Sports, branding, philanthropy – a growth business

We are fortunate to be able to republish a piece on the marketing/PR strategy behind sports and philanthropy for larger brands and even for local ones, from Joe Favorito, a leading figure in the world of sports PR. You can find Joe’s piece here and find more commentary from and information about Joe at

Sports Philanthropy For Brands…Same Spend, Twice Return?
January 12, 2010 by Joe Favorito

Cause related marketing for brands, even in a down economy, remains one of the growth areas for active consumer brands. With overall marketing dollars slashed last, companies had to find more efficient ways to reach consumers, and one of the biggest ways was combining dollars earmarked for straight advertising and rallying behind a cause.  Instead of just asking the consumer to buy product straight out, brands went more for social responsibility, with x dollars tied to a local or national charity.  The result was at least the feeling that brands were accomplishing three goals…effective spending of limited ad dollars, a direct, emotional tie to the consumer and a bigger outreach for philanthropic endeavors.  Little downside of the expenditure with a wider ROI.

The greater overall community outreach with brand partners also extended to sports. Wherever there was a mass gathering of elite athletes, parties were replaced by days of service.  The NBA, MLB, NASCAR, MLS, now the NFL, all found willing partners like Bank of America to join forces and use the power of both brands  (the league and its consumer partner) to assist in the community and deliver messages that showed the consumer  that the connection to the fan went beyond the playing field.  So with that connection in mind, will more brands  look to take even more marketing dollars, these earmarked for a sports spend, and find athletes and teams willing to connect those dollars directly to philanthropy, using the power of the athlete brand to drive the message in a local community?  It would make great sense, and could create even more economies of scale for brands, to reinvest through sports philanthropy, using the teams and the athlete as their vehicles.  They have a built in forum for success, as all teams already have programs and dollars earmarked for community relations and brand building.

Many elite brands have extensive social responsibility platforms already in play, so the model is set now for local brands…from banks to employment groups to insurance companies…to join with the team and athletes in the community efforts.  It may not look as sexy as a billboard or a TV endorsement, but perhaps, just perhaps, the payoff can be even bigger for the consumer and that company. With the right aggressive publicity spin, the amount of coverage could also eclipse what the spend would be in dollar value.  In many cases the spend is not new money, it is a reallocation of dollars already committed, now focused on a new platform, one of sports philanthropy and giving back to the community.

Of course there are those who will evaluate a brand spend and determine that the dollars that go for community relations don’t impact a mass group as a spend during an event, or with a direct athlete endorsement, and those dollars that are probably committed to community spend are probably a fraction of what could or should be brought in during a sales cycle.  However in today’s marketplace, where every dollar is being counted, finding a strategic way to make a dollar go twice as far…as part of both a traditional marketing spend and working a philanthropic play…could be a growing trend for brands with athletic ties for the coming year.