The pause in the calendar enforced by the coronavirus crisis gives sport time to reflect on its role in the world, says Neill Duffy
We’ve all done it before. Your computer isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. You’ve tried everything you can think of, pressed every button and combination of buttons imaginable but to no avail. What do you do next? You power it down and reboot it, and “voila” it works …..for a while. This happens once, twice, three times….then one day it stops working altogether and you wish you’d read the instructions. What do you do next? You buy a new one, the latest model.
This feels a bit like how we’ve handled things in our society over the last 50 years. Instead of investing the time to acknowledge, understand and address the systemic problems in our society we’ve simply rebooted the existing operating system over and over again, celebrated the short term relief, put our heads in the sand, hoped for the best and bought ourselves some time. However, as we are all coming to realize in the face of COVID-19, we need much more than a simple ‘reboot’.
As we move into a new world, many industries will have an opportunity to restart in a new way – and sport is no exception.
There is an opportunity for sport to move beyond simply ‘rebooting’ its old profit-focused way of doing business and rather emerge from this forced isolation period with a renewed focus on doing good while doing well.
It’s been reassuring to see sport rise to the occasion in the last two to three weeks to support efforts focused on addressing the immediate challenges that the coronavirus crisis has presented. Some of these efforts have been innovative like that of the Mercedes F1 Team in developing new ventilators to help reduce the shortages that our just in time model created. And some have involved pivots like Budweiser’s One Team Campaign where the brand has shifted its sports investments to support the medical heroes on the front line.
Most, however, have been traditional in nature involving the default mechanisms that sports philanthropy has honored for decades such as memorabilia auctions and donations – a help, for sure, but falling well short of the impact they could truly achieve if sport were designed with purpose in mind.
What’s needed right now – in addition to these much needed short term fixes – is for sport to use this unprecedented pause in calendars and events to reflect on the state of the world and what its role should be in this rapidly evolving landscape. And sport can adapt to these new realities and come out from its enforced hibernation stronger and more relevant than before.
I believe that sports organisations exist to serve a higher purpose beyond sport itself.
Sport is the platform, and one of unapparelled power to boot, that originations should be leveraging to make the world a better place in some shape or form, in a way that would see them missed if they ceased to exist. When asked why they exist, sports’ response shouldn’t be to entertain, or even to win a championship, but rather to contribute to solving one or more of the world’s many societal and environmental challenges. And to do so in collaboration with its fans, sponsors and other stakeholders. We are, after all, in this race together.
This push should go beyond philanthropy, CSR or cause marketing – things that happen on the periphery of a business. It’s about embracing a higher purpose that becomes the central organising theme for the sports organisation as a whole, influences every business decision the organisation makes and applies as a metric of success. This doesn’t mean that sport has to compromise in the delivery of a great sports product. That will always be non-negotiable. But it’s about actively committing to do more good in the world, to be a net positive influence on the planet and for everything that lives on it.
We can do this. It’s been done before. The team at the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, where I served as co-chair, proved that it’s possible to do good while doing well and to deliver a net positive event in the process. By leading with a purpose of improving the lives of young people in the Bay Area, particularly those from underserved communities, we were able to deliver the most shared, most participated in, most commercially successful, most sustainable and most giving Super Bowl in history – an achievement that has yet to be surpassed. The list of athletes, teams, leagues and businesses who are committing to this new vision is slowly growing with the likes of The Ocean Race, Formula E, Arthur Blank (owner of the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United and Mercedes Benz Stadium), Serena Williams and the Paris 24 and Los Angeles 28 Olympics leading examples.
So the question we should be asking right now is: ‘Can we use this unimaginable moment as spark to build something better?’
Imagine if all of sport were to boot up post COVID-19 with a new operating system, one built upon the principles and values I’ve outlined above. Imagine the collective good that sport could do in the world while building a more resilient, robust, profitable and relevant business model in the process. It’s time to re-imagine what’s possible and start designing it.
Join me here if you’d like to join the conversation and help to reimagine what sports’ operating system post Covid could look like…… Sport 2.0. All comers welcome.
Neill Duffy is chief executive and founder of 17 Sport, the world’s first sports impact company operating at the intersection of sport, business and purpose and on a mission to build a positive future for the world through sport. Neill hosts a new Webcast series called Purposefull Stories focussed on fuelling the debate around Sport 2.0. The first of these webinars kicks off on Tuesday 14th April at 8.30 am San Francisco/ 11.30 am New York / 5.30 pm Paris with Purpose thought leader Sebastian Buck, co-founder and strategic lead at leading impact agency enso, as his first guest.
Register to attend here.