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Social Impact of Professional Sports Teams

This is a guest post from David Lasday

Social Impact

Professional sports teams around the world are leveraging their brand and resources to better their communities. The social impact of sports philanthropy is growing, but it is still in the relatively early stage of development. Professional sports teams build programs with social impact missions to address a whole host of social issues, from bringing sport to underprivileged populations, empowering young women, teaching healthy lifestyles and encouraging children to stay in school. Today’s professional sports team possesses all the tools for a successful social good program.

Though the driving motivation behind sports philanthropy was originally altruistic, today, professional teams have found that their philanthropic activities add intrinsic value to the organization and benefit the team. Professional sports teams are identifying the powerful impact their brand has on members of their community, and as fan-based organizations, their success relies on building a strong and engaged community. Eli Wolff, Director of the Sport and Development Project at Brown University, notes that from a business standpoint, professional sports teams often find social impact programs lead to more tangible business results and stronger consumer connections.#

Sports teams feature massive brand values. Leveraging that brand value and using its power for social action therefore has great potential for wide social impact.

Social Impact of Philadelphia Eagles

One example of a program that successfully leverages its brand is the Philadelphia Eagles Youth Partnership. The Eagles package their program materials in all things Eagles, from the design of the vehicles to the posters, bookmarks, bookplates and storybook, optimizing their brand in efforts to attract and engage children. For example, branding playgrounds with the Eagles logo makes them attractive spaces to bring the community together. They have also used their brand to promote their Eye Mobile program, encouraging children to get their eyes checked and wear glasses to improve their eyesight.

A team’s connection and access to media gives them the power to spotlight social issues. As Peter Racine of the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation (NFL) noted, driving the media is important because teams can attract media coverage to bring public attention to social matters and provide publicity to partners in community impact.#

The brand strength of professional teams and their access to the media assists in fundraising for social impact programs and initiatives. For example, Netanya Hoops For Kids works with the Barak Netanya basketball team to help raise funds for building and renovating after-school programs in Netanya, while both DC United’s United For DC and Netanya Hoops For Kids raise money from sponsors to buy tickets for children to attend games.

Martinez-Helfman, Director of the Eagles Youth Partnership, says: “It’s on the front end with raising the dollars, and it’s on the back end with delivering the service. The Eagle’s brand helps move the needle on the child’s behavior to get them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. We have much higher rates of eyeglass wear than other programs that have been done without that connection.”#

In an age where collaboration and being lean is the name of the game, professional sports teams have the ability to create partnerships with community organizations quickly and easily. Schools and community centers are excited to partner with professional sports teams. These partnerships function as a win win, enabling both parties to leverage their resources and abilities to better serve the community.

Volunteers are also attracted to work with professional sports teams and lend their skills to social impact programs. Hapoel Tel Aviv Mifalot, who in 2010 were recognized by Beyond Sport as “Best Team in the world for social impact created off the field”, successfully recruits volunteers from their local youth leagues and their sponsors. Likewise, Barak Netanya and Netanya Hoops For Kids has recruited volunteers from MASA’s new long-term Israel program, Israel Teaching Fellows. Volunteers jump at the chance to work with professional sports teams and give back to the community at the same time.

Similarly to team brand strength, the status and influence of individual professional athletes is a valuable tool in engaging and educating children and their communities. As part of United Soccer Clubs DC United players coach youth from underprivileged communities, promoting healthy lifestyles through soccer. Michael Vaughan-Cherubin, Program Manager for United Soccer Club, says “Professional athletes are real-life heroes who children are excited to learn from. When children see a player playing goalie in a professional soccer game in front of thousands of fans, and then at their practice the next day, they pay attention.” Likewise Netanya Hoops For Kids utilizes the status and influence of Barak Netanya players to spread the game of basketball and to use the sport to teach children life skills such as listening, communication, teamwork, goal setting, and community responsibility.

Social Impact In The Future?

Whats next? As the field continues to grow, teams and players will begin to leverage their brands for massive social impact through crowdsourcing offering contests and rewards to individuals and groups doing the most social good in the community. For instance a team will offer free tickets or a player visit to the youth team that participates in the most volunteer hours in the community.

The power of sports teams to enact wide social good is unarguable.  Few other entities have access to the built in resources for wide social impact. Sports philanthropy turns sponsors into philanthropists, fans into volunteers, and players into change makers, while building a community we can all cheer for.

David Lasday is a social entrepreneur specializing in sports philanthropy and sports based youth development.  David was a 2010 PresenTense Global Fellow. He is founding member of Global Game Changers Sports Development Consulting Group, and serves as a sports development consultant for Israel Lacrosse. David currently works as the Program Director for Netanya Hoops For Kids, a program of the Netanya Foundation and Netanya Municipality.

This article is In debt to: Sports Teams and Social Impact: An Analysis of Recent Developments and Best Practices. An MBA Project for Eagles Youth Partnership Completed by students at The Wharton School. Lisa Alexander, Liz Eavey, Kat O‟Brien and Melissa Torres Buendia with the assistance of faculty members Jeff Klein and Katie Krimmel. July 2011

Do you think sports teams are doing enough to give back to the community? Leave your comments below and please feel free to share this with your friends on Facebook and Twitter!

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12 Responses to Social Impact of Professional Sports Teams

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    I think these partnerships function as a win win situation, enabling both parties to leverage their resources and abilities to better serve the community.

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