Posted by - Whitestone International

How are sporting events enhancing the lives of those lucky enough to enjoy them, as well as those beyond the stadium walls? How can they leverage emotive connections and use their platform to make positive social change? And in turn, can this social impact strengthen the brand equity of those delivering and partnering with the events to drive profitable purpose for their businesses?”

Every sport event has a story to tell that is greater than what happens on the field of play. The economic impact for those involved in delivering the event and the ongoing commercial legacy for the sport as a whole are of course huge factors. However, new generations of audiences have evolved with an increased awareness and demand for positive and wider social impact from the people, companies, brands and experiences they interact with. As a result, the social footprints of sporting events are more important than ever when looking to attract and build a loyal audience base.

So how are sporting events enhancing the lives of those lucky enough to enjoy them, as well as beyond the stadium walls? How can they leverage emotive connections and use their platform to make positive social change? And in turn, can this social impact strengthen the brand equity of those delivering and partnering with the events to drive profitable purpose for their businesses?

This month alone, we have been enjoying the evolving narratives of two global event spectaculars – the ICC Cricket World Cup and the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Both have demonstrated the increased social relevance of sports events – from breaking social media records, to inspiring more meaningful participation and their ability to advance important conversations within the industry and beyond. Each of these progressions are the result of social and emotive connections made between those experiencing the event in one way or another and between audiences and the event itself. And it all starts within the stadium boundaries…


A great challenge for all sports event hosts is filling seats. Naturally, the need to do so is crucial to the commercial model, but it is also vital to the atmosphere of an event and the social connections made. In fact, the role of the physical environment and atmosphere in the consumption of live sports events is recognised as being of fundamental importance, especially in an experience economy where sport and entertainment go hand in hand.

Studies show that social interaction at a sports event is a major determinant of a consumer’s emotional experience. The atmosphere in the stands and on the field of play has the ability to shape people’s feelings, emotions, attitudes and beliefs. It can provide a sense of pride, happiness, euphoria, eustress and so on – all of which add to a fan’s decision making process when choosing to remain loyal to a brand, advocate on its behalf and of course purchase in future.

The brands that can benefit – or indeed be hindered by this – include the event itself, the teams, players, sponsors and other stakeholders, such as governing bodies, hosts and governments. And of course it is not just a full stadium that builds the best atmosphere, it’s a myriad of elements that help connect the fan with the event – it’s the full proposition, from the sporting performances to the entertainment, and from the layout and acoustics of the stadium, to the visual branding and messages.

Social Connection

Social connection can be built through shared values and common ethos and is rarely more prevalent than in the world of sport, where emotive connections are the driving force for interactions, consumption and sharing. Sport provides something to talk about and brag about and for those who attend or watch on TV, sport provides an opportunity to bond over shared experiences.

With sports having the ability to bring people together from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, and to break down barriers that might otherwise exist, the events and matches themselves are the physical manifestation of this. The notion of social connection takes the emotions and atmosphere experienced at a sports event to the next level – to create a sense of belonging and community. This creates a social currency far more valuable than the ticket price alone and just as critical to sustainable revenue and rights value.

Social Impact

The positive outcomes of sport in general have long been recognised, particularly on health and development. But how can sports events and the brands and businesses involved in delivering them utilise the atmosphere, experiences and social connections to have a greater social impact beyond the event itself? Let’s take a look at some of those who are harnessing the power of sports events for wider social good, through awareness, fundraising, inspiration and social change.

Awareness and Fundraising –#OneDay4Children, Unicef and ICC Cricket 4 Good in partnership
Having worked for the International Cricket Council (ICC) for over 15 years, we have seen the development of their ICC Cricket 4 Good programme, which aims to use the reach of cricket to raise awareness and positively impact the lives of families worldwide. At the end of 2018, we were asked to work with the ICC and Unicef to create a new campaign brand that would raise awareness of the work done by both organisations to improve the lives of children.

The campaign will be the centre piece of this weekend’s ICC Cricket World Cup clash between rivals England and India, as 25,000 spectators come together at Edgbaston to celebrate #OneDay4Children. It will be a day dedicated to uniting the cricket world and leveraging the power of a major sporting event to help more children learn, play and be healthy. It will not only raise awareness amongst cricket’s 1billion+ fans, but it will strengthen the connections that audiences have with each other and with Unicef and ICC Cricket 4 Good – enabling both brands to deepen their social impact and value to the world.

To learn more about #OneDay4Children visit: icc-cricket.com/media-releases/1179592
Or to support #OneDay4Children you can donate at: unicef.uk/cricket

Inspiration and Social Change – FIFA Women’s World Cup
As covered in our Innovation in Sports article, our first involvement with the FIFA Women’s World Cup was for the 2003 tournament. It was a pivotal point for the event’s brand and image and marked the beginning of a more analogous approach to positioning and presenting the event with equal status to the men’s event – despite there being clear disparities in the traditional $ value drivers, participation and audience numbers.

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup has also proved to be another turning point for the event, women’s football and women’s sport as a whole. With related content racking up 71.2m views on social media in the 90 days leading up to the beginning of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the event is social media gold. However, in the broader sense, it is strengthening the social messages and connections across those people it reaches in what many hope will be a drive towards greater social change and evolving attitudes towards women’s sport, as well as causes such as inclusivity within sports of the LGBT+ community.

It is hoped that the event will have inspired those who have watched, attended and experienced it to not only increase their participation in the sport, but shift the conversation across all aspects of the men’s and women’s game. As the event’s motto states, it is the “Time to Shine”.

Conclusion: Accelerating profitable purpose in a way that is mutually beneficial

Part of the power of sporting events is the values inherent in the sport itself, which are shared, transferred and heightened by the sporting atmosphere and experiences in order to influence action in audiences. However another key factor inherent in sport is the ability for multiple stakeholders to come together to further amplify that power.

Demonstrated in the example of the ICC and Unicef campaign, the potential impact of #OneDay4Children is being made even greater by the synchronised efforts of the sports’ governing bodies, event hosts, partners, teams, players, legends and broadcasters to spread the word and inspire even more children to play cricket, be healthy and embrace education. At the FIFA Women’s World Cup, partners and sponsors have lent their voices to the evolving social narratives to strengthen the conversations around female equality. For example, Nike’s “Dream Further” campaign aims to empower the next generation of female players by encouraging them not to change their dream, but to change the world.

Stakeholders involved in delivering and partnering with sports events have the opportunity to improve their own social footprint, but also have a valuable platform through which to demonstrate their responsibility, commitment and contribution and to be seen as proactive champions for causes that are shared by their audiences. This opportunity to appeal to their audience’s sense of social connection, as well as their personal identity and need for cultural progress, provides a mutually beneficial environment that can strengthen audiences’ opinions and loyalties towards these brands and in turn drive businesses’ profitable purpose.

Profit and purpose do not need to be mutually exclusive. For more information on how we integrate both purpose and profitability into our clients’ brands, please contact us.