Harnessing The Power Of Sports For The Greater Good

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) and the marketing of non-sports products (e.g., food & beverage, autos, telecom services) 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 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 U.S. 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 Team Ultimate fight obesity and get kids active and 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.

6 comments about "Harnessing The Power Of Sports For The Greater Good ".
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  1. Brian Reich from little m media, February 16, 2010 at 2:24 p.m.

    Good article. I wrote about the power for sports to provide a platform for change recently as well - I would love your thoughts:

  2. Deb New, February 16, 2010 at 3:55 p.m.

    From the non-profit side of the equation, we agree completely. Cause marketing strategies - with the right fit between sports/athletes and non-profits - can be powerful by creating important visibility and change. It's a big win for everyone. We've had the opportunity to partner with the NFL to help kids learn to be active and eat healthy, and have seen the impact firsthand.

  3. Jonathan Halitsky from JonPoint, February 16, 2010 at 4:23 p.m.

    Strong post. It's about adding value to all stakeholders. As marketing continues to become more about listening than pushing out messages, supporting causes that have meaning to your constituents demonstrates an extremely high level of listening, and takes it to another level - action.

  4. Kira Muller from US Lacrosse/Lacrosse Magazine, February 17, 2010 at 11:23 a.m.

    It has long been the mission of US Lacrosse to use the sport of lacrosse for the greater good - from starting programs in inner cities tying participation to attendance and grades, to working with Native Vision to promote healthy lifestyles to Native Americans, to providing training for coaches that encourage positive attitude and behavior in all athletic endeavors, to providing equipment grants for under-served communities, to sponsoring safety research to minimize the effects of concussions and commotio cordis, to holding events focused on fun, friendship and camraderie, not winning. We firmly believe that the realm of sports has much more to offer than just the game itself. To learn more about what US Lacrosse is all about, visit

  5. Francisco C. cardenas from Nueve por Nueve, S.C., February 17, 2010 at 12:53 p.m.

    Excellent article!! I came back to Mexico to start a company that will cater exactly under these two premises. I think that the win-win-win situation is something that should be sold to the brand and marketing managers of today as the new way of communicating their products benefits and company values.

  6. Michael Harring from Essex Basin Partners LLC, February 20, 2010 at 6:05 p.m.

    Good points.
    I have spent the past year consulting for an NPO that helps professional athletes realize philanthropic goals. We created a process for conducting online charitable raffles with prizes that leverage the athletes and celebrities we work with.
    The ability of sports and athletes to motivate donors can be very powerful.

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