Monday, March 31, 2014

Sports Matter to Dick's Sporting Goods

If you played team sports growing up, you may not be able to imagine barriers existing that would prevent American youth from participating in sports today. However, the reality is that more than $3 billion was cut from high school athletic budgets between 2009 and 2011. School districts, feeling fallout from the recession gripping the country, often made cuts to all but the most essential parts of their budgets. Sports became an easy line item to put on the chopping block. The result is that today 60% of high school students playing sports must pay fees in order to participate. And, despite the nation's economy bouncing back somewhat from the recession, the effects on scholastic sports remain. A worst case scenario predicts that 27% of US schools will not have athletic programs by 2020 if the current financial situation becomes a long term trend.

DSG Uses Its Platform

The extent of cuts felt by high school sports programs is sobering. At this rate, future generations of students will not have the same opportunities that you and me had to experience playing on a high school team. Let's face it- most high school players are not going to turn pro in their sport, and most of them will not parlay their high school experience into a college athletic scholarship. For most of us, high school sports represents the peak of our athletic "career." This experience could be taken away from thousands of students in the not-to-distant future unless something changes.

Enter Dick's Sporting Goods as a potential force for change. The Pittsburgh-based retailer has more than 500 stores and over $6 billion in annual sales. As a leading specialty retailer for sporting goods, Dick's has quite a bit at stake when it comes to reduced budgets for high school athletics. A practical aspect of this situation is that schools spending less on sports (or eliminating altogether) could hurt Dick's from a sales standpoint. Schools spending less on equipment and uniforms threatens a piece of DSG's business. More importantly, there is a long term danger to budget cuts for high schools sports: Students who are denied the opportunity to play sports that are cut or eliminated may lose interest in sports, thus damaging their long-term revenue potential as a consumer of sporting goods and apparel. 

An answer Dick's has created for this challenge is Sports Matter, a cause-related campaign in which DSG is looking to the power of crowdsourcing to help raise funds for high school sports teams. Teams with financial challenges can apply to participate in the Sports Matter program. If selected, teams will be expected to engage in fundraising online using the Sports Matter platform. DSG will match a team's total raised via crowdfunding if the team's goal is reached. Dick's has pledged to donate up to $2 million through this program.

Brand as a Living Entity

A brand is more than a name or logo, and it is more than a part of a business. Today, brands are brought to life via values and beliefs they espouse and support, just as individuals have brands and beliefs that guide their behavior. In recent years, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on corporate social responsibility, a philosophy that businesses must not only strive to maximize profits but at the same time contribute positively to communities in which they do business. For Dick's Sporting Goods, the Sports Matter initiative is more than just good business sense; it is a social responsibility platform. It would be unacceptable for DSG to stand by idly while high school sports budgets are dismantled. The brand has taken a position that the deteriorating financial position of high school sports is unacceptable, and it is putting its marketing know-how and resources to work to address the issue. 

This responsibility is borne by all brands, large and small. A business has a responsibility to be profitable for its owners, abide by laws governing operations, and act in an ethical manner toward customers and all other stakeholders. Businesses can go a step further, operating in a way that not only meets economic, legal, and ethical responsibilities but also meet philanthropic responsibilities to create a positive impact among those stakeholders that they serve.

While some people might be skeptical about the Sports Matter initiative created by DSG, perceiving it as self-interest in protecting high schools sports, we should be more concerned that more companies do not take a stand like Dick's has done. Brands have a platform from which they can influence others, but it is up to business executives to embrace their responsibility to make a difference.