Now more than ever, sport should embrace its power to drive societal change

Now more than ever, sport should embrace its power to drive societal change

Fusers Dan Sproul, Account Director, and James English, Partner, take a look at the success of the recent Heads Up campaign, and how sport should embrace its popularity to drive societal change across the world.

Whilst 2020 has undoubtedly provided challenges, in many ways the world has come together more than ever in the face of adversity. Undoubtedly a cliché, but as Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world” – which he witnessed first-hand in South Africa in 1995 when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in a post-apartheid area in its own country. In recent years, sport and rightsholders have begun to really make a difference both internationally and at a community level– but now more than ever sport should continue to use its power to drive societal change.

For the same reasons that brands are keen to partner with sports properties – through positive association in areas that their audience are passionate – rightsholders should also use this power and reach to address broader issues. There is also scope for partners to dedicate some of their assets to support wider campaigns.

At Fuse, we are incredibly proud to have been a key part of the Heads Up campaign – working with The Football Association, The Royal Foundation and HRH The Duke of Cambridge – harnessing the popularity and reach of football to start the biggest ever conversation on mental health. The season-long campaign across the 19-20 season was influential in breaking down the stigma around mental health – and normalising these conversations, particularly among men.

The campaign was incredibly successful – activations across the football season, such as the Take A Minute activation around the Emirates FA Cup Final Third Round and the renaming of the FA Cup Final as ‘The Heads Up FA Cup Final’ – led to an 83% increase in conversations around mental health and football, with 1 in 6 football fans more aware of the mental health services available to them than they were before the campaign*. The support from clubs and players was also incredibly important in driving the campaign forward.

Emirates must also be thanked – giving up their naming rights to the FA Cup Final to support the campaign. Potential partners are also more likely to be attracted to rightsholders that offer additional value through initiatives like this – on top of the traditional brand benefits that sponsorship can bring. At Fuse, one of our key pillars is ‘cause’ – encouraging brands to do much more than the traditional CSR campaigns from yesteryear.

The key with the Heads Up campaign was to ensure its legacy lived on after the official campaign had finished – back in August, The Football Association along with other football governing bodies (including the other home nations, The Premier League and The EFL) signed the ‘Mentally Healthy Football Declaration’ – which will see governing bodies, leagues and organisations from across UK football recognise that mental health is as important as physical health, and pioneering a ‘team approach’ on this important issue. Together, the UK football family will build on the important work that clubs and football organisations are already doing, working together to scale up these efforts across the football system and support the development of ‘mentally-healthy’ clubs at every level of the game.

To commemorate World Mental Health Day on Saturday, The FA also released this piece of content – originally planned for use back in March before England’s friendly with Italy was abandoned, but re-purposed to address the current issues facing the community.

There are also a number of other examples of some great campaigns across sport.

AS Roma last year partnered with the charity ‘Missing Children’ – using their social reach to try and locate a number of missing children within the UK. The partnership launched in 2019, sees AS Roma social channels share pictures of missing children alongside new signings and by January this year had helped locate six missing children across the UK – incredible results for something that was incredibly simple for them to implement.

But we have also seen the power that sport and the community could have throughout the recent pandemic at a grassroots level – for example Merstham Cricket Club in Surrey ran a ‘Cricket Tea with a Difference’ event back in May this year – encouraging club members and locals to drive-through events to donate food and supplies to local food banks to support members of its communities particularly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The same can also be said of a number of talent and sportspeople themselves. Throughout 2020, Marcus Rashford has become the pin-up boy of English football. Idolised and celebrated by millions of people, but this time not for his escapades on the pitch – Rashford’s continued fight against child poverty in the UK forced a government U-turn back in June that ensured millions of children in the UK would still have access to food vouchers throughout the summer holidays and not go hungry. Despite pressure from communities and MPs, Rashford’s reach and popularity undoubtedly is the main reason for the change in policy, and has seen Rashford awarded an MBE this week. Within football, Juan Mata also set up the charity ‘Common Goal’ – supported by some of the world’s biggest stars, they each donate 1% of their salary to support projects across the globe. Other footballers, such as Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha and Liverpool’s Sadio Mané, have set up charities and donate large parts of their income to their own personal charities and foundations.

In the USA, Colin Kapernick’s campaign against police brutality caused divide within the NFL. Kaepernick began taking the knee during the national anthem ahead of NFL games back in September 2019 citing that he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour” following the shootings of a number of young black men by police. This action was widely condemned within the sport, with many people, including the American President Donald Trump actively speaking against it. It was not until June this year, when the NFL finally acknowledged that they “were wrong” and provided support to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

This only highlights the power of action, and also the importance  of rightsholders to continue to address and support the communities that they reach – transcending just the sport itself. Nike, as a brand, had continued to stand with Kaepernick throughout the process – unphased that their support of the issue could potentially negatively affect sales – putting what was right ahead of their profits.

For all of the challenges of 2020 – hopefully this year acts as the catalysts for the sporting world to really use its power and drive societal change for the better in this world – through both brands, individuals and rightsholders from a local to global level.


*Source: FA Fan Survey