Footiebusiness Charity Week: MLS W.O.R.K.S

Last week we took at look at various American soccer charity efforts especially those in Haiti. The charitable efforts of professional sports leagues and teams are typically overlooked by their fans, yet they are an important component of the community outreach programs in which almost all leagues are involved.  In addition to providing a way to give back to the community, local charitable efforts often provide teams with an outstanding opportunity to connect with fans and potential fans.

This week we will focus on the charitable efforts of the American Soccer Community.  We have interviewed league representatives from MLS and WPS and individual teams to find out how soccer “gives back”.  We start today with MLS Executive Vice President JoAnn Neale who overseas MLS W.O.R.K.S., the charitable arm of MLS.  Thanks to Ms. Neale for her thoughts on MLS W.O.R.K.S., and check back during the week more stories about soccer and charity.

Footiebusiness.com: What is MLS W.O.R.K.S.  What was the impetus for forming it in 2007?

JoAnn Neale: MLS W.O.R.K.S. is Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative, dedicated to addressing important social issues affecting young people, and it serves as a platform for both League and club philanthropic programs.  MLS W.O.R.K.S. seeks to establish Major League Soccer as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport. MLS W.O.R.K.S. was launched in April 2007 as way for the League to partner with charitable organizations on a national level, but to also highlight and promote the charitable efforts of its clubs and players who give back to their local communities.

FB: MLS W.O.R.K.S. is involved with many different organizations.  How is it decided where to allocate time and resources from WORKS to these organizations?

JN: MLS W.O.R.K.S. supports many organizations on various levels, but we try to partner with organizations that align with our objectives and make sense both nationally and in local markets with MLS clubs.

FB: Do MLS teams participate in W.O.R.K.S. or are there individual charities and outreach groups associated with individual teams?  How is it determined which players participate in W.O.R.K.S. events?

JN: Although most of our clubs have their own charitable foundations and support local organizations, all 16 clubs support MLS W.O.R.K.S. and our initiatives.  Because our markets vary so much, we create our programs with flexibility so they can be shaped to have relevance in each community.  We work closely with our clubs to find player ambassadors that support our initiatives, but we also work to highlight all the charitable efforts of our players in each market, even if they are not W.O.R.K.S. specific.

FB: How can fans get involved?  Are there any specific auction items fans should be on the lookout for?

JN: We recently launched the MLS W.O.R.K.S. Community Service Program, a collaborative effort to combine sport and service, promote goodwill within MLS markets and improve lives and communities at the grassroots level.  Part of the program, which we will be expanding during the 2010 season, is to highlight what our fans are doing to make a difference in their communities.  We will launch a contest during the 2010 season to recognize fans from each market that are going above and beyond.

Currently, we are conducting an online auction to help raise additional awareness and funds to support Unicef and their relief efforts for children and families in Haiti.

FB: W.O.R.K.S. advertising is present on signboards during games and on MLS broadcasts.  How is it determined when/where W.O.R.K.S. programs are advertised.

JN: We will be increasing our marketing efforts during the 2010 season to try and give our initiative and charitable partners additional exposure during various times of the season.  For instance, leading up to and surrounding Earth Day, we will promote MLS W.O.R.K.S. Greener Goals and during October, W.O.R.K.S. field boards will be pink to support Breast Cancer Awareness.

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Major League Soccer & Charity

Every so often, we take a look at American Soccer’s charitable efforts.  We have looked at MLS W.O.R.K.S, Passback and individual team efforts.  With the ongoing crisis in Haiti, the great efforts by Seth Stammler, and the recent appeal of former Red Bull Jozy Altidore for aid to his parents’ homeland, we thought it worthwhile to take another look at some of the charitable efforts promoted by MLS and its players.

In the spirit of Martin Luther King Day, MLS is promoting the national “Day of Service” that honors the former civil rights leader.  MLS is driving interest to the Day of Service through the WORKS program and the effort was the lead story on MLSnet on January 18.

At the same time, MLS is partnering with UNICEF to aid children impacted by the earthquake in Haiti.  Again through its WORKS  program, MLS is providing links for donations and service to the United Nations’ charitable arm.  According the the official website, MLS and the NBA are the two American sports leagues to partner witih UNICEF in response to the Haitian tragedy.

Finally, a special word about Red Bulls’ midfielder Seth Stammler and his personal efforts to assist the tiny island nation.  After a 2006 visit to the country with musician Wycleaf-Jean, Stammler started the Sporting Chance Foundation to provide water and academic aid to children in Haiti.  His interest in Haiti pre-dates the tragic events of last week, but in the rebuilding to come his efforts will be even more important.

MLS Charities: Helping Through Soccer

mlsPart of our focus on the business aspects of soccer in the United States involves the occassional look at the charitable works around the sport.  In San Jose, the Earthquakes are hosting a “Fight for the Cure Day” as partof their June 20 match.  Sponsored by Comcast, the event includes recognition of cancer survivors and the provision of pins to the first 5,000 fans at the game.  The team is also putting together packages for the game that include seats, food and transportation. A portion of the proceeds will go to various cancer charities.

US Soccer continues to promote its Passback program.  The Passback program is an initiative to provide soccer equipment to underprivileged communities.  The program collects used equipment, including cleats, balls and more.  The program also includes an array of traveling clinics for young players in disadvantaged communities around the country.  In Columbus, The Crew will be holding a collection effort at their upcoming June 27 home game.

Finally, MLS Works continues to be the go-to charitable effort in MLS. The two year old effort combines community outreach programs and involvement with an array of charities.  The MLS Works Auctions provide fans with an opportunity to purchase game worn jerseys and other team gear with the proceeds going to charity.

Obviously, this is just a brief look into the world of soccer’s charitable efforts.  However, it is important to recognize that the teams and players do devote a fair amount of time to community interaction.  From a business perspective, this gives the Teams an opportunity to connect with potential fans while creating a positive image for soccer.

DC United Promtions, Garber Interview and Charity Auctions

unitedDC United has long prided itself on passionate supporters groups.  Through “Behind the Badge“, the Team’s official blog, United is hoping to spread that passion to the younger set.  For this Friday’s nationally televised match against New England, United is offering $15 tickets for college students.  In addition to the tickets, the Team is offering tailgating opportunities and further promotions for large groups.  Interestingly, the Team has proactively separated its ticket sales by colleges, offering distinct pages for each University.

United will combine this promotion with a singles night, offering packages with bands, drinks and more pre-game.  The team will promote an after party at a bar in Town to keep the singles happy.  Like with the College night, the Team will offer deals for large groups that want to participate.  We say, why not??  Giving young people an excuse to drink, have fun and watch soccer seems like a pretty reasonable idea.  The weather is supposed to cooperate.  These are simple ideas, but certainly seem worth the try.

League Commisioner Don Garber sat down for a five minute interview on Fox Business Channel to discuss some MLS business basics.  Though the interview did not break any new ground, the exposure for the league in  non-traditional soccer media sources is important.  Topics such as sponsorships, expansion and impact of the economy were explored.  It was interesting to see the Commissioner refer to the two distinct fan groups (i.e. “hard core” supporters and families).  Selling to these very different groups remains a challenge for the League

One aspect of the League that often goes unnoticed is the charitable efforts of MLS W.O.R.K.S. The League’s charitable arm partners with a number of recognizable names such as Nothing but Nets and UNICEF and raises money and awareness via a number of fundraising and outreach programs.  One overlooked aspect of these efforts is the ongoing auction at MLSnet.com.  An array of game worn jerseys, autographed memorabilia and other items are available for auction during the season.  The money goes to MLS W.O.R.K.S and fans have access to a variety of neat items at reasonable prices with the certainty of authenticity.  The League has aggressively promoted the charity in the last couple years and deserves applause for these effortsmls