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Dick's Taps Amateurs to Make Case That 'Sports Matter'

Sporting Goods Retailer Debuts Emotional Ads, Crowd-Funding Program

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Too often campaigns meant to raise money for a good cause fall on deaf ears. Not because the message isn't worthy, but because it's not engaging. That's not the case with Dick's Sporting Goods new effort, "Sports Matter."

In a series of ads, the retailer profiles three students, each struggling in some way and finding camaraderie and purpose through sports. The ads, quiet vignettes of the students' daily lives, are filled with emotion. A boy dealing with the death of his grandfather; a girl being dismissed by her peers as she waits on them at a fast food restaurant.

Lauren Hobart, chief marketing officer at Dick's, said that though the retailer often taps amateur athletes for its ads, the casting call for "Sports Matter" was unique. Dick's, its agency Anomaly and a filmmaking team sought to find compelling stories not star athletes. The ads are not documentaries, though they depict actual events and showcase the student athletes' daily lives.

"It wasn't very hard to find these kids. For any given kid who plays sports...there are other things going on in life that are challenging them," Ms. Hobart said. "We wrote the scripts after we found the kids. We were very flexible all the way through the shoot -- very much in the background trying to just let real life happen."

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The campaign is meant to raise awareness of the "Sports Matter" program, which will award up to $2 million in grants to disbanded or financially challenged youth sports teams. An estimated $3.5 billion was cut from school sports budgets between 2009 and 2011. And one study predicts that by 2020, 27% of U.S. public schools will not offer sports programs, explained Ms. Hobart, who has three kids of her own involved in youth sports.

Dick's expects it will fund between 75 and 100 teams -- but there's a catch. The teams must raise half the money they need themselves, with marketing, public relations and counseling support from Dick's, which will then match the other half. "We think America does care and wants to mobilize behind this issue," Ms. Hobart said. "But it's also very important to us that these teams learn to fundraise...so they can fund their team for years to come."

It's one of the key differences between "Sports Matter" and "Pepsi Refresh" -- the latter program, which ran from 2010 to 2012, took place under Ms. Hobart's watch when she was CMO-sparkling brands at PepsiCo. "On the surface the programs might seem similar, but they're very different," she said. "'Sports Matter' is about rallying communities behind teams and supporting teams to make a dent in this crisis."

"Sports Matter" will be the focus of Dick's marketing efforts for the first half, but its not been determined what form the program will take after that or whether there will be additional grant cycles. Ms. Hobart said "Sports Matter" is being viewed as a brand building effort and will be balanced with traditional traffic driving initiatives. The retailer has seen its highest returns on investment are coming from brand-building campaigns, she added. In 2013, Dick's spent $68 million on measured media through November, according to Kantar Media.

In addition to the ads, Dick's is creating a documentary, "We Could be King," which features two Philadelphia-area high school football teams forced to merge due to budget cuts. The film will premiere during the Tribeca Film Festival this spring.

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