Golden Halo Award: Business
2023 Golden Halo Award (Business) – ESPN
ESPN’s mission is to “Serve the Sports Fan. Anytime. Anywhere.” To bring that mission to life eight years ago, ESPN’s Corporate Citizenship team developed a sophisticated and outcomes-based philanthropic strategy to enhance and drive the company’s core competency: sports. The goal was to create a robust CSR program that helped build the business while making a meaningful impact on the community.
The strategy committed to providing access to sports for underserved youth and demonstrated the capacity to maintain long-term programs to build leadership skills and empowerment through sport. And ESPN’s support for the V Foundation for Cancer Research — ESPN’s legacy and culture carrier — never waivered; in fact, it grew.
In tandem with their social objectives, the ESPN Citizenship team established clear deliverables to help build the business by enhancing key relationships, expanding sports fan audiences, showcasing powerful stories, engaging employees and driving reputation.
To achieve sustainable impact, ESPN Citizenship gained internal and external buy-in by collaborating with the most innovative and accountable nonprofits, every major professional sports league, advertisers and sponsors and industry leaders. Their strategy also includes collaboration and engagement from employees, leadership from each business segment and support from its parent company, The Walt Disney Company.
Corporate social responsibility is a theme that integrates all of ESPN’s products and business. It is embodied in their exceptional storytelling. It’s key to their relationship with the leagues and sponsors. And most importantly, it’s impacting the lives of people across the world.
Team sports participation took a big hit during the start of the pandemic in 2020 and into 2021. According to the Aspen Institute, only 37% of children ages 6-12 played team sports regularly in 2021. ESPN’s Access to Sports strategy addresses the factors leading to a decline in youth sports participation so that all kids, no matter their background, can play.
ESPN set tangible impact goals, which included enabling one million kids access to sports by 2020. Not only did ESPN meet its original goal in 2020, but the Citizenship team also more than doubled it since, through its grant-making programs, including Sports 4 Life, its Built to Play initiative to build or refurbish play spaces for youth and a partnership with Special Olympics.
Since ESPN co-founded the V Foundation for Cancer Research in 1993, ESPN has been committed to helping the V Foundation find victory over cancer. Fueled primarily by fundraising tied to V Week in December and the ESPYS in July, ESPN has helped raise over $169 million for the organization.
Unique marketing campaigns, heartfelt PSAs and organic editorial content drives donations. Each year, ESPN looks to creatively expand its fundraising efforts, leveraging its media platforms and partners to share stories of hope and inspiration, and all funds raised go directly to cancer research.
When the world halted due to COVID-19, ESPN created #oneteam to use the best of sports — resilience, teamwork and unity — to continue to serve sports fans by spreading messages of safety, hope and inspiration through storytelling, fan activations and service engagement.
The #oneteam strategy activated numerous company assets – disseminating critical public health information through PSAs; working with league and business partners to use ESPN programming to engage fans; enabling young people to help their communities; and empowering employees to safely help others.
Nearly 5,000 COVID-related PSAs ran across ESPN’s networks in two months, resulting in over 100 million impressions and over 50 community engagement projects that connected employees virtually.
Guided by The Walt Disney Company’s strategy to create a deeper connection between the company’s CSR purpose and its corporate mission, ESPN’s social responsibility strategy is unique because of its use of content, platforms and wide reach to empower nonprofits and enlighten sports fans on social issues. Its Corporate Citizenship team works hand-in-hand with the Content teams across the enterprise to thoughtfully integrate cause-related programming into studio shows, game coverage, commercial time and across digital and social assets.
Whether it’s asking fans to join in the fight against cancer during the ESPYS, highlighting the resiliency of athletes with disabilities during the Special Olympics World Games or showcasing the grit and determination of members of the military during their annual Salute to Service, integrating messaging across their platforms around their strategic areas of focus is another unique way ESPN supports organizations.
For the last decade, ABC and ESPN have led impactful bullying prevention campaigns and activations. But in light of the trauma youth have experienced over the last few years, the company knew it had an opportunity to do more.
Launched in October 2022 with the Choose Kindness Alliance —comprised of 23 nonprofit partners — this program addresses bullying prevention, intentional inclusion and youth mental wellness. Among ESPN’s many contributions to the initiative are multi-channel content integration and storytelling, talent ambassadors and a grant program that has distributed more than $1 million to nonprofits across the United States.