Why Stagwell is going all in on sports at Cannes

Sport Beach is returning for its second year.

Scenes from Sport Beach 2023. Photo courtesy of Stagwell.

At many professional conferences and events, the main activities are talking, drinking or watching other people do those things.

These are fine, time-honored past times, but Stagwell wanted to do something different for its Cannes activation last year. They wanted to give people not only something to talk about, but also something to do.

“When you give people an activity or an experience, which is really hard to do, it changes the dynamic. It encourages conversations people don’t have, and it gives you a way to engage that otherwise you wouldn’t get,” Beth Sidhu, chief brand and communications officer at Stagwell, told PR Daily.

They arrived at the idea of sports as both an activity and conversation starter.



“Sports is the only appointment viewing left in the world,” Sidhu said. “And people who love sports are a global, diverse and influential audience.”

Sport Beach offered an opportunity to start conversations on a vast array of topics, from culture to business to entertainment to technology. It’s bigger than just a game.

“We’re not having a conversation about the shot that the athlete made or didn’t make the goal you made or didn’t,” Sidhu said.

Here’s how Stagwell pulled off Sport Beach 2023 – and what they have up their sleeve for 2024.

‘Not going to be Fyre Festival 2.0’

When the idea for Sport Beach was born, it wasn’t an immediate home run. It was risky, asking people to participate in sports like pickleball, basketball, football, soccer, volleyball, running and boxing at a professional conference.

“I think we and the people who agreed to join us all had some skepticism that people were going to want to play pickleball in the 75-degree heat or were going to want to sweat out a basketball shot in front of a professional athlete,” Sidhu admitted.

“So a lot of year one was me running around assuring people that it was not going to be Fyre Festival 2.0.”

Spoiler: it wasn’t.

Right away, it became clear that asking people to engage in play changed the conversations they were able to have. It bridged differences and brought people together. Stagwell expected 1,600 people to attend over the course of the festival, but in the end, they had 5,200 visitors – or one in three festivalgoers, Sidhu said.

But the power of sport reached beyond just the attendees. Sidhu said that late one night, after the beach was clear and the equipment locked up for the day,

Sidhu says that late one night, after they’d put everything away for the day, the waitstaff asked if they could grab a basketball and play a game themselves, demonstrating the power of sports.

But the event went beyond simple play. There was also a strong content component, highlighting some of the world’s best athletes, including tennis star Maria Sharapova, Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin, NBA legend Carmelo Anthony and many more.

“Athletes are the center of Sport Beach, they are the heartbeat and what makes it tick.”

The diversity of sports and of athletes was a central part of the concept for Sport Beach – Sidhu said they were “annoyingly deliberate” in their inclusion.

“We put individual athletes at the center of our storytelling. They are the narrative arc of Sport Beach,” Sidhu said. “And the reason that we do that is because individual athletes are brands, and really don’t have a chance in lots of other settings to be taken seriously for what they do off the court or off the field. So we treat individual athletes as the brands they are and give them a platform to sit on equal footing with brand marketers and talk about their work as entrepreneurs, as strategists, as creatives, as winemakers, or tequila makers.”

All the content was streamed on the internet, free of charge, as well as available to use by Stagwell’s partners and athletes.

Success and growth

Stagwell had two major goals for the activation: brand awareness and new business opportunities.

For the first, Sidhu says Sport Beach was the third most-searched term related to Cannes that week, trailing two Spotify concerts. “And I will lose to Rihanna any day of the week,” Sidhu said.

For the second, Sidhu couldn’t share exact numbers, but she said Sport Beach resulted in “a very significant number of major new business opportunities.”

And that success wasn’t limited to just Stagwell. Partner athletes at the event landed national sponsors, spokesperson deals and even a Super Bowl commercial.

Stagwell is building on last year’s success for this year’s festival, literally. They’ll have a larger physical space that will enable them to host a soccer tournament and to show the EUFA Euro Championship. They’ll also have five programming tracks and will lean more heavily into formats like podcasts and premieres.

This year’s announced athletes will include Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, snowboarding gold medalist Chloe Kim, soccer player Roberto Carlos and more.

What you can learn

Even if you aren’t up for a major activation at Cannes, there are still lessons you can learn from Stagwell’s success. Sports is a cornerstone of life in practically every culture on the planet. It’s a major opportunity – as are partnerships with athletes.

Sidhu argues that athletes need to be taken seriously as strategic, creative partners beyond mere talking heads of paid spokespeople. Their perspective is valuable and can create better content and events if we take the time to listen.

But above all, she advocates for trying something new.

“As PR people, we get pitched a lot of boring stuff. Sometimes we even pitch boring things,” she said. “But my biggest lesson from Sport Beach is to take the chance and gamble on the big idea. If you put your heart and soul into it, it has a reasonable chance of working out.”

Allison Carter is editor-in-chief of PR Daily. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Topics: PR


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