We have big news! AST is partnering with 17 Sport – a leading global sports impact company operating at the intersection of sports, business, and purpose. Together, we will enable progressive organizations, properties, and athletes in Asia to bring their organizational purpose to life, internally and externally through sports.
To kick off our collaboration, we are excited to bring you a definitive deep-dive into how purpose is emerging as an integral sports activation pillar to drive substantial business results, while ensuring positive financial, social, and environmental outcomes.
Why purpose matters to modern companies
A purpose-driven organization is more than just a responsible organization.
Being purposeful means standing for and taking action on something bigger than a company’s products and services in ways that create long-term value for the company, society, the planet, and all the people they serve.
As purpose is increasingly prioritized by companies in all sectors and across all geographies, sport is proving to be an effective platform through which to activate purpose. By marrying its organizational purpose with its sports sponsorship investments, a brand can amplify its social and/or environmental impact whilst also improving the performance of its sponsorship investments and its bottom line.
There is compelling evidence that companies who harness the power of purpose achieve better financial results, attract and retain the best talent and build loyal customer relationships.
Today’s executives recognize the importance of having an aspirational reason for being which inspires and provides a call to action for an organization whilst simultaneously providing benefit to society. Consumers want brands to know them. It’s a progressively tall order, but it’s not out of reach.
With real-time changes in consumer attitudes, behavior, and media engagement, the right data is more important than ever. With the complexities of ongoing disruption and media fragmentation, several things remain constant: the need to know consumers and clients, what they want from you and how you most effectively and efficiently can engage them.
It’s also what’s blurring the line between brand building and customer acquisition. In fact, the intersection between the two has probably never been closer, and that means a relentless focus on driving business outcomes will depend on exceptional upper-funnel through lower-funnel planning and execution.
Sports as an enabler for organizational purpose
As the purpose revolution gains momentum and more companies commit to being purpose-driven, they are looking for persuasive ways in which to articulate and act on their purpose. Sport offers a highly effective platform for companies to do this.
Sport is simple, flexible and hugely popular across the world. It has the power to attract, mobilize and inspire people at scale. It also has tremendous educational potential and, through its desirable values, can promote peace, cohesion, inclusivity, physical and mental well-being, and instill valuable life skills.
Furthermore, with sports increasingly feeling the impact of climate change, it is becoming a powerful platform to influence thinking and actions that can turn the tide on the climate crisis. Simply put, sport has a significant role to play in driving a number of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals aimed at building peace and prosperity across the globe.
In a 2022 survey conducted by 17 Sport, around 8 in 10 companies said that purpose-led marketing fits well with sport and that such tie-ups will increase in the coming years. Sports fans concur, with Nielsen data highlighting that 77% of fans believe brands are more powerful when they partner with a sports organization to help influence social change.
Even more encouraging, is the evidence that purpose-led sports sponsorships overwhelmingly outperform traditional sports sponsorships, particularly against key metrics such as brand perception, brand affinity and brand awareness. Dialpad’s multi-year partnership with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings benefited the Sacramento community by empowering over 200 young adults in its first year to give them a headstart for a future career in technology, but the increased engagement between King’s fans and Dialpad through its activation of the sponsorship also helped to drive positive brand awareness and brand affinity for Dialpad which has been good for the bottom line.
DBS Bank partnered with the Singapore Marathon to promote a healthier lifestyle in Singapore, offering runners the opportunity to donate their used running shoes to the less fortunate. Coca-Cola used its “Powerade” sports drink to sponsor a campaign that focused on the training and development of young footballers in China through a series of training camps and workshops, underlining its commitment to developing the next generation of athletes.
To achieve this type of success from purpose-driven sports campaigns, they must be approached and activated in the right way. The principles that apply to successfully embed purpose in business apply equally in the sports environment. In other words, the purpose partnership must be action-oriented with a clear outcome in mind:
To be embraced and spearheaded by the leadership teams of both the partnering brand and the sports organization.
To inspire others to join the fight.
To be collaborative, because the scale of the issues at play demands that different role players work together for the common good to ensure meaningful impact.
Consumer insistence on real, tangible, and positive change
Authenticity is critical. Consumers are demanding that brands make a real and measurable contribution to creating a better world with nearly three-quarters of respondents in a Porter Novelli survey saying that, when making purchase decisions, if other factors such as price and quality were the same, they would choose a purpose-driven brand over the alternative. In the same survey:
69% said they are less likely to support companies that are clearly only in business to make money
86% of investors said companies should work for the benefit of all stakeholders, not just shareholders
73% said to win their support, companies must show how they are supporting communities and the environment.
