How brands can provide the next generation a better start

Football is our national game. It is lived and breathed 24 hours a day through constant coverage of talented multi-millionaires, so it’s easy to forget where the game is at its purest and where young people usually start out – the grassroots. Watering the grass has to come from the very top now that English football is swimming in cash, but unfortunately it's little more than a trickle at the moment.

The FA have recently only been willing to stump up an extra £15 million on top of their previous annual outlay for grassroots football (encompassing coaching, facilities and development programmes), while the Premier League - who arguably hold all the aces – had to be persuaded to put £300 million into grassroots over three years despite the astonishing TV rights deal they secured over the same period, making for disheartening reading.

So how does it get better?

The easy answer is better investment and better education, for both coaches and players. In an ideal world this has a miraculous knock-on effect – better coaches, players and facilities leads to more successful professional clubs, which leads to more commercial opportunities, more opportunities in marketing and broadcast, and jobs for young people looking to work in sports.

While the likelihood of this is probably at least a couple of generations away, if ever, the truth is that stakeholders in sport outside of sports governance are currently best positioned make a difference for the next generation.

Gillette, for instance, is a universally recognised brand with a rich sporting heritage. Through its partners, Gillette is ideally placed to use its standing in sport as a force for good – and it is doing just that with the re-launch of the Gillette Great Starts initiative. Founded in 2012 to provide grants to budding sports coaches, its latest iteration in 2016 has expanded to provide broader employment opportunities for young people in broadcast media and sports marketing – as well as providing funding for coaching – through placements at Sky Sports, Sports Coach UK and Hill+Knowlton.

Gillette Great Starts aims to provide the necessary skills young people need to take their first steps towards a career in sport and not leave it a distant fantasy for another generation to take up. Sunday saw the programme’s launch event at Croydon Powerleague with a strong turnout of enthusiastic young men and women taking part in educational workshops and a 5-a-side tournament, with Gillette’s partners above all in attendance. It is just the beginning of the journey for these people, and something other brands in sport should take inspiration from.

In 2014, the UK employed more people in the sports industry – whether through football coaching, broadcasting or marketing – than anywhere else in the EU. Our industry as a whole is now worth £20 billion. Yet we are still constantly under the impression that ‘getting a foot in the door’ of the sector (that we can all agree is a privilege to work in) is harder than it seems. But there is hope that with contributions from the likes of Gillette, those dreams for many can become reality.

Reece Lawrence

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search