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Cause Marketing in Sports

The latest cause marketing deal in sports was announced in Kansas City on Tuesday last week.

Soccer club Sporting KC (formerly the Kansas City Wizards), which plays in Major League Soccer, did an historic and innovative deal with the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The club has handed over naming rights of its new $200 million stadium to the foundation. Sporting KC’s home ground and complex, which will open on the 9th of June, will be called Livestrong Sporting Park. Additionally, for the length of the deal, the club will give a percentage of its earnings, such as all stadium revenues, including ticket sales and concessions, to the foundation’s advocacy work. The partnership will also assist the development of local cancer survivorship services for Kansas City residents. 

On Sporting KC’s website, Lance Armstrong, celebrated cancer survivor and winner of a record seven consecutive Tour de France cycle races, is quoted as saying:

Professional sports provide a powerful vehicle to affect positive change in the world.  LIVESTRONG’s partnership with Sporting Club gives us an innovative opportunity to advance the cancer fight in this region and we are eager to get started.”

So what exactly is cause marketing? It is defined as marketing communications utilizing a non-profit cause. Put simply, it is sponsorship of a non-profit cause. Cause marketing has become a mainstream form of marketing. Many organizations are beginning to integrate cause-related marketing programs (CRMPs) into their sports marketing strategies as they realize the huge emotional resonance these programs create. CRMPs can achieve objectives for the sports rights holder such as:

  • improving overall corporate image
  • differentiating the brand
  • building brand awareness
  • building brand image
  • stimulating brand preference and loyalty
  • increasing profits

The largest cause marketing deal in sports, ever, was announced last December when Barcelona FC, the giants of European soccer, signed a deal with the Qatar Foundation worth €30m a year until 2016. The Qatar Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission, according to the official website:

To prepare the people of Qatar and the region to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world, and to make Qatar a leader in innovative education and research.”

As well as the Qatar Foundation, Barcelona FC will also have to find room on its jersey (or maybe shorts) to display the name of its other sponsor – UNICEF.

In September 2006, in a previous landmark sponsorship, Barcelona gave UNICEF the privilege of being the first name ever to appear on its famous jersey. Under the terms of that non-traditional sponsorship, Barcelona pays UNICEF €1.5m a year towards Aids projects.

Another notable example of cause marketing in sports comes from European soccer. Italian club Fiorentina played the second half of the 2010 season with a Save The Children logo on its jersey, after its sponsorship deal with Toyota had expired. When the club announced a multi-million dollar deal with Japanese car manufacturer Mazda in January this year, Mazda decided to allow the Save The Children logo to remain on the front of the club’s jersey. The club’s managing director, Sandro Menucci, in a quote on the official Mazda website, called the decision:

“…a tangible sign of the fact that, over and above the importance of this commercial agreement, Fiorentina’s commitment to support the charity work of this association, which we are linked to by great respect and a sense of responsibility, will not decrease at all. On the contrary, our own commitment to charity will be stepped up by important partnerships like this.”

Cause marketing in sports hasn’t always been about million dollar deals, large global charities, or well known sports entities. An intriguing and very different example of cause marketing goes back to as early as 1996, with the creation of the LPGA Girls Golf Club. The USGA (United States Golf Association) entered into a partnership with the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) and the Girl Scouts of the USA to create the LPGA Girls Golf Club. This program introduced more than 2,500 girls nationwide to the game of golf and as stated on the website, its mission is:

Empowering and supporting girls and women through developmental and humanitarian golf initiatives”.

So, as you see, the cause marketing and sports partnership has been around for many years and is definitely here to stay. It communicates powerful messages, generates favorable attitudes on the part of the consumer and spectator and has a far bigger pull than sports and entertainment marketing alone.

The Sporting KC and Livestrong partnership is merely the latest example of cause marketing and as the Sporting KC website states, very powerfully:

“…whether you’re a fan of sports or entertainment, by attending events at LIVESTRONG sporting park, you will be directly contributing to the fight against cancer”.

Image from website zimbio.com

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7 Responses to Cause Marketing in Sports

  1. lasday.david March 23, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    We at Netanya hoops For Kids totally agree and are happy to be selected as a jersey sponsor of Barak Netanya http://www.netanyahoopsforkids.org

  2. SPGonz March 23, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    One point that may have been overlooked is the fact that Cause Related marketing allows the sponsor to tap into a very loyal and committed audience who are extremely fanatical about the cause and those who support the cause. By showing true interest in their cause, a sponsor can have a fan/follower/loyal customer for life. While it might not be a “sexy” as sponsoring a stadium, or the Super Bowl, or having your logo on the side of car, the impact of cause related marketing can be just as strong and possibly, alot more satisfying.

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