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ESPN’s CSR Secret Sauce: Content Integration

In a year that was unlike any other, ESPN Corporate Citizenship’s content integration strategy proved especially successful, as the team showcased critical storytelling while the sports world navigated through the pandemic, social unrest and political divides

In the newly released 2020 ESPN Corporate Citizenship Report, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro states that, “Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer considered a nice-to-have; for ESPN, it is an imperative.”                       

ESPN has long employed a sophisticated, outcomes-based grants program, but what makes ESPN’s social responsibility strategy unique is our usage of content, platforms and wide reach as a resource to empower nonprofits and enlighten sports fans on social issues.

ESPN Corporate Citizenship works hand-in-hand with the Content teams to thoughtfully integrate cause-related programming into studio shows, game coverage, commercial time and across digital and social to share important messages and highlight significant moments. The result is more exposure, more resourcing and more sports fans committed to important causes.

In a year that was unlike any other, this strategy proved especially successful, as we showcased critical storytelling while the sports world navigated through the pandemic, social unrest and political divides.

Below are just some of the ways ESPN utilized its content to drive home its purpose of using the power of sports for social good last year.

Voting Campaign
Prior to the most recent presidential election, the U.S. ranked 26th out of the world’s 32 developed countries for its percentage of eligible voters who actually turned out to vote. We wanted to do our part as a media network to change that statistic. Together with the other Disney media networks, we teamed up with I Am A Voter, a nonpartisan movement dedicated to creating a cultural shift around voting and civic engagement. We ran simple, nonpartisan messaging across our platforms that highlighted tentpoles around voter registration, absentee ballots, early voting and Election Day to inspire and inform sports fans to vote.

Sports Humanitarian Awards
ESPN Corporate Citizenship teams up with our best storytellers to showcase the power of sports during the annual Sports Humanitarian Awards. This year the show combined with the ESPYS for a week-long celebration of the impact sports has had on communities across the globe. Throughout ESPYS week, honorees of the Sports Humanitarian Awards were featured across ESPN platforms. Stories like Nelson Cruz of the Minnesota Twins, who enabled essential services for police and firefighters, and brought medical clinics to his hometown in the Dominican Republic. And Maryam Shojaei, who took on FIFA and helped lift the ban against women attending soccer matches in Iran.

Special Olympics
This year, ESPN was honored to receive the Edward R. Murrow Award for National Feature Reporting for one of our Special Olympics “Game Changers” films. The idea for the film stemmed from a donation ESPN made to assist refugees with intellectual disabilities. The “Tale of the Messenger” told the story of Special Olympics athlete Malachie Niyibokora, who went from being chained in a refugee camp to finding freedom on the playing field. Recognized as one of the most prestigious in news, the Murrow Awards honor stories that “exemplify the importance and impact of journalism as a service to the community.”

Shred Hate, Choose Kindness
In 2017, ESPN and X Games launched Shred Hate, Choose Kindness in an effort to ignite student compassion to eradicate bullying and cyberbullying. Together with Major League Baseball and the nonprofit organization No Bully, we’ve provided 120,000 students and 13,000 educators with resources to put a stop to hate. In addition to directly impacting students, we spread messages of empathy and kindness throughout our baseball and X Games coverage.

Fundraising for the V Foundation
Unfortunately, the need for cancer research didn’t wane in the wake of all of the other troubles of 2020, so ESPN continued its long tradition of supporting the important work of the V Foundation. ESPN integrated messaging across all of its platforms during key tent poles, V Week in December and ESPYS Week in June. We featured new creative this year with multi-platinum selling pop artist Andy Grammer, which won a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Music Direction. ABC and ESPN also teamed up for a special, V for Victory, which underscored the power and hope of cancer survivor stories from sports and the critical nature of funding cancer. ESPN’s fundraising for the V was up 17% year over year, with more than $20 million going directly toward cancer research and programs.

America’s Heroes
At ESPN, we are honored to share stories of veterans and active duty military members throughout the year and during a special week of programming in November. We’re also proud to help veterans transition to the civilian workforce and work with Disabled American Veterans to not only make connections with potential employers through career fairs, but to feature DAV’s incredible programs on air during Veteran’s Week.

Extra Yard for Teachers
The pandemic has put a spotlight on the incredibly tough job of our nation’s teachers. ESPN and the College Football Playoff Foundation have long recognized the hard work of these changemakers with the Extra Yard for Teachers initiative. In addition to providing classroom funding through, ESPN highlighted their extraordinary accomplishments during the preeminent game of the year, the College Football Playoff National Championship. And as the new season kicked off this year, we celebrated via the Big Day on Sept. 14, a national day of supporting and celebrating teachers, whereby we highlighted the program in multiple live game broadcasts and our studio shows, in addition to teacher recognitions and surprises on College GameDay.

Cause Partnerships
If there’s one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it’s that when we work together, we can and do create meaningful change. ESPN works closely with its sponsors and advertisers to use its wide reach and resources to raise the nation’s consciousness on creating social change. To help further important dialogue on social justice, ESPN worked with Bank of America and Boys and Girls Clubs of America to host Breaking Barriers, a virtual conversation on racial equality. The panel, featured on The Undefeated’s platforms, explored the intersection of baseball and race, along with the current role sports can play in furthering the dialogue of social justice and racial equality across the United States.

#oneteam Speaker Series
During the early days of the pandemic, ESPN’s top NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski held weekly virtual conversations with top stars for Boys & Girls Clubs of America members across the country. Utah Jazz Guard Donovan Mitchell, who was one of the first professional sports stars to contract the virus, talked to the members about his experience and the importance of following safety guidelines. Others, including Atlanta Hawks Point Guard Trae Young, Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra and even Country singer Kane Brown, shared advice, as well as tips and tricks to keep kids active. These interviews were recorded and featured on ESPN’s YouTube channel for even greater reach.

Check all of ESPN’s Citizenship programming in the 2020 ESPN Corporate Citizenship report.

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