Outreach > Inspiring Behavior Change

Sports provide a unique platform for influencing fans and inspiring behavior change

College sports offer an opportunity to bring sustainability into mainstream campus culture. Sport transcends political, social, cultural, and socioeconomic divides. It can also transcend campus cliques based on majors, classes, extracurricular interests, or Greek society. Loyalty to sports is one of the few things tens of thousands of students can agree on.

And this trend is true beyond campuses: Only 13 percent of Americans say they follow science, while 63 percent identify themselves as sports fans. By modeling sustainable practices to thousands of students and fans, collegiate sports hold the potential to help sustainability cross departmental boundaries and social divides to become part of daily campus life.

As teams and venues promote a public commitment to ecological stewardship, environmentalism becomes a mainstream issue—one that resonates with student-athletes of all kinds and loyal college sports fans across the country, who make up the largest and most diverse audience in all of sports.

More Americans follow college sports than ever before, and its popularity continues to grow. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), 181 million viewers tuned in to at least one of the 2013 NCAA Division 1 men’s college basketball tournament games on television or online.

The NCAA also reports that college football games received 352 million views in 2012, with 216 million tuning in during the regular season and 126 million watching the postseason bowl games. Approximately 49 million fans in the United States also attended at least one college football game in 2012, the third-highest season attendance ever.

How To Use Fan Engagement To Inspire Behavior Change

Fan engagement can lead to behavior change when an athletics department uses its brand effectively to influence its fans and inspire them to implement personal sustainability practices in their own lives, homes, and workplaces.

Many fan engagement initiatives are based on the principles of Cause Related  Marketing (CRM), which is a widely used and growing tool in professional sports, and Community Based Social  Marketing (CBSM), a standard tool of sustainability professionals.

Fan engagement is a practice that can improve peoples’ lives and benefit the environment while significantly improving brand reputation for an athletics sports brand and their supporting sponsors.

How does fan engagement work?

  1. Sports department models sustainability in its operations.

  2. Sports department engages and educates fans about sustainability efforts, integrating sustainability into their identity and brand.

  3. Sports department asks fans to enhance personal sustainability behaviors in order to “be part of the team.”

  4. Sports department prompts fans’ sustainability behaviors by incentivizing certain actions, collecting information on these actions, and rewarding fans accordingly.

  5. The outcome: sports departments can “mainstream” sustainability behaviors as part of “fandom.”

Why does fan engagement work?

By modeling and promoting sustainability, sports departments can make living sustainably part of their identity and their fans’ identity, making sustainability part of mainstream life. Behavior change research compiled by the University of Colorado Boulder Environmental Center suggests that fans:

  • love to bask in the reflected glory (known as “BIRGing”) of the teams they follow.

  • will integrate sustainability behaviors modeled by a sports brand because it increases “values congruence” with the brand that reinforces or activates fans’ preexisting values.

  • feel better about themselves—and the sports brand—when fans change the way they act to a positive, beneficial behavior.

  • feel better about their community and the sports brand’s place in it after integrating the brand’s new behaviors into home/work.

  • will continue to participate so long as the brand models the cause.

  • will be more tolerant of the brand’s other troubles.

Go to the Fan Engagement Strategies page of this guide for tips on how to build a culture of sustainability at sports events with effective and consistent outreach to fans.

Go to the Branding and Outreach Strategy page of this guide for guidance on how to establish a clear branding and strategic communications plan for your sports greening program.