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Volume 21 No. 34

Sports and Society

Omaze, a for-profit online fundraising platform, now has a fully fleshed-out sports strategy and team dedicated to creating sports-centered dream experiences that raise money for social causes — and it’s proving to be rather successful.

How it works: Omaze joins with athletes, teams and leagues that want to raise money for a charity by offering the chance at a dream experience — think of grabbing avacado ice cream with Tom Brady or appearing in a “This is SportsCenter” commercial.

Omaze handles the promotional campaign, donations and the drawing. Entries start with a $10 donation; the larger the donation one makes, the more entries they receive and the better their chance at winning a random drawing for the experience. Eighty percent of the net amount raised goes to the charity and 20 percent goes back to Omaze.

The strategy has raised more than $100 million over the last five years to support the work of more than 350 charities — $5 million of that is directly related to sports. Besides sports, Omaze also has teams for music as well as film and television team.

The sports team, which formed six months ago, has launched 35 campaigns, with another 11 set to kick off in the next two or three weeks. 

“The biggest challenge is really kind of scaling it out and making sure that I have the team in place to be able to implement a lot of these campaigns,” said Ryan Norys, head of sports at Omaze.

Based in Culver City, Calif., Omaze was founded in 2012 by CEO Matt Pohlson and Vice Chair Ryan Cummins. The sports team includes Norys and Gregg Clifton, senior manager of sports business development; a partnerships team that activates the experiences; and an insight and strategy team. Omaze has 88 employees overall.

Omaze’s  relationship with the NBA as an approved vendor allows teams to use Omaze to amplify fundraising efforts for their foundations. 

The company also has several campaigns planned with Philadelphia Eagles players in late summer. One with cornerback Jalen Mills includes a tour of the team’s practice facility, a hangout with Mills,  sideline access at the season opener and autographed gear. The money raised will go toward The Jalen Mills Foundation, which is dedicated to the holistic development of low-income and inner-city youth athletes.

When working with teams, leagues and athletes, Omaze’s goal is to have partners agree to a certain number of commitments per year over the span of multiple years, Norys said. The company has worked with prominent current and former athletes like Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham. 

While Omaze had sports-related campaigns in the past, such as the chance to sit front row at Kobe Bryant’s last game with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016, those campaigns were not as frequent.

Norys said that he and Clifton kick-start a lot of partnerships from relationships they have built. Norys is currently vice president of global partnerships for the Los Angeles Dodgers and held similar roles with the Miami Dolphins and New Jersey Devils. Clifton was previously a brands manager at Wasserman.

Charities also approach Omaze whenever they have a unique sports experience that could raise money for their own cause. Positive Coaching Alliance, which has 18 chapters across the country, used the experience at Bryant’s last game as a fundraising opportunity. Alan Berkes, executive director of PCA’s Los Angeles chapter, had been given front-row tickets to the game. Instead of auctioning them off himself, Berkes turned to Omaze. “This gives us a unique platform to promote a positive message,” Berkes said.

Omaze’s  competitors include Charitybuzz, Prizeo and IfOnly. 

“[What] really sets them apart from the competition out there is the creativity and the uniqueness that they look for,” Berkes said. “If there’s a video to be shot or social media copy to be written, typically Omaze will provide most or all of that.”