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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Derrick

Money vs morals: how much longer can sport put the dollars first?

Last week, a local oil factory was bombed in Saudi Arabia. A location dangerously close to the Formula 1 track due to host some of the world's biggest sportsmen over the weekend. And yet the FIA agreed to continue the race. Even with backlash from their most important product, their drivers. Added to their terrible human rights problems - including horrific treatment of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community - it's a wonder Saudi Arabia has so much success in sport from the Western world. And yet it does.

The backlash to Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been met with a huge response from sports brands, pulling games, tournaments and athletes from the country as well as cancelling or pausing sponsorship with Russian partners. But perhaps this speaks more of the small impact Russia has on the sporting landscape on the whole. It's a win-win for sports brands. They look responsive, lose very little in regards to money and gain significant trust from fans and future sponsors. So, why aren't they pulling out of those countries doing much the same but with less media coverage? Because they pay. Well beyond what any other partners would. Money, unfortunately, speaks very loud.

Tobacco, fossil fuel investors and betting companies are also creeping back into the forefront of the sporting landscape, hoping to go unnoticed after years of hiding behind disguises. The world spoke and these industries were simply not welcome. And yet, here we are again. The same disputes. The same morals being challenged and fans values being compromised. How can we challenge athletes so hard around their ethics and not hold the big rights holders accountable for the same thing?

And then we have crypto brands entering the sponsorship game hard-and-fast; a brave move for rights holders taking these companies on considering their negative effect on the climate and cause of gambling addictions, let alone still being in their infancy. Barcelona FC and Manchester City FC have already been burned, and yet we're signing $700 million, 20 year deals with them?

So how much longer will sport be able to take funding from corrupt, inhumane, unsustainable or risky brands? I guess the more important question is, how can they continue without it?

The answer is brand. Sport's brands have to become bigger than the physical sport itself. They have to have more products and services than just their yearly play. Becoming economically sustainable in themselves, allows them to choose partnerships that may pay less in the short-term but who's values align better with their fans and the future of the sporting landscape; thus building their brand value larger than they ever thought possible in the long-term. A successful sport brand will see winning as the ice cream on the cake. A successful brand will see its value grow year-on-year no matter the result on field.

We talk more about this and how rights holders, can activate their brand to create a future-proof foundation for them, their fans and their future partners in our article brand-led brand in sport. Rights holders have to be thinking about this now if they have any chance of surviving the future. Why? Well let's not forget that Gen-Zer's are the most attentive, values-led, thoughtful generation of our time whilst also being the greatest untapped opportunity for rights holders to diversify, grow and future-proof their brands. This generation make their buying decisions based more on the values of the brand than the product or service it's selling. So it's vital rights holders put this front-of-mind in their plans rather than focussing on their current, ageing fans. An error many continue to make across the board. We'll be covering the Gen-Z audience in a couple of weeks, watch this space.

So one last time up on some industries' sponsorship opportunities?

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