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Tim Smith | Social value will be part of sport’s new norm

Tim Smith, founder and lead consultant at EventID, discusses how the social value of sport is likely to increase in importance following the Covid-19 crisis

Tim Smith

We’re fast coming to terms with some big shifts in the sports model due to coronavirus: No (or far fewer) fans in venues expected until next year, stringent health and social distancing requirements, and restricted global travel impinging the more globalised events.

The crisis is also elevating the importance of the social value of sport, whether that be the physical health impact of sports participation, the mental health morale boost of elite sports resumption, or the community importance of sports clubs and venues.

Pre-crisis, there was an emerging trend to better understand the wider benefits of sport to society. For instance, how does sports participation and volunteering improve confidence and reduce depression? What does a football club bring to its community in terms of cohesion and social mixing?

Post-crisis, the social value of sport is anticipated to extend beyond just the participation element and become more important across the piece. Federations, clubs, sponsors, broadcasters and hosts should all have an interest in sport for social good as it becomes part of our new norm.

What is social value?

The social value of sport typically covers the importance of sport to individuals and their communities. It takes in aspects such as physical well-being, mental well-being, development of individuals (e.g. education) and development of the community (e.g. community spirit) – the four main pillars of social return on investment (SROI) evaluations.

When we bring professional, elite-level sport into the mix, the scope to generate social value becomes broader.

At a regional level, clubs and activating partners can invest in local value chains, local economies, and local community initiatives. Investing in these areas extends beyond expressing corporate social responsibility. It provides an impact on businesses which have been affected by the crisis and through this can have a significant social impact on peoples’ lives.

At a national level, action on social value can extend to promoting national physical/mental health initiatives, initiatives to reduce inequality, and advocacy of mutual aid.

International sports properties have an even greater opportunity to influence all of these areas since they can do so at a global scale.

Why will social be more important?

IOC president Thomas Bach is among those to identify the growing importance of the social value of sport in a post-coronavirus world.

In his open letter to the Olympic committee last month, he said: “We can fairly assume that, in the post-coronavirus society, public health will play a much more important role. Sport and physical activity make a great contribution to health.

“We can highlight the significance of sport for inclusivity and integration. Sometimes, sport is the only activity that unites people regardless of their social, political, religious or cultural background. Sport is the glue bonding a society together.

Public health has leapfrogged other issues to consistently poll highest in the ‘most important issues facing the country’ in the UK (YouGov) and US (Gallup) – and likely many other countries as well. The economy comes second, with all other issues way behind. Sport will need to be awake to the public mood as it re-emerges.

In addition, government investment is a big contributor to the sports funding model in many areas. With other revenue lines squeezed, and societal fall-out from Covid-19 to fix, governments will be in a strong position to demand greater social return on investment from projects that retain their investment.

Who can benefit?

Progressive sports organisations can embrace social value and integrate it into their work.

  • Sports federations and rights-holders can create or partner with social value initiatives that align to their purpose. These can help retain strong links with their audience, particularly in a spectator-less world. Existing activities may well already have a social impact, which can be uncovered and better understood;
  • Clubs and venues often have the biggest opening to create social value by virtue of their place within the community and existing connection with fans. These relationships can be leveraged to generate focused local impacts and/or more widespread social good, depending upon the size of club;
  • Sponsors will be looking to partner their brand with organisations and projects which have an aligning, authentic social value. In turn, rights holders who can demonstrate their social value will be better placed to entice sponsors in what is expected to be a more difficult market;
  • Broadcasters may be interested in understanding the importance of their live sports programming to individual and collective mental well-being. Some may be keen to link their sports programming to physical activity in ways they did not do so previously;
  • Event hosts can eventually be one of the greatest beneficiaries. Hosting major events can inspire high levels of engagement in social and sporting projects, which themselves can catalyse social and community benefits.

EventID is an impact and legacy consultancy for sport and major events.

Find out more at eventid-sport.com

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