Sports Marketing: sports professionals as charity ambassadors

By Niovie Constantinou, Associate, Ioannides Demetriou, Lawyers, Nicosia, Cyprus

The sports industry is no longer solely associated with exercising the human body: billions of people around the world are inspired by sport and that inspiration can be used to promote a good cause.

Sports professionals have the platform and opportunity to be able to inspire, motivate, and use their celebrity status to make a difference in causes and issues that are important to them.

Donating to charity is definitely a good start.

However, a sports professional can really make an impact by being genuinely – and that is important and lends credibility to the matter – and also actively associated with a worthy cause: the benefit of being aligned with  such cause is far more important than any pay cheque that an athlete may donate.

For their part, charities want to be associated with sports professionals because of their broad reach and popularity; indeed, sports fans are more inclined to give to causes linked to their favorite players or teams.

It is a symbiotic relationship and a win/win outcome for both parties!

Being a charity ambassador means being at the forefront of the campaign, and giving your time, energy and support to promote the cause and encourage others to get involved too.

But the scope and extent of the sports professional’s involvement and the use of his/her image rights needs to be carefully defined to avoid any misunderstandings and legal problems and thereby ensure success of the role.

Also, sports professionals should be very careful with which charities they associate themselves, as this can, in certain circumstances, have an adverse effect on their brands and reputations. For example, the well-known charity OXFAM faced claims of sexual misconduct by its staff in Haiti following the devastating earthquake and this – to some extent – tarnished its reputation! To deal with such cases, sports professionals should have suitable get-out terms – so-called ‘morality clauses’ – in their agreements.

Many sports ‘stars’ have become ambassadors for various well-known charities.

Take David Beckham, for example, who has been serving as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador since 2005 and has committed to using his global influence and connections to make a positive change for children.  Since becoming an ambassador, he has travelled the world to see UNICEF work in action, as well as agree new development goals with world leaders that will help end violence, preventable death and poverty for every child.  To date, he has raised millions of pounds and helped millions of vulnerable children throughout the world.

Wimbledon Tennis Champion, Serena Williams, is also a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and has helped to build schools in Africa.

All philanthropy is personal.  If you are committed to making a real change in the world, you will want to start by clarifying your aspirations and you should, therefore, spend some time in clarifying your values and beliefs and creating your legacy.  A real legacy is built on what you are giving to the world; it focuses on how you can make the world a better place.

So how should a sports professional go about becoming a successful charity ambassador?

  • You have to first decide on your legacy: Who do you want to impact and what can you do that will have a positive impact now and after you are gone?
  • Find a cause that aligns with your intended legacy and that you are passionate about: when you really respect and care about the cause, you are more likely to project a powerful message.
  • Do your research: make sure that the charity you plan to associate yourself with is truly dedicated and your combined efforts can genuinely make a difference.
  • Know your role: agree how you can best use your knowledge, influence, contacts and skills to help. It is important that you fully understand what you are promoting and how you should go about it.
  • Stay in touch: a good ambassador should be in regular contact with the charity they represent. Check in on the work that has been done so far and discuss the next steps.
  • Embody the cause: you need to consistently engage with your fans both online and offline, in a meaningful way to raise awareness.
  • Use your influence to lobby behind the scenes: approach your connections that may be able to help. You can even motivate your team or your league to be involved, reaching out to a wider audience.

Undoubtedly, it takes a lot of dedication to undertake successfully the role of a charity ambassador, but the benefits it brings with it are definitely worth it.

In previous GSLTR posts, the importance and the ways and means of building a successful sports professional’s personal brand have been discussed.  By associating yourself with a cause does not simply benefit your personal brand; it also adds purpose to it, so that you stand for something more than just yourself.

Fans want more than a superficial connection with sports professionals; they look for an emotional connection to a positive role model, shaped by sharing similar beliefs or ideas.

Being a charity ambassador is not just about personal success: it is also about making your mark – and a lasting one at that!

Niovie Constantinou may be contacted by e-mail at ‘n.constantinou@idlaw.com.cy’