Going Beyond Wins And Losses

We’re getting our sports fix in 2010, bouncing from the Super Bowl right into the Olympic Winter Games. Luckily for us, cause marketers have reason to cheer, as cause connections with sports are gaining prominence. Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal even noted in a recent issue, “as sports properties have grown in prominence, so has the sentiment that they must do more for the community, beyond wins and losses.”

The immense passion and strong commitment required of both sports and causes make them ideal teammates, and cause marketing for sports can be approached in a number of ways: from the perspective of the individual athlete, league, corporate partner or nonprofit. Here are a few examples of sports causes in action:

  • Individual Athlete – Several Olympic athletes are giving back, including 2010 halfpipe silver medalist Hannah Teter, who began selling maple syrup called Hannah's Gold in an effort to raise money for underprivileged children around the world.
  • League – The NFL PLAY 60 campaign is tackling childhood obesity by encouraging kids to be more active. Engagement takes place through in-school, afterschool and team-based programs, and through online child-targeted outreach and in partnership with like-minded organizations.
  • Corporate Partners – Possibly the most notable sports-related cause is the Lance Armstrong Foundation, raising money for cancer research largely through the success of its partnership with Nike.
  • Nonprofits – This week, the Ad Council engaged athletes Drew Brees and Tony Hawk for its latest PSA campaign supporting First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! effort to fight childhood obesity.

Regardless of which sports figure or organization is driving the cause message, there are a few best practices that hold true for all:

  1. Focus – Identify an issue that is relevant to the person or organization and stick to it.
  2. Leverage All Assets – Think beyond the big check and utilize other valuable assets, such as volunteers, airtime and celebrity appearances.
  3. Engage – Think of ways to engage multiple audiences, such as fans, the media or others in the sports community.
  4. Commit Long-Term – Cause commitments made over a long period of time offer the opportunity for the player or organization to gain the reputational benefits of the cause association.


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