Just days after the Stoneman Douglas massacre in Parkland, Florida, the U.S. women's national soccer team traveled to Orlando to play England. Before the game, the entire stadium took a moment to remember the victims, one specifically - Alyssa Alhadeff. Alyssa, a freshman at Stoneman Douglas, was a member of the high school's soccer team and was a huge fan of USWNT member Alex Morgan.
The team honored Alyssa on the stadium screens as her family and teammates stood in the stands. The national team presented each of Alyssa's family members and teammates with a national team jersey with her name and number on it. After the game, members of the U.S. soccer team spent time with the Parkland attendees and signed jerseys.
According to Alyssa's coach, "She was the voice of our team. She was a leader, not just by what she said, but also by the character. She lead the team on and off the field." It was a special moment for a community reeling from traumatic loss.
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IEG held its 35th annual sponsorship conference this past week in Chicago. As always, it was chock-filled with content. Spread out over three days, over 900 people attended the conference and heard from executives like Al Guido - President of the San Francisco 49ers, Erika Nardini -CEO of Barstool Sports and Pat LaCroix – Head of Global Media and Alliances for Bose. Topics spanned sponsorship, brand identity and motivational aspects, but the most interesting part was the social enterprise piece.
More than ever, sport teams and brands are looking to integrate (CSR, community relations, social enterprise, social partnerships… call it what you may) within their overall business. This was evident by the breadth of people in attendance at IEG. There were executives from non-profits, community relations people, sports philanthropy professionals and more. Erin Combs, Senior Manager of Community Partnerships for Starbucks Coffee spoke and led a great conversation around social partnerships.
T-Mobile’s VP of Sponsorship, Meredith Starkey, spoke about the company’s crown jewel activation… HR4HR. Through its partnership with MLB, T-Mobile donated $10,000 for every homerun hit in the 2017 MLB Playoffs (later upped to $20,000) and $1 for every tweet with the hashtag #HR4HR (later upped to $2). In total, the company donated over $2.7 million to hurricane relief (the latter HR piece). With a positive net sentiment of 84%, a full 20 points higher than the previous month, this demonstrated that integrating cause within partnership is critical and needed in today’s world.
When you include the round table sessions that focused on maximizing local partnerships, increasing the value of sports partnership with social good overlays, aligning brands between non-profits and corporate partners and giving back through team partnerships, it’s obvious that this is a key focus across the sports and sponsorship world.
What’s the takeaway? No longer can brands focus on simply the business at hand. Sports teams and brands are corporate citizens who must play a role in improving our communities and helping strangers. It’s not a “nice to have,” but rather a necessity. At the same time, non-profits and community partners must get better at amplifying its brand and providing value to corporate partners. Stop thinking of themselves as non-profits so that it can be a mutually beneficial partner that adds business value across the board. Only then, can we take CSR/CR/social enterprise to the next level.
The NBA has signed an unexpected partnership deal with a meditation app called Headspace - in exchange for 7000 subscriptions for its players and employees (including the WNBA and G League), the NBA will produce featured content for the app.
Headspace has pioneered mindfulness and meditation for our tech-obsessed generation, bringing it out of Buddhist temples and into our handheld devices. The idea is that together, Headspace and the NBA can create content to help players at every level prepare for game situations and learn coping mechanisms to keep their mind focused when facing adversity.
Most obviously those skills translate off the court, as well. With Kevin Love and others speaking out about their struggles with mental health, this partnership is a timely step in the right direction. No matter what level you compete at, a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body. This partnership shows the NBA’s commitment to supporting their players through their most difficult battles.
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Everyone knows that the month of March brings the crown jewel of college basketball - the NCAA Tournament aka March Madness. Year after year, teams compete to bring their schools glory in a competition filled with buzzer-beaters, underdog upsets, and hysterical fans. The media coverage is unmatched; schools from all over the country are granted exposure that they don't usually receive during the academic year. The NCAA makes millions on March Madness, and often times, neither the colleges nor their surrounding communities feel the benefit of the money made.
This year, the Big East Conference took matters into its own hands to use the March Madness platform to affect change. All ten schools signed up for a fierce competition off the court - an online food drive. The student-athlete committees at each institution organized the drive to capitalize on the school spirit that is often stirred up at this time of year. The institution that collected the most food won a prize, and over 2,500 pounds of food were collected for local food banks. It's a small but creative way to use the madness of March to help those in need. Quite frankly, the NCAA has missed the opportunity to use the Tournament for social good, but hopefully, organic philanthropic activities like this will spur large scale community endeavors in the years to come.
Two weeks ago, players from both the Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings wore shirts before their game, which read “Accountability. We are one” on one side and #StephonClark on the other. The players were peacefully protesting the murder of Stephon Clark, who was unarmed when shot and killed by Sacramento police. The players put together a PSA that aired during the game and the display was supported by coaches and owners around the league.
Contrast this with the NFL owners’ meetings that were ongoing at the same time – the issue of protests was back in the spotlight. Last football season, that issue turned fans away and pitted players against owners. In the meantime, the NBA is gaining viewers and encouraging its stars to speak comfortably on social issues. According to the Houston Chronicle, players aren’t censored, they don’t have owners or commissioners commenting on their decisions, and there are no protests. Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich are two of the most outspoken coaches, yet are revered for their leadership when it comes to social issues: from Kevin Love’s mental health piece for The Players’ Tribune, to LeBron James’ vocal support on social issues, to Dwyane Wade’s leadership surrounding gun control in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. What has resulted are productive conversations with real change occurring, and a product on the court that fans have never loved more.
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West Bromwich Albion F.C., in the United Kingdom, has a legion of fans that attend its matches games. There isn’t a shortage of fans, which means there is a great atmosphere for every match. However, Albion Memories, West Brom’s foundation, focuses on a much smaller subset of fans – those who suffer from a sort of dementia. West Brom holds sessions every week in a suite at its stadium, with the belief that even the view of the field where fans used to watch games can serve as a memory aid.
Paul Glover, the foundation’s head of disability, said, “We want to energize their memories, to get them talking again.” The best way to do that is through soccer by tapping into the reservoir of memories built up through a lifetime of being a fan. Because this disease strikes at the heart of identity and can create strangers out of friends and family, the hope is that these soccer memories remain untouched as the dementia takes its toll.
All members are patients at Edwards Street; the format is simple. Each person sits in a circle in the stadium lounge, gazing through a picture window of the field while a team rep interviews players. Some of them are current players, while some are retired players, so that these participants can best associate themselves with those faces. It’s important to note that these sessions don’t cure dementia; however, the socialization helps slow down the feeling of isolation. According to the New York Times, the clinical impact of loneliness is massive, and as a result, groups like these can be really powerful. This is a model that can be replicated in the United States and would hold multiple meanings. It would allow fans to stay connected throughout their entire life in an impactful way. Alumni would stay engaged with the teams, which is always critical once a player has retired. By strengthening the ties between player and fans, even through minimal memories and experiences, teams can bridge the gap to its community members.
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