Brands are responding to this consumer demand but are also having to be careful as consumers are hyper-sensitive to brands who are insincere in their efforts. Authenticity means brands must do as well as say, and sport gives brands a platform to convert their purpose statement into something tangible where consumers (fans) can see purpose playing out in an engaging setting and actively get involved to support their favorite brands, alongside their favorite sports, to contribute towards making a positive impact.
However, in the same way, insincere purpose statements are labeled as greenwashing, so too are inauthentic purpose statements in the sports world found out and labeled as sports washing, often doing more damage to a brand than good. For purpose to work in any context, it must be authentic and bring about real, tangible, positive change.
The IOC is arguably the world’s most purpose-driven sports organization with a global appeal which explains why multinational brands choose a partnership with IOC to activate their purpose. The 2020 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan, highlighted various environmental and social issues through its sustainability and diversity initiatives. The Olympic torch was made from recycled aluminum, and the medals were made from recycled electronic devices.
The IOC’s purpose of building a better world through sport is integral to all its partnership agreements and ensures that, through collaboration, the IOC and its partners can create positive change at scale. By way of example, P&G leverages its Olympic partnership to advance important work against shared citizenship values such as equality, inclusion and social cohesion; and Panasonic is aligned with the IOC’s Young Leaders Programme that supports young people in creating positive change in their communities through grassroots projects that leverage the power of sport to do good. Dow uses the power of science and the platform of sport to implement a collaborative carbon mitigation program across the Olympic Movement, to reduce the IOC’s operational carbon footprint and expedite best-in-class low-carbon solutions across various industry value chains (packaging, manufacturing, agriculture) to bring about long term societal benefits.
These partnerships all have one thing in common, to use the power of the Olympic movement to accelerate meaningful change at scale and, in doing so, create positive brand and business spin-offs for the sponsoring brands.
Technology is fast-tracking sport’s impact as a driver of purpose
From wearable tech, which has empowered casual athletes to live healthier, more active lifestyles (SDG 3), to the proliferation of digital media channels making sports coverage available everywhere, all of the time, technology has helped to introduce more opportunities to align sports with purpose in a stronger, more impactful way and to a larger, more engaged audience.
It is also thanks to new broadcasting technology that events such as the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship can produce a live international race feed remotely. This negates the typically environmentally-intensive process of live sports broadcasting and means that Formula E can stay true to its purpose of accelerating human progress and encouraging the adoption of electric mobility to counteract climate change.
Social media has also created opportunities for much deeper engagement between professional athletes and their fans, giving athletes a much more far-reaching platform to educate, inspire and mobilize fans to join them in tackling issues that athletes care about. Such reach and influence weren’t possible for professional athletes before the advent of social media and brands looking to advance their purpose on a global scale are tapping into this to the benefit of their bottom line.
Nike is probably the best example of a brand that successfully collaborates with a range of athletes to drive meaningful social impact, from its partnership with Colin Kaepernick promoting anti-racism and, in the process earning Nike $6 billion to its 20-year support of tennis legend Serena Williams promoting equal opportunity for women. In Japan, they partnered with Naomi Osaka to launch the “Play Academy with Naomi Osaka” program, which aims to empower girls in Japan through sport. They also partnered with Chinese basketball player Yi Jianlian to promote physical activity and healthy living in China.
Puma has collaborated with several athletes in Asia to promote social causes related to gender equality and diversity. They partnered with the G.O.A.T of Cricket, Indian superstar Virat Kohli to launch the “Come Out and Play” campaign, which aims to break down stereotypes and promote gender equality in sport. They also worked with Thai footballer Chanathip Songkrasin to promote diversity and inclusivity in sport in Thailand.
Be it North America or Asia, 17 Sport & AST firmly believe that purpose is here to stay.
The new generation of socially-conscious consumers demand that businesses lead with purpose, demonstrate compassion and take decisive action to make the world a better place. And, there are few platforms more effective than sport and its megastar athletes to draw attention to the social and environmental challenges facing the world or to bridge cultural and social differences to unite communities behind a common cause.
Curious about the intersection of sports & purpose? Reach out to us to learn about how to measure the impact of your purpose-driven sport sponsorships.