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Volume 23 No. 13
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Sport sponsorship can play larger role in driving social change

Sport ignites conversation about the world’s most pressing matters. Its grand stage not only illuminates the on-field prowess of elite athletes, but also the off-field issues challenging our society. In the past year alone, we’ve seen myriad societal concerns intertwine with global sport, from the cost and sustainability of the 2014 World Cup, to domestic violence at the center of the NFL season, to LGBT activism around the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, to A-Rod’s doping scandal, to the rising worldwide physical inactivity crisis. Sport not only opens greater discussion of these problems, but it’s increasingly becoming a tool to help find the solutions as well.

Nelson Mandela said in 2000 at the Laureus World Sport Awards, “Sport has the power to change the world, it has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, speaking of his Agenda 2020 goals, recently echoed Mandela’s sentiments by pointing to the importance of our collective responsibility, noting: “Sport can change the world, but it cannot change the world alone. When placing sport at the service of humankind, we need and we want partnerships with other players in society.”

While there’s no doubt that many of us feel strongly about sport’s unique ability to affect positive social change, the key question of the moment is, How do we better leverage the billions of dollars spent globally on sport sponsorship to drive more positive impact?

In North America alone, $21.4 billion is the projected sponsorship spend for 2015. That’s a staggering figure. Of that total, approximately 70 percent will be spent on sport. Imagine if sponsors took a small percentage of that money and redirected it toward programs that use sport to drive societal good. Better yet, what if it could be done in a way that also delivered bottom-line benefit?

Enter ‘sport for development’

“Sport for development,” as we define it, is the use of sport as a tool to drive social impact goals and address development issues within a society. Sometimes this space has been referred to as “sport for good” or “sport for change,” among other titles.

We know that sport for development works, but what we can’t yet figure out is why more sponsor brands don’t understand the value it can create for both their companies and the communities in which they operate. Sport for development presents a perfect opportunity for shared value.

Mercedes-Benz USA’s Northeast Region team joins BMX champion Jamie Bestwick (left) and students from the program I Challenge Myself in New York City last month.
The concept of shared value is nothing new in the business world. Michael Porter, one of the world’s foremost business strategy and management scholars, defined shared value as “creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges.” We believe sport for development represents global sport’s best version of shared value.

By ingraining sport for development components into activations, brands can positively affect global developmental and societal challenges. Just as importantly, they can simultaneously enable their sponsorship spends to lift their brand reputation scores, vividly promote company values, create new dialogue with public sector officials, and engage directly with socially and environmentally conscious customers and consumers.

Going beyond CSR

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become widely adopted across all industries and has accomplished an immense amount of good, yet in most companies, traditional sport marketing and CSR rarely co-create. More often than not, sport marketing campaigns tack on a late-stage cause campaign or a charitable donation to the brand’s much more complex sponsorship of a major sport initiative. Though this is a positive move, it is far from maximizing the opportunity and creating shared value. We aspire for an industry that consistently moves beyond short-term cause campaigns and one-off donations, as typically these are made with little thought to lasting impact.

Sport for development provides a robust opportunity for the CSR and sport marketing teams to collaborate in effecting significant and long-term change through sport, and to focus this change on issues that the company truly cares about. This requires a greater commitment from a brand — organizationally, strategically and from a resource perspective — but the impact can yield far greater returns for both the business and the targeted community.

Next steps

Sport for development is a relatively young concept. There is a lack of information and familiarity with this concept, especially at the C-level. As we aim to increase the dialogue, the question for much of the industry becomes, What does a sport for development program look like for brands willing to commit?
Since 2012, Mercedes-Benz USA and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA have worked together to support sport for development programs reaching youth in underserved neighborhoods of 30 major U.S. cities, many in communities where Mercedes-Benz operates. The joint effort has encouraged and supported in-school and after-school programs that increase youth activity to fight obesity and teach good coaching and sportsmanship. The program combines Mercedes-Benz’s long-standing tradition of community support and investment in sports to create impactful change in young people’s lives.

We think there are a few easy steps that brands can take to begin embracing sport for development as part of the sponsorship strategy:

1. Ask the question: Are your sport sponsorships allowing you a chance to create shared value?

2. Design collaboration between your sport marketing and corporate social responsibility teams. When the sport budget intersects with the brand values, significant change can happen, both inside and outside of the company.

3. Explore established partners. There are dozens of impressive nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (as well as some properties that have been doing great work in the space) that have the on-the-ground executional experience needed for success. By supporting them with corporate resources, brands can quickly get active in this space.

As sport increasingly becomes a crucial lever on the global agenda, we ask sport business professionals and brand marketers worldwide to consider how a small percentage of your company’s sponsorship dollars can be better aligned to make the change that will truly advance our society as a whole.

Edwin Moses (, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 400-meter hurdles, is chairman of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA. Dave Mingey ( is president and founding partner of GlideSlope.

For further information on guest columns in Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, please contact Betty Gomes at (704) 973-1439 or