A DECADE IN REVIEW:
TEN YEARS OF SPORTS PHILANTHROPY
We have 28 days left in December and the decade. As we close the books on 2019, and really the 2010s, we thought we would take a look back at how sports philanthropy has changed. While there have been lots of changes in the industry, innovation is at the top as it continues to evolve. Our community needs change, our communication tools become more advanced and the economic disparity continues to widen. In the past, we’ve looked at trends to watch out for. This year, we’ll highlight some of the major wins over the past decade and try to identify what to watch for in the 2020s.
DEFINITION OF SPORTS PHILANTHROPY
Had you asked someone in the sports industry what the overarching term would be, we would argue that the overwhelming majority would have said Community Relations. As the industry has evolved and become more sophisticated, it naturally has splintered into subsets. For example, donor advised funds (DAFs) are the fastest growing area in the philanthropic industry. Community Relations still exists in its most basic form, but in addition, almost every team now has a team foundation or registered 501c3 that falls under a professional team’s brand. Sport non-profits continue to pop up at an increasing rate, which means there is more competition and clutter in the marketplace than ever before. As new sports continue to grow in popularity, there are new National Governing Bodies (NGOs) as well. And of course, with the invention of social media, it’s never been easier to build charitable vehicles that lie at the intersection of technology and sports. All of this means that the definition is constantly evolving to keep up with the industry.
INCREASE IN PHILANTHROPIC DOLLARS IN SPORTS
While DAFs have been around for decades, its popularity has grown as athletes continue to sign larger contracts and become more national – and in some cases, global – stars. Endorsement dollars and incremental career revenue that extends beyond a playing career has necessitated that an athlete utilize a charitable vehicle, such as this or a foundation, to amplify the impact in the community. As athletes have built their brands through social media and direct-to-consumer models, they can leverage fanbases and communities like never before. Not only are there more dollars in sports than ever before, but the ability to tap into fans around the world and engage with them in unique experiences means that the audience is larger than it’s ever been. With companies like PledgeIt and Omaze tapping into technology, our industry will continue to evolve at a rapid pace.
ATHLETES FIND THEIR IDENTITY AND VOICE OFF THE FIELD
Historically, athletes have worked through a community relations team if it wanted to create events or impact in the community. When an athlete wanted to communicate with a fanbase or a community, it would do so through a media relations team or the local/national media. In the past decade, organizations like The Players Tribune and Uninterrupted brought sport stories direct from the athlete to the fanbase. With the meteoric rise in social media, athletes can communicate and engage directly to fans through Twitter and Instagram. It used to be that athletes could only earn national endorsements if they were in a major market. Thanks to social media and the rise in TV ratings, that isn’t the case anymore. Athletes aren’t afraid of just sticking to sports, as endorsement dollars can be more than contract earnings. We see the trickle-down effect within the philanthropic space. Just look as far as JJ Watt and the $41MM he raised for Hurricane Harvey through social media. He tapped into an audience and engaged thousands of people around the world to raise money for charity.
METRICS, METRICS, METRICS
With the astounding number of dollars funneling into the sports philanthropy industry, it is more critical than ever that organizations report back on the impact made. Transparency is critical for donors; without it, these dollars will disappear. Nonprofits need to prove that the dollars they receive are being used responsibly. As the experts in their respective fields, if they can show that impact is being made and it can be tied back to a specific program or sponsor, this will unlock incremental dollars as it will differentiate them amongst competitors
SPORTS IS STILL A UNIQUE BRIDGE TO THE COMMUNITY
Sports is still one of the only events that brings complete strangers together. Sports makes adults do crazy things – they cry both happy and sad tears, they scream, they rejoice and simply put, they do crazy things. Future generations of athletes are growing up in the social media age. These athletes have differing opinions, interests outside of sports and causes that are important to them. Couple this with the notion that athletes accept and embrace the importance of using their platform for positive impact and you have a powerful combination
SHIFT FOCUS AWAY FROM BIG 4 SPORTS
Don’t be fooled – the big 4 professional sports (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB) still rule the day when it comes to revenue, popularity and coverage. That doesn’t mean that they are the most philanthropic athletes or leagues though. Some of the best philanthropy continues to come out of the WNBA, MLS and nontraditional sports such as Lacrosse, Cricket and of course FIFA. While much of the coverage is in the big 4 sports due to its popularity, there is an incredibly deep engagement across women sports. This will only continue to increase over the next decade
BRANDS WILL CONTINUE WORKING TOGETHER TO ADDRESS SOCIETAL ISSUES
As is increasingly the case, brands are being asked to stand for something other than profits. It’s the intersection of culture, commerce and conscience. As companies identify critical global issues – think youth play/activity – they will begin working together in an increased fashion. Society understands the benefits our youth have of engaging in exercise and being active. It helps with emotional intelligence, soft skills and physical health. Global companies such as NIKE, ESPN, DICK’S Sporting Goods and others are all playing their role to reverse generational changes and ensure that everyone has access to play and activity in order to reap the benefits. Sports will need to continue innovating with like-minded companies and properties to address global issues through philanthropy.
RETAIL SHOPPING WILL CONTINUE TO DECLINE, LEADING TO A PIVOTAL MOMENT FOR CAUSE MARKETING
Cause marketing grew in popularity with the invention of point of sale (POS) donations. As big box retailers and brick and mortar stores continue to shrink with the rise in online/digital purchasing power, retailers will need to pivot and evolve in order to survive. Many sports organizations and nonprofits benefited from cause marketing and this type of fundraising. However, nonprofits can merely hope to plateau as this typical POS campaign will decrease over the next few years. It will be interesting to see how sports organizations react and innovate in order to keep this revenue stream alive.
MEDIA WILL COVER SPORT PHILANTHROPY MORE THAN EVER BEFORE
Sports philanthropy isn’t the sexiest topic. Fans still click on the clickbait articles – athlete X arrested for a DUI; athlete Y signs a $100MM contract. However, as consumers continue to clamor for engaging articles that humanize their favorite athletes and teams, sports philanthropy will continue to grow in popularity. All athletes, teams and organizations have unique stories to tell and can make us shed a tear at the drop of a compelling video. These pieces are critical to tell the full story and show all sides of sports – not just the wins, losses and dollar signs.
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