TicketManager | With Divisiveness Rampant in Sports, Brands Have an Opportunity

A recent feature in The Washington Post examined in excruciating detail how sports-once the great unifier—has become just another example of how divided the U.S. has become.

None of us needs a recent history lesson about all the numerous issues that have split the country down the middle, and this blog is not a place for political and cultural discussion, but with so many instances of division making its way into sports lately, it has become an extremely relevant topic for sports organizations and their brand partners.

As we were flooded with more news about the latest rants surrounding Caitlin Clark this weekend and had to explain to family members trying to enjoy the last round of the U.S. Open at a Father’s Day gathering why a group of boors were chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A.” at Rory McIlroy—among many other examples—now is the perfect time for sponsors to wield their influence and resources to address the toxicity that has invaded nearly all of our favorite pastimes.

Recognizing that brands want to avoid controversy and often find it necessary for their bottom lines to refrain from taking sides in nearly any issue, there is still room for sports sponsors to engage here.

Simply reminding fans how sports have been and can continue to be a place of common ground for all through ad messaging, social content, etc., would be a start. There are also specific instances where a brand could be the catalyst in bringing two sides together or illustrating the difference between a healthy rivalry and a blood feud.

For example, if you dig past the multitudes of traditional and social media voices trying to leverage Clark and the WNBA for their own purposes—whether to score political points or simply generate views and clicks—you hear the same message from the players: There is no hatred there. They are competitors and play each other hard. That doesn’t excuse excessive shoves like Chennedy Carter’s earlier this month but does leave lots of room for fouls like Angel Reese’s on Clark on Sunday, which Clark described as “just a part of basketball…Trying to make a play on the ball, get the block. It happens.”

With so many others ascribing motives to these players that simply aren’t there and outright stealing these women’s stories, how great would it be for a brand to sign Clark and Reese and put them in a commercial where they could express what a healthy rivalry is all about—either directly or simply through a fun interaction like the mid-‘80s Converse ad that featured bitter rivals Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Not only would such messaging be a positive move for fans and the greater good, it is also in the self-interest of sports marketers who risk having the platforms they pay dearly to align with become infected with the type of discourse that has the potential to greatly diminish their ability to attract and engage fans and consumers.