Stagwell Hits the Beach With a Sports Strategy That's About More Than Just Sports

Serving a different kind of highball

Here's something you don't expect to see at Cannes Lions: A full-on stadium, a temple to good, clean, healthy fun—in what's possibly the most debauched scene in all of advertising. At the festival in June, Stagwell's Sport Beach, occupying precious real estate that may otherwise have been used for day drinking and night partying, had a smell we barely remembered: gym rubber. Trolleys of basketballs parked in the corners. Wake up early enough, and you could see joggers circling the space in groups, or saluting the sun.

Clio Sports was a partner in the activation this year, and on its springy turf, issued Carmelo Anthony an honorary Clio Award (for his inspired creativity in the sports world and beyond.) The former NBA standout's wine brand, The Seventh Estate, created alongside third-gen winemaker Stéphane Usseglio, launched last year with Oath of Fidelity, a 2017 Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Who says wine and sports don't mix? Maybe Sport Beach is what Cannes was missing all along.

To understand how it came to be, and whether Stagwell—a rising name in both marketing and politics, plus sports—is pleased with the results, we caught up post-Cannes with Beth Sidhu, the company's chief brand and communications officer.

This was Stagwell’s first Cannes doing Sports Beach. What were your goals?

Beth Sidhu: [In its present configuration] Stagwell was founded in Aug. 2021. This was our second year in Cannes, and our goal was to create a different kind of channel using the power of sport: Its cultural power, business power and innovation power. There was this incredibly diverse, influential audience for whom we could use sport to create a magnetic experience that would be the talk of Cannes. That was our simple yet audacious goal.

What specific pillars did you want to hit?

We wanted to be broad and inclusive in terms of programming. We wanted to represent sport in all its different forms, and give different kinds of athletes a platform.

We wanted team sports and individual sports, Olympic sports and recreational sports. We ended up having 21 sports represented. We also invited representatives—big ones from the NFL, NBA and WNBA, as well as Conrad Anker, who summited Mount Everest and is a North Face ambassador. There was Paul Rabil from the Professional Lacrosse League, and two Paralympians representing the Special Olympics. We really sought to be representative of the world of sport.

We aimed to create a stadium on the sand. There was pickleball, flag football and basketball. We also did a team run each morning, led by Allyson Felix, and a Let it Run morning with Marko Cheseto in partnership with Hearst. We also did yoga one morning with Bala, and a boxing class, which was super fun, in partnership with Michelob Ultra. There were also golfing and a putting lesson with Annika Sörenstam. And we had an esports station, too.

The overall sentiment of Cannes Lions seems to be that it's a marathon that can destroy you in all the ways you can possibly be destroyed. Having such a prominent place, focused on sports as opposed to parties and cocktails, feels disruptive. What kind of feedback did you get?

We did want a different vibe, and worked hard to put play and experience at the heart of what we were doing, because you're totally right—most of what you can do in Cannes is drink and talk.

I love both of those things. No judgment. But we wanted to give people a place where they could come and play, and the response was incredibly positive. People were excited by it, appreciative of it. People had a good time. Whether or not they came to play a video game or shoot hoops, take a meeting or listen to someone onstage, people loved it.

Five thousand people came over the course of the week, which means approximately one in three people who attended the festival came to our beach. We were overwhelmed with the positivity of the response.

So you would largely say that you feel your expectations for this Lions were met?

I'm an unbelievably harsh critic of my own work. There are a thousand things I can already think of to do better next year. But I think we crushed it. We had a goal, executed on the goal at a really high level, and gave people a great experience.

What would you do differently next year?

We want to lean even more into the experiential aspect, so maybe that's a rock climbing wall. One thing I wanted to do this year was implement biodegradable golf balls, for driving into the ocean. We want to welcome more diverse athletes. For example, we didn't have any skiers, snowboarders or other winter sport superstars. Not for lack of trying. It just didn't work out this year.

We want to continue being a place for people to have genuine connections between brands and athletes without a huge amount of fuss, intermediation or complication. So more experiential, more diverse athletes, and more authentic brand-athlete conversations.

What made the Clio Sports partnership a good fit?

Clio Sports is a leader in celebrating innovative work, and in highlighting what people are doing to push boundaries in interesting ways. Stagwell's goal was to push boundaries in Cannes, using sport to do that. It was a perfect match, and it was wonderful for Clio to support it, to be there, and to give Carmelo Anthony his award. It was a really nice moment for him.

It's not easy to give people a moment where they just feel like they're all in the same place, and I think most of the time it's because they come with slightly misaligned objectives. In this case, everyone came to celebrate innovation and sport, and that made it easy for us to work together.

Given Stagwell's ownership stake of 72andSunny, storytelling is part of the company DNA. What role does storytelling play in the sports vertical?

Stagwell believes that in order to tell great stories, you need both creativity and technology. You need strategy and data. So much of sport is the stories we tell ourselves about what we can achieve, and why it's important.

I try to talk myself into finishing my run, or finishing my cycling. But the stories we tell about the people, about teams, and about the groups around them are important aspects of being creative. There's the story about what will happen on the court, what is happening now, and how you mythologize it afterwards. Storytelling helps us put all sports in context and brings people in. You feel like you can be part of it, whether or not you're an athlete.

So, creativity and storytelling are hugely important, and part of what makes sports come alive for those of us who are not professional athletes.

What impact do you think sports as a vertical has on the public sphere?

When we think about sport, there is a tendency to think about what happens on the court or on the track or field. But sport is so much more than that physical moment. Sport is culture, fashion, art. It's innovation for some people, or politics. It is how they engage with the world and the way they try to make change in the world.

We wanted to explore all those themes at Sport Beach. There is so much opportunity for us to take the passion that people feel when they play, watch, or think about sports, and turn that into a larger conversation.

That's really where sport can have impact, far beyond the balls or the rackets.

More photos of Sport Beach below. Click to enlarge:

Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is the European markets editor at Muse by Clio. She also writes about gaming and fashion, and whatever else she's interested in, really. She's based in Paris and North Italy, so if you're local, say hi. She might eat all your food.

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