Trends of trends: sport and social purpose

21 Dec 2018

By: Sport Industry Group

Agency We Are Social Sport sees a different kind of social impact as the key trend to watch over the coming year.

A growing emphasis on so-called ‘purpose-led marketing' and the social change agenda, reflected in a shift in sponsor spend towards grassroots, women’s and Paralympic sport, is among the themes of our Sport Industry Trends of Trends report.

In the exclusive opinion piece, Gareth Leeding, Group Creative Director of We Are Social Sport, says 2018 was the year that sports marketing tried to save the world.

Sport has a place in the world to make people’s lives better. To unite communities around issues no matter how big or small. To raise awareness. To go where governments can’t, or won’t. To challenge the uncomfortable.


2018 was the year that brands took a stand against sexism, homophobia and racism.

Manchester City became one club, getting rid of individual social channels for their men’s and women’s teams.

Adidas launched “She Breaks Barriers”, a campaign to raise awareness of the barriers that women face in just participating in sport, let alone reaching the top level.

Team GB rebranded as Team LGBT for the day in support of Rainbow Laces Day.

Nike tackled race issues with a campaign fronted by Colin Kaepernick.


It was the year where caring for the world finally became cool.

Lacoste’s ‘Save our Species’ campaign saw the sportswear brand change the famous crocodile logo on its white polo shirts to raise awareness of ten endangered animals. A limited edition run of each shirt matched the amount of animals left in the wild.

Patagonia plans to donate $10m to environmental groups in support of green causes.

Adidas continued its collaboration with Parley, creating kits made from ocean plastic for Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Manchester United.

The NHS Blood and Transport tapped up England’s two most capped goalkeepers, Peter Shilton and David Seaman, in a campaign to ‘save England’ through blood donation.


Brands lent Olympians a hand.

Red Stripe bought the Jamaican team a bobsleigh when their coach quit and left with the old one.

Sports streaming service DAZN and supplement provider Totum Sport helped assist the Great British women’s bobsleigh team to the Olympics.


Not everyone hit a home run.

MasterCard tried and failed with its well-intentioned but badly executed ‘goals for meals’ campaign, and FIFA missed an opportunity to promote next year’s Women’s World Cup during the Men’s World Cup Final, when billions were watching.


What does this mean for the future of sports marketing?

It’s never been easier to speak to millions and to get your message heard, especially with the FIFA Women’s World Cup, FIBA Basketball World Cup, the IPC Cricket World Cup and the Rugby World Cup coming next year.

And there’s never been a better time for brands, fans, media and institutions to take a stand for things that truly matter. To have a purpose and make a difference. To help make people’s lives better through the power of sport.

How can your brand help? There are still widespread issues in sport. How about doing more to tackle football’s racism problems, giving more opportunities to disabled athletes outside of the Paralympics, or levelling the playing field for women in sport? Call out something you believe is wrong, and try to change it for the better.

The challenge for brands is to not just dip their toe in. This isn't a case of jumping on a bandwagon, it's having a real brand purpose that you stand for, care about and act on. It’s not something that can be created for convenience or a short-term sales push - it’s to continue fighting the good fight. The likes of Patagonia have so much brand love because people know what they stand for. They keep finding new ways to help the world, year after year - whether it’s being brave enough to call the American President out for ‘giving away’ protected US land, or donating millions to good help good causes.

As adidas CMO Eric Lietdke said at SXSW this year - “caring is cool”. Yes, purpose-driven marketing has landed in sport in a big way this year - but it can’t just be a flash in the pan. Marketers have an opportunity to harness the unrivalled power of sport for good. Let’s make a difference.