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Diversity, Community, and the Future of Sports: A Conversation with VERSUS

VERSUS team sports  community

Avery Dennison sits with Mayowa Quadri, Head of Brand at VERSUS to discuss the future of fan engagement, sports merchandise, and how to connect with fans in important ways.

What do you think are some examples of progress that we can celebrate in sports when it comes to DE&I topics, and conversely, where are you seeing the biggest challenges?

Some examples I can think of are things such as the formation of black player alliances. Whilst it is great that we have alliances and players coming together, this is only happening due to there being issues in the first instance. One of the biggest challenges I see is the lack of diversity in the women’s game. It is already difficult, in many aspects of football, being a woman. Being a black woman is even harder in terms of pathway and being understood. More needs to be done to change this experience.

How does the work you do at VERSUS foster community, and how much is that a driving force for your goals?

We aim to be a voice for our community and speak to their lived experiences. Many of the people who have written for us are from our community. Through talking about big issues within the game, which traditional media may typically stay away from, we have created a safe space where people believe they can talk about these issues and consequently have been encouraged to create change.

It is a massive driving force as we believe that football truly is a force for good and that it has the power to change the world. By spreading this message, we are able to showcase to an engaged audience that they can play a part in that.

We’re hearing that traditional sports, with their rules and competitive cultures, don’t always hold the interest of today’s youth. Words such as joy, exploration, creativity and expressiveness are cited as important ways to engage the Zalphas. What’s your take on this?

I believe that the youth of today do enjoy the competitive nature of sport however, their introduction or connection is more than just the competition. They may love an athlete because of the way they dress or the fact that they speak on lived experiences they too have faced.

Now more than ever, sports stars are role models. Whilst their audience would love them to do well they equally want them to be stand up people away from the field.

Counterfeit goods are consistently in the news with fake merchandise being seized in customs and court case after court case. How damaging do you think this challenge is

It’s a tough one because for clubs, they want to sell merchandise. However, the spirit of the game is causing people to have different connections. A few years back, Nigeria launched a jersey that was inspired by a previous design from the 90's. Even though not everyone could purchase it, people were so in love with the idea and concept that they happily bought counterfeits.

What do you think the growing virtual native population wants to see from sports

People want to see athletes humanized. They want to feel a closer connection to their favorite stars and feel like they don’t have to be the most devoted score-keeping fan to feel involved somehow.

Who is sport not reaching (but could)?

Marginalized communities. Many feel as if sports are not for them because they do not see themselves in any way, shape or form, within that sport.

Greater connectivity is enabling fans to have a voice and share feedback with sports brands and organizations more easily. Do you see a big opportunity for fans to influence decisions and even become shareholders in their favorite league or team?

Sport has always been based on community, and local community for the most part, so in some capacity that community should have a say. The club or franchise does not exist without its local inhabitants and community.

What’s the future of sports merchandise?

Fashion! Lifestyle! Can we make Merch live beyond the field of play?

How do you think sports industry players can address sustainability challenges such as waste and carbon emissions?

Utilizing their platforms. The world’s biggest fight is not fully understood by many. Sharing information and calling for action is an adequate start.

Who are you currently following to get informed or inspired?

People who I follow and have been fortunate enough to IV- Lewis Hamilton and Colin Kaepernick. I also follow many grassroots champions who are doing the work on the ground and influence me greatly.