagues and teams say green campaigns have come far enough that politics need not be involved. Instead, the messages center on nonthreatening themes of leaving the world cleaner and better for future generations and saving money and waste in the present while doing good.

Consider the work of NASCAR and Coca-Cola. The soft drink company concentrates on 28 race weekends in the Sprint Cup Series each year. With 10,000 Coke-provided recycling bins at the speedways, the company keeps 5 million bottles and cans out of landfills, said Mary Anne Biddiscombe, Coca-Cola recycling director of customer solutions and consumer education.

Recycling ties into Coke’s business, to be sure, but the sports-related campaigns go beyond urging fans to keep plastic and cans out of the trash. Several years ago, the company started working with its hometown baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, to raise awareness of the uses for recycled PET plastic drink bottles. That plastic makes carpet, Dri-Fit shirts and other apparel. At Turner Field, the Braves’ home field, stadium workers wear shirts and other clothes made from recycled bottles, a point emphasized with a logo on the sleeve.

The Philadelphia Eagles, with an emphasis on reducing waste and energy costs at Lincoln Financial Field, stand out
Coca-Cola has provided 10,000 recycling bins at NASCAR speedways.
Photo by: NASCAR
among teams as environmentally sensitive. Most franchises long ago started promoting with local and regional utilities the benefits of saving and reducing the use of electricity and water, for example. The Eagles are no exception, but to take that message further, Lincoln Financial Field includes 14 wind turbines and more than 11,000 solar panels installed in partnership with NRG.

Sports executives and marketing experts say the biggest shift in the sustainability push involves broader green campaigns aimed at raising awareness and action on a number of environmental fronts.

Greg Busch, executive vice president at GMR Marketing, sees more room for expansion. Busch attended the most recent conference of the Green Sports Alliance, an organization that provides a forum for sports industry executives to swap ideas on sustainability.

Companies with business interests in the environment (utilities, recycling firms and so on) and those with related ties (Coke, Waste Management) already use sports in effective ways. “But to fans it hasn’t become external-facing,” Busch said of making an even stronger case between conservation and benefits. “What’s in it for us? Does it put a better product on the floor?”

Others also see ample room for conveying the green mentality. For example, when a corporate sponsor hands out product samples at a stadium, arena or other team-related event, the “massive sampling should be doing some massive recycling,” said Adam Zimmerman, marketing president at CSE.

From mobile tours to stand-alone events, Zimmerman sees more involvement in the initial talks and planning with company experts in sustainability and recycling. Such shifts in thinking make for more effective environmental elements in all aspects of marketing and sponsorship.

Companies more often are making sure they share any potential benefits and savings with their sports partners. Zimmerman points to Southern Co., a PGA Tour partner, which works with the tour to increase its energy efficiency.

Office Depot, part of the Green Sports Alliance, in 2012 started an annual $5,000 green makeover for one team or property. The Timbers won the first makeover, upgrading to greener supplies (copiers, pens, paper and so on) and adding The HON Co.’s eco-conscious office furniture. Beyond those changes, the office-supply retailer took advantage of Portland’s bike-friendly culture and began using a bicycle delivery company to shuttle supplies from Office Depot to the stadium, reducing the carbon footprint.

Molly Ray, environmental solutions manager at Office Depot, said the Timbers understood the benefits right away.

“I don’t have to tell them green’s important — they live it,” she said. “If I’m working with the Cleveland Indians or the Pittsburgh Steelers, it might be a little different conversation. … But you don’t have to be the greenest person in the world. [It’s about taking a] step in the right direction.”

Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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