ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) in Sport – Thematic Research

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Climate change creates extreme weather patterns that continue to wreak havoc on the sports industry. Many teams, leagues, and event organizers have joined the race for carbon neutrality by reducing waste and offsetting carbon emissions. There are 244 signatures of the Sport for Climate Action Framework, led by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). However, there is no sign of a weakening relationship between sports companies and high carbon sponsorship.

The sports industry is both a driver and reflector of societal thinking. Athlete activism makes headlines. Brands align themselves with social movements to tap into a younger consumer base. Giving more exposure to underrepresented sporting areas, such as women in sport, opens leagues and tournaments to new audiences and develops commercial potential.

Many leagues and brands have set in motion targets to increase diversity at top levels. More inclusive boardrooms would offer new perspectives to address the needs and desires of all partners and stakeholders. If sport is representative of society, then it needs representation in leadership.

What are the main trends shaping the ESG theme in the sports sector?

GlobalData estimates that the global AI platform market will be worth $52 billion in 2024, up from $28 billion in 2019. AI is jumping into mainstream sports, used to improve athlete performance, make more accurate in-game decisions and predictions, and improve data analytics. AI models can also offer insights into the prevalence of racial biases in sport through natural language processing (NLP), which helps identify these incidences in broadcasting and coaching. There is also the question of who owns the collected data. AI systems deployed in sport often gather medical data from athletes. However, health data is classified as a special category under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), requiring the athlete’s explicit consent before sharing.

As the vaccine rollout happens at different rates worldwide, leagues and event organizers must decide how to proceed with in-person events and deliver on promises to stakeholders. Many fans and participants in sport worry about the safety implications of live events. For example, 80% of Tokyo locals oppose the Olympics going ahead in 2021, citing public health concerns. Roughly 1.4% of Japanese people have antibodies against COVID-19 at the time of writing. A further postponement would severely disrupt the sporting calendar, impacting fan experience, media agreements, and sponsorships. Sponsors are invested in events that are run as safely as possible. Diageo, the international drinks giant that is a sponsor of the Copa America, has joined other brands in withdrawing from this year’s tournament after it was relocated to Brazil – a country which the virus has significantly impacted. From 2021 onwards, it will continue to be a balancing act between public health concerns and the desire to stage events.

Match-fixing is one of the oldest problems in sport and is making its way into the newest areas of the sports industry. More than two-thirds of esports executives believe match-fixing is a threat to the industry’s legitimacy and growth, according to a 2019 survey by law firm Foley & Lardner and the Esports Observer. Match-fixing incidents in games such as CS: GO, League of Legends, StarCraft II, and Overwatch have damaged the industry and led to popular players like Life (Lee Seung-Hyun) being banned from competition. These incidents have also stimulated demand for anti-cheating software. Over the coming years, organizers will tackle match-fixing by investing in fraud identification and addressing tech vulnerabilities. Regulators will monitor gambling syndicates that intend to rig events to generate profit.

What are the ESG challenges in the sports sector?

Environmental challenges

Environmental performance measures the energy a company consumes, the waste it generates, the natural resources it uses, and the consequences for ecosystems and habitats. An overarching factor is climate change, which is increasing the frequency and force of extreme weather events. Climate change and instability also cause uncertainty that, in turn, increases corporate risk and delays investment. The sports industry is a significant contributor to the climate change. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are produced through vast waste production, electricity consumption, and transportation, as well as the construction of sports venues to host events.

Social factors

Social performance assesses a company’s engagement with its workers, customers, suppliers, and the local community. It covers human rights, diversity and inclusion, health and safety, and community impact. Inattention to these factors can damage corporate brands and reputations and bring legal and regulatory penalties. Sport is driven by community engagement and can be a leader in progression through championing social causes. The industry’s huge platform also lends itself to the role of leader in this field. However, to fulfill this role, there needs to be effective leadership at the top.

Governance factors

Governance assesses how a company uses policies and controls to inform business decisions, comply with the law, and meet obligations to stakeholders. Governance failures (for example, aggressive tax avoidance, corruption, excessive executive pay, or relentless lobbying) cause reputational harm and loss of trust. Sports bodies cooperate with public authorities, betting regulators, and law enforcement, both on a national and international level, to tackle issues pertaining to corruption. Some sports federations use in-house regulatory bodies to clamp down on unfair or illegal practices in their respective sports.

Which are the leading companies focusing on ESG theme in sports?

Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), International Olympic Committee (IOC), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), Nike, and PepsiCo are some of the leading companies in sports sector focussed on ESG.

Market report scope

Technology Trends Covered Artificial intelligence, blockchain, social media
Macroeconomic Trends Covered COVID-19, geopolitics, generation hashtag, partnerships
 Industry Trends Covered Match-fixing, media rights, salary caps
Companies Mentioned AC Milan, Acronis, Adidas, ALTC, Coca-Cola, Darktrace, Diageo, Emirates, Esports Federation, Extreme E, FA, FA Women’s Championship, FEI, FIFA, Formula 1, Formula E, Gazprom, IBIA, IBU, ICC, IOC, Kick it Out, LPGA, Manchester City, MLB, NBA, NFL, Nike, Paris Saint Germain, PepsiCo, PGA, The Premier League, Puma, Real Betis, Rugby Football Union, UCI, Uefa, Valve, Volvo Ocean Race, WADA, World Athletics, World Esports Association, and Women in Football


Scope of the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) in Sport report:

  • GlobalData’s ESG framework which contains contributing factors to environmental, social and governance issues, with mitigating actions for each issue.
  • Technology, macroeconomic, and industry trends in the sports industry. Certain technologies are enabling sports companies to improve their ESG credentials and macroeconomic forces are compelling them to rethink ESG strategy.
  • GlobalData’s ESG action feedback loop describes how stakeholders are demanding action on ESG and the effect this has on company disclosures.
  • ESG challenges currently faced by those in the power industry and how companies can address them.
  • Case studies on ESG leaders and laggards in the sports industry.
  • Detailed assessment of leading sports companies and their competitive positions in the ESG theme.

Reasons to Buy

  • Develop long term ESG strategies by identifying your company’s contributing factors then employing our recommended mitigating actions.
  • Protect against risk by exploring ESG challenges in the sports sector, equipping your company with the knowledge of how to combat future ESG tests.
  • Identify current leaders in the sports industry. Use this report’s assessment of current players in the sports industry to inform potential ways to improve ESG ratings and limit the financial losses and reputational damage incurred through corruption, lack of clear governance, as well as damage caused by environmental issues.
  • Avoid ESG failures and follow in the footsteps of ESG leaders by incorporating our case studies into your strategy.

AC Milan
Esports Federation
Extreme E
FA Women's Championship
Formula 1
Formula E
Kick it Out
Manchester City
Paris Saint Germain
The Premier League
Real Betis
Rugby Football Union
Volvo Ocean Race
World Athletics
World Esports Association
Women in Football

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

GlobalData’s ESG framework


The ESG action feedback loop

ESG challenges in sport

Case studies

ESG timeline



Further reading

| Our thematic research methodology

| About GlobalData

| Contact Us

Frequently asked questions

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