Infront Sports – Creating a sustainable sports ecosystem
Infront Sports & Media begins its first sustainability report by stating: “At Infront, we believe sport is one of the true unifying forces in the world.”
This is very much the approach the sports marketing company has taken with its sustainability efforts over the last decade or so.
Infront has many strings to its bow – from holding or controlling contractual rights to global sports properties through to organising participation events worldwide. The new report provides a basis upon which Infront can build to help broker the right relationships to negotiate ESG (environment, social and governance) issues.
Jörg Polzer, the Vice President of Strategic Communications for Infront, tells Global Sustainable Sport that while ESG was already deeply rooted in the Switzerland-headquartered company, the release of the report provides a structured plan.
“We are introducing this report now as we are really aiming to address those needs,” Polzer says. “We are aiming for a more concerted and strategic approach and to make our actions in that area more tangible and transparent. Ultimately, we see the report as an important tool to drive the discussion around ‘how can we create a sustainable or resilient sports ecosystem’ And we believe that only a structured dialogue around it will probably be the best approach to move it forward.”
Polzer adds that the report will also provide a consistent platform for communications on Infront’s sustainability efforts.
“We now also have a starting point to develop our own sustainability strategy and governance around that. Ultimately, we also think we have strengthened our position in the market because we like to believe that this helps us to become an even more attractive business partner and employer,” adds Polzer.
Internally, Infront has made a series of changes over the last 10 years to tackle ESG issues and provide an environment for staff to learn about the importance of this mission.
“We already have a long-standing expertise and drive to change things in the area of compliance management,” Polzer says. “We have invested a lot in a comprehensive system and related training, we developed policies and we have built up a dedicated team led by Barbara Lustenberger. Last year, we were ISO-certified for our compliance management system, and at least in our part of the industry, we are the first company to have achieved that step.
“It was nice to see how suddenly those things came together.”
Jörg Polzer, Vice President of Strategic Communications, Infront
Infront’s sustainability report concentrates on specific areas in which the company can really make an impact. This includes the social side of ESG and comes in the form of participation sports.
With its B2Run and other Active Lifestyle participation event brands, more than 500,000 amateur and corporate athletes benefit from an activity to improve both their physical and mental health. Enhancing the traditional agency model and adding this aspect to the business over the last decade has enabled Infront to push for tangible change within the area of ESG.
“We can look back and say we improved the health of many people out there in Europe, and also across the world by encouraging them take part in our events that we organise,” says Polzer.
“This is something that we want to drive further. We have also taken some short-term measures here and have committed ourselves to shortened development goals, because this is where we believe we can ultimately make a difference.”
The report adds that Infront’s business also enables the development of sports in underdeveloped geographical regions, supporting the growth of new sports from grassroots to professional levels. The company also helps to develop women’s and Paralympic sports to remove barriers for future generations of athletes.
For example, as part of its engagement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Infront distributed media rights for sub-Saharan Africa, spanning 46 countries, giving residents access to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, with the IOC then redistributing 90% of the revenue generated through commercial agreements to support sport across the globe, including in Africa.
"We are aiming for a more concerted and strategic approach and to make our actions in that area more tangible and transparent."
The importance of dialogue
One aspect of Infront’s sustainability plan comes in the form of education; strengthening its position on subjects and growing a network of subject matter experts before passing this on to partners and stakeholders.
In the run-up to the launch of the report and after the launch, Polzer explains that Infront reached out to a number experts, companies and business units that had been identified as champions for ESG matters.
“These are people who really have an understanding of what is needed, but can also drive the dialogue with their own stakeholders,” says Polzer.
Another aspect is the project work that can produce tangible results among stakeholders which can ultimately impact positively on the wider sports ecosystem.
Polzer adds: “It is about identifying projects over the next two years where we know that there are stakeholders with an appetite for ESG issues with whom we can work on concrete projects.
“I think the beauty right now is that Pandora’s Box is open, there’s no way back out of ESG, or managing ESG, so you find a lot of stakeholders out there who are actively interested in approaching such things. It’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy, but we have a lot of partners out there with their own sustainability strategy or are reporting plan at hand, and how we can tie this in, in a very structured way. We also see ESG matters being part of tender requests, and certainly being part of the area of brand partnerships for many years.”
Polzer says that the launch of the report provides a springboard for Infront to continue its ESG-related mission with a more structured approach. He also believes that setting short-term, achievable goals is the way forward rather than committing to targets set for years in the future.
The report details goals between 2023-25 to develop a sustainable sports ecosystem. These include enhancing internal knowledge on ESG and Infront’s material topics; improving internal ESG governance and processes; maintaining active stakeholder dialogue and regularly evaluating participation in relevant sustainability networks and developing an employee engagement framework.
“While we are not at the beginning of our journey, we are at the beginning of our structured journey,” says Polzer. “We don’t see our report as a substitute for a long-term sustainability strategy, but rather a starting point to develop one.
“From the targets you can see there is a clear will to create a more long-term view. When we reviewed it we felt, first of all, we are just not prepared for a long-term view, and honestly we are wondering how others are prepared for the long-term view.
“I think if you really look at net zero goals, or net zero 2040 or 2050, nobody knows how that’s going to be achieved. Honestly I think there are so many questions, in sport in particular. How can you become net zero while running sports events?”
Polzer adds that a particular sticking point when it comes to long-term targets is the definition of ‘net zero’.
A sporting event will always have a footprint – be it through travel, either for athletes, events, organisers or spectators, or through energy for events that are taking place in remote areas with no access to renewable resources.
“If you look now, for example, at the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework, if you want to sign up you have to commit to net zero greenhouse gas emission by 2040, and many organisations do that,” says Polzer. “I certainly see the value in the commitment, but I would still like to see how we are getting there. That discussion needs to be initiated. It’s good to have long-term targets, but you also must be confident in a way that you can achieve them.”
He adds: “This is why dialogue is needed. What are the terms? What are the drivers of change? We need to talk to this rights-holders and partners – what does it mean and how can we help you with that? And it also comes down to what is the sponsorship proposition for example, how are those events being positioned in the future? How credible are they in their approach?
“Ultimately we need to work together to define that. This brings us back to why we initiated the report in the first place. We want to have better visibility of what we are committing to and how we can achieve it realistically.”
Infront Sports & Media is a sports marketing company headquartered in Switzerland which handles media and marketing rights for sports events and federations. The multifaceted company also provides other services in advertising and sponsorships, media production, digital and tech solutions, the organisation of participation events and more.
Learn more about Infront here.
You can read Infront’s report here.
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