Professional sport has expanded beyond all measure in the last 30 years, growing from ‘highlights’ on a Saturday night to 24 hour networks dedicated to countless sports worldwide. In tandem, professional sports have created their own communities, which in many ways have bypassed or indeed trampled on the community values more prevalent 30 years ago. Professional sport has become the unique connector between masses of people on a weekly basis. With that come challenges that we are only now beginning to comprehend. This short discussion document considers the changes afoot and how our understanding of community is being reshaped by professional sport.
- With the decline of mass religious participation in western society, professional sport has begun to fill that void.
- It is giving a sense of belonging, community, engagement and fulfilment that was once the purview of religion.
- The communities professional sport is creating are, maturing quite differently than we as society are used to.
- It connects people like never before. With that comes any number of societal issues which are now playing out on a sporting stage……and unlike religion, education or other norms of societal formation, sport isn’t yet built to recognise and guide those issues.
About Enda Lynch:
Enda Lynch, Head of Enterprise with Munster Rugby, is a commercial and sponsorship veteran with some of Ireland’s leading brands. Enda’s current role oversees a new business venture for Munster Rugby, the High-Performance Leadership programme, in partnership with University of Limerick.
Previously Enda was Head of Commercial & Marketing with Munster Rugby overseeing all revenue generation and marketing for the organisation for over five years. Prior to that, he was a sponsorship expert, working across a number of sponsorships such as the Irish Rugby team sponsorship, The O2, GAA All-Stars, Ferrari team sponsorship, Champions League etc. for brands both domestically and internationally for over 12 years including O2, Vodafone and Digicel.
Contacting Enda Lynch:
You can connect with Enda on LinkedIn.
By Enda Lynch
Imagine for a second walking out into a stadium – to play the biggest game of your life – and being greeted by silence? Not because your club has been fined for racist chants and must play a game behind closed doors. Not because you’re not popular – you are and you win trophies!
Imagine it’s because nobody cared.
Sport doesn’t work that way. It never has. From the beginning of time sport has been based around more than just participation. It has been based around community, engagement, passion. No matter if you’re a solo golfer travelling the world in the third tier of tournaments, a gymnast on the vault in a gym in Minsk or a team lining up for a game in a club in rural Vietnam, there’s somebody there with you. Be it a coach, trainer, parent, sibling – there’s always somebody there.
You might have to put in the hard yards on your own preparing for the competition, but once you turn up, they do too.
Professional sport is that unique connector between people in communities. They may not agree on religion, politics, education, climate change, conspiracy theories, the time of day.
But when somebody from their club, their parish, their region stands ready to perform in public – they turn to support. In support is a tacit understanding that while it more than likely costs them something, it is professional sport after all, it is a two-way street – like any community.
Professional sport is by its very nature a pay for play scenario in some way, shape or form. Therefore, the individual, team or organisation behind them is being paid. Their pay is from supporters, through ticket sales, merchandise sales, TV subscriptions etc. They are declaring their support for that professional athlete through payment.
But once the payment is made, their values realign to ones of community, pride, passion, a sense of place and purpose. And those values are the values of a community.
Sport, more than any other mass engager, is the one true connector of communities. In many countries, sport is rapidly replacing faith as the provider of that sense of passion, place and purpose which comes easily to it.
The growth of the sports broadcast industry as made that connection easier to find, easier to make and easier to identify with.
But with that connection comes challenges. Professional sports teams and individuals have an uncanny way of portraying the underbelly of societal issues, written large across multiple broadcast platforms. Be it racism, fascism, violence in the home or in public, they are all now associated with teams, events and individuals.
Sport is that unique connector. “Where were you” applies to two types of incidents in most lives – famous deaths or destructive moments of news, and sporting occasions. Those moments are currency at the water cooler and as more and more professional sport is consumed with ease around the world, sport is the one item that is connecting people.
Imagine turning sport into a powerful tool to deliver messages of hope and necessary change…now there’s the challenge for sport in the community.