OP-ED: HOW CAN THE SPORTS HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY BECOME MORE SUSTAINABLE

20 Dec 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

Chris Gardner has over 20 years’ experience drawing from the Entertainments, Hospitality and Leisure sectors, to deliver customer focused value through Procurement and Supply Chain Operations. Additionally, Chris is a former semi-professional football player, qualified coach and now manager. 

A recent study across the US, UK, France, and Spain shows sport fans’ strong desire for face-to-face connections, with 80 percent of respondents feeling comfortable attending sports, cultural and professional events again. With fans back to the stadiums, there are significant opportunities to rethink revenue streams, maximise venue budgets and operations, and connect with spectators via smarter merchandising, ticketing, and hospitality package designs. 

The current sector status calls for an innovative approach centered around the changing consumer attitudes and concerns, as well as driving efforts to become more sustainable in the long term. The pandemic has led to an evolution of behaviours and expectations with consumers being ready to reconsider their purchasing habits if an operator doesn’t match their values. As a result, leaders in the industry are now increasingly seeing the risk of losing the trust of spectators and supporters if there is a lack of investment in sustainability, recognising the need to optimise the environmental impact of their operations. 

The demand for sustainable practices is only going to increase – driven by consumers, suppliers, and regulators, and the sports industry will have to learn to adapt their business models and embrace sustainability for the long run. A recent YouGov survey discovered that almost two-thirds of business executives believe a sustainable strategy is necessary in remaining financially competitive within today’s business environment, and a successful approach to the triple bottom line (Planet, People and Profit) can ultimately have a positive effect on business performance. 

Taking a holistic view, the spectators’ experience is not limited to the game itself. It starts from how they purchase their tickets and how they get to a game, as this has a significant impact on their carbon footprint on the day. Due to Covid restrictions, clubs are encouraged to operate a "digital-first policy", and offering digital tickets available on phones, rather than a printed ticket limits the carbon emissions involved. Another important element is what and how spectators consume food and drink when they get there. Avoiding meat and dairy products can reduce an individual's carbon footprint by two-thirds, and a draught pint is responsible for fewer emissions than cans, bottles, or reusable cups/glasses. Reducing the circulation of physical programmes and replacing these with digital versions will also add to the reduction of waste. 

New sustainable practices that are becoming more common in some newer stadia in the US and Europe also include: 

·    Proactive recycling receptacles to enable a closed loop recycling system 

·    Rainwater collection solutions to feed the pitch watering systems 

·    Solar panels or wind turbines to generate electricity  

·    LED stadium lighting 

·    Moving to compostable packaging 

·    Electrical vehicles charging points and encouraging the use of mass / public transit vehicles 

The UK government is targeting net-zero emissions by 2025, global energy reporting is now a legal requirement, and a plastic packaging tax will be introduced in 2022 – a challenge for all leaders in the sports industry. It is therefore essential to understand the current state of sustainability approaches in place, and the changes required in the future to address strategic challenges, minimise risks and deliver key goals. Common sustainability challenges include: 

·    The lack of visibility of key sustainability risks throughout the supply chain that may lead to potential damage to reputation 

·    Limited understanding of the most effective ways to deliver a sustainability programme to achieve the desired goals focused on people, policies and processes  

·    Knowledge of the best practices in the industry when working with a supply base to encourage sustainability  

·    Lack of clarity of how to measure a sustainability programme’s success 

While financial and operational models for economic sustainability have existed for a long time, not much work has gone into “cohesively” bringing together the social equity and environment side of equations. However, sustainability is becoming more important for all companies, across all industries with increased focus on circular economy integration, transparent and traceable supply chains, ethically sourced raw materials and carbon neutral and negative operations. And whilst there are many emerging examples across the sports business sector, there is still work to be done in bringing spectators closer to the value chain and making them a part of the overall sustainability journey.