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Partnership: the key to unlocking sport’s social impact

WPP’s Sports Practice works with a range of organisations and brands to design campaigns that take seriously the responsibility to generate social impact by driving social change and contributing to community development

When we think of sport, our minds are typically cast to moments of action – an agonising defeat, a cup-winning moment, and all the ups and downs in between. It’s typically these moments that sports organisations and brands use to connect to core and target audiences.

But sport should be – and is – about so much more than that. Other industries look enviously at sport’s unique ability to engage and inspire a loyal legion of followers. With such ability, we believe, comes a responsibility to generate social impact beyond the field of play. 

WPP Sports Practice has identified four key areas that are essential for such campaigns to resonate and bring about long-lasting results. 

1. Authenticity to the mission 

With a plethora of organisations vying for attention, those that develop campaigns fully in line with their strategies and values will be those that rise above the rest. Mediacom’s brokering of a partnership between Boots and the national women’s football teams of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland is testament to this. By throwing itself fully into women’s football, Boots established itself as a leader in promoting female empowerment in the UK, providing a new platform for women’s football while also driving new business opportunities. 

2. Extensive creativity  

Engaging with underrepresented groups and promoting health and sustainability requires innovative and exciting thinking to make a breakthrough. VMLY&R’s role in supporting a partnership between FIFA, WHO and the Ministry of Public Health Qatar was crucial for this. According to WHO, 80% of children are not getting enough exercise, and this partnership’s #BringTheMoves campaign, encouraged fans across the world to invent new ways of celebrating goals and combine these with increased activity. 

3. Integration of the target group 

By involving marginalised groups directly in the development of campaign ideas and initiatives, sports organisations and brands gain a fuller understanding of the nuanced relationship such groups have with sport. The role of WPP agency AKQA in developing Action Audio, alongside Tennis Australia and Monash University, is testament to this. Action Audio is the world’s first system to augment live screened and in-person sports with sound, launched during the finals of the 2021 Australian Open, Action Audio gave almost 285m visually impaired people the ability to follow games in real time. With AKQA’s support, the product incorporated the results of months of testing and feedback from the blind and low-vision community. 

4. Use of various stakeholders  

Marginalised groups, as well as health and sustainability initiatives, typically enjoy a range of cross-sector supporters. Campaigns should be developed with this in mind. In support of the Special Olympics, for example, BCW leveraged the organisation’s partnership with media network FanSided by facilitating a joint radio event between the organisations. This helped to extend reach to connected guests and followers. 

One common theme that underlies all these campaigns is a spirit of partnership. WPP’s agencies pride ourselves on connecting sports organisations and brands to their target audiences. Our experience tells us that this is best accomplished by organisations working together – and bringing their unique attributes and experiences to campaigns – while having social impact. 

Dominic Grainger


published on

07 July 2023


Communications Experience

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