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How sport is engendering a new wave of activism

Consumers expect brands to play a role in improving their world, ensuring purpose driven marketing is not vague or anodyne, but instead cause and conviction led.

Socially Active brand campaigns are on the rise and sport in particular is fuelling a new wave of activism, taking cues from grass-root activism to establish meaningful partnerships that deliver real social impact.

On Thursday 21st July 2022 the Marketing Society of Ireland, explored how activism-inspired campaigns can deliver brand fame, with the potential to deliver lasting behavioural, cultural and indeed societal change.

Joined by a stellar panel of speakers from Puma, the Olympic Federation of Ireland, Sports Ireland and Core Sponsorship, we heard different perspectives on how sport is enabling a new wave of activism.

Anna Rothman Head of Global Marketing, Running & Training from Puma shared the strategy behind the Puma campaign “She Moves Us”. Puma has always been passionate about sport and wanted to land a platform that allowed athletes to tell their story while at the same time driving greater participation in female sport at grass root level.

She Moves Us” is more than a campaign, it is a platform, where PUMA celebrates women who move together to achieve and connect – through sport, culture and values. This was part inspired by a global piece of research conducted amongst 8,000 customers to understand what consumers are passionate about and part influenced by their own tradition and heritage in supporting individual athletes.

The platform is further underpinned by a partnership with Women Win – a charitable organisation focusing on keeping women in sport and fighting inequality within women’s sport. Through projects supported by PUMA, Women Win will impact an incremental 5,000 girls and women. Furthermore, as a core funding partner, PUMA will contribute towards Women Win reaching another 1 million girls and women by the end of 2023. This very successful partnership played a critical role in making sure the brand was connecting with grass root organisations and having a real impact at a community and individual level.

“She Moves Us” came to life on so many different levels. It felt like a real authentic way to drive participation of women in sport,” said Anna Rothman.

Heather Boyle PR & Communication Lead from Olympic Federation of Ireland presented their case study on “Don’t Scroll By” an initiative launched with the support of Indeed to stand against online hate speech within sport. Black Lives Matter triggered a world-wide conversation amongst sporting bodies including the Olympics about sports and politics.  The Olympic council states specifically athletes can’t be involved in podium protests and are adamant political protests should not be part of sport. However, there were ongoing discussions amongst athletes who were passionate about issues like hate speech keen to take a stand.

The Olympic Federation of Ireland felt the time was right to tap into this momentum and tackle head on, the issue of racism in sport in Ireland. Creating a series of assets provoking audiences, to not scroll by, “we empowered sporting organisations to take a stand”. The results were incredible. “We were talking outside of just sport, mainstream media, and press also got on board. saw a spike in reports being download, and incidences of racial abuse being reported. We also felt marginalised organisations who have to deal with this on a daily basis finally had a voice”.

Heather concluded that calling out unacceptable behaviours is an area that activism can play a big, big role.

Benny Cullen Director of Research and Innovation at Sport Ireland talked about the opportunity for sport activism to deliver greater inclusivity in the world of sport and the potential for brands to become partners in this social progress.

One of the major sports successes in the last 10 years has been a positive shift in female participation. Media coverage of women’s sport increased from just 3% in 2015 to 5% in 2021. New Zealand recently completed a one-year research programme monitoring hundreds of media pieces per day tracking coverage of male and female sport. It recently reported that 20% of all coverage was dedicated to female sports coverage. While growth in sport in Ireland is coming through the female side, it is being driven at a grass root level, not significantly through media.

“Promotion and Activism is just one part of the puzzle. There are key components in the behavioural space that must happen to drive real societal change. Be patient, be consistent and be connected by using sponsorship to tap into grass root activism”, concluded Benny.

Jill Downey Director of Sponsorship & Sustainability shared some really valuable perspectives on how sponsorship is evolving, with activism and sustainability key components of any brief that lands on her desk. Sponsorship allows brands to connect and engage with audiences they usually wouldn’t engage with, and these audiences are generally more engaged, passionate and active than at any other time. “It’s no longer just about logos on a jersey”, says Jill. Players have a massive platform and many with a strong social media following are comfortable promoting and amplifying values they believe in like diversity, inclusion, participation and taking a stand on hate speech. Jill acknowledged the work Lidl, Sky and Supervalu has done to set a new standard in female sport sponsorships and inclusivity and have really started to level the playing pitch.

Sports activism is a hugely exciting space and one to watch.