Climate Protection in the Bundesliga: A Patchwork Quilt

My name is Max Beer, and I have written my master's thesis on the ecological sustainability in the Bundesliga. In the context of blog posts, I would like to present key findings of this work. While the investigation and results primarily focus on professional football clubs, they can also be applied to a large extent to professional sports clubs.

Before I started writing my master's thesis, it was clear to me that there is significant potential for improvement in climate protection in the Bundesliga. Although I was aware of some positive examples, they seemed more like exceptions than the rule. In the human-induced climate crisis, it is precisely the large organizations that must develop solutions to the crisis. Football clubs are therefore obligated, as they have a particularly strong emotional connection to many people and may be able to inspire more individuals through their influence than political appeals might.

My goal was to examine how the environmental engagement of clubs is perceived by fans and how ecologically sustainable activities affect the club's image. Therefore, in November 2020, I conducted a market analysis of all Bundesliga club websites, documenting the areas in which clubs communicate about environmental protection. The website serves as a channel where all information for a fan is published and archived. Hence, the assumption is that if clubs implement ecologically sustainable activities, they will communicate this on the website.

The market analysis followed the alphabetical order of the clubs. For this, I initially checked whether the topic of ecological sustainability is accessible from the homepage of the website. If visitors can access the topic through the homepage tabs without using a search term, the check is considered fulfilled. All information that can be obtained through this access was assigned to various action areas. To obtain information on the website that is not directly accessible through the homepage or found in another context on the website, the four terms "CSR, environment, ecology, and sustainability" were standardized and entered into the website's own search engine. Here, too, all information was transferred to the relevant topic areas.

For 10 out of 18 clubs, the topic of ecology was accessible from the homepage of the website, which also means that 44% of the clubs did not or only with difficulty communicate this topic on the website. It can be assumed that these clubs did not strategically aim to generate added value through ecological sustainability to improve the club's image. A clear organizational responsibility for CSR was evident on the website for eleven clubs, with the quality and intensity of ecologically sustainable activities only being determined in the subsequent action areas. Twelve clubs communicated ecologically sustainable partnerships on their website, with this often happening through the news feed, where articles could be filtered and found using the predefined terms "CSR, environment, ecology, and sustainability." As this does not resemble structured communication, the field of reporting determined how many clubs had regular reporting structured according to a predefined framework that could be accessed through the website. Here, the number is reduced to only 4 clubs. There was widespread communication on the various clubs' websites regarding the topics of energy, water, waste, biodiversity, and emissions. With twelve communicative mentions, the emissions category was the most frequently present on the club websites in the Bundesliga. About half of the clubs communicated in the areas of waste (10 times) and energy (9 times), while the topics of biodiversity (6 times) and water (5 times) had fewer entries.

Six clubs were identified from the market analysis, with three each considered positive and negative examples of communicating ecological sustainability. The comparison and examination of positive and negative examples aim to identify differences in the communication and perception of ecological issues. Borussia Dortmund, Mainz 05, and 1899 Hoffenheim were selected as positive examples, as they communicate extensively about ecological sustainability on the club website compared to other Bundesliga clubs. The opposing examples are Schalke 04, RB Leipzig, and Eintracht Frankfurt, as these clubs reported comparatively little on ecological sustainability.

414 football fans of these six clubs were surveyed in an online questionnaire from December 10, 2020, to February 28, 2021, regarding the ecological sustainability of their favorite club. Fans had to rate their club based on predefined questions about ecological sustainability, resulting in an Ecology Score* for each club. The results show that the fans' assessments align with the classification into positive and negative examples.

Ecology Scores

1. TSG Hoffenheim (3,98)
2. Borussia Dortmund (3,84)
3. Mainz 05 (3,78)

1. RB Leipzig (3,73)
2. Eintracht Frankfurt (3,63)
3. Schalke 04 (3,18)

The fans' perception is thus consistent with the communication of ecologically sustainable activities on the club website of their favorite teams. Therefore, if a club wants to be perceived as environmentally conscious by its fans, it is advisable to communicate ecologically sustainable activities through club media. Those who do good should also communicate it!

*Ecology Score[1] | (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)

1. I think this club pays special attention to ecologically sustainable partnerships and collaborations.
2. I think this club has an environmentally professional internal team.
3. I think this club is particularly responsible in managing the resource of energy.
4. I think this club is particularly responsible in managing the resource of water.
5. I think this club actively promotes recycling and waste reduction.
6. I think this club, compared to other clubs in the Bundesliga, strongly supports the topic of biodiversity.
7. I think this club continually reduces its CO2 footprint through active measures.
8. I think this club supports me in using climate-friendly mobility solutions for travel.

[1] Adapted from Martínez and Rodríguez del Bosque, 2014, p. 253. Sustainability Dimensions: A Source to Enhance Corporate Reputation. Corporate Reputation Review, 17(4).