With everyone from Tony Blair to Sir Richard Branson aiming to convince the public of their environmental credentials, the green issue is now a regular feature on boardroom agendas. As blue-chip companies in all sectors attempt to show consumers they are taking these matters seriously, the world of sport is also keen to display its caring side.
The London Olympics in 2012 will inevitably attract huge global audiences and, therefore, be able to secure highly lucrative sponsorship deals. Being green, however, has emerged as one of its key marketing strategies, and with the organisers keen to ensure they deliver a “sustainable games” they want to make sure they get the right partners on board.
David Stubbs, director of environment and sustainability for London 2012, says this strategy was always a crucial part of the original bid. “We are not marketing the Games as ‘green’ for the sake of it. The environment is one of the core pillars of the Olympic movement and it is a fundamental part of making 2012 a successful Games.”
Some 60% of the venues used for the 2012 Games are already existing structures, enabling new builds to be kept to a minimum. And, as Stubbs notes, “the design and building of new venues, along with the transport system and waste management, will all be carried out with sustainability in mind”.
Chris Townsend, commercial director for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog), adds: “We are keen to encourage the use of public transport for fans attending the Games.” He hopes that each ticket purchased for an event will come with a one-day Oyster card for travel on all modes of public transport in London for that day.
And London 2012 is not the only sport making the headlines for its green approach. Formula 1 – a sport not traditionally renown for its environmental credentials – is also getting in on the act.
“Being green is our primary marketing concept for 2007,” says Honda Formula 1 marketing director Alistair Watkins. Honda has scrapped sponsorship logos from its cars, replacing them with an image of Earth, and initiated the myearthdream.com website, which allows visitors to make donations to climate change charities.
In terms of luring sponsors to the sport this approach has been well received. Honda has retained all its partners from last year and added ten new ones. Watkins states: “We now offer our partners licensing opportunities so they can use our logo on their products to demonstrate that they are linked with myearthdream.com. This gives them a point of differentiation in the market.”
So why is being green now such an important part of a sports marketing strategy? Getting sponsors on board is vital for the success of any sporting event and as Mark Chadwick, director of Carbon Clear, a company set up to help businesses and individuals manage their carbon emissions, points out: “A negative reaction from the public may cause sponsors to shy away from sports [which are associated with lots of emissions], so to demonstrate environmental leadership makes good sense.”
London 2012 and the Honda F1 team are not the only sports focusing on being green. Chadwick notes that the Football World Cup in Germany last year was a carbon neutral event and the England cricket team’s trip to Australia for the 2006/07Ashes series was carbon offset. This, along with the high-profile 2012 Games, means that events such as Wimbledon and the US Open are likely to follow suit. However, not everyone is convinced about the long-term prospects of these green marketing strategies.
Adam Wylie, managing partner of independent brand communications agency 23red, believes it is simply the latest bandwagon. “It is a shift in the corporate social responsibility rhetoric of the last few years now directed at the latest fad – the environment,” he comments. Wylie does not believe being green is now an integral part of a sports marketing strategy but simply political rhetoric in terms of the Olympics and a survival technique for Formula 1. He continues: “F1 is in danger of losing its glamorous image. I think there is a feeling among some of the team principles that the mitigation of their carbon footprint might help protect the future of the sport.”
So, credibility is definitely crucial. Consumers are more clued up on environmental issues than ever before and will certainly question any brands that cannot make their green claims stand up. And come the London Olympics, environmental concerns are likely to be even more prominent.
With green issues now front of mind for many businesses across all sectors, sporting events and teams that succeed in marketing themselves as green will no doubt ensure they secure increasingly lucrative sponsorship deals. After all, both London 2012 and Honda Formula 1’s green marketing strategies have attracted interest from a wide range of sponsors keen to be seen by the world as doing their bit for the environment.
At a time of heightened personal awareness it is vital for the corporate world to follow. Whether this sports marketing strategy succeeds remains to be seen, but one thing does look certain: it will stop existing advertisers looking elsewhere.