Anyone who’s been reading GreenSportsBlog over the last 19 months knows the Greening of Sports is happening at a rapid pace, from LEED Certified Stadia to Zero-Waste games, and beyond. But, is said greening translating into meaningful sponsorship revenue? Do corporations “get it”? The answer, increasingly, is yes, though it certainly is early days for green sports sponsorship. Since the University of Colorado at Boulder has been a leader in the greening of its athletics department (not surprisingly, right?)–and in generating revenue from so doing–we are taking a deep dive into how the Buffaloes are “Making Green from Going Green.”
The Greening of CU Athletics has its start in Gainesville, Florida, of all places.
Dave Newport, Director of the CU Environmental Center and the man who has spearheaded the greening of Buffaloes sports, started working at the intersection of green and sports while running the Sustainability Department at the University of Florida in 2002-2003. Even though the Gators started small (going Zero-Waste only in the sky boxes and luxury suites), Newport said the possibilities and potential power of green-sports stared him in the face in those early days because, the Gators Athletics Department and, especially the fans bought in: “Hey, everyone loves recycling. It was good for business because the fans loved it and that enhanced the Athletics Department’s relationship with them. When fans–and anyone, for that matter–really think about it, they get that waste is, well, wasteful.”
Newport took his green-sports experience to Boulder in 2006, joining the nation’s oldest Environmental Center (founded in 1970). The environment (pun intended) for greening CU Athletics was, of course, much more advanced than at Florida: Recycling, alternative transportation and concern about climate change were standard fare on campus, in the city and regionally. And the CU Athletics Director at the time, Mike Bohn (now at the University of Cincinnati), immediately bought into the idea of greening CU Athletics, bringing to the table a crucial insight as to why it would work. As Newport relates, Bohn understood that fans really go to games “for the community, not for the actual game (I agree). Greening the games comports with the values of this community and this university.”
Dave Newport, Director of the Environmental Center at University of Colorado, Boulder (Photo credit: Dave Newport)
Those values were expressed through the 6 Zero-Waste football games played at Folsom Field in 2007. Zero-Waste became the standard at all CU football games by the next season, meaning waste diversion rates (diverting waste from landfill by recycling and composting) had reached 90%, up from 60% in 2007. Basketball reached that level in 2013. But Colorado expects to get to the rarified air of 98-99% diversion rates (that would be a big deal, trust me) in the not too distant future once, says Newport, “our entire supply chain gets involved. This will happen.”
Of course, it’s no surprise that CU Athletics is a leader in Green-Sports. It’s Boulder, Colorado after all! But, it was still an open question, back in 2006-2007, as to whether the Buffaloes could actually make money by selling green sponsorships.
Enter Megan Eisenhard of Buffalo Sports Properties (BSP), a property of Learfield Sports, which represents nearly 100 college and university athletics departments for sponsorship sales, marketing and business development.
Green sponsorship was not on Megan’s radar screen when she arrived in Boulder in 2008. But she inherited an existing sponsor, WhiteWave Foods, for which sustainability was important. So Megan quickly schooled herself on a variety of sustainability-related topics, including what she calls the “back end of Zero-Waste–how it actually works in terms of getting suppliers to buy in, and how the athletic department facilities team manages recycling and composting”. Eisenhard then got down to the business of “helping WhiteWave to achieve their goals” by selling them a sponsorship of CU Athletics’ Zero-Waste program for the 2008 football season (Centerplate, concessionaire and caterer of CU Athletics, was already a green sponsor.)
Megan Eisenhard, Buffalo Sports Properties (BSP), a property of Learfield Sports. (Photo credit: Megan Eisenhard)
Key to making the Zero-Waste initiative exciting and meaningful for community and sponsors alike was its branding: Ralphie’s Green Stampede, launched in 2008 (a big year for green sports at CU!) and named after the school’s buffalo mascot, became the face of the university’s efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its home games.
Reaction to Ralphie’s Green Stampede (and to its sponsors) was strongly positive from the get-go and more sponsors followed, including Boulder-based Eco-Products (compostable cups, plates, and other eating utensils) and Levy Restaurants (starting in 2014, the new concessionaire and caterer of CU Athletics venues, including Folsom Field and the Coors Events Center, home of CU hoops).
Then, according to Dave Newport, BASF took “sponsorship of the Greening of CU Athletics to a whole new level”, starting with basketball in early 2014. As Dave tells it “BASF is the world leader in BioPolymers (compostable plastics, basically); it’s a B-to-B company, not a consumer company. But the products their BioPolymers are used in (i.e. compostable cups) are bought by consumers. Their goal is to grow demand for those products by getting them to compost in the first place.”
To paraphrase a great Guinness TV ad campaign of a few years back, “Getting people to buy compostable products by encouraging them to compost?? BRILLIANT!!”
Even more BRILLIANT!, to my mind, and unusual, is that BASF is seeking to foster important, if “un-sexy”, low profile behavioral change (i.e. composting your food scraps) by the sponsorship of very high profile CU Athletics–they started with basketball in 2014. Dave Newport again takes over: “Despite Boulder being Boulder, composting rates there were 10% in 2014–there was/is room for growth. BASF’s goal is to double composting rates to 20% in one year (my emphasis). To change people’s behavior at home through the affinity for a sports team is huge.”
While the results are not in on the composting increase (Newport expects BASF will make it), two important scores are in:
- BASF renewed for football 2014 and basketball 2014-2015.
- BSP, led by Megan Eisenhard, has increased green sports sponsorship sales at CU every year since 2008.
Up next on Newport’s drawing board at CU: A new Net Zero Energy (energy used = energy generated on site) indoor football practice facility–the solar panel-covered roof will make this a reality.
And Newport has his eyes set on a bigger prize: The Greening of the PAC-12 Conference (Colorado is a member.) It has started already–the PAC-12 is the first of the “Power 5” conferences to have all of its institutions join the Green Sports Alliance. Dave’s big hope is to launch PAC-12 Green in 2015. My hope is that league-wide behavior-changing sponsorships would follow.
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