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Driving Fan Engagement Through Social Awareness Initiatives

All around the world, citizens are becoming more socially aware and in turn forcing companies and brands to become more socially responsible. The same is becoming true for live events. In recent years, more and more sporting and entertainment events have begun to undertake social awareness initiatives in order to create deeper ties in the community, foster positive relationships with attendees, and overall increase their bottom line. This can come in the form of a professional football team hosting health and wellness activities at a local elementary school or a music festival rewarding those who participate in recycling programs.

This concept of being more conscious is known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which Meeting Professionals International defines as “the responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society, the environment and its own prosperity, known as the ‘triple bottom line’ of people, planet, and profit.” CSR in recent years has become an essential part of a businesses overall strategy. A study done in 2017 but the Cone Communications found that 87% of participants would purchase a product because the company advocated for an issue they cared about. So setting up a program to make your live event more eco friendly is not only good for the environment but it is also good for business. In that same survey 78% stated that they believed that companies should address social justice issues. Some live events address this by bringing in outside organizations to their events to advocate and illuminate social justice issues. One example is Rock the Vote, many music festivals and concerts will host this organization during their event to encourage young voters to register and participate in local and national elections.

That is just one example of how live event organizers can drive fan engagement through social awareness initiatives. Adopting a CSR initiative can extend past just hosting one advocacy group at an event, sometimes it can even be a years long campaign with a lofty goal in mind. Professional sports leagues like the NFL and the NBA have fostered fan loyalty by engaging in their local communities by promoting healthy and active lifestyles to young fans. Music Festivals both in the US and around the world have found positive outcomes when they decided to put sustainability as a priority.

Sports and Public Health Campaigns

The NFL launched the NFL Play 60 program in October of 2007. It is a national campaign directed at America’s youth that focuses on health and fitness by encouraging young fans to get out and play for at least sixty minutes a day. The program has a simple mission: “To make the next generation of youth the most active and healthy.” Over the past ten years the NFL has partnered with organizations like American Heart Association, National Dairy Council, Special Olympics, Shriners Hospitals for Children, St. Jude, and the United Way to promote healthy lifestyle through various interactive campaigns. Throughout the course of the program’s lifetime, the NFL has committed over $350 million and supported over 800,000 schools nationwide. More than 38 million children have been given the tools they need to live healthier and more active lifestyles. In addition to this program, the NFL also has a Fuel Up To Play 60 Program that focuses on nutrition in schools. Through this program, educators can apply to become ambassadors and request funds to create a wellness program for their campus.

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Photo from Chief’s Website

In 2017, a study was done to test the effectiveness of the NFL Play 60 program. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that of the 100,000 students that participated in the program from 2011 to 2015, many “significantly improved both aerobic capacity and body mass index.” The study also found that obesity rates of participating schools also declined during this time period. What seems to have been the key to success is not only the funding provided by the NFL, but the support it gives educators.

“Our research shows that NFL PLAY 60 programs actually work in reality based on data collected over the past four-to-five years,” says Yang Bai, assistant professor at the University of Vermont, to Science Daily. “It’s rare to see such a large-scale program involving around 1,000 schools over multiple years. It’s different from conventional intervention programs in that teachers and staff along with parents and community members are the key players in promoting healthy eating and a physically active environment for kids. The program cannot be sustained over time without those motivated and hardworking teachers. We are eager to see how this additional funding and support might help local teachers and their students.”

The NFL is not the only professional sports league getting involved with the health of its young fans. The “Get Fit with the Grizzlies” program is a health and wellness program hosted by the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. The campaign, much like that of the NFL’s involves direct funding and promoting wellness and nutrition programs. One of the main factors of motications was participation of players and other members from the organization. This not only improved the health of the youth involved but also created a unique bond between the team and young fans.  

Not only is the program effective at getting youngs fans living healthier lifestyle it also is a great marketing tool. By positively impacting the local community, the league boosts it’s overall image. If the NFL has a more positive image, then advertisers are more likely to maintain their advertising spende specially during times of negative press like “deflategate” and other blunders by players bring negative attention. Also, a study done by the Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies found that having social awareness initiatives “lead to favorable consumer attitudes and intentions toward the company.” The study also went on to confirm that participating in the community can also help an organization’s bottom line.

Music Festivals and Sustainability

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Photo from ACL website

It is not secret that music festivals can have a large environmental impact. It is inevitable that  gathering of tens of thousands of people at one location over one weekend is going to produce a large amount of waste. However, music festivals do not only have to have a negative impact on the area that encompasses. In fact, many festivals are working to actually leave the land that they use better than how they found it. By being more socially responsible to their environments, festivals not only build fan loyalty but also foster positive relationships with those who get to decide where they can host their events. Some have made sustainability apart of their overall festival ethos while others have created fun programs that motivate attendees to recycle more and respect the festival grounds.

Austin City Limits (ACL) Festival takes place in Austin, Texas over two weekends at the beginning of October. Hundreds of thousands of music fans gather in Zilker Park, a publicly owned park, every year. A large event like this also means that a large amount of trash is generated over the weekend, particularly a lot of beer cans and water bottles. To help limit its impact on the environment, the festival has many programs to promote sustainability on it’s grounds. The Rock & Recycle Program is run at a few festivals that are a part of the C3 Presents and Live Nation festival circuit. The program encourages festival attendees to fill bags with recyclables and turn them in exchange for a specially designed t-shirt. Participants will also be entered to win a bicycle or tickets to next years event. Not only does this program get the festival some good press, many local outlets outlets like Fox 7 Austin and Texas Hill Country wrote articles highlighting the new sustainability initiatives the festival added in recent years. It also helps the event to build closer ties to the community. In addition to the Rock and Recycle Program, ACL also partners with Austin Parks Foundation (APF). APF is a presenting sponsor of the event as well as it has pledged to donate $5 to their Recycling in Parks initiative for every participant in the program. The festival has many other green initiatives that are focused on keeping the park the festival is hosted in as well as all parks in Austin looking their best. This partnership is key for the important impact it has on the environment and the positive press that the festival gets because this helps the festival maintain its home of Zilker Park. Social Awareness Initiatives that directly impact the local community are important when it comes to building strong ties with the events home. A city is less likely to kick an event out of its location if the event has strong ties to the local community.

Envision Festival takes place in the jungles of Costa Rica and has eight pillars that all represent a social awareness initiative that the festival has adopted as a central part of their ethos. The festival prides itself on being more than music festival but a “conscious and progressive gathering.” It emphasizes to attendees that it is a Leave No Trace, a concept developed by the Center for Outdoor Ethics, meaning that you leave the place better than how you found it. The festival not only encourages all those who camp to bring all their trash out with them, but the event also ensures that improves the land by planting trees and other initiatives to help the old abandoned cow pasture grow back into the luscious jungle it once was. They also minimize the amount that goes in landfills by not allowing single use containers for food. Everyone is encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles, cups, bowls, plates, and utensils. Some vendors even use banana leaves to serve their food on. They are sure to deploy a full team of volunteers for the eco-team, whose job is to help aid attendees when separating their trash. The sustainable ethos of the festival is also coupled with workshops, panels, speeches, and seminars that explore the impact of eco initiatives worldwide. By doing this, they are bringing together a community of eco conscious people and giving them a home to connect and promote their ideas. The festival hopes that attendees are not only more eco friendly during the festival, but also continue these habits once they are home as well. This engagement not only is great for the improvement of global sustainability but also makes the festival stand out in a positive way. By engaging attendees in a different way the event is able to make a lasting connection, one that transcends the four day event every February. The deeper bond means that a person will be loyal to the event for it’s ethos and not just it’s musical line up. That translates into a return attendee year over year, because they are connected to what the festival stands for and not just who is headlining that year.

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Photo from Adventures and Sunsets

From simple recycling programs to full on health and wellness programs, live event organizers are taking on social awareness initiatives in order to drive fan engagement and build brand loyalty. When an organization demonstrates that it cares about the world, they get a positive response from not only attendees but decision makers as well. Social Awareness Initiatives can drive tickets sales by attracting returning customers who believe in the ethos the event is promoting or garnering new fans that may have only heard about the event because of its initiatives. Positive relations with the local community can also ensure the security of the event to remain at the same location. The more positive effects an area sees from an event, outside of just economic impact, the more likely they are to continue to invite the event to return. Overall, sports organizations, music festivals, and other live event production companies are seeing the benefits of becoming more socially aware through the increase of fan engagement, ticket sales, and stronger community ties.

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