Sports hubs: playing fields for professional athletes or for Sunday joggers?

Sports hubs: playing fields for professional athletes or for Sunday joggers?

Sports practice is well-known for its positive impacts on self-confidence, its benefits on our health, and its unifying and inclusive values. These values are powerful assets that are sought by global cities. Why and how should cities try and attract global sports clubs? What are the consequences on the local sports practice? How can cities turn sports into a driving force for  attractiveness?

The “Sports Hubs” session at the 2020 Global Cities Makers Forum gathered sports players and experts who shared their views on sports identity, practices and excellence. Our four experts were Fabrice Landreau, Sports vice-manager of the Stade Français Paris, Manuel Giménez, Madrid Region’s Employment, Economy and Competitiveness Minister, Cyrille Tricart, Head of public relations for Cycling of Amaury Sport Organisation, and Mehdi Hemici, SVP Partnerships and business development of Accor Group.

Sports for all: a major challenge for sports excellence

Prior to becoming a high-level professional practice, sports is a popular activity, a way to self accomplishment and personal development. It is “a pleasure, a hobby before it becomes a high-level sport”. For a city to host sports excellence, it must provide adapted infrastructures, legal frames for multiple sports practices and support to local sports associations. According to Fabrice Landreau, “public policies must take into account associative sports clubs, especially on a local level”.

It is undeniable that great events motivate and strike the general public, however smaller local events as well as amateur sports need to be strongly encouraged and promoted for they foster social cohesion. To do so, local communities must firmly engage in the widening of the access to sports for their citizens, as Madrid Region has recently done. The Spanish region now enjoys an increasing attractiveness and competitiveness thanks to its sports committed policies. As Manuel Gimenez explained, the sports field polarises an independent strategic thinking and an area of investment for local authorities. Each year, the region sets a sports plan that takes accounts for common popular sports (such as football, rugby…) but also for newcomers.

A city that promotes excellence in the sports field is also a city that encourages the largest spectrum of practices and “offers the chance for young people to be Sunday joggers as well as high level sportsmen”.

“Sport is a pleasure, a hobby before it becomes a high-level practice.”

Fabrice Landreau
Sports Vice-manager, Stade Français Paris

Local policies and sport-oriented attractiveness strategies

For a city to mark an effort in democratising and widening the access to sport for its citizens is a first remarkable step taken towards the welcoming of sport clubs and athletes. When a city partners with a sport club, it benefits from the club’s reputation, its high media coverage, and bonds this particular sport’s values to its image and profound identity. Manuel Giménez insists on the fact that “the reputation of Madrid Region is tightly linked to that of the Real Madrid”.

In fact, one of the main driving forces of sports attractiveness is the ability for a city to provide urban areas, accessible infrastructures that suit a high level practice of sports. To do so, a financing policy must be dedicated to these projects. Being able to welcome global sports clubs and events is indeed a long path for local authorities to take.

“The reputation of Madrid Region is tightly linked to that of the Real Madrid.”

Manuel Giménez
Madrid Region’s Employment, Economy and Competitiveness Minister

French cities mark to that extent quite an unequal stand. French sports excellence is acknowledged on a global scale through its iconic structures such as the Rugby National Center, the National Sports Institute for Performance and Expertise, and Clairefontaine. Nevertheless, as it is underlined by Fabrice Landreau, these precious and attractive assets do not always benefit a wider access to sports for school and university students.

As global cities implement attractiveness strategies and foster economic growth, building a genuine sports culture can become an economic driving force and a competitive asset.

Great sports events with a local footing

Hosting sport competitions is part of the same strategy as attracting international sports clubs.

These events are only successful with the help of the hosting territory and its local players (political, economic, sports). The example of itinerant sports events such as the Tour de France is particularly striking. Their peculiarity lies in their use of the public domain as a welcoming ground for mobile facilities and as a place to exhibit sports. The aim for all sports events is to satisfy three main expectations: professionals who dwell on the public space, citizens who must eventually find an interest in giving in this public space, and local authorities who hope for a return on investment. Cyrille Tricart asserts that “complete and complementary solutions” are needed, as much as “a close cooperation between the event’s organising committee and local authorities”. People, citizens, in other words, local communities also must be involved to the largest extent possible in the organisation process of these events. In that way, reinforcing the emotional link between the local population and the hosted sport is crucial to maintain a long-term engagement and investments. Therefore, each local authority aims to promote the chosen sport and its sharing values in order to encourage volunteering. “There would be no sport events without volunteers”.

The final goal of such big events for the local community and authorities is twofold: improving the place’s reputation and benefiting from significant economic benefits. These benefits can immediately be observed on the field as media coverage and tourism rates both automatically rise. As the Tour de France is an asset for stage cities, for any other involved territories and for the entire country, Greater Paris is managing an incentive approach that intents to bring all global cities players together around sports events. Its target: teaming up, becoming the mirror of an ideal sports destination and publicising abroad this often overlooked image of Paris.

“There would be no sport events without volunteers.”

Cyrille Tricart
Head of Public Relations for Cycling of Amaury Sport Organisation

Marketing and sponsoring: why should brands invest in sports?

The sports sponsoring of the Paris Saint-Germain football club by Accor group reflects “a desintermediation process” in the customer relationship, as Mehdi Hemici underlines. It has already been stated that partnering with a global sports club triggers great benefits. But global sponsors (such as Accor group) aim to go further and to have full control over the club’s image through its communication and sports marketing unique strategy. “We wanted a brand that was French rooted, that enjoyed a strong global reach and shared targeted markets (Asia, Europe, Latin America)”.

The renewal of the club and sponsor relationship opens new perspectives and initiatives when it comes to promoting sports. Accor group was one of the 1998 World Cup sponsors and learnt through similar events how to adapt its accommodations and facilities depending on the hosting territory and city. Offering a full package customer experience is the main goal, indeed, but it must settle “a suitable price and an efficient booking platform” for both national and foreign customers.

“We use the hallmark of the city of Paris as a sports emblem and work with those who contribute to shaping it.”

Mehdi Hemici
SVP Partnerships & Business Development, Accor Group

However, for a sponsor to choose a club, regardless of its performance, relies on a reputational criteria: the image of the city where the club is rooted. Paris Saint-Germain is a part of the city of Paris, global tourist destination, city of luxury, heart of the European market. Accor group has fully understood that as a sponsor, it has an opportunity to “use the hallmark of the city of Paris”.

Sports marketing grounds its driving forces in a city’s existing assets, aims to create new and comprehensible contents on a global level, and to convey complete, strong emotions and experiences. This new voice who speaks on behalf of the city (as it speaks on behalf of its sports club) is a new way to discover and brand the cultural and urban heritage of Paris.