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Marketing Pro-Environmental Venues in Professional Sport: Planting Seeds of Change Among Existing and Prospective Consumers

Professional sport organizations are showing increasing interest in pro-environmental strategies, as evidenced in part by the recent incorporation of sustainable design in many facilities. This interest may be driven by the perceived positive outcomes associated with the triple bottom line (TBL), which illustrates the environmental, social, and economic benefits of pro-environmental initiatives. The TBL has been the subject of both acclaim and criticism by scholars and practitioners, and this study provides new insight into its appropriateness as a reflection of pro-environmental organizations’ motives. Through standardized interviews, the authors found that professional sport organizations place particular emphasis on the TBL’s social component, which represents the objectives of increasing environmental awareness among fans and attracting new consumers. This study contends that the TBL’s three components are closely intertwined, and the implementation of commercial and social marketing strategies is necessary to attend to and realize the organizations’ stated goal of maximizing all three components.

In this study, we review the significant challenges teams face in conceiving of and implementing these new (and thus precedent-less) strategies. In addition to the organization’s potential to drive positive social change, we contend that better addressing continuing community interest in ecological mindfulness could contribute to increased financial returns as well, as these strategies may attract nontraditional fans interested in green issues. As this study will show, sport marketers have identified both of these motives for marketing, but have not yet effectively addressed them. Furthermore, based on the results, this fact will lead the authors to question the adequacy of the TBL model in its current form.

Research Questions are:
RQ1a: Do professional sport organizations seek environmental, social, and economic benefits when engaging in corporate pro-environmental behavior (CPEB)?
RQ1b: What marketing strategies are teams employing to engender these three types of benefits?
RQ2: Does the traditional TBL adequately reflect the relationships between the three benefits of CPEB?

The results of our analysis provide insight into both the strategies employed by sport marketers and the use of the traditional TBL to reflect these marketers’ motives. To answer RQ#1a, we investigated whether professional sport organizations engaged in CPEB were attentive to the environmental, social, and economic outcomes associated with eco-friendly initiatives.

RQ#1b concerned the existing marketing strategies of professional sport teams engaged in CPEB. The results of this study provide evidence that sport managers are not deploying effective means to achieve their stated aim of attracting new consumers. This analysis suggests that commercial marketing may be one possible means of achieving that stated goal.

Although the TBL accurately portrays the vertical relationship between pro-environmental initiatives and perceived environmental, economic, and social outcomes, it is insufficient in addressing the horizontal relationship between these outcomes. In response to RQ#2, we suggest below that the TBL’s three components are strongly intertwined. Strengthening the social component through social and commercial marketing may lead to increased environmental and economic benefits.


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