Harry Groome, a Boston-based marketing executive with deep experience in the consumer rewards business, had the idea 5 years ago that pro and college sports could do a significantly better job of engaging fans in their greening efforts. So he and his New York City-based opposite number, Walter Ife, founded FansWithoutFootprints (FWF), to move the Green-Sports movement in the fans’ direction.
GSB and Harry recently chatted about FWF and the challenges of turning it from concept to reality:
GreenSportsBlog: How did Fans Without Footprints come to be?
Harry Groome: Walter Ife and I have worked together on a variety of marketing disciplines over the last 15 years or so, from consumer strategy to sports marketing; from publishing to luxury. Interested in green marketing, I went to the 2008 Sustainable Brands conference in Miami and realized that “Big Boys” (i.e. Coke and IBM) were playing in sustainability, not just the Birkenstocks of the world.
On the plane ride back to Boston, I realized that, with Big Corporates involved, that there is an opportunity for real change to happen by activating the masses (i.e. fans ). We connected the dots which led to the creation of FansWithoutFootprints, which started by working with teams help teams offset their fans’ travel to and from games.
GSB: What was the business model?
Harry: Initially we looked at getting teams to buy carbon credits to offset fans’ travel, and having sponsors underwrite it. But the carbon credit model is a load of crap, in part because much of the money goes to offshore projects, so Walter and I pivoted in 2010 to focus on the fan and rewarding their green activities by supporting green-themed charitable programs in their local communities. Teams, leagues and fans all liked this concept.
GSB: What’s not to like? How does it work?
Harry: Fans of participating teams sign up for the FWF app and get points for green actions (recycling, composting, buying renewable energy). They redeem those points for special, exclusive access with their teams–including meet & greets with players, discounts on tickets, etc.
GSB: How much does it cost the fan?
Harry: It’s free–team sponsors pay for it.
GSB: That’s FANtastic! Where can I sign up?
Harry: It’s still in the concept stage in that teams have not sold it yet to sponsors. A couple of pro football and hockey teams in the northeast have offered the FWF program to prospective sponsors but, when we started in 2010, we were still in the shadow of the financial collapse and teams had an excess of basic sponsorship inventory they needed to sell before they could take on something new like FWF.
GSB: I get that but now that we’re a couple years beyond the worst of the “Econo-pocalypse”, how come sponsors aren’t jumping on it?
Harry: One of the reasons is that the teams don’t know how to position FWF. Meaning that, while we see it as a classic marketing rewards opportunity, potential sponsors almost reflexively place anything with the word “green” in it in the philanthropy bucket. And teams have been unable to shift FWF to where it belongs, in marketing. So much of our work has been and continues to be getting teams to position us properly.
GSB: While you are working on getting this incarnation of FWF sold to a sponsor, what else have you got in the pipeline?
Harry: A couple of exciting things. One is, with an international partner, creating a FWF-style app for mega international events, starting with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and going through the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. That deal is pending.
Two, we’re working on something called Reverse Vending as a pilot program with Harvard, Boston College and MIT athletics. It’s a variation on Bottle Return Deposit program in which fans get a 5¢ credit for each bottle they return to kiosks in tailgate areas. They can take that credit in cash or donate it to selected charities.
And last, but not least is that we’re looking at 2014 as the year in which the basic FWF concept becomes sponsored.
GSB: 2014 promises to be a busy one indeed for FWF. Best wishes in making it The Year of the Green Sports Fan!