After the jerseys have been washed and the grandstands have been cleared of clutter, a professional sports teams’ work is just beginning. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or a team’s efforts to use its impact for the greater good of its community, is no longer a secondary concern to the product they assemble on the field.
For Dr. R. Aubrey Kent, Professor and chair of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, CSR is an integral aspect of a sports team’s contribution to the community.
“CSR is important to a double or triple bottom line that includes social and environmental impacts,” said Kent, whose extensive research into CSR has produced multiple published articles and international presentations. “Sports teams are trying to grow a brand that goes beyond performance by being committed to the community.”
Kent’s work with the Professional Golf Association (PGA) in Florida spurred on his research interest in CSR. The PGA is widely known as one of the most-charitable professional sport leagues and organizations. In 2015, the PGA added 10 non-profit charities to its already lengthy roster. In his research into CSR and sports, Kent said he’s seen other sports leagues and organizations follow in the PGA’s footsteps in adopting a community-centric approach to business management.
Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies and the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles are known for their socially responsible and sustainability work, hosting “Go Green” games each season. But, as Kent found, the Phillies are less known for their efforts at reducing childhood hunger, or the Eagles for their work providing optometry services to children from low-income families. The fact that these ventures remain relatively unknown is what differentiates CSR from more-familiar marketing campaigns, Kent explained.
“Every single team has separate charitable organizations with very little publicity or fanfare,” Kent said.
As teams’ efforts maintain a low profile and provide the team with little to no financial benefit, Kent said identifying a team’s motivation for giving back can be difficult. Aside from the most-obvious altruistic intentions, Kent said other reasons include a team’s eagerness to satisfy intrinsic value systems and its hope that such values could appeal to more conscientious fans.
“The motivations have to be ingrained and value-laden because the financial incentives aren’t there,” Kent said. “Today, we care more, as a consumer class, about things that aren’t purely economic.”
Though CSR won’t change consumer opinion too greatly, as fans remain more concerned with performance on the field than corporate responsibility off of it, Kent said consumers have taken notice to team’s or a player’s CSR. Or lack thereof.
“Athletes are held to a higher standard because of the impact they have on youth,” Kent said.
The social impact athletes have as heroes among children can produce positive results in education and anti-drug campaigns, he said. Similar results are seen with negative behavior. When news broke of a 2007 investigation into National Football League player Michael Vick’s involvement in a dog-fighting ring, his team – the Atlanta Falcons – made a considerable donation to local humane shelters and animal societies. Fans reacted negatively, accusing the Falcons of making a reactionary donation.
The difference between a genuine and an insincere response, Kent said, is for teams to find that “sweet spot” between performing their social duties and publicizing their efforts. Kent found that teams are facing a more complex branding system, as they attempt to promote their social values while maneuvering daily amid a conscientious fan base.
“Sports are much more engaging emotionally, and there’s an ability to forgive bad deeds,” Kent said. “Ultimately, CSR is about sending positive societal messages.”
Colorful Post-It notes lined the walls inside the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, each one containing intricate details on how to improve Philadelphia’s mass-transit system.
At the fifth-annual Fox DESIGNchallenge, a civic innovation challenge, students aimed to collaboratively transform their ideas into meaningful change in their community. This year’s objective focused upon identifying problem areas and generating feasible solutions in mass transit, car culture and the quality of urban life.
The event, organized by the Center for Design+Innovation (cD+i) at Temple University’s Fox School of Business and the Design for Social Impact Program at The University of the Arts, rendered two first-place teams.
“SEPTA is something everyone understands. It impacts everybody because it’s the network that moves the city,” said James Moustafellos, Associate Director of cD+i and an Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems at Fox. “The whole issue SEPTA is facing is, how do you have mass transit in a city that has a car culture?”
One of the winning teams provided methods for creating a more-enjoyable experience for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) passengers. The team members, including four Fox School students and one from Temple’s Tyler School of Art, designed a SEPTA “Smart Shelter.” The enclosed bus stop would provide digital information boards indicating arrival times and routes, and a well-lit interior as a safety precaution.
Another first-place team, featuring three Fox students, centered its designs on revamping existing SEPTA technology. The team suggested creating a new payment system using smart-phone applications, as well as providing video boards on concourse levels to display arrival times and available capacity on incoming trains.
“The result was to form a less auto-centric future for the city,” Moustafellos said. “A lot of the students’ designs centered around convenience, quality and cleanliness of the system, safety and communication methods.”
The Fox DESIGNchallenge brought together 150 students from colleges and high schools in the region, forming 20 teams geared toward solving the problem. First- and second-place teams received cash prizes. In addition to receiving monthly vouchers from SEPTA, the proposals from top-three finishers may be displayed on video boards throughout SEPTA’s transit system.
In the lead-up to the Feb. 25 final presentations at the Kimmel Center, teams interviewed civic, business and community leaders at a networking roundtable discussion. Then, they researched areas of interest, identified community problems and opportunities and ultimately complied their work to assemble design solutions that are humanly feasible and economically satisfying.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, Philadelphians could save an average of $12,000 per year by eliminating one car or by using public transportation more frequently.
“This is more than just a fun exercise,” Moustafellos said. “It’s really about experiential learning at its best. It’s about civic engagement. You become much more aware of the place you live in, its issues and how you can become an active participant in your society and make a change.”
“Design is much more than just look and feel nowadays,” said Dr. Youngjin Yoo, the Harry A. Cochran Professor of Management Information Systems and the Director of cD+i. “Companies like Apple, Samsung, IBM and P&G have shown us that design must be embraced as core strategic capability of a company, not just an afterthought. The DESIGNchallenge is an important component of the Fox MBA program. This gives a first-hand, real-life experience of designing solutions for complex business problems.”
The Fox DESIGNchallenge was funded in part by The Knight Foundation and the U.S. Economic Development Agency, through support of Temple’s Urban Apps and Maps Studios.