Not a Premier League CSR Report

This is a very public challenge to the football industry.

Premier League logoWho will be the first professional football club to produce a credible non-financial report? I’m hoping to use this post to appeal to the intensely competitive nature of sport to raise the Corporate Social Responsibility / Sustainability bar to the dizzy heights of mediocrity.

‘High, wide and handsome’ is a cliché used by football commentators to eloquently describe a very badly executed shot at goal and its resultant trajectory, obviously missing by a substantial margin. It just so happens it describes football’s attempts at CSR and reporting.

I occasionally revisit the world of the business of sport, but now limit any time spent there to assisting in whatever way I can those predominantly at the grassroots level aspiring to affect genuine real social change. (Check out Kick4Change, Don’t X The Line and Predator Conservation Trust). I know I shouldn’t, for my own sanity, but every so often a CSR related sport headline catches my eye and for an instant hope fills my head with optimism. Unfortunately it is a rare event that such hope is sustained beyond that particular 10 minute period.

The latest headline of hope was Manchester City FC’s CSR Report 2010 – and that title alone bouncing around Twitter broke through my defence and sent me off to investigate. For the football industry it is pretty impressive, and that’s the problem. Even though Manchester City FC have more money than you can sheikh a stick at, there is precious little depth or vision to the business of sport. Therein lies the paradox. Sport, and football in particular has amazing potential influence to inspire but never quite gets past merely squandering the television money dominating the game.

Inevitably I immediately encountered a media rich, information poor, series of pictures of children, wind turbines, disabled people and smiling employees accompanied by scattered narratives about community initiatives, but little genuine substance. There are the beginnings of thoughtful environmental stewardship but nothing fantastic to celebrate. Not quite an own goal, but definitely not ‘Premier’ in any aspect.

What is missing is reference to credible data and information on material issues such as ownership and governance, the proliferation of sponsors (and influence) from the world of alcohol, gambling and fast food, supply chains and environmental impact.  Who will be the first club to seize a CSR advantage and use the GRI framework, or AA1000, third-party assurance, Carbon Disclosure Project or even a carbon footprint?

It’s not just each club’s naive fault, their regulators don’t genuinely care as long as the money flows. The Premier League, The FA, UEFA and FIFA are all implicit with their poor leadership accepting complacency by merely encouraging template community initiatives as token gestures in many cases.

Here’s the link to the Manchester City FC CSR Report; and for comparison, other recent attempts from Aston Villa FC’s Sustainability Report 09/10 and Chelsea FC’s CSR Report 07/08.

If a mainstream business publishes a poor CSR report they receive a well deserved kicking. Why are our expectations so low from some high-profile brands with increasingly substantial turnovers?


Elaine Cohen of Beyond BusinessI couldn’t resist asking CSR reporting superstar Elaine Cohen (pictured right) from Beyond Business for her professional opinion on her home town team.


“This might work well for MCFC fans and the general public who look to the internet for entertainment rather than for a serious disclosure of corporate accountability.

If that was their objective, then why call it a CSR report, a language which most of MCFC fans will associate with Customer Service Representatives and not Corporate Social Responsibility. However, I don’t like it. The little coloured bullets dance around the screen and until you catch one to click on it, you have almost decided not to bother. You can never remember which bullet you clicked on , it’s a bit like a memory game, so you find yourself opening the same bullets over and over again.

Far too creative for me, I m afraid. A simple PDF download would have been much easier to read.

If their objective was to present to more informed stakeholders on their actual CSR impacts, then this report doesn’t work for me. Having to navigate all the individual blue orange and green clicks and internal menu tabs and sliders it just too much effort spent on navigating the report instead of reading it.

As far as reports go, this one is lacking several features we have come to expect of leading reports such as materiality matrix, CSR management process, ethics, governance, workplace practices for all the Club’s employees, player selection and costs, several environmental aspects. There is no index and no adherence to leading frameworks such and the GRI and it is  not assured. There are no targets and not assessment of performance against targets.

I clicked on the little envelope top right screen, but nothing happened. I assume this is for feedback. There is no other way to give feedback in the report and despite the pyrotechnics, no interactivity other than endless clicks.

One of the most important things, in my view, is the question of football violence and a football club’s responsibility in ensuring a violence-free sport. This doesn’t seem to be mentioned at all.”


Great quotes from Elaine following her whistle-stop tour of the report and all absolutely spot on as usual.


I wonder who will be first? Which sporting club’s CSR  report would you like to see?

10 thoughts on “Not a Premier League CSR Report

  1. Paul Dunn

    What I’d really like to see, David, is a club (like Manchester) REALLY grasp the mettle — I wish I would have thought of your ‘sheik a stick at’ phrase.

    And the way they’d do that, of course, is not by having a great looking and meaningful report but by connecting their fans and the TV audience to giving.

    For example, they could have a different cause each week — this week, every ticket gives a kid in Malawi access to water (or maybe every can sold at the venue), next week, it’s tree-planting, the week after it’s an education-realted cause.

    This is the way we leverage the giving by connecting to our customers (as opposed to some of the shareholders who might read the CSR report).

    Good idea?????


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Paul

      I’d also love to see, and probably offer a few hours to help, a club grasp the nettle. It’s an absolute no brainer for the first club to do a decent report, somebody like Barcelona or Man Utd could steal a march just by attempting the process.

      The biggest problem is the culture of football, i.e. typical macho peer pressure. Most won’t even consider the process for fear of public failure.



  2. Elaine Cohen

    Hi David, thanks for this post and for quoting me:) The Aston Villa Report is the leader in the pack in my view. Unfortunately, the download from their website is a 4 page executive summary which I almost dismissed as a pretend-report. Fortunately, hosts the full report, and I must say that this is a great effort. It’s a little selective, but it covers some essential points and includes data on a range of environment and social parameters and makes conctrete commitments for future sustainability performance improvements. AVFC lead the pack, in my view, if you can call it a pack, given the few that do report.

    However, you have piqued my interest and I might just add a little post on this myself 🙂



    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Elaine

      I thought you’d enjoy the read, or watch in Manchester City’s case. Thanks for your wonderful perspective and I’d love to see a deeper inimitable Elaine Cohen investigation 🙂



  3. Daniel Cade

    Hi David, great to see your opinions on this topic in your blog.
    Funnily enough I’m in England over the next few days to meet with a few of the social responsibility / community development practitioners in connection with the social responsibility platform for football clubs that I’m working on, RESPONSIBALL.
    The platform almost didn’t include the governance side of social responsibility back when we were discussing the concept, for fear that we wouldn’t get the support that we needed. We found that in countries where some football clubs are making a positive impact in the fields of community and, to a lesser extent, environmental development, it is still very hard to find information on internal operations like the ones you’ve mentioned above.
    Of course, that is not to say that a) there aren’t clubs with nothing to hide and b) there aren’t people within clubs, leagues and federations that are making decisions to slowly move things in the right direction. In the latter case, it just might take some time, considering the power behind those blocking such progression.
    In both cases, the intention for our platform – and other resources like it – is to support practitioners by shining a light on the good practices in all areas of social responsibility in football clubs – community, environment and governance – in order to push things along just that little bit faster.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Daniel

      Good to hear the Responsiball platform is out in the open. I wish you the best of luck getting the service out there. It’s not going to be an easy market to win over, but you’ll get all of my support in challenging the clubs to get Responsibally competitive.

      If you ever need any help or moral support let me know. I’m feeling up for pushing the football crowd again after a break away from the carnival.



  4. Sam

    I think one should be careful not to equate publishing a CSR report with understanding of the issue or impact. Arsenal FC for example has an responsibilty agenda on many dimensions, stretching from the way their academy is run, to ensuring affordable tickets for youth and local residents, to extensive demands on their players right from youth age to participate in community involvement efforts eg getting kids to read and think it is cool.

    Arsenals effort is very impressive and I would encourage looking under the covers here before jumping in to CSR report mania and demanding they produce GRI rated reports and what not.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Sam

      Arsenal are often overlooked when it comes to praise for their responsibility commitments, but like most others their direction is born from the original national Football in the Community initiative, not a centralised strategic approach. As such, most ‘CSR’ activity was outsourced to community programmes (i.e. retired football players) to give something back from a philanthropic perspective rather than a deeper understanding of their responsibility or business improvement. For example, it is only in recent times some professional clubs have provided contracts for employees and offered job descriptions; a basic responsibility to employees. Whilst this is an extreme example, it is unfortunately indicative of the level of organisational maturity across professional football and sport (i.e. not professional businesses).

      The article was by no means a demand of all clubs to rush out and produce GRI reports but it was a challenge for at least one to see it as a competitive advantage (and thus benefit from the broadening of their business radars) to produce a peer acknowledge report. This isn’t about compulsory CSR, even if I believe in it to a degree, but it is about helping clubs understand their own CSR position in relative terms beyond the hubris cocoon of the Premier League.

      Football CSR reports so far have been nothing more than glossy community brochures.



  5. Frida

    Hi David,

    I stumbled on your blog when I was searching for Football clubs CSR activities.
    This blog entry was written a while ago but thought I can comment anyways,

    I have the answer for the question – Who will be the first club to seize a CSR advantage and use the GRI framework?

    So far I have found two, not in England tho..
    Corinthians, a Brazilian football club that made a nice report in 2009 (in portoguees of course), however I cant find any info if they have continued the work or if it was a one time thing..

    And Djurgården Fotboll, a Swedish Football club who published a report 2011 (written in Swedish). as I understand they have integreated CSR in the whole organization and are now working to be better in all CSR subjects! I called the CEO and he was really eager to talk about the work they are doing, I can give you his contacts if you are interested in CSR and Football outside the UK.

    Keep up the good work!



    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Frida

      Great spotting, and very timely too! The contact information would be amazing. I’ll send you an email with my contact information soon.

      We’re looking to build a huge showcase of the world’s best smaller business CSR / social enterprise / sustainability / etc and the majority of football clubs are usually SMEs and this could be perfect!

      Thanks for the heads up.




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