On Tuesday at Yankee Stadium several hundred professionals, many in community relations from teams from around the world, gathered for the Beyond Sport United “Sports Teams For Social Change” conference. While cynical may say that the event was a chance to have professional sport gather to network and then go back about their business of making money, in truth, the assemblage was so much more.
What the event really was, was an affirmation to those “in the game” of the volume and depth of potential sport has to positively impact the lives of others around the world. The gathering of MLS Commissioner Don Garber, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for a pre-lunch roundtable hosted by CNBC’s Darren Rovell gave each of the league leaders a chance not just to pat themselves and their leagues on the back, but to really address the breath of what each league can do in areas ranging from global warming to combating malaria around the world. The panelists and stories throughout the day looked at sport as a driver of change not just in the United States, but in leagues and organizations across each continent, and perhaps for the first time gave those who run vast community programs from the mega-leagues of Europe to actually engage in peer to peer discussions with those who do similar work across North America. The discussions were frank and not rose colored, and the obvious need for more work to be done to better coordinate all the efforts that are done locally was evident throughout all the sessions.
It was not a day of pollyanna promises and boasts, it was a day to look constructively at best practices and hopefully learn how to improve on what is done on community outreach locally, regionally and nationally. The call to continue pushing ahead was clear, and the importance of both fundraising and allocating adequate dollars in a challenged economy from cash-strapped organizations was also evident. Another key point touched on time and again was the need for better and clearer communication on the good works sport does in a community…the need to tie the business side of sport with the philanthropic, and to find creative ways to best tell the positive stories of athletes, leagues, brands and teams with a unified push.
Now of course when the smoke clears and the passions wain that teams still have their own agenda on how to promote sport for good in a community. Each market, each athlete, each cause has its own challenges and opportunities, and the call for more assistance is never ending. What emerged from the event from such a wide range of senior leadership is the value that cause marketing has for brands, teams and leagues, and the commonality of purpose all the efforts have…the ability to use sport to change the lives of those around the world.
It is not an easy task, and is probably not at the top of the list of most organizations today who are looking to find positive business solutions and combat the image that sport at the professional level is all about the dollars. However what became clear by the sheer numbers of attendees on Tuesday is that the ability to impact social change and the passion to do so does not exist in a vacuum. It was a great opportunity to share thoughts and take back ideas that may not have been considered before, as well as reinforcing the mission of positive impact for sport across the board. An amazing assemblage of talent, thought and leadership, and a great set of examples as to what sport can do to impact and deliver good.