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Hannah Robertson | How sport can give back to our frontline workers

Hannah Robertson, senior group marketing manager at CSM Sