There is no sports organization in the country that doesn’t find the need or create the opportunity, to give back to the communities in which they play. Some obviously make it a bigger priority than others, and the best organizations find ways to connect not just with random player programs, but with the effort of the entire organization on a targeted and consistent plan. Sometimes those efforts get lost in the era of business, games and a focus on the strange and unusual, so it is nice to find organizations that create platforms that can focus on a point in time, or a series of days, to crystallize all they do to various audiences.
The New York Yankees have done that, and it has been emulated by others, with HOPE WEEK, not the only time that the team works with the community, but it is an annual focus for various groups and efforts that really highlights on a top level the brand power of The Bombers. Another team in the midst of their annual program is the New York Red Bulls, who kicked off their annual 11 Days of Service last week. Rather than participate in just one day of service, New York Red Bulls players and front office staff will participate in 11 different community activations as a tribute to both the victims and survivors from the attacks of September 11, 2001. The events cross state lines and go into both poor and affluent communities, and even involve the staff and support of red Bulls brand partners like Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield NJ, Speedway, Wells Fargo and the Hospital for Special Surgery. It is a great example of how the impact of a team, especially in a still growing sport like soccer, and use its brand partner to cast a wide net of lasting impact.
We caught up with Christina Giunta Quarino, Senior Director of Field Marketing & Community Relations, New York Red Bulls to find out a little bit more.
Several are tied to business partners. Is there a risk you run by commercializing these events, and if not, how are the brands engaging in events with players?
We partner with brands that share in NY Red Bulls values and believe in the importance of volunteering within the community. They share our commitment to social responsibility and our partners then work alongside our staff and players to engage with the community. Because of that alignment, there is no real risk in commercializing the 11 Days of Service.
The Red Bulls do a great deal.in the community. Are these 11 days expanding, augmenting, or replacing other events year round?
11 Days of Service has become a tradition within the Red Bulls organization and has been cemented as our annual flagship charitable initiative. It is not replacing other volunteer projects throughout the year. By the conclusion of 2017, we expect to take part in 80 community events and 250 player appearances in the Tri-State area. We feel strongly that it’s our responsibility, not an option, to grow the community and provide an outlet for those in need.
The Yankees have built large scale good will with Hope Week. Did you look at their best practices or talk to them in designing this?
Although we did not engage the Yankees when forming 11 Days of Service, we really admire the dedication that Jason Zillo and their entire organization has put forth in developing that platform. 11 Days of Service has been a program the Red Bulls have continued to nurture for many years and is unique in that the focus is about volunteerism within the community.
Will supporter groups be involved at all?
They will not this year but have been very supportive in past years. We are very fortunate to have such engaged supporters who care about the community.
Did players or coaches have input into the initiative, as many have their own programs in the community as well?
We are working with Hackensack University Medical Center’s Tackle Kids Cancer program for an event on September 11th – many of our players engage with this organization, including goalkeeper Luis Robles. Connor Lade will be volunteering in his hometown of Morristown, NJ with Habitat for Humanity. Many members of the staff and team will be painting a library at the school where children participate in their mentorship program. All of the locations were chosen because they had ties to our New York Red Bulls family.
What are some of the things you hope players and staff take away from the initiative?
We hope that the 11 Days of Service initiative shows how important it is to volunteer within your community. We are all inspired by the victims, survivors and their families from the attacks of September 11, 2001. This is our way to never forget and secure their legacy.
Obviously you can’t accomplish everything you want in 11 days of events. What is the long term goal for the team and the community with such a program?
The long term goal is to promote volunteerism and make an impact in our community. Many of our projects that we are taking part in have long term impacts – painting for a STEM center at a Newark school, building homes for those in Morristown, new paint at a NYC area park, new hospital gowns and fun centers for youth in hospitals etc. We do not treat these activations as “one-offs”, rather long-term efforts to provide a brighter future for our neighbors.