By Abraham Kamarck, founder and CEO of True Made Foods. Abraham is a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot and received his MBA at the London Business School.
Partnerships are not new to the sports industry. In fact, corporate brands play a critical role in the investment of a stadium’s operations. But these partnerships can go further than a simple financial contribution in return for a marketing platform — a partnership that delivers on the front office’s financial goals while providing healthier choices to fans and reducing the environmental footprint is a grand slam.
Several Major League Baseball (MLB) teams have tapped into the concept of a multi-brand partnership that “just makes sense.” In our particular example, the combined resources of a food/beverage dispenser along with mine — a no-sugar-added condiment company — helped improve the fan experience, limit operational costs, reduce waste and leverage local and veteran-owned businesses.
I believe this triple-bottom-line collaboration is the future of sports industry partnerships, and that these kinds of powerful partnerships can be the future of any industry in general. The pandemic has shown us that creative approaches and strong collaborations are the keys to overcoming adversity while still hitting our business goals.
Here are some considerations you can make as you look to determine what brand partnerships make the most sense for your business, regardless of industry:
What Is A Triple-Bottom-Line Partnership?
A triple-bottom-line partnership enhances the home-field advantage of any major sports arena by combining it with off-the-field solutions. “The 3 Ps” to the triple-bottom-line include “people” (the fans, staff and athletes), “planet” (our physical environment) and “profit” (the financial returns).
To address “people,” the health and well-being of stadium occupants is a critical priority for the stadium operations team. In addition to Covid-19 responses such as sanitation and air quality, the food and beverage department should encourage healthy (but tasty) decisions to ensure that fans stay energized and focused on cheering for their team.
“Planet” is addressed by reducing the environmental impact, whether by waste reduction or other sustainability strategies. These solutions further enhance the fan experience by reducing the eyesore of garbage littered in the stands, and fans can take pride in their home team protecting the planet. Think about your own business practices. How are you impacting the environment? How can you reduce your carbon footprint and still turn a profit?
To align with “profit,” these efficient solutions must also reduce operational costs to allow money to be reallocated for other in-stadium enhancements.
The ‘It Just Makes Sense’ Partnership: A Personal Example
When the pandemic hit and bars closed, many beverage dispensers were tasked with expanding their offerings from beverage dispensing to an “any liquid” serving technology. In the last year, these no-touch smart dispensing technologies have been used for coffee, hand sanitizer and now for condiments. They developed automatic ketchup, barbecue sauce and hot sauce dispensers so patrons could dine without concern for potential Covid-19 transmission.
Leveraging the opportunity to rethink operations in concessions, our smart-dispensing technology and MLB partners explored other no-touch solutions, and then contacted us to partner on our new condiment solution. And that was the start of the magic triple-bottom-line partnership.
With this collaboration, we all worked together to focus on the 3 Ps and were able to provide a turnkey solution that is not only Covid-19-safe, therefore reducing the need for any shared touchpoint between staff or fans (people), but also avoids distributing single-use ketchup packets and minimizing added sugar (planet).
What To Look For In A Successful Partnership
Here are the three key elements you should look for in any successful partnership, no matter what industry you work in:
1. Measurable Environmental Impact That Makes Sense
This could also be viewed as an area of sustainability that aligns with the organization or to the brand’s corporate strategy. This typically falls within the buckets of energy, water, waste or carbon emissions, but could also have environmental impacts in the areas of biodiversity, resiliency, land use or otherwise. Ideally, there’s at least a 3%-5% reduction below the baseline within one of these categories, but any positive impact is better than none.
2. Measurable Social Impact
A measurable social impact includes the elements of human rights, justice, diversity, inclusion and/or physical health or mental well-being. And while some of these topics are difficult to measure, it should be clear that there is a positive benefit to choosing this partner over another.
A great example is to support local minority-owned businesses. When selecting a partner or a vendor, organizations should include criteria to understand social impact categories, which can weigh into decision-making. In a triple-bottom-line partnership, this category of decision-making should be weighed equally to planet and profit.
3. Opportunity For Financial Returns
Whether your financial returns occur through traditional streams of a partnership or by tapping into a new, never-before-sponsored physical or digital asset, this should be one of the elements to consider in a successful partnership. Financial returns can also be achieved through stadium upgrades, new technologies or other innovations that are paid for on behalf of a brand.
The Future Of Sports Industry Partnerships
The sports industry is currently grappling with solutions that enhance the post-Covid-19 fan experience. The front office is challenged with achieving its typical set of organizational goals, all while addressing the ramifications of the global pandemic. This dilemma presents an opportunity to rethink operations, adjust contracts and tap into these innovative triple-bottom-line solutions that leverage brand partners to enhance the in-stadium experience.
Looking to the future, it’s important to weigh the potential outcomes of any partnership. And if the answer to moving forward with a partnership would result in a “no” to any one of the essential 3 Ps of the triple-bottom-line, then chances are there’s an opportunity to tap into other brand partners and think even bigger.
While the 3 Ps might look different depending on your line of work, it’s clear that the sports industry has been given an opportunity, through the constraints of the pandemic, to creatively rethink its approach to people, planet and profit. Collaborative partnerships that play to business strengths are the path forward.