The UK is the sport industry capital of the world - its businesses must lead the way with corporate responsibility

Nick Keller
Arsenal v Manchester City - Premier League
The Premier League is one of the UK sport industry's most successful exports (Source: Getty)

In case you hadn’t noticed, the UK is sport mad. We watch, discuss, engage and play sport with great passion. So it’s not surprising that we are pretty damn good at the business of sport as well. Led by the Barclays Premier League we have an industry worth an estimated £24bn per year.

But more than that, in the last few years there is a genuine sense that London has become the centre of the world sport industry.

The remarkably delivered Olympic and Paralympics games coincided with a dramatic shift in the internationalisation of sport and a complete transformation in how we consume sport. Fans were able to engage with their passion in a more meaningful way whilst sponsors could engage with customers through more unique and far-reaching means. What has ensued has been unprecedented in terms of media deals and exposure, with the Premier League not only the engine room, but one of our greatest global exports. At the same time some of the biggest US leagues are becoming imports, with the NFL and NBA creating permanent footholds in London, alongside the exciting new entity that is UFC.

The result of all this is that agencies, events developers, sponsorship experts and consultants are growing and developing an offering that is being courted worldwide.

Look at the Rugby World Cup: regardless of England's performance on the pitch, the tournament was a huge success in its own right. We’ve all seen the figures by now: the most profitable; the most socially engaging; the most attended; the most watched. If there was a record, England 2015 broke it.

Read more: Huge crowd and TV numbers recorded at the Rugby World Cup

Huge international brands such as Adidas, Samsung, Land Rover, AIG, Heineken, O2, and a number of Formula One teams all take counsel from lead agencies based in the UK. These are brands with a global footprint, but it is the UK industry that is called upon to bring them to life.

England hosted the most successful Rugby World Cup so far (Source: Getty)

As competitions such as the Premier League, Rugby World Cup and Olympic Games provide a platform, our agencies are growing internationally at a staggering rate, developing sport around the world. Our current Agency of the Year, Synergy, opened its first international office in New York in November; Two Circles recently integrated into WPP who have a foothold in every continent; iris have a network of over 1000 people in 13 offices globally; M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment has expanded from London to New York, Berlin and now Sydney; Fast Track has expanded across Asia and the Middle East; while fellow CSM Sport and Entertainment agency Essentially work through eight international offices around the world. The UK industry has never been more global.

Read more: In 2016, the global ambitions of the NFL and NBA are an example for every sports organisation to follow

What next?

Whilst it’s easy to see the influence digital technology is having on our industry with the rise of virtual reality and the latest social media platforms making sport more accessible and immersive than ever before, the real revolution is the wider role sport now plays in society.

Sport is no longer simply entertainment, it has an influence far beyond the pitch, court and track. Sport has a unique power to change lives in both a meaningful and measurable way – a power that brands and businesses are beginning to recognise. The values shared between sport and business make it an authentic platform for organisations to deliver a genuine corporate social responsibility piece, enabling them to engage with customers at a different level, a more personal level – and turning fans’ perception of sponsors into something positive with which they want to align.

You only need to look at the incredible work being delivered by those shortlisted in our Community Programme of the Year category, which is sponsored by BT Supporters Club to see how brands are recognising the importance of giving back. New Balance has teamed up with GoodGym to direct thousands of hours of volunteering into local initiatives; Coca-Cola is investing long-term in communities through ParkLives, a grassroots programme with the aim to get one million people active by 2020; and Yorkshire Bank has partnered with Welcome to Yorkshire to create the country’s first-ever network of Bike Libraries, with the aim of providing every child in Yorkshire with access to a bike.

These unique partnerships are transforming the DNA of sport, moving it from entertainment and pastime to a force catalysing change in our communities and across society. The dial has shifted and for the sport industry going forward, giving back must be at the heart of business agenda.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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