In the off-season for most sports, you’ll see new or extended partnerships announced almost every hour as organisations and sporting entities team up to reach their shared objectives.
Partnerships in sport vary from businesses sponsoring shirts and collaborating with athletes to placing their brand right by the action through perimeter advertising - and often with incredible success rates. Some businesses however, take a different approach with their partnerships, by combining it with a greater purpose.
In this insight, we use the Laureus Sport For Good Index to explore the partnerships in sport which have seen businesses and sports entities combine to deliver a lasting impact through the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Global water technology provider Xylem has been working with City Football Group (CFG) and their network of football clubs (including Manchester City, Manchester City Women, New York City FC and Mumbai City FC) since 2018.
The partnership has seen Xylem leverage the football clubs’ global presence to reach more than one billion people and spread awareness for water issues through crucial campaigns such as the ‘Closer Than You Think’ and ‘The End of Football’ campaigns, aimed at highlighting the devastating impact that the world’s current water challenges could have in the years to come.
As well as awareness campaigns, the partnership has promoted the use of football as a tool for action through ‘The water Heroes Academy’, an initiative which empowers young leaders to provide essential education on water, sanitation and hygiene in their communities.
Importantly, the partnership was also brought on to the pitch for the 2021/22 season, where Xylem and Manchester City teamed up with Puma to release the club’s first kit dedicated to a social cause: safe water.
Sports offer a wide variety of different partnership opportunities and many brands choose a multi-layered approach to their strategy. This is precisely what technology giant Microsoft have done in their partnerships with both high profile athletes and sport organisations.
Through their partnerships with WNBA teams Atlanta Dream and Connecticut Sun, as well as star players A’ja Wilson and Jewell Lloyd, Microsoft are connecting STEM with basketball.
By showing how skills in STEM come to life through basketball, women and young girls are gaining vital access to technology and are learning how it can lead to a career in sports and beyond.
Similarly, through their ‘Game Changers’ programme, Microsoft are using partnerships with female athletes to inspire young generations through highlighting how STEM has helped some of the most trailblazing women overcome challenges such as Dyslexia and Paralysis.
The Redmond-headquartered multinational has combined its two-pronged partnership approach with investment in community-based sports organisations, with its partnership with Atlanta Running Club, teaching children how exercise and technology can enhance their lives.
Japanese automobile manufacturer Nissan have set out three main themes to their sustainability strategy - the climate crisis, social equality, and highly conscious customers.
Through each of these three themes, Nissan have utilised the power of partnerships in sports, with their very own Formula E team leading the initiatives. The team aims to showcase the power of electric vehicles and champion their use amongst their consumers, with Nissan setting the objective of ensuring that more than half of their vehicles are electric by 2030.
This objective was further enhanced through Nissan’s partnership with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, which saw the Spaniard spearhead the ‘Electrify the City’ campaign, reaching over 27 million viewers and generating a 21% positive uplift of Nissan electric vehicles.
Nissan’s final theme, social equality, has been the focus of their partnerships with the TSC London Marathon and the Great Run series, where they have led inclusive cheer zone environments for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as working with charities to provide Nissan prosthetics to young people with disabilities.
World renowned toy manufacturer LEGO is the final entry on this list, with the Danish brand utilising high profile partnerships in sports to promote inclusivity, empowerment and creativity amongst young children.
Having partnered with a number of different entities within the sport industry, including working closely with sportswear manufacturer Adidas, some of LEGO’s more recent partnerships have centred around major women’s football tournaments, including UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 and FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.
As a national sponsor for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, LEGO launched the ‘Play Makes Anything Possible’ campaign which sought to engage young children, specifically young girls, in creative and inclusive play through a series of events with current and former Lioness players Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton and Alex Scott.
Recognising the impact of athlete partnerships, LEGO followed a similar theme for their ‘Play Unstoppable’ campaign, launched ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, which aims to celebrate the endless potential of girls when they are given opportunities to play without limits.
The campaign has seen the Danish brand partner with global football superstars Megan Rapinoe, Yuki Nagasato, Sam Kerr and Asisat Oshoala on a global level, as well as a number of inspiring athletes and engaging organisations on a market basis.
The Power to Change
Since it was launched in 2021, the Laureus Sport For Good Index has shined a light on the brands that are having a meaningful societal impact through their work in sport.
The partnerships highlighted in this article are only four examples of how businesses can collaborate in sport to influence change across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, but the industry is filled with positive examples.
The four examples above tell us that partnerships in sport aren’t reserved for particular industries or businesses.
Sports’ truly universal nature means that any business, whether wanting to reach consumers or businesses, working with toys or looking to equip the world with the best water technology can utilise the power of sport to create a positive impact.