As the trade association for corporate sponsors, the International Sponsor Council does neither promote nor speak for any one sponsor, but focuses on the collective interests and value of sponsors.
It is not the desire or intention for the ISC and sponsors to interfere with the business and management processes of pro sports. It is, however, our right and duty to protect the interests of fans and sponsors. The fan is the most important stakeholder for sponsors.
The currency of sports and entertainment sponsorship is fan passion. Without it, there is no industry. More emphasis should be put on supporting and respecting that passion. It is obvious that sports & entertainment has evolved into big business, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a moral obligation to the fans. In fact, there is a larger responsibility in the form of sustainability.
Many of the world’s leading corporations are committed to sustainability as well as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The base of this commitment is borne from the need for careful consideration and planning of present actions and their impact and ramifications on future success.
Today, major corporations are focusing more on stakeholders than just shareholders. For a healthy business environment, there is an obligation to those that are affected and can affect the long-term success of these corporations.
Considering the three legs of sustainability, the environmental leg gets the most attention, but the social and economic legs play an equally important role. Too much focus on just one of the legs dilutes the effectiveness and power of sustainability.
The social leg of sustainability includes the need for labor standards and right to associate as well as transparency and anti-corruption. It is natural and healthy for professional leagues to face labor issues with its respective athletes, but in America, labor strife in professional sports has been too frequent and largely ignores the protection of interest of its two major stakeholders: the fans and sponsors.
As far as the economic leg of sustainability, the respective official sponsors are hugely affected by cancelled games due to labor disagreements. Sponsors face detrimental damage including loss of staff hours, agency time and costs, production costs, absence of a branding and promotional platform and while competitors enjoy theirs. From a local community standpoint, since many venues are publicly supported by taxes and public investment, there often is a huge loss in these communities when events are cancelled. These cancellations are in conflict in the spirit of the contract to these respective communities funding these venues.
Without fan passion, corporations do not become sponsors.
Professional sports needs to be reminded that 100% of its revenue is created through fan passion. That passion is generationally shared and is in danger of erosion - that is damaging to the psyche of the public. The industry needs to be wary that it doesn’t take advantage of the fans. There is an obligation for sponsors to stand hand-in-hand with the fans and help protect their interests. To fail to do so can be in conflict with sponsors’ moral contract to leverage fan passion in order to meet business objectives. This is not a judgment upon the profits an owner may make by owning a team or the income of an athlete. It is a reminder that corporations are measuring their reasoning for why they commitment to certain sponsorships and especially those that may not be aligned with their sustainability commitments and initiatives.