Genuine CSR: in the English Premier League

As I prepare for the forthcoming Premier League Men’s Health tournament (well the mini-event ran by the wonderful Kathryn Curran, a colleague and friend from LJMU – below) I am confident the LJMU sport science team will do well (again!).

The day was a great success with teams attending from across England to play in this ‘friendly’ tournament. Although the high standard of play by all teams meant competition soon picked up! Kathryn will be talking about the project in the coming weeks, however I am going to talk about the funders of this project and give my insight into genuine CSR.

Premier League Health is a national project managed by the Premier League – highlighted within the recent Creating Chances report (p36). The project is funded by theFootball Pools (part of the Sportech Plc portfolio) who’s business, as we know is built on the betting industry. The Football Pools brand has a long standing historic association within the community, especially on Merseyside, with football and with men. Their partnership in funding such a project makes sense. The other funder in this local project is the Pfizer Foundation UK. Pfizer do all sorts including some special stuff for men…

Football attracts a stakeholder group, which mainly consists of men. This group is shared with the Football Pools, who want to put something back into the community (and give something back). Due to the health issues surrounding men (18-35 years – the target group of this project), football or again this power or brand has been championed as a way to attend to health issues in this target group.

One could say this is a fine line between being a responsible business and cynically marketing your brand to your target audience. However, on this occasion I am with the former. If it was just a £million+ cheque and a few pictures with the various football players I would have been seriously skeptical, however its not – its genuine.

OK – there will people out there who could argue/debate this either way, however I will explain why I thinks its genuine. The notion of genuine CSR is this instance is because they are funding and driving research (on a national and local level).

Why is this important?

Collating indicators of success on a national (and local) level with an independent organisation (i.e., University) is a great first step by the Premier League & the Football Pools. It shows they want to help make a difference – as the only way to do this is to fund quality measures so you can understand the difference a project makes (national research information can be sought from the good people at the Centre for Mens Health at Leeds Met).

Whats typically happened:

All too often funding has (and still is) squandered on consultancy firms (often ran by ‘friends’), who often provide little academic rigour or independence in their work, but do offer a glossy/feel good report. This is simply NOT enough these days – OR it shouldn’t be.

We should expect research and evaluation in all projects. Obviously collaboration with Universities can come in many different forms (and costs), but this will be more important as funding becomes harder find and source. Independent results detailing the impact of your work will help gain success in future partnerships to attract financial support.

Most importantly, this research aims to (and all research of this nature should aim to do) directly improve practice as the project evolves. Building the capacity and empowering individual projects and individual practitioners working up and down the country. The funding and research is doing this and is helping the projects get better. Without this approach the project wouldn’t have received academic acknowledgement, begin to understand the impact of the project or even be considered by the World Health Organisation.

In this case I am supporting the funding provided by the Football Pools, but I have greater support for their approach to research and building capacity across the clubs involved in the project. We should all take something from this approach. As this is what research should be about – empowering and supporting organisations make a bigger difference.

I have a few tips below for football clubs seeking genuine CSR partnerships from my experience:

– look for shared stakeholders

 look for more than money (what other resources or skills can a business offer?)

– focus on the long term (as opposed to one-off projects)

– share and pool resources (e.g., share research and evaluation cost between clubs, work strategically)

– measure the benefits of the relationship for all (this helps articulate the impact of projects and secure sustainability)

– start local (don’t just chase the big fish – there are some amazing business people looking to help out there)

It would be good to hear about other cases of corporate support within football and sport and how these relationships have worked?

Please get in touch if you would like more information or have any questions.


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