If sport is going to be relevant it must either align with something a new market values or have so much money behind it that it becomes a Jetson-like bubble that hovers over the realities a new market endures.
It is tricky to make sport relevant in our own culture. It is trickier to make sport relevant in new cultures where sport is not an intergenerational experience handed down from parent to child and moulded over the years to take the shape of the things our culture cares about like individual success, achievement through effort and if we are lucky, mateship.
Sports are becoming more global for many reasons that make sense to sport business if not the people who suddenly find themselves living in a hub of cricket when before there was only soccer. Vanuatu sent a rower to the Olympics. AFL outposts are cropping up throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands. Rugby 7s confounded everyone but the closest observers by having teams from all continents in the Olympic quarterfinals. All major sports have China in their cross hairs and the only question is who has enough resources to make the biggest noise first.
How do sports built on the principals of faster, higher strong (and richer) go about expanding into a country that sits at the other end of the Hofstede’s scale of cultural dimensions to the places where the sport has had its strongholds? What if decision makers in this new country value the well-being of a village more than the success of one individual from that village? Will World Rugby's definition of character be useful in all places where rugby is played? Do people spending their days seeking our the lower level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs - food, security, shelter, education - care about the self actualisation sport offers? In places where sport is seen as a meaningless leisure activity, will competing for education and jobs always be more important than risking it all for 0.03% chance of being drafted in the NFL.
Sports need to connect with the values that drive the new markets. If sports are to connect with the values that drive the new markets, sports need to also connect with corporate and community development partner that authentically promote those values.
This value and partner driven approach to new markets presents an open door to green fields and dancing unicorns for corporate sponsors.
Through sport, corporate sponsors have an opportunity to connect with new markets to:
Communicate with a new emerging market and the people who influence them instead of battling for a share of a saturated fans.
Access new, novel decision makers across more diverse spheres of influence.
Connect the brand to high priority values, for example economic empowerment, cohesion, opportunities for youth and gender equity.
By connecting to these priority values, provide sport-plus opportunities for local employees that, in turn, improve employee performance.
Dodge association with highly visible brand damaging social controversies common in professional sport.
Add dollar value to the branded activities through community development and innovation funding sources.
A CEO of a corporate organisation in Papua New Guinea summed it up best when told me that he wanted to move his company's sponsorship from an elite sport to a program that serves the community. “If we sponsor [the elite sport] we are just one of many logos. If we sponsor a sport that is doing the right thing in the community, we are talking to the people. We are right there beside them. We should be part of that good story."
What’s worked for you? Do you have any stories about sponsors kicking goals by supporting sport in new markets?