Sports marketing must do a better job representing adaptive athletes

Sports marketing is still an underrepresented field for adaptive athletes and people with disabilities. Sofia Ewuraesi Bodger is a senior strategist at AnalogFolk Amsterdam and will share her insights on how brands can stay ahead of the curve.

The global sports market is worth $388bn. However, Nielsen reported that only 1% of that goes to ads featuring adaptive athletes or including disability themes in creative. Fashion brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Louis Vuitton, and others are leading the charge to include diverse abilities in the D&I conversation. However, there are still many opportunities to include all abilities stories in marketing and beyond. This is the responsibility of marketers and brands.

The Paralympics and Invictus games have been proven to positively affect adaptive athletes’ media coverage, changing attitudes and neutralizing any differences in coverage. Brands are not supported.

The narrative has the power to change lives.

For many years, adaptive athletes were underrepresented in mainstream media. We continue to see stereotypes and prejudice when adaptive athletes are included in sports representation. This is despite slow progress on improving disability representation.

One of the maximum ordinary stereotypes within the industry is the “supercrip narrative,” which emphasizes victory over adversity. It also frames disability as a personal problem that a person must overcome.

Bebe Vio, a wheelchair fencer, told Nike that she loves being a Para-athlete because it makes her feel connected to the world. She also enjoys hearing the stories of all kinds of athletes.

Branded storytelling can be a catalyst for inclusion. “All the stories of all kinds of athletes” are yet to be told.

The 1%

How can sports marketing increase accessibility and exposure for adaptive athletes? We need to shift power, elevate the stories of those who are still to be told, and create an inclusive culture. Brands need to find stories that connect to the athletes’ stories. They must also connect with all-ability partners and include themes beyond an athlete’s disability. These narratives will be more true to athletes’ interests and allow for the neutralization of differences while acknowledging their disability.

Nike is one brand that has acted on this. Nike is one brand that has taken this initiative. The FlyEase hands-free’ shoes are one of the most significant innovations in the company’s history. It’s a product that epitomizes the concept of ‘if your body is an athlete, you’re an artist.

FlyEase was initially launched in 2009, and the product quickly sold out to resellers. FlyEase was co-opted by sneakerheads and made difficult for disabled people to access. This led to disappointment and negative sentiments in the disability community.

Nike adopted its approach and partnered with adaptive athletes to launch FlyEase. A campaign was launched to educate the sneaker community on the technological benefits of FlyEase. They shared the benefits of FlyEase in their lives with Nike’s wider athlete community.

AnalogFolk Amsterdam collaborated closely with Nike for the campaign. Carren O’Keefe, executive creative director, says that they wanted to show the FlyEase innovation rather than just saying who it is for. The sneakerhead favorite ‘Behind the Design’ content series was reframed to ‘Why The Design’. This not only shows why the FlyEase is so innovative but also demonstrates why it’s made for adaptive athletes. To get the shoe on the feet of those who need it, we influence hypebeasts to not buy it.

Coresight Research published a widely shared statistic stating that adaptive design could have a potential market value of $64.3 billion. Although mainstream brands have been slow in adopting adaptive design, Tommy Hilfiger is paving the way for other abilities to be included in the D&I conversation. The Tommy Hilfiger adaptive collection was launched in 2016. This collection aims to change fashion’s definition of diversity by catering to the needs and wants of people with disabilities.

Sports marketing must do a better job representing adaptive athletes

It is time for brands to use their collective voice to change the 1% and create representation and inclusion.

It is crucial to include and represent all stories. Inclusion and diversity should be a ‘norm’, not a trend. Integrate adaptive stories authentically. They should be integrated into all campaigns, not just as a single focus. These are just four more things your brand could do:

  • Shift away from the sidelines and towards the starting line

Brands should change from a culture where adaptive athletes are marginalized to one that embraces adaptive athletes. Show adaptive athletes alongside other athletes to show their value and role in the sporting community.

  • You must ensure authentic storytelling.

Multi-dimensional narratives can be used to connect with athletes and discuss roles beyond just athleticism. Be sure to pay attention to casting choices and authentic storytelling.

  • Be adaptive and lead; you have dual abilities.

There are many types of disabilities. All disabilities may not be visible. Casting should include all disabilities, including mobility and congenital limb differences.

  • Marketers have a responsibility to correct imbalances.

People with disabilities are not responsible for addressing the lack of representation. Marketers must create multi-dimensional narratives that include all people and represent their market to make a real difference and ensure inclusion.

By Mia

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