What Do Premier League Football And Apple Have In Common?

New report says UK football CSR is maturing but needs to train harder and play as a team.

The defences are well and truly warmed up at Cupertino at the moment ahead of the iPhone 5 launch event next week but Daniel Agger isn’t part of the team.

Both brands have an almost religious like appeal to their audiences. Huge queues for product, tattoos and media saturation are just a couple of examples of the more obvious cultural similarities.

Both brands also have long journeys ahead of them on the CSR road and neither showing signs of ticking the leadership box any time soon.

I’ve just finished reading “It’s Not Just A Game: Community Work In The UK Football Industry And Approaches To Corporate Social Responsibility” by Heledd Jenkins and Laura James from the ESRC Centre at BRASS.

If you are into football, sport and all things CSR / sustainability go and take a read. It’s a comprehensive, intelligent and open report that provides a useful stick in the ground for the current state of social responsibility in UK football.

In short, all the clubs deliver effective community work locally with some reaching further afield across international boundaries, many through independent Community Trust models, but fall short on embedded strategic approaches, innovation, leadership and transparency. Whilst that could also be said of that majority of businesses across all sectors, football, like Apple, football is wasting its potential. Community Trust models could be seen as abdicating CSR responsibility to an external organisation when in reality it takes what authentic activity that was present from the main Club completely.

Here is a link to the full report: It’s Not Just A Game

Apple as one of the biggest brands of our times could literally change the world, it sadly chooses not to in the pursuit of pure financial profit. It is that choice that frustrates me and many others. I was hopeful of greater commitment when Tim Cook took over when Steve Jobs passed away but I think they have missed that natural opportunity to become the brand of all brands. Paul Klein also wrote a recent piece from a like-minded perspective called Apple: Performance Without Purpose you should also read.

Football presents an identical frustration. It’s all about profit with CSR as a substitutes warming up on the sideline but never getting a game. Some individuals at clubs are amazing community ambassadors but they are kept at arm’s length from the Board, CEO, business plan and commercial departments. I yearn for the day for a football CEO or owner (and Apple) opts to take the sustainability leadership podium like the Jeff Swartz (ex-Timberland), Jochen Zeitz (Puma) and Paul Polman’s (Unilever) of the commercial world.

Whereas football has at times impressive community credentials yet lacks strategic inclusion or environmental performance (try finding an environmental / sustainability policy or statement at the Premier League), Apple won’t formally report on their sustainability performance either but has made green improvements to their product line in recent years. I often wonder what would happen if the Premier League didn’t dictate their menu of community activities (and funding to go with it).

Maybe the powers that be in both camps don’t think their ‘customers’ care about wider issues beyond the pitch or past their iPhone.

It’s now two years since I challenged football clubs to be the first to formally report the CSR performance to GRI standards, and I know officials at clubs have read this blog, and that challenge still stands – for their benefit more than mine.

It is also worth keeping an eye on Daniel Parnell’s The Community Football Blog for UK football CSR / community updates.

And finally, if a certain John W Henry wants Liverpool Football Club to be world leaders in CSR and revel in the competitive advantage that it provides, I’m only a couple of miles from Anfield and can stop by any time.

4 thoughts on “What Do Premier League Football And Apple Have In Common?

  1. Mike Parker

    Very good read – I would like to point out though that Liverpool is maybe not the best example for Dave to use in supporting his point. Our experiences in working with LFC to audit their activities around food, physical activity, tobacco, mental health and wellbeing and the environment – show that they are actually delivering significant activities linked to CSR.

    Through our work in this area with a wide range of clubs from a wide range of sports and countries – we find that most clubs excel in a particular area but not across the whole CSR agenda. Clubs welcome the support from organizations like David’s or mine – however in the early discussions we need to be seen to support their agendas and build trust and confidence as they are always concerned about wider business objectives (sponsorships etc) – it’s about small steps.

    David you may remember me from our Common Purpose Days?

    happy to discuss further


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Mike – I remember Common Purpose well and with great fondness! I see Simon Bean quite regularly these days as my wife has a social enterprise http://www.acornalliance.com that is beginning to work closely with Connexions locally.

      I’m a little confused by your Liverpool reference as the line was more of a cheeky sales pitch to help my club formalise their strategic approach to all things CSR which is missing. Liverpool FC has impressively improved their ‘community’ delivery both in scale and variety, pushing them well up the Premier League. They are sadly though, not currently in contention for a leadership position amongst the wider global business community. I have regular conversations and keep a specific wishful eye on Liverpool and Everton on my travels and well aware of the majority of their activity.

      I would have to disagree about ‘early discussions’ though Mike. I do agree that positive reinforcement in many aspects of life and work is usually most effective but I can remember conversations over ten years ago that have evolved much more slowly in football than in any other industry. Even construction has overtaken them! I worked closely with Business in the Community during that time to help them create their ‘Clubs That Count’ initiative to encourage a more formal, strategic and wider approach to CSR and remember the frustrations and political challenges vividly.

      The main reason for slow embedded CSR adoption within football is a lack of awareness and leadership in this space at senior decision maker level at both clubs and regulators.

      It may be worth a catch up some time and maybe we can share to the world the great work that HM Partnerships and others are facilitating across sport?



      1. davidcoethica Post author

        Hi Mike

        I did send an email to the address via these comments and thought I’d best use this route too. Let me know any dates over the next couple of weeks and we can get something in the diary. Will be good to catch up.



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