Society

Sport offers top platform to fight for world justice

epl

Brighton’s midfielder Tariq Lamptey (second right) is challenged by Chelsea’s Mason Mount during the EPL match at the American Express Community Stadium in Brighton, southern England, on September 14. AFP PHOTO

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Summary

  • Apart from giving the audience the opportunity to participate in games, sports marketing allows fans to interact and identify with their idol athletes through promotional events.
  • Recently, there has been a migration in the sports marketing towards cause marketing, seeing big names and personalities using their authority and influence to raise awareness on important issues in society.
  • Consumers want their brands to stand for something and equality, diversity, and inclusion rank highly in the list of causes. Amid a saturation of advertising and proliferation of new channels, fresh opportunities are arising for brands and clubs to cultivate deeper relationships with fans.

Last Sunday I visited my barber for a haircut or more realistically to remove the last vestiges of hair on my rapidly balding head. As my barber trimmed my hair, I noticed he was also watching a Premier League football match where there were no spectators in the stadium owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

I went to pains to explain to him that it is not the gate takings that make money for the sport but the advertising on rolling billboards, players outfits, endorsements, and audiovisual rights for live coverage.

Even without the revenue from gate tickets the industry was still in business. The Premier League is the most watched sports league in the world, broadcast in 212 territories to 643 million homes and a potential TV audience of 4.7 billion people. Marketing agencies worldwide appreciate that at the touch of a button you can instantly reach a massive audience because of the popularity of sports.

Just to give you an example of the size of the industry, the cost of English Premier League broadcast rights has risen to £9.2 billion ($12 billion) for the next three seasons since 2019.

Apart from giving the audience the opportunity to participate in games, sports marketing allows fans to interact and identify with their idol athletes through promotional events.

Recently, there has been a migration in the sports marketing towards cause marketing, seeing big names and personalities using their authority and influence to raise awareness on important issues in society. Consumers want their brands to stand for something and equality, diversity, and inclusion rank highly in the list of causes. Amid a saturation of advertising and proliferation of new channels, fresh opportunities are arising for brands and clubs to cultivate deeper relationships with fans.

In February 2019, Nike, for instance, put womens’ sport at the heart of its Dream Crazy campaign. Starring and narrated by tennis legend Serena Williams, the ad is an open call for women in sports to fight against gender bias and unfair stereotyping.

But for me, the real turning point was when individual sportsmen started to take a personal stand on issues. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, the National Football League (NFL) quarterback famously “took a knee” during the national anthem at the start of NFL games in protest against police brutality and racial inequality in the United States. Following his departure from the 49ers in 2016, Kaepernick went unsigned through the off-season and 2017 training camps, leading to allegations that he was being “blackballed” because of his on-field political statements as opposed to his performance. Despite reaching a confidential agreement with the NFL in 2019, Kaepernick remains unsigned to date, giving credence to these claims.

In June 2020, amid the George Floyd protests, Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated, wrote “Mainstream white America is going to reconsider Kaepernick at some point, the way it reconsidered Muhammad Ali years after he refused to go to Vietnam, the way it reconsidered Jackie Robinson and Jack Johnson. Progress comes in fits and starts, and this country tends to punish those who urge it to move faster.”

This year F1 and the FIA mounted an anti-racism and pro-diversity campaign, which includes anti-racism demonstrations before every race. The demonstrations have been led by the six-time world champion and only black driver in F1, Lewis Hamilton who is the sports most high profile driver. His stance has been backed by the Mercedes F1 team, who painted their cars black this year to represent their support for anti-racism and diversity.

The bravest sports activist recently has to be the once shy Naomi Osaka, the 22 year old women’s tennis sensation. Born of a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, Osaka opted to play for Japan since last year and has become outspoken with her strident views on social media, making her an icon to the millions watching tennis across the globe.

Osaka wore a different face mask for each of her matches at Flushing Meadows, each carrying the name of a black American victim of racial injustice in America, bringing the cause to a wider global audience. She joined the Black Lives Matter protests following the brutal murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minnesota.

Following a lot of heat on social media regarding her activism in and off court, this week, Osaka addressed her naysayers with her particular brand of steely verve.

“All the people who were telling me to “keep politics out of sports” (which wasn’t political at all), really inspired me to win. You better believe I’m gonna try to be on your TV for as long as possible,” she tweeted.

It takes a lot of discipline, commitment, and effort to be a top sports person. In the course of climbing up the ladder of success you have to overcome many physical challenges in addition to outside obstacles such as discrimination, corruption, and cheating. One has to be constantly aiming for perfection. In a way, top sports persons are the ideal role models and their stand on human rights issues carries a great ideal of weight amongst their followers. Because of the large audiences that sport commands, it is a powerful vehicle in changing people’s attitudes around the world.

Perhaps our local sportsmen and women should take a cue and start standing up for issues in our beloved country. That would be very powerful indeed. We are certainly not short of top sports personalities.

Unfortunately, for sports personalities, it also puts their personal lives under the microscope and very high standards are expected of them, as OJ Simpson and Tiger Woods discovered. Even outside of the sports world being famous has its downside; Prince Harry and Meghan have been hounded by the media and Buckingham Palace was not too enthusiastic about their marriage across racial barriers.