How Adding Purpose to Sport Amplifies ROI

Sport is not just a game. It’s big business. Sport is at the center of globalization and new technologies. Sport is the lifeblood of broadcast and cable networks.


Sport apps, video games, fantasy leagues and big data are fueling the growth of new media and new delivery channels. Most interestingly, sport is increasingly being used as a tool for social progress.

The link between sport and social progress can be found in two of the most important trends in business today; social media and corporate social responsibility, or what we at IEG call corporate social opportunity.

People seek brands that deliver both great value and great values. As such it makes good business sense for companies to communicate their values. Sport — with its built-in fan base, extensive media coverage and attention-grabbing athletes — is the highest profile channel through which companies can promote their values.

One early example is from 2008, when Hublot became the first luxury brand to sponsor football. Rather than use football to build awareness of its brand, Hublot used football to build awareness of its values. The company gave all of its signage to a nonprofit organization working to stomp racism out of football. As awareness of Hublot ‘s campaign grew, so too did its sales.

Hublot’s bold decision to establish a visible partnership between Unite Against Racism and UEFA allowed the issue at hand to sit firmly in the forefront of people’s minds, centered as it was, on TVs and tablets across the globe.

Beyond donations, awareness and conversation, brands are in a unique position to trigger significant shifts in behavior, with the potential to leave a legacy of positive change long after a sporting event is over.

For the London 2012 Olympic Games, Coca-Cola, a world leader in integrating corporate social agenda and sports partnerships, made sustainability one of its primary goals. It recycled all clear plastic waste at the Games and turned it into new Coke bottles, which were back on the shelves within six weeks.

To achieve this, Coca-Cola built the largest food-grade plastic recycling facility in Western Europe to date. It also invested heavily in biogas trucks to deliver products for the London games. None of this could have happened without its Olympic partnership.

The Beat Fleet was a part of Coca-Cola’s sustainability initiatives at the London Olympic Games

Sponsorship activities like those undertaken by Hublot and Coca-Cola, illustrate a clear link acting as a catalyst for mobilizing action with environmental and social benefits extending well beyond the confines of the Games themselves.

Purposeful Rightsholders

Purpose is as relevant to sports rightsholders — the leagues, teams, events, broadcasters, and athletes — as it is to their corporate partners.

With sports news so often focusing on negative features such as match fixing, violence, racism, doping and more, the power of sport needs to be delivered through a new narrative.

For example, in response to a survey showing 82 percent of the French population had a negative opinion of the national football team, the French Football Federation created a program to connect unemployed fans with sponsor companies.

A Brazilian professional football team, Sport Club Recife, known for having some of the most passionate football fans in the country, launched a program sponsored by Ogilvy Brazil called “Immortal Fans” in order to combat the lack of organ donors in the country. Within the first year, the number of available hearts for transplants had quadrupled and the waiting list for corneal transplants had all but disappeared.

“Immortal Fans”

Purpose Pays

Linking an organization’s activities to the improvement of lives and to the positive societal impact it can have amplifies the ROI of any sports partnership.

Shakira — La La La (Brazil 2014)

The most viewed ad around the 2014 FIFA World Cup was Shakira’s “La La La (Brazil 2014),” which featured her partnership with Danone’s Activia yogurt in support of the World Food Programme’s School Meals initiative.

Team USA: Chobani

Chobani, sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team, incorporated opposition to Russia’s anti-gay laws into its packaging and creative during the Sochi 2014 Winter Games. Its visible support of human rights provided a point of differentiation and measurably increased purchase consideration, according to YouGov BrandIndex.

Lloyds Bank Local Heroes

Research by Lloyds, official bank of London 2012, revealed that customers aware of its Olympic partnership were 40 percent more likely to recommend the bank, but customers aware of its Olympic tie as well as its community oriented activities tied to the Games, Lloyds Local Heroes, were 60 percent more likely to recommend Lloyds.

Purpose can take many forms — breaking down barriers for disabled athletes and normalizing views on disabled sport, combatting childhood obesity, empowering disadvantaged communities, and more.

What they all have in common is a new approach to driving shareholder value, a shift from marketing to service, from pushing messages out to drawing people in by making a positive difference — to individuals, communities, and the planet.

Sport enthusiasts and stakeholders should address the social value associated with what they are doing as there is a cause-and-effect relationship between financial performance and a sense of purpose. Simply put, brands that mean more make more.

People connect with products and services that speak to powerful emotional drivers and give meaning to purchasing decisions or strengthen loyalty to a team or club.

So how are you working to help make the world a better place through sport?

Lesa Ukman is the founder and chief insights officer of IEG. With the launch of IEG Sponsorship Report in 1982, she created a publication that defined an industry now worth more than $53 billion. IEG is a partner of the Doha GOALS Forum.