Juventus confronts the most sensitive issues affecting the club and its stakeholders, but it fails to highlight the positive potential of its business, players and fans
Football is big business, which is why football clubs need to report on sustainability. Their impacts as businesses reach wide, affecting multiple aspects of society and the environment. Yet, a scan of major football clubs around the world reveals that hardly any of them address sustainability and transparency in their operations, aside from the almost obligatory support for local community charities.
This makes the first sustainability report of Italian football giant Juventus something of a milestone in the history of football management. While it is not the first football club to report on sustainability, Juventus makes a strong play for transparency, with a 100-page disclosure.
The Turin-based first division club with more than 110 years of history and more than €300m in annual revenue has adopted GRI G4 guidelines at core level and used the GRI Materiality Matters check to confirm the presence of material disclosures in the report. It is a substantial review of many of the key issues that affect and are affected by football and its management, and it is good to see Juventus scoring a sustainability advantage in this way.
The sustainability goal
Impressive thought and planning has gone into the Juventus report – from the identification of a wide range of stakeholders and an analysis of key sustainability topics, through interviews with internal directors, managers and club officials, to 26 interviews with external stakeholder groups. This process is the bedrock of a progressive approach to sustainable practice, and Juventus appears to have taken it seriously.
The club's materiality matrix prioritises stadium safety, anti-doping, combatting racism and intolerance, anti-corruption, supporter behaviour, and fair play on the pitch, among other issues. Other broader value chain impacts, such as sustainable development in Turin and the environmental impact of the activities of supporters, appear to have lower priority.
Structuring Juventus’s sustainability efforts around 10 key points, the report provides context and a clear explanation of how the club approaches each issue in turn. The report includes a section on "Areas for Improvement", which describes how Juventus plans to continue its sustainability journey. The club commits to developing a strategic approach with more specific targets in the coming months.
A yellow card or two
Juventus's approach to materiality is largely about making the game ethical, responsible and safe. Though environmental sustainability is addressed, disclosures are rather limited.
As the only club in Italy to own its own stadium, Juventus provides data on the club’s annual energy consumption, discloses plans to construct a new office and a training complex, and refers to the environmental impacts of travel to and from matches. However, the report falls short of describing how Juventus plans to green its construction, or minimise its growing energy consumption and GHG emissions. Neither does it address how the club intends to reduce its waste.
In other areas, much of Juventus's reporting is about policy and approach, rather than about the progress made in the reporting year. This is still impressive for a first sustainability study. As Juventus continues to report, it should shift its focus to its actual performance and the more practical applications of its sustainability approaches.
As an aside, although Juventus employs women and offers discounts for women supporters, it is surprising not to find any mention of women in football or of issues relating to male domination of the sport.
The thrill of the business
The Juventus report is striking for its transparent approach to sustainability.
First, the game itself. For its supporters, football is fun, exciting and motivating. Fans travel great distances to see their clubs play. Juventus mentions 37 million supporters, of whom 90,000 are members of official fan clubs. The positive impact of football in the lives of fans can therefore be transformational.
However, this report focuses on the downsides of fan behaviour. The study’s narrative is mainly about racism, improper behaviour, violence, rioting, xenophobia, regional hatred and more. There is hardly any mention of how football makes or could make a positive difference to people's lives and to society in general.
Second, the players. Football players, especially the most successful, are celebrities, influential personalities and role models with reach well beyond their local clubs. Yet, the report’s narrative focuses on the risks of doping, substance abuse and unsporting behaviour, and the measures Juventus takes to eliminate them. What about recognising the great players? Where are the stories that show how players have made a positive impact as role models and community leaders?
This report could come alive, as the game itself does, if it were to inject a little more excitement around the game and the team, to balance the almost apologetic approach of overcoming the negatives of football. Juventus admirably addresses the responsible aspects of managing the business, the fans and the players, but it fails to celebrate the positive value created by and for each.
- Follows GRI? GRI G4 Materiality Matters Check
- Assured? No
- Materiality analysis? Yes
- Goals? Yes
- Targets? No
- Stakeholder input? No
- Seeks feedback? Yes
- Key strengths: It’s a first report – its publication is the key strength in itself
- Chief weakness: Lack of strategy, goals and targets
- Pleasant surprise: Earnest attempt to define materiality