Saturday, November 6, 2010

CSR is not a sport

David Connor of Coethica, the ultimate expert in CSR, sports and SME's, wrote a post about Manchester City's recently published CSR website. You can read the post here. David got me thinking about CSR reporting in the sports world, given that Football Clubs and other sporting commercial activities are big brands and big  money and have massive social and environmental impact at national and international levels. The largest football club in terms of revenue generation in Europe is Real Madrid, with over $550 million per year, according to the Deloitte Football Money League. Even little old Newcastle united rakes in  $140 million per year.

What are material issues for football clubs? Violence on the sports field and the impact of sport on crime,  impact of big sports events on local communities around sports stadiums, the contribution of sports to national economies, the iconization of sporting heroes and impact on today's youth, sources of revenue and the diversification of football clubs into other businesses such as sourcing of fan products, financial services etc and all the sustainability implications of these, advertizing policies, environmental impacts in a range of aspects including the sustainability of sporting events, supply chain aspects of apparel sourcing for player kits and fan sales, competition for Club Membership, and more. Have I missed anything? This is just a list that springs to mind without too much thought.   

I took a closer look at what is happening in the football field (pun intended hahaha) , and as David pointed out in his blog, I didn't come up with too much. This means that there is a GREAT opportunity out there, right ?

A nice write up on the ethics of football clubs, which is a little out of date now (2008) but interesting to view as a super summary of the core issues was published on Ethical Consumer.

Manchester City
Manchester City  launched their CSR Report 2009/2010 Interactive site this year, which is a first for any football club, and is accessible right there on their home page. David Connor of Coethica says about the report " a media rich, information poor, series of pictures of children, wind turbines, disabled people and smiling employees accompanied by scattered narratives about community initiatives, but little genuine substance. There are the beginnings of thoughtful environmental stewardship but nothing fantastic to celebrate. Not quite an own goal, but definitely not ‘Premier’ in any aspect." I concurred, largely, saying "This might work well for MCFC fans and the general public who look to the internet for entertainment rather than for a serious disclosure of corporate accountabililty". CSR is not a sport and should not be treated in the same way as a Football Club hypes the hiring of new players. The core impacts of Manchester City's big football business are not addressed in their pyrotechnical sparkling and dancing report, and the fact that they have enough money to engage in carbon offsetting does not really cut to the chase. However, credit where it's due - this is one of the best demonstrations of a basic form of CSR awareness from a UK football club and hopefully will serve as platform to increase a maturity of City's approach.

Manchester United
Manchester United have some CSR-type policies on their website and a whole site about the Man U Foundation, but nothing approaching a CSR Report or comprehensive approach to sustainability as far as I could ascertain. This is a personal disappointment as I consider Man U. as my home club, having been born in Manchester and raised to believe the Reds are the Best. Not the best at managing their business sustainably, I now discover.

The Aston Villa Sustainability Report for 2010 is a nice first time report. Unfortunately, the download from their website is a 4 page executive summary which I almost dismissed as a pretend-report. Fortunately, hosts the full report, and I must say that this is a great effort. It's a little selective, but it covers some very essential points and includes data on a range of environment and social parameters and makes concrete commitments for future sustainability performance improvements. 

In June 2010, Chelsea published their third  "CSR Report", for the 2007/2008 season. This shouldn't really be called a CSR report, it's more like a community involvement report, sharing stories and nice pictures about what Chelsea is doing in the community. Chairman Bruce Buck says "CSR is at the heart of Chelsea" bit it is not clear from the report that he or others at Chelsea really know what CSR means. Nonetheless, good community awareness and commitment. Big room for development of a CSR platform.

I couldn't find any more clubs that have a CSR policy (though many have a "Foundation" for charitable or community giving). Why does this business sector feel it is immune from the risks and opportunities that sustainability can bring ? The small glimmerings of fledgling awareness from these few clubs may be the start of a tipping point, but if so, there's a lot of work to be done in the meantime.

Thanks to David Connor and his great blog for scoring a goal with his post on this subject.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my business website  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)


Alex Harris said...

Great post Elaine. You missed out alcoholism, and/or youth drinking and substance abuse, something for which our sporting (ahem) 'heroes' in Australia are notorious for indulging therein and encouraging through their behaviour off field.

CSR does not have to be about environment; it is about being a socially responsible corporate citizen. For a football club to adopt CSR 'programs' like this is misguided marketing in the extreme.

The football clubs et all could demonstrate (rather than claim) social responsibility by changing their own modus operandi, from selecting their employees for values as much as skill (given their influence on youth), through to how much they are paid, how much work they do in the community, and especially their involvement in youth assistance programs to reduce violence, homelessness, alcoholism and suicide. All major social problems in Australia today.

Part of the problem is a very irresponsible level of pay which gives young players more money than they know what to do with. And this tends to get them into trouble more often than not.

It's not like they are saving, or even building, a better world. They are after all, just playing a game. They only tend to be seen engaging with the community as a PR stunt.

We pay our teachers and nurses, police officers and ambos next to nothing. And these tend to be the people volunteering in soup kitchens, youth programs, environmental clean ups etc.

The 'industry' is socially irresponsible from start to finish. In Australia at least. IMHO

elaine said...

Thank you Alex for very insightful comments. I fully agree with your points about alcohol and pay levels and player values.
warm regards, elaine

Julien said...

Nice post Elaine!

The Corinthians, a brazilian FC, publish a Sustainability Report too:

(Not so) fun fact: they decided to publish such a report after they inherited a lot of money from a wealthy fan.

We can think that if they hadn't had this extra-money, they wouldn't publish a sustainability report. But is it so important? They have a sustainability report, that's what matters, no?

Anonymous said...

think one should be careful not to equate publishing a CSR report with understanding of the issue or impact. Arsenal FC for example has an responsibilty agenda on many dimensions, stretching from the way their academy is run, to ensuring affordable tickets for youth and local residents, to extensive demands on their players right from youth age to participate in community involvement efforts eg getting kids to read and think it is cool.

Arsenals effort is very impressive and I would encourage looking under the covers here before jumping in to CSR report mania and demanding they produce GRI rated reports and what not.

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