The 2019 World Para Athletics Championships is currently being held at the new stadium of the Dubai Club for People of Determination – a fitting name for what will be the climax of the para athletics season.
The championships are also the last major opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, so it’s arguably one of the biggest and most poignant sporting occasions we, as consumers, will witness this year.
But are brands paying enough attention?
The London 2012 Paralympics ensured an eruption of parasport across the globe and a brand that recognised the opportunity was Channel 4.
Its Meet the Superhumans advertising campaign highlighted the strength and resilience of the athletes while building excitement.
It delivered the broadcaster its biggest TV audience in 10 years (11.8m viewers), helped the Paralympic Games sell out for the first time and became the second-most shared Olympic-related ad of all time.
Channel 4 continued its campaign through to the Rio 2016 Games, producing a feel-good campaign that celebrated sport and other areas of creativity in life with a disability, such as music and theatre.
But despite their efforts, a familiar pattern surrounds the Paralympics, whereby brands start to make noise leading up to the event but shortly afterwards the buzz fades for two to four years.
As the data surrounding Channel 4’s campaigns shows, parasport is a goldmine, and beyond the Paralympics lie other opportunities for brands, such as the World Para Athletics Championships.
BP, a long-term partner of the Paralympics and more recently the World Para Athletics Championships, used some of parasport’s finest talent to send a different message to Channel 4’s.
It emphasised that an athlete’s disability is not their superpower, rather it is their strength, determination and energy that has enabled them to achieve what they have – disability or not.
Channel 4 and Virgin Media lead the way
BP featured a moving film on its website, but could more have been done to promote the partnership and the abilities of the athletes?
BP’s global brand director Duncan Blake has called the Paralympics “sport’s best kept secret”. There appear to be few commercial partners knocking on its door, which leaves room for those involved to build their own presence.
However, are the brands already involved doing enough?
This relatively uncrowded space needs further exploration as it will give brands the opportunity to be a part of the story, the power to grow their audience and that of parasport, and the advantage of being viewed as a responsible company driving positive change.
There are of course, exceptions. Channel 4 is certainly one, and arguably the brand that has gone even further is Virgin Media.
Having started a new partnership with the British Paralympic Association (BPA), the brand immediately got behind the athletes before the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games as well as in the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Virgin Media has set out to change people’s perceptions of disability and encourage the nation to be inspired by Paralympians.
With this goal in mind, it published research showing Paralympians to be the most fearless athletes, and the most inspirational for children, ahead of footballers and rugby players.
Through its partnerships with the BPA and charity Scope, Virgin Media supports disability in everyday life, ensuring an impact in sport but also in the workplace and in conventional attitudes.
Perhaps, as the Championships continue in Dubai this week, brands should all be paying more attention and taking a leaf out of Virgin Media and Channel 4’s book.