It is easy to feel cynical when an international brand trumpets its latest partnership as something special that will spark positive action or drive change.
After all, the goal of for-profit businesses is, ultimately, to make a profit. The point of sponsoring a sporting event or competition is, ultimately, to sell more sneakers or subscriptions or soft drink.
But two partnerships announced in the world of soccer recently do seem genuinely different.
At the end of last month, sports streaming platform DAZN revealed it had been selected as the global broadcaster for the UEFA Women’s Champions League. As part of the deal, DAZN is partnering with YouTube to offer Europe’s premier club competition live and free to fans around the world for the first time.
In announcing the agreement and “We All Rise With More Eyes” campaign, DAZN, YouTube and UEFA said the long-term goal is to take women’s soccer to another level.
Last week, Adidas joined soccer’s social impact movement Common Goal. The initial three-year partnership will see Adidas pledge 1% of its global net sales from soccer balls to Common Goal’s network of 140 high-impact soccer NGOs in 90 countries. Adidas sells around €100 million ($118.6m) worth of balls a year.
The aim is for the collaboration to positively impact 90,000 lives through fighting racism and discrimination, powering gender equality, fostering mental well-being and promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Such agreements are part of a growing trend, not only in sport, of businesses seeking partnerships with “purpose”.
The DAZN/UEFA deal reflects the organization’s “long-term, global commitment to women’s sport,” chief communications officer Nancy Elder tells me.
“Our vision around this is actually pretty simple. We’ve recognized that men’s and women’s sport needs to be viewed and treated equally. And for that to happen, we’ve stepped up to drive more demand for the women’s game and women’s sport in general,” she says.
The deal makes DAZN the host broadcaster of the Women’s Champions League for the next four seasons. For the first two seasons, all 61 matches will be available free, live and on demand, on DAZN’s YouTube channel.
By producing more storytelling around female athletes, DAZN wants to help create a “ripple effect” which increases the visibility – and popularity – of women’s sport.
“It’s going to take the women’s game to new heights. And what that will lead to is elevating the competition globally, turning players into household names and inspiring the next generation,” Elder says.
“And of course, additionally from our perspective, it will fast track commercialization of the actual competition and then that will lead to monetization.”
Sharon Thorne, Chair of Deloitte Global’s board of directors, tells me companies are increasingly being expected to create social benefit.
“One of the key trends has been increased demand from consumers, investors, employees, media, and younger generations in particular, demanding and driving change,” she says.
“There’s huge pressure on businesses to act and lead with purpose and that pressure is greater than ever before.”
Deloitte’s annual survey of Millennials and Generation Z found fewer than half of those surveyed saw business as a “force for good”. It also revealed the biggest worry among those surveyed was the climate crisis, with inclusion and equality also a concern.
“They are saying that they want to work for businesses who put purpose alongside profit. They want to work for organizations whose values are aligned to theirs,” Thorne says.
“It is critical in terms of people retention, but also in terms of the validity of who you are. If you’re saying these things, you need to live that in everything you’re doing.”
For purpose to be authentic, it must be embedded in an organisation’s DNA, Jürgen Griesbeck, CEO and co-founder of Common Goal, tells me.
“It’s all about understanding who you are, not what you do when you have something leftover or as an afterthought. It needs to be who you are as a corporation, as an individual, as a government, as a country,” he says.
There is an opportunity for brands, like Adidas, to show “early leadership” by collaborating in purpose-led partnerships, Griesbeck believes.
“It’s obviously a partnership technically (between Common Goal and Adidas). But what it wants to convey and what it wants to inspire, is if we’re honest and true about tackling the challenges of our times, it won’t work if we don’t learn to really team up and work together.
“It needs all of us to really tackle challenges and make change happen.”
Thorne also stresses the need for organizations to collaborate to drive change.
As part of its “WorldClass” strategy, for example, Deloitte has an ambition to positively impact 100 million futures by 2030. The company works with organizations in local communities across the world to make a meaningful impact.
Research has shown businesses can have purpose and profit, and that the former can enhance the latter.
Deloitte’s global marketing trends report last year showed purpose-driven companies see higher market share gains and grow on average three times faster than their competitors, while achieving higher employee and customer satisfaction.
“Businesses can see there is a connection between having a strong purpose and strong business results,” Thorne says.
“So it is absolutely critical that business leaders are demonstrating commitment to purpose.”
Griesbeck has seen a shift in the soccer industry and says the conversations Common Goal is having with players, clubs and brands would have been “much more difficult” five or 10 years ago.
The Common Goal movement, which was established four years ago next month, launched with a single player, Juan Mata. There are now 200 athletes, almost half of them women, pledging 1% of their salaries, as well as clubs, brands and other industry figures.
Griesbeck says those who are “brave enough to move early” will “inspire others to follow” and build a collective impact.
“That will help grow the wave which you will be able to ride over the coming years and decades if you decide to be part of the solution now,” he says.
“Football can play a critical role because of its reach, because of what it is in essence and because of the evidence it has shown when it comes to transforming communities.
“Football is totally underestimated when it comes to impact. I often hear people saying, ‘so now football has to change the world?’ Yes, it does. Because it can.”