Away from the commercial side of sport, participation in sport and delivery of grassroots sporting opportunities also relies on creative marketing to attract commercial support.

University of Edinburgh Women's Rugby Team

To reach the elite echelons of sport, athletes and teams all started from the base level of attracting players, fans, and the money to facilitate practice and games.

The man responsible for increasing participation in sport at the University of Edinburgh is Assistant Director and Head of Sport, Ross Simpson, MSc Management (2011).

"We currently have around 21,000 gym members and roughly 10,000 students who take part in recreational or club sports, so it's a large chunk of the student population", Ross says.

He promotes sport and physical activity within the student population, champions university sport to governing bodies, and facilitates commercial partnerships to improve the University's sport offering.

"Sport at the University is wide and varied and ranges from the occasional gym user to Olympic-level athletes, but to accommodate everyone, we need funding, advocacy, and expertise.

"The relationships that students develop through sports participation often stay with them for the rest of their life, and that's certainly something we've seen with the alumni network. Edinburgh graduates have been great advocates of student sport, partially because of their own personal connections, but also because they appreciate the leadership and employability skills that sports participation can ingrain in students.

"As with the Business School, our alumni outreach isn't simply a case of seeking money or sponsorship, but in creating meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships. Expertise is very valuable to us, particularly when it includes opportunities for student athletes of all abilities in terms of mentoring or accessing careers support.

"Students benefit from the expertise and opportunities presented by alumni, and in return, alumni-run businesses have access to some of the best students in the world. The skills that those who participate in sport while at university develop is a key reason why, on average, they earn between £8,000 to £15,000 more than those who don't.

There's a growing desire for new experiences and a variety of activity on offer.

"However, the ways that students are participating in sport is changing. Less people want to join the typical or team club activity where you train a couple of times a week and have a match. We're seeing rising demand for one-off activities, or a range of recreational sports like a dodgeball tournament, fun-runs, and mixed netball.

"That's not to say our team sports aren't still popular—in fact, rugby, football, and hockey are all oversubscribed—but there's a growing desire for new experiences and a variety of activity on offer.

"We have to adapt, and I guess that's the same in any industry—it's about looking at what other organisations and what other marketers are doing to engage those audiences or try something slightly different.

"The University of Edinburgh's Sport and Exercise brings together the very best students with alumni networks and commercial partners to the benefit of all."

From occasional gym-goers to global household names, sport is a highly commercialised world with lucrative opportunities for businesses. The most valuable partnerships, however, only become clear when their benefit is measured not solely on the balance sheet, but also in meaningful alignment with the strategic aims of both parties.

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