Sported CEO Sarah Kaye wants to connect more brands with ‘sport for good’ campaigns, promising to deliver meaningful – even ‘magical’ – results

Sarah Kaye is frustrated. Having spent 25 years in fmcg, she knows how much money brands spend on sports sponsorship. But grassroots sports sponsorship, or ‘sport for good’ as it’s known, hardly gets a look in, she says.

“If you think about the millions of pounds that household brands put into sports sponsorship, it’s clear it’s a really attractive space. And yet very few are making the connection between sport sponsorship and sport for good. Out of the whole corporate investment in CSR, only 0.5% is going into community sport.”

That’s a shame. Since her appointment last April as CEO of Sported, a UK-wide charity that aims to transform the lives of “half a million” young people from disadvantaged or deprived backgrounds through grassroots sport, Kaye has seen first-hand the impact it can have. It’s supporting and funding a network of over 3,000 grassroots sports groups and clubs across the UK, working with the likes of Barclays, Vodafone and Sport England.

But the only fmcg brand partnering with Sported is Procter & Gamble (P&G), through its Rising Stars campaign, which awarded grants for equipment, venue hire and more, while also seeking to champion ‘rising stars’ in local communities.

Name: Sarah Kaye

Role: CEO, Sported

Age: 45

Potted CV: Mills & Boon (national account manager); Activision (channel controller, grocery); Tesco (category buying manager); McCormick (sales director); Pet Food UK (CEO); Sported (CEO)

Greatest achievement: My brilliant daughter

Business icon: Karren Brady, for breaking through in a male-dominated world

Favourite sports to watch: Football and horse racing. I love that the best jockey is a woman (Rachael Blackmore)

Favourite sports to play: Football and running. I recently started doing ultra marathons

Favourite book: The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre

Kaye believes other fmcg brands are missing out. As well as a tangible impact on communities, grassroots sports sponsorship can deliver a fantastic dual ROI for brands if managed successfully, she says.

Return on investment

For every £1 invested into sport for development, an average of £6 is returned in social value, compared with traditional sports sponsorship where the return is £4 for every £1 invested, she says, citing research conducted by Newton for Made by Sport.

“But as well as playing a fundamental role in amplifying a brand’s CSR strategy, delivering significant and measurable social impact, it can also support their commercial strategy, increasing the engagement and reach of their brands in the heart of communities they serve across the UK,” she adds.

“But the most important thing is demonstrating your brand cares about its long-term impact on society. Creating that emotive connection with your consumers is more important than ever.”

UNP Grocer 45413 Sarah Kaye Sported Loughborough019

Sarah Kaye says the only fmcg brand partnering with Sported is Procter & Gamble

It can even help with staff engagement and retention. “Most big organisations now offer volunteering days. Such engagement is important in building emotive connection, giving employees reason to be invested in and remain loyal to their business,” she adds.

So what is Kaye doing to find more fmcg brands to partner with? And what does good look like in the sport for good sector?

With her background in retail and supply, in plcs like Tesco and McCormick, and as the ex-CEO of private equity-owned Pet UK, Kaye has no shortage of contacts to leverage. “Any available cash that corporates or funders may have, we’re seeking to attract that investment. But it’s tough, particularly in the current economic climate,” she concedes.

Read more:

How to make grassroots sports sponsorship work

That’s why she’s “looking to engage more proactively with the fmcg sector, to demonstrate the value of investing in this space. We’re planning a corporate event later this year to really bring that to life. What charity sector organisations are typically not good at, which big corporations are very good at, is shouting about who they are and the merits of their brand. So I’m really encouraging the team to do a better job of championing Sported through corporate events, networking, etc.”

Of course, Kaye knows there’s an onus on brands too. For grassroots sports sponsorship to work, brands need to be “really clear on what they’re seeking to achieve”, she says. “They should ask themselves: What does social impact look like? What difference are we trying to make?

“The best partnerships I see are those corporates that come to us with real clarity on what outcomes they want to deliver, [where] there’s broad alignment across their leadership team on that, and they’re invested in it for the right reasons,” Kaye says.

She cites the work Sported has done with Barclays on the Barclays Community Football Fund, a partnership that “has flourished into something quite magical”. The fund offers grants and training to help make football more accessible in underserved communities.

“If you think about the millions of pounds that household brands put into sports sponsorship, it’s clear it’s a really attractive space”

It started off, in 2022, focusing largely on supporting more girls to play football. But over time it has evolved to target young people with disabilities, racially diverse groups, the LGBTQ+ community and those from lower socio-economic areas. “We’ve challenged each other. It’s been a true collaboration,” she says. “It’s about breaking down the barriers, so we’ve made the fund as innovative as possible, to ensure we are having the biggest impact can.”

The growth of the women’s game is clear, culminating in the Lionesses winning Euro 2022. But funding also plays a key role in widening the talent pool.

UNP Grocer 45413 Sarah Kaye Sported Loughborough008

With her background in retail and supply, Kaye has no shortage of contacts to leverage

Kaye cites “retailers such as Tesco and Co-op” as successful investors in grassroots sport, but says fmcg brands have been less engaged. She returns to P&G, which will be sponsoring the Olympics this summer, as a good example of “splitting resources in a way that drives global activation at a macro level in combination with consumer spending at a micro level”.

Kaye thinks Sported is now set up to help connect communities with more fmcg brands in partnerships they themselves might struggle to achieve.

“You’ve got to be quite innovative in how you create solutions to ensure you’re reaching those who need it most,” she says. “Sat in an office in London, we don’t know what the solutions are. Lived experience is fundamental. It’s about understanding needs, going in there and listening.”