By Ellen Ormesher | Senior Reporter

July 18, 2023 | 8 min read

The broadcaster’s latest consumer behavior campaign targets sports fans, encouraging them to travel greener to protect the games they love from climate change.

Sports as we know and love them are already impacted by climate change, from flooded pitches and wildfires delaying play to athletes experiencing heat exhaustion. Last month, the World Meteorological Organization declared the hottest week on record, with surging temperatures triggering extreme weather events worldwide.

Sky wants to encourage sports fans to protect their favorite sports from climate change by inspiring them to take action and reduce their carbon footprints. Research by the broadcaster and the Behavioural Insights Team in 2021 revealed that 70% of consumers are willing to change their behavior regarding protecting the environment. Subsequent research showed that Sky Sports customers aware of the Sky Zero campaign to reach net zero carbon claim a greater willingness to make sustainable changes to protect the environment than those unaware of the campaign.

Previous campaigns have included the Green Football Weekend in February of this year, which saw 80 clubs band together to drive awareness of climate change among football fans, and #GameZero, the Tottenham v Chelsea match that was the world’s first net zero carbon major football match took place ahead of Cop26.

Speaking on the latter, Fiona Ball, Sky’s group director of sustainability, says it worked with GFK to calculate a comprehensive carbon footprint, “looking at the stadium itself and the energy it uses, the food and the merchandise,” concluding that 85% of greenhouse gas emissions from any major sporting event was due to fan travel and accommodation.

“Later research then estimated that to be up to 91%,” she says, “we realized that if we really wanted to drive change in the industry, we had to talk to fans about how they’re getting to matches, encouraging them to use climate-friendly alternative methods of travel in order to minimize not just global climate change, but local pollution too.”

This is the insight behind Sky’s latest push, its ‘Sports Summer of Sustainability,’ which aims to engage fans around the carbon impact of their travel, particularly in the run-up to the 151st Golf Open and cricket’s The Hundreds. Sky aims for sports fans to commit to taking a million more green journeys when traveling to future sports events.

Creative includes the ‘Walk of Fame’ experience, a green screen experience that promotes the different ways fans can travel green while allowing them to recreate the walks of their sporting heroes. At The 151st Open, fans will walk down a recreated 18th hole at Royal Liverpool, celebrating their place in the ‘greatest walk in golf.’ At The Hundred, fans will recreate the iconic walk to the wicket at Lord’s Cricket Ground. In partnership with the England and Wales Cricket Board and The R&A, the broader campaign will also use TV ad spots, on-screen editorial coverage, out-of-home advertising and social media to inspire fans to travel to venues by walking, cycling, lift-sharing or using public transport where possible.

Where fans cannot travel by public transport, such as when tournaments occur overseas, Ball says Sky would encourage fans to consider sports tourism “to link up with something else, like a larger holiday.”

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The focus on cricket is due to the sport being particularly susceptible to climate change, Ball explains, mainly because pitches are located “in areas of the world that are already feeling the worst effects,” such as Asia and the global south. But she highlights fans can already see the impact of climate change on sports events around the world. “Trees crashing down at the Masters have been heavily disruptive, the Grand Prix was canceled due to flooding in Italy and baseball and basketball were canceled in the US due to poor air quality as a result of the wildfires in Canada.”

Severe weather hasn’t been the only climate-related disruption at sporting events this summer. The orange clouds and confetti belonging to the environmental group Just Stop Oil have been seen everywhere, from football matches to the snooker championships to Wimbledon. Just Stop Oil is protesting the UK government’s inaction on climate change, as well as drawing attention to the prevalence of oil and high-carbon sponsorship at sporting events. Still, Sky was hesitant to enter into a conversation about squaring its climate campaigns with its sponsors, saying it reviews advertising agreements and opportunities on a ‘case-by-case basis.’

“We have a long history of working to reduce our environmental footprint. Sky was the first media company to become carbon neutral in 2006 and is committed to reaching net zero carbon status by 2030,” a spokesperson told The Drum.

Ball elaborates: “We have the commitment to be net zero by 2030, and that’s across all of our value chains, Scope 1, 2 and 3,” Ball elaborates. “In addition, we’ve got a science-based target in place to halve our absolute carbon footprint across all our scopes.” This means Sky won’t rely on carbon offsetting to meet its targets. “Similar to a sporting event, our biggest emissions are in our Scope 3 – around 90%,” she adds. “That includes our initiatives, our associations, our supply chain and production companies, as well as the partners we work with.”

Accordingly, Jonathan Quinn, the lead on Sky’s sports and sustainability initiatives, assures it works hard with its venue partners to ensure they have the infrastructure in place to realize Sky’s communication with fans over more sustainable behaviors like refillable water bottles and water stations, “so when there’s a campaign happening with fans, it follows that there’s a direct conversation with the venues.”

In the future, Ball says Sky hopes to communicate with fans that it’s not just about driving down emissions but conserving “the things we love, and supporting fans of sports to get out and about with their families and friends in nature.” She highlights Sky’s work with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to tackle environmental issues and preserve biodiversity.

“We’ve got a big challenge on our hands, but with individuals taking small steps, when we look at the bigger picture, it makes a significant impact.”

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