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The threat of childhood obesity to the health of America’s children has never been greater. For the first time in our history, the United States is raising a generation of children whose health and wellness is in jeopardy.
Professional sports teams, leagues, players and sponsors possess significant philanthropic clout when focusing their diverse community assets in a strategic and tactical manner. Sports philanthropy as practiced by the Big Four sports leagues has grown in scope, sophistication and revenue-generating results in the last few years. Just take a look at what the leagues are doing individually in the fight against childhood obesity.
NBA Fit: A comprehensive health and wellness platform promoting healthy active lifestyles for children and adults. The program strives to engage 1 million kids, adults and families to pledge to stay fit, and uses NBA players to share important health fitness tips.
NFL Play 60: Designed to tackle obesity by getting kids active through school- and team-based programs.
Major League Baseball: Programs that keep kids active by playing baseball including Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities and the Urban Youth Academy, along with other efforts through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
NHL: Programming support to nonprofit youth hockey organizations. Gives 45,000 boys and girls the opportunity to play and stay in shape.
How can the sports industry work as one to harness its power to create positive long-term systemic impact on childhood health and wellness?
Now is the time for a unique level of teamwork across all leagues, national health care initiatives, community organizations, elected officials, schools and families to put “sneakers on the ground” and begin the return to a healthier lifestyle for millions of America’s children. Going it alone won’t get it done.
According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a leader in the “battle of the bulge,” the five key strategies necessary for success are:
1. Provide healthier foods at school.
2. Increase the frequency, intensity and duration of physical activity at school.
3. Improve the availability of healthy foods at home.
4. Improve access to safe places to play and exercise for young people.
5. Reduce screen (video games, TV) time.
First lady Michelle Obama has created significant momentum with her Let’s Move initiative, working with the Partnership for a Healthier America. This national program will target industry-specific solutions in fighting childhood obesity that can be measured and tracked. What better engine of teamwork than all four major sports leagues joining forces with the national initiatives. Imagine the power of this combined engine if all of these league programs could be synthesized into one.
Giant check presentations at halftime and spiffy photo ops on the White House lawn or at sports venues and community centers aren’t going to make a major difference. It’s time for a Sneaker Corps: Marshal all these forces and harness the national Let’s Move effort with proven winning programs like KaBoom!, Playworks, Team-Up for Youth, Positive Coaching Alliance, Boys & Girls Clubs, and hundreds of local youth-focused organizations.
Just look at the power of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when pink is the color of choice in pro sports and throughout America. Pro sports should exemplify the teamwork to win the fight for healthier generations in the future.
Playing for the sheer fun of it is disappearing in our society. Elite athletes are being groomed at ridiculously early ages. Pay-to-play is taking over youth sports. Physical education programs in K-12 are as rare as kids making up new stick-and-ball games, but research shows that play is essential to a child’s development.
It has been said that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the next best time is today. If we are to realize a generation fit for the future, now is the time to plant those seeds.
Andy Dolich (email@example.com) has more than four decades of experience in the professional sports industry, including executive positions in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL.
There was plenty of talk last week about the ratings “matchup” between the NFL and the World Series. Going head-to-head on Sunday, Oct. 31, the Steelers-Saints game on NBC drew 18.1 million viewers, while Game 4 of the Giants-Rangers on Fox earned 15.5 million. The following night, the Texans-Colts game earned 11.9 million viewers on ESPN, while the deciding Game 5 on Fox drew 15 million.
Is a debate really necessary? It’s been argued in this space repeatedly: Nothing beats the strength of the NFL. Period. This was just more evidence of that.
Two random, regular-season games went up against World Series action and it was close to a split decision. For MLB, the ratings were fine, not great. Fox and MLB surely got hurt for the risk they took with earlier start times — something that we’ve praised here. But those early times contributed to the 8.4 rating being tied for the lowest in World Series history. MLB still delivered prime-time wins for Fox, but reversing the trend would be helped by having a seven-game Series, which MLB hasn’t had since 2002.
The NBA clearly benefited from a seven-game Lakers-Celtics series, which resulted in a 10.6 series rating. Armchair quarterbacks will likely start comparing MLB numbers not to the NFL, but to the NBA, as for the second time in three years, the NBA Finals finished ahead of the World Series, after Series ratings topped the NBA Finals every year from 1999 through 2007.
Ted Leonsis won’t bring the Bullets name back to the city’s NBA franchise, citing time and cost. After Leonsis bought the team, there was speculation that he would revert to the name and colors to restore tradition. In the end, he said a return to red, white and blue likely will take place, but the Wizards name rules.
This was a delicate decision. A name change would have been seen as a public slap to Abe Pollin, who made the move away from “Bullets” as a statement against the increasing violence in Washington, D.C. While “Bullets” harks back to the team’s championship days, a change would have deeply disturbed Pollin’s family and friends and insulted his tremendous legacy in the city.
NBA basketball in our nation’s capital is a sleeping giant, and if anyone can make the sport maximize its potential, it’s Leonsis. The thinking here is he made another sound decision.
Fascinating fact from a New York Times analysis on political spending: Republican ad buyers favored sports, buying nearly three times as many ads as Democrats on college/pro football, NASCAR and MLB games. Properties can tout diverse fan bases, but GOP ad buyers bought where the men were, and Republican-leaning men watch sports.
We were saddened to see NASCAR recently lose two respected executives. First, Jeff Byrd, the consummate track president who had run SMI’s Bristol Motor Speedway since 1996, passed away after a lengthy illness. Then NASCAR lost longtime communications czar Jim Hunter to lung cancer. I always left my conversations with Jim feeling better for it; he brimmed with a passion and a kindness that you had to admire. It’s a shame that as NASCAR searches for a new chief communications exec, that person won’t be able to learn from Hunter’s style and deep historical knowledge.
Abraham Madkour is executive editor of SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.