We wrote in this blog a year ago about the relationship between sport and politics, the fact that it’s undeniable but requires nuanced evaluation. We concluded, in part, that sports rights holders do have a role to play in ensuring they use their platforms to engage with positivity and progression. Sensationalising it more than just ‘playing a role’ can often lead to doubling down on division. There is an argument, that by accepting the breadth and depth of positivity that defines sport, brands should be pushing themselves more to create something and proactively use the platform, rather than just expecting the rights holder to be completely non-controversial.

Sport, at its core, is a deeply connective thing. It can transcend language and culture barriers, and whether you’re competing or watching – pain, passion and elation are always present. It provides escape, hope, and opportunity too, allowing people to express themselves, as well as being an antidote to physical and mental health problems. The business buzz word, ‘innovation’, is also best seen in the world of sport. Efficiency, high-performance, and longevity are central themes for successful teams and innovation in sport is therefore so often translated and adapted to other industries. For all these reasons, it’s understandable why some hold dear the adage that sport and societal issues (or politics) should be kept apart.

The common themes running through the articles on this blog page are both unsurprising and deliberate. Inside Edge operate in, benefit from, and thoroughly enjoy sport. The game is partnerships, and the challenge is to use extensive knowledge of the industry to plan, envisage, and deliver highly successful, long-term relationships.

When talking to brands about the possibilities within the industry, it often boils down to the necessary, basic questions. How much does it cost? What do we get from it? How big is the platform? All are highly important for any Chief Marketing Officer / decision maker who needs to produce an efficient campaign that delivers against specific KPIs. Recently, particularly with the World Cup amassing a spotlight that goes far beyond a footballing beacon, a concern around ‘Why sport in general?’ has surfaced more frequently. In our piece tackling this question, we summarised our belief that sports partnerships serve as a bold, creative, and multi-purpose marketing solution, capable of delivering across multiple touch points and connecting with millions. Indeed, Nelson Mandela’s famous comment that ‘sport has the power to unite people in a way that little else can’ will always hold value, because sport intrinsically ‘has the power to inspire’.

Turning away from sports partnerships primarily because of who runs the organisation is understandable, but it’s not the only solution. Sport will always be amazing and provide unbelievable moments, will always be enjoyed in the local park, and will always be a valuable tool to connect people together. Crucially, what it will also always be, is one of the biggest platforms in the world. It’s on this last point where this piece stands. The expectation placed on rights holders to promote and protect the sport they represent is understandable, primarily because of the astronomical figures involved at the top end. But there is a call to action for brands here too. For those interested in benefiting from the platform or those already attached to its lure, creative marketing solutions can mean that whoever you are partnered with, it’s what you do with it that can be invaluable, positive, and truly progressive.

Hyundai are committed to holding onto the values of the sport of football, rather than the bureaucracy behind it. Launching their campaign, ‘The Goal of the Century’, the automotive company sites both the reach of the sport and its stand-alone ability to ‘overcome social differences’ and in bringing people together. Football is their platform, what they do with it is progressive and hugely important. More than a campaign, The Goal of the Century is seen as a long-term commitment by a leading global company on its way to achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.  Whether it’s the provision of an electric fleet at the tournament, a diverse range of ambassadors to activate in local markets or a new youth development programme, the brand has developed the partnership way beyond branding on the in-stadia LED boards. They are standing for something, and even if they may not necessarily agree with how FIFA is run, they have the power and space to showcase what they believe in, and how they can be a force for good.

Rights holders have an active role to play in this setup, and the most ambitious and forward-thinking should be pivoting away from standardised rights packages in favour of bespoke arrangements that challenge the brands to come up with something different. Often a brand wants to know what the rights holder is providing that they can integrate into. But brands should push themselves to appreciate the platform a major partnership offers them, using it to deliver something different, impactful, and full of purpose. This is happening much more frequently. VISA and Xero, for example, are both heavily involved in player development programmes around the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. This is a two-way process and through integrating and creating, partnerships can be so fruitful for all involved.

The IOC is a good example of a rights holder that advocates for fully bespoke partnership packages, even to the extent that there is no media obligation. The approach is primarily to demonstrate to prospective partners what the IOC stands for, its key values, and then encourage partner brands to own these values, creating something that can be as meaningful as the organisations can come up with. By partnering with the IOC, Airbnb were engaging in their first sports sponsorship in sport and embedding themselves into the framework of the world’s most prestigious event.  By providing accommodation for athletes, the brand has been genuinely supporting people who often cannot sustain their own lifestyle. They’ve integrated, created, and they have also used the platform to re-invent their brand identity. The idea of being able to ‘host the world’ enabled a shift away from old brand ideas such as ‘convenience’ and ‘functionality’, in favour of novel positioning centred around ‘adventure’ and ‘community’.

To keep the industry progressing, creativity is essential. Whether it’s car marketplaces, crypto exchanges, FMCG or payment solutions, partnerships span all categories and are so varied when it comes to measuring success. If your brand is interested in sport and sees the magnitude of opportunity within it, there will always be scope to use the platform to forward positive messaging, engage with communities, and stand out from the crowd. Moreover, there is a huge internal marketing possibility too. One of Deloitte’s primary takeaways from their partnership with the IOC was the influx of thousands of employees who requested being involved with the partnership in some form. Rights-holders do need to find ways to become more transparent and trustworthy, endeavouring to protect their integrity. However, rather than be put off, brands who appreciate the power of sport can become protagonists, thinking outside of the box to marry up efficiency, awareness, and success with progression and positivity.