Sports and Social Change

Here's a short piece I wrote for's Marketing:Sports newsletter on using Sports "Cause" Marketing to drive change in the industry...

Isn't Sports "Cause" Marketing Still Sports Marketing?

Marketing ROI is certainly a key metric these days. As we move out of the great recession and start to rebuild the global economic infrastructure, everyone in Sports Marketing is keeping close tabs on where dollars are spent and what tangible returns are gained from every marketing campaign.

Sports Marketing can be defined as “the specific application of marketing principles and processes to sport products (e.g. - teams, leagues, events, footwear, equipment, etc.), and the marketing of non-sports products (e.g. - food & beverage, autos, telecom services, etc.), through associations with sports.” It’s been part of the foundation for global brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, Ford and Budweiser for decades.

On the other side of the marketing table, there’s Cause Marketing, where brands team up with relevant charities or social causes to raise awareness and dollars to make a difference in the community. Cause Marketing can be an effective image-building tool for a brand while helping a charitable cause gain greater visibility and possibly new sources of funding.

So, here’s a crazy idea – what would happen if we combined the two? To put it into true marketing speak, it’s like the old Reese’s slogan: "Two great tastes that taste great together."

Thanks to the efforts of some very passionate sports fans, there are now Soccer programs that teach HIV/Aids awareness and prevention, Skiing & Snowboarding coalitions raising awareness for climate change, and Golf programs that help Native American kids build self-esteem and lead a healthier life. And there are hundreds of professional athletes who dedicate their free time to building skate parks in depressed urban areas, helping senior citizens enjoy their final years, and assisting wounded veterans' transition back into society, while also raising funds to fight everything from cancer and autism, to poverty and homelessness.

Supporting these programs does more for the collective good than simply buying signage at an event or paying an athlete to wear your logo. It supports the same people who buy your products, watch your programs and attend your games and events.

A recent Harvard Business Review article said, “So little is spent on advertising and marketing by charities that the IRS form 990 they are required to file each year doesn't even have a line item for reporting it. Yet it would be considered malfeasance to launch a product or service in the for-profit sector without an adequate advertising budget to build demand for it.”

Not so in the world of Sports. In fact, it’s safe to say the entire industry is driven by marketing spend – from sporting goods and services, teams and events, to the marketing of consumer goods and services via those same sports events and athletes. Last year’s Super Bowl - the marketing Mecca of US sporting events - generated over $420 million alone in media, sponsorship, tickets and licensing revenue, according to

Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing - not at all. It’s an opportunity. An opportunity to step up the plate and make a difference.

What I am saying is those marketing dollars can do more good if they’re channeled into Sports Cause Marketing. It’s that rare “win-win-win” in the business world: The brand wins, the consumer wins and the cause wins. No one leaves the field hanging their head after the final whistle sounds.

Think of it this way – if just 1% of the $11 billion spent annually on sports sponsorship was channeled into Sports Cause Marketing, that would be $110 million going to do some serious good in the world.

The HBR article goes on to say, “Charitable giving has remained constant in the U.S. at about 2% of GDP ever since we've measured it. Charity is not taking market share from the for-profit sector. No wonder. It's hardly allowed to market. If enough additional demand were built to raise that figure to 3% we could achieve a transformation in our ability to combat social problems.”

So I challenge all of you – my peers, colleagues and fellow sports marketers: Sports Cause Marketing is a better way to approach Sports Marketing. The causes are there, ready, willing and able to help you market your brands. Just imagine what we can do if everyone pulls on the same rope.

$110 million to allow Special Spectators to give terminally ill kids a college football experience to remember.
$110 million to help National GoGirlGo! fight obesity and get kids active & healthy.
$110 million to provide SkiDUCK with the tools so the disabled have a chance to participate in winter sports.

That sounds like positive ROI to me.

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Right to Play International, the sport and development organization led by former Olympic champion speedskater Johann Olav Koss, is busy with plenty of activities during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver this month, including the launch of World of Play, "a venue that offers the public a chance to come and play and learn about how the organization improves the lives of children living in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world."

Right To Play also recently launched their online video channel at, which will feature interviews from Vancouver with participating athletes about their involvement with the organization and the results of Right To Play's programs around the world.

Learn more at and

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From a recent post on Philanthropy News Digest...


Communities Creating Healthy Environments is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that aims to prevent childhood obesity by increasing access to healthy foods and safe places to play in communities of color. The program is designed to advance RWJF's efforts to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015 by supporting diverse, community-based organizations and federally chartered tribal nations in the development and implementation of effective, culturally competent policy initiatives to address childhood obesity at the local level.


Eligible applicants must have a track record of at least two years of successful community organizing and policy advocacy to address health-related problems in communities of color. Both the leadership and membership or constituencies of any applicant organization should reflect the communities they seek to serve. Youth-led organizing groups and community-based groups with youth-organizing components are strongly encouraged to apply.


Applicants must secure a cash match of at least 10 percent of RWJF funding for the grant period. Organizations that currently receive funding from an entity or subsidiary that markets low-nutrition food and/or beverage products to youth are not eligible to apply.


Awards will be up to $250,000 per site for up to ten communities nationwide. Grants are for a three-year period scheduled to commence in October 2010.


Deadline is February 25, 2010


To complete the RFP for this grant click here

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Monday, 18 January 2010 18:53

Welcome to!

Welcome! was created to provide a central point of information, news and resources for the sports non-profit sector, serving both the sports industry professional who's looking to include cause marketing in their programming, and the casual sports fan who's interested in supporting a favorite sport, athlete or team.

We encourage you to check out all the sections of the site and send us your comments and suggestions.

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