It’s all a bit shit isn’t it? Corruption at FIFA, financial impropriety at the IAAF, government-sponsored doping in Russia and an IOC cop-out in response. The New Yorker even talks of the “crisis of idealism” caused by doping at the Olympics, and Campaign magazine questions the negative impact on sponsors.
You’d think that people would start to lose their faith in sport and stop watching in their billions and focus on that Pokemon Go score. But there are no signs of that, with the Olympics and Paralympics on its way, we look set to have another record global TV audience for the games and we’ve recently seen the largest ever Olympic TV deal struck by NBC for broadcast rights for the games through to 2020.
The reason is that sport is still entertaining, exhilarating and inspiring in equal measure. You can find all of humanity on the field of play. Strength and weakness. Heroism and cowardice. Daring and folly. Brotherhood and selfishness. Sport is a pillar of human civilisation. It is one of the defining characteristics of our species. Sport lights up the lives of billions of people and has their attention, and devotion. Sport is innately emotional, inherently social and uniquely democratic.
So sport ought to be better served by the business, organizations and governing bodies that profit from it. Greg Nugent talked last week about the sense of public ownership that we all felt in the UK during the 2012 games, and how the business model of the games makes it difficult to foster that feeling. And that’s true of all sport. It is becoming harder and harder to see sport as ours rather than theirs. And that is criminal because sport only exists at all because of the spirit of two kids in a park putting jumpers down and kicking a ball. That is where all sport and sports people come from; from something pure, and naïve and honourable. Sport business should recognize that cultural and spiritual debt to the public more readily than it does.
“We swear that we are taking part in the Olympic Games as loyal competitors, observing the rules governing the Games, and anxious to show a spirit of chivalry, for the honor of our countries and for the glory of sport.” Victor Boin, 1920 Summer Olympic Games
And so given the terrible state of affairs at the top of sport, there is opportunity for sponsors to prize their role in funding sporting activity and role in repaying that debt, not just in their ability to reach an audience. Just look at how Sky have transformed the performance of road cycling in Britain. They rightly welcomed Froome and team back from the Tour de France at their HQ as their own heroes. They showed what a committed sponsor can do for a sport.
And it is easy for anyone to make some steps in that direction with our marketing spend, and indeed many of us try to. We can try to make sure our activation, our experiential activity or our ads have some sort of utility or entertainment value. We can try to make sure that it enhances the fan experience in some way rather than merely trying to justify the brand’s involvement with a lofty voice over.
But we could go further. The activities of sponsorship are impoverished by the crude focus on “equivalent media value” and an attitude of “getting value”. That’s the approach of a parasite. What about transformational impact instead? What about give in order to receive? What about creating value? Why couldn’t every sponsor insist that a percentage of every sponsorship dollar go towards grass roots participation, towards high performance expertise, towards scholarships and bursaries, towards anti – doping projects? Rather than just handing over a cheque and chucking a few logos about. It could become a mandatory part of the every deal. Maybe we could call it the “One percent or none club”.
Giving back is the right thing to do. And it sometimes that pays off as well, after all, everything we know about millennial consumers is that they are desperate to engage with brands which have a meaningful purpose. A perception of purpose informs the brands they buy, talk about and want to work for. What better purpose in sport than to say you left it in a better state than you found it. That there were some marginal gains. That some kids made it from the park all the way to the Maracana stadium.