By Andreas T. Themistocleous, Contributor
Browsing through twitter, on a brisk summer morning, I came across the news of the Toronto Raptors and their GM’s “Giants of Africa” documentary, part of an ongoing effort to improve the lives of youth in the continent. Sitting oceans away from both Africa and the North Americas, I caught myself rather indifferent at first, yet so much involved in the process, as I kept reading.
I kept thinking that the sports industry is increasingly the highlight subject of the media. The sky-rocketing player salaries displayed and the huge organizational revenues, endlessly showcased by the media, should impact people and communities in the same proportion they do for individuals. What better way to accomplish that, than through sports, as the sports industry can change mentalities and drive change. The spillover financial effect for all sides, I pondered, is most likely not at all insignificant.
Social Responsibility in sports is no longer a necessity; it has become an obligation and an expectation to the point that is now becoming a great tool to benefit communities, but also aid in problem solving on a much larger scale. The sports industry is stepping out of its traditional boundaries and setting the tone for global issues, such as education, equality and diversity, climate change, poverty and human rights.
I kept reading and searching about this documentary and the initiative, pondering how this could actually benefit not only the kids in Africa and their home countries but also the Raptors organization; a new fan base, despite the somewhat lack of resources to support commercial operations; a deeper talent pool to utilize, as basketball in Africa is ever-growing. An institution for diversity and respect for different cultures. Also, a good way to boost image for the Raptors, not to mention promoting the city of Toronto, now publicized as one of the leading cities in the world for its quality of life and opportunities.
Corporate social responsibility improves an organization’s image and as well as boosts revenues from an increasing socially-worried global clientele. Goodwill, trust and reputation are no longer just organizational characteristics, but organizational assets and social responsibility can nurture and grow these assets. It improves internal dynamics, increases employee moral and eventually renders an organization much more appealing to investors, employees, customers and communities. Make no mistake, organizations do it for the tangible benefits, not just the moral rewards, but it’s a win-win situation that partly rectifies the social injustice that globalization and commercialization of sports have created.
Social media stormed our lives taking everyone by surprise. They helped globalize news, business and social life, in an unprecedented way, but at the same time provided a platform for openness and transparency that was simply previously unattainable. Perhaps the most important benefit for social media users, including companies and sports organizations, came from the mere adage “there is power in numbers”, in the sense that a message is easily conveyed and transmitted to millions of people in seconds and that is the power, if not a threat too, of social media users. In essence, social platforms have created information pathways for key stakeholders (customers, employees, communities, media, investors), which are utilized as a competitive advantage for sports organizations that want to deliver results and share them with the proper audiences.
This wide audience reach has also provided the opportunity to sports organizations to share enriched content, data, purpose-driven information and intelligently well-disguised promotional and commercial messages to preferred audiences, shaping public opinion, driving communication and enlarging business operations. At the same time, this communication gateway is by no means a one-way street. Sports organizations are now in position to receive feedback, get suggestions, as well as plenty of criticism, otherwise unobtainable in the operations of past decades. This information is a leverage for stakeholders, but also for sport organizations, as it is essentially, free, unlimited, unbiased survey results. Social media presentation of social responsibility activities should not be about patting their own backs, but about honest representation of facts, two-way communication with stakeholders, authenticity and good intentions.
What more can sports organizations ask for? In times of crisis, or turbulence created by competition results, or even issues powered by human factors and human resource, social responsibility through social media is a key component utilized as a response to resurface the openness and transparency mentioned before. It’s a counter measure to restore balance and shift focus on the issues that are more important to all of us. Another win-win situation, one would argue.
The key take-away is that, even though social responsibility should not be approached as a publicity stand or a marketing tool, the reality is that every sports organization embarks on such initiatives with the goal of improving brand image, boosting interest and attention, in pursuit of tangible returns. Social media provide, yet the best stage to carry the message, to present facts and figures and to influence public opinion. Simple, yet effective.
Andreas T. Themistocleous (BSc, MA, MBA) is a native of Famagusta, Cyprus. He is a former basketball player, a NCAA Division I student-athlete and now a sports management/business professional. He has served in the sport industry from several positions, most notably in club football management, as a Board member of sport federations and as lecturer in academia. He is currently in the sports services industry. To connect and network with Andreas, you may find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.