An email yesterday about the London Olympics in 2012 and the sustainable procurement programme in place got me thinking about the overlooked absenteeism of Corporate Social Responsibilty and sustainability throughout sport, or more importantly the latent potential.
With eight years at a Premier League Club I do have an almost unique exposure to the inner machinations of a world that is a twilight zone between business and sport. It is improving but a high profile and current club Chairman once told me that “football is just a vehicle to transfer Sky TV money to players and agents” and I challenge anybody to argue. What would happen if something happened to the television money? To say all the eggs are in one basket is an understatement and never a sound revenue position to be in.
UK sport and especially football, has a worthy reputation for variations of community (in football speak = narrow group of informally defined stakeholders) engagement with every club evolving its own interpretation of the role of its community programmes though with some focusing on talent identification, sales (tickets & merchandise), PR and pure philanthropy.
I was in a meeting this morning discussing the Homeless World Cup and was staggered that a Premier League club was asking for payment to it’s charitable arm for use of resources even though this particular social group fits well within their official Objects. I’ve always had an uncomfortable feeling about the proper use of charitable status and football clubs, and believe that some could easily improve their internal governance procedures and external communication to provide much more social benefit. It just helps with PR in some places with no integrated planning into the commercial positioning of the parent club.
Sport’s biggest strength can also be its biggest weakness. Passion is an over used word by marketing people to explain how they can exploit fans (and they hardly ever use the word customer) to attempt to bridge the revenue gap between merchandise sales and TV. It’s is a murky world of emotion that scares the faint hearted away from complete engagement with passionate groups, and this is the same regardless of industry, especially around those concerned with environmental issues. There are many similarities between the passion of followers of sport and those of environmental and many individual social issues with each having particularly intense groups of stakeholders willing to do all for the cause. Could the emotional attachment to sport be used to channel other pressing messages or are football fans just fans of football? I would suggest that most just want a good day out with a good result on the pitch and to return home blissfully disconnected from distracting abstract agendas, but away from the game they are all part of families and most have jobs or study. Yes, there is a very real personaility splitting effect of watching sport and I’ve seen a fair few refined corporate gentlemen descend into a red mist over a referee’s decision only to return to a more civilised persona the next day at the office. Sporting events can attract TV and live audiences of millions with almost as many vying for a space in this shop window. How can the bigger green and local issues be made more of a priority?
There is not one club (or should I be using the word ‘business’ by now? I think club is a more accurate description) globally I am aware of that has decided to strategically implement and been successful in embedding sustainability / CSR into its operation. This isn’t a huge surprise as the majority of corporates not to mention SMEs aren’t there yet. But as a comparison from sport businesses to non-sport businesses of similar size the industry is lacking in spite of their access to a uniquely emotionally charged market.
Everton flirted like a lovesick schoolboy with David Moyes’ instinctive ‘People’s Club’ quote but never grasped the potential for economic and social mutual benefit.
I wonder how many clubs even have an environmental policy? Yes, some clubs have made noises about wind turbines etc and Dartford do have a pretty impressive stadium.
My not so wild guess would be overall less than 10% – opportunity or risk?
If you know better please tell me!