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Football, cooperation, CSR & commercialization may move leagues, clubs and societies forward – the case of Responsiball’s CSR-ranking

The tenth edition of Responsiball’s annual CSR (corporate social responsibility) ranking of international and professional football leagues’ and clubs’ governance, environmental and social commitments is now online. The ranking takes a ‘triple bottom line’ approach to motivate professional football clubs and leagues to greater standards of responsibility and accountability. Based on some of my research, consulting and involvement in international collaborative football projects within the intersection of sports, CSR, and commercialization, there is no doubt that the professional football industry can benefit from taking a collective step to apply football as a community driver, which can enhance positive societal change while boosting commercial benefits for the leagues and clubs involved in these activities. More specifically, the strategic application of CSR has the capability of influencing sports brand management and commercial partnerships positively through improved brand capitalization.

In a European football business where the sports economic ‘the winner takes it all principle’ thrives, it also serves as a strategic purpose to take a look at the industry with a wider and more nuanced lens. Thus, it is meaningful to acknowledge that one of the characteristics of professional football as a peculiar industry is that clubs are all dependent on competition to produce their core product but also reliant on the ability to create positive differentiation points, e.g., via strategic CSR initiatives. Global football giant FC Bayern Munich illustrated this perspective in 2019 when mighty Bayern Munich helped fellow German club and former German champion 1. FC Kaiserslautern, which now plays in the third tier of German football, overcome its financial obstacles. As the link to Bayern’s web site displays, responsibility is one of the club’s core values. FC Bayern Munich lend Kaiserslautern a helping hand by participating in a ‘rescue game’ (Retterspiel in German) at Betzenberg (home of Kaiserslautern) and by giving the proceeds to the club in need.

This initiative has been an example, which has characterized FC Bayern’s collective approach to the beloved sport, which is really elevated as an important cultural cornerstone in Germany where ‘Kooperation’ (cooperation in English) is taken very seriously (Drewes, Daumann, &Follert, 2020). So, there is a duality in play in European football in terms of the production process. This is really emphasized during COVID19 where the production line stands still or operates with limited pace and under devalued circumstances; in team sports such as football, a club is nourished by representing itself and its ability to perform in games but competition and a sporting test is a result of the existence of other clubs, which places the necessary essence of collaborating with competitors as a condition for the production of a marketable sports or football product.


This example marks an interesting and relevant display of collective and community values, which matches the manifesto of football as the people’s game. In recent years, Denmark has also scored a high ranking due to the country’s accounting regulations, corporate culture (e.g., low level of corruption) and focus on CSR on the corporate agenda, e.g., companies such as Novo Nordisk. However, this this year’s edition of Reponsiball’s ranking placed Germany in the number one spot in the Responsiball research, which positioned professional clubs and leagues based on good governance, community actions and environmental commitments. The ranking of the first 15 leagues follows here:

Infographic: The 2020 Responsiball top 15 ranking (Source: Responsiball with link to entire report).

As written in the new Responsiball report, people currently suffer from a widespread decline in physical and mental health due to COVID19’s dark clouds over the world of sports whether this relates to active participation in sports as athletes or more passive participation as spectators. Therefore, the report is also a reminder of the important role of sports and football in societies worldwide. I am proud to have contributed to this report for many years now and the report and its importance in contributing to the articulation of and the actions in favor of positive change through sports deserves some attention.


Drewes, M., Daumann, F., & Follert, F. (2020, November). Sportökonomische Auswirkungen der COVID-19-Pandemie am Beispiel der Fußball-Bundesligen. In List Forum für Wirtschafts-und Finanzpolitik (pp. 1-13). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

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