Banks, industrial manufacturers, energy and technology giants—these often become the “usual suspects” when arts organizations seek to build partnerships with businesses. But for some arts organizations, a major opportunity may lie the unlikeliest of industries—professional sports.
According to a recent Forbes article, professional sports, as a North American industry, generated a whopping $53.6 billion in 2012 and is expected to rise to $67.7 billion by 2017. This provides terrific potential for arts organizations to look within their own backyards at their local professional sports teams as possible strategic partners. In the spirit of the upcoming Super Bowl XLVIII, let’s examine this idea through the lens of the National Football League (NFL) and rival Super Bowl rival teams, the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, who have each integrated the arts into the investments they are making within their respective communities.
The mission of the NFL Foundation is to support the health and safety of today’s youth and improvement of the communities in which its players and fans live. The arts play a key role. The Foundation recently announced a $1 million grant to the New York-New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee’s Snowflake Youth Foundation, which funds charitable projects throughout New York and New Jersey, many of which provide visual art, dance and drama programs for youth. Additionally, for nearly 20 years, the NFL has supported the Youth Education Town (YET) program. Similar to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, YET Centers provide after-school activities for school-age children, many of which are heavily arts-focused. YET Centers are launched with a $1 million Super Bowl Legacy Grant from NFL Charities that is matched by the Super Bowl Host community.
CenturyLink Field, home to the Seattle Seahawks, began its Stadium Art Project in 1998. 12 artists and projects were selected from hundreds of submissions. The artworks, now on display, have turned the stadium into a veritable gallery space featuring $2 million worth of art. Works include Bob Haozous’ installation on the stadium’s North Tower, assembled from four 24-foot-diameter painted steel discs, intended as a constant reminder of our deep connection to the earth. Additionally, the Seahawks support the Experience Music Project (EMP), a Seattle museum dedicated to contemporary popular culture. (Photo courtesy of CenturyLink Field.)
Mike Flood, director of community relations for the Seattle Seahawks, describes the team’s partnership with InvestEd, an organization that provides funding to support the efforts of secondary schools throughout Washington state: “We donate auction items to causes supporting the arts. Our primary focus is on the healthy development of youth through athletic and academic programs. 100% of proceeds from Seahawks license plate sales (after state of WA costs) go to InvestED. They give money to students in 660 schools statewide to pay for extracurricular activities such as art, music and sports.”
The Denver Broncos have invested in the arts by building and supporting organizations and programs that serve the greater Denver community. For example, in 2003, the Broncos opened the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver, which, among its many services, provides art programming intended to develop creativity and cultural awareness in young people through knowledge and appreciation of visual arts and crafts, performing arts, and creative writing. The Club has a dedicated cultural arts room, offering classes in music, drama, fine arts, crafts, photography, woodworking and more.
According to the 2013 BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts, 66% percent of companies surveyed admit to never having been asked to support the arts, which means there are still resources yet to be tapped by arts organizations. Look beyond the “usual suspects” and consider a partnership with your local professional sports team. No matter who you are rooting for in Sunday’s game, recognize that the professional sports industry and the support it provides, particularly through partnerships with the arts, can be the best play your team can make to improving the vibrancy and vitality of your community.