Published 2 years ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Oakland Roots Sports Club
In the aftermath of 2020, the business of sport has been awakened to the fact that in the age of social good, creating positive impact is a growing requirement for any business’s license to operate.
For the last 15 years, I’ve been on a mission to inspire the leaders across the
business of sport — sponsors, teams, leagues, events, athletes and agencies — to
embrace a more purposeful approach to how they manage their investments
… in short, to do more good, while doing well.
While there have been several successful case studies to point to along the way
— including Super Bowl
the most giving, sustainable and commercially successful Super Bowl in history,
defined by its core purpose of improving the lives of young people — my
experience has been that the business of sport has been hard to convince of the
need to consider an alternative to the prevailing Freidman-inspired sports
business model, where profit is the measure of success.
The COVID-19 pandemic,
walkouts we all
experienced during 2020 have, however, changed everything — and awakened the
business of sport to the fact that, in the age of social
creating positive impact is now a requirement for any business’s license to
The events of 2020 have highlighted the shortcomings of the prevailing sports
business model. Athletes are once again leading the calls for change, but player
strikes are high-risk and unsustainable. Meanwhile teams, leagues and events
continue to struggle to meet the moment. Why? Because the business of sport is
not designed with Purpose in mind; it finds it hard to adapt to the changing
expectations of fans, athletes and sponsors. Its responses — writing big cheques
to support non-profits working on issues, hosting memorabilia auctions, setting
up committees to evaluate things while still continuing business as usual — are
short-term Band-Aids to buy time.
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But the stakes are higher than they have ever been. Today’s consumers and
employees are educated, motivated and savvy — as the below insights from
reveal. They are empowered to mobilize and demand that you walk the talk. They
expect more from the business of sport:
of sports fans believe teams and leagues should support athlete
of sports fans believe teams and leagues should create marketing campaigns to
of sports fans believe brands are more powerful when they partner with sports
organizations to create social
of sports fans have an increased interest in brands that join the fight against
This new paradigm will require a shift in mindset amongst the owners and
managers of sports teams from the current frame — where doing good is something
that happens at the fringes of a sports organization as CSR or philanthropy — to
a new frame, where doing good becomes the leading reason the organization
exists; and what it stands for becomes as important, if not more important, than
the sport itself.
Oakland Roots Sports Club is a great example
of a purpose-led sports team – its stated purpose is to harness the magic
of Oakland and the power of sport as a force for social good…and it drives
everything that the team does. This is quite different to how most sports teams
describe their purpose — which is to win competitions and increase the
commercial value of their franchise, while doing a little bit of good on the
and the highly anticipated Angel City Football Club
are examples of other sports properties that have been first movers in this
space and are reaping the rewards of greater relevance amongst Gen
fans and sponsors.
In order to remain relevant in this new age, brands that sponsor sport are
equally going to have to shift their mindset from treating sport as a
cost-effective media buy to a platform through which they can express and
amplify their own organizational purpose and provide the fans with the
opportunity to co-create good alongside them.
of its partnership with the International Olympic Committee — which they
describe as a first-of-its-kind, citizenship-driven partnership through which
they have pledged to take action to make progress in equality and inclusion,
environmental sustainability and community impact — is a great example of how
progressive sponsors will start activating their investment in sport in a
If the business of sport is to achieve this important shift and become fit for
purpose en masse, there is much work to be done. This was the impetus for our
recently published book, Legacy Sport – How To Win At The Business Of Sport In
The Age Of Social Good. And it’s
the driving force behind 17 Sport — the world’s
first sports-impact company operating at the intersection of sport, business and
purpose (17 referencing the UN
Goal 17) to help sponsors, properties,
athletes and non-profits to manage their investment in sport in a more
Purposeful way; and Soul Purpose Sport —
the world’s first personal impact accelerator for sport, launching in January
2021 — aiming to inspire, educate and enable sports owners and managers to make
We look forward to reporting back, as we continue to build capacity to
leverage sport’s immense power to become a force for social and environmental
Published Dec 15, 2020 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
Neill Duffy is CEO and founder of 17 Sport, the world’s first sports-impact company operating at the intersection of sport, business and purpose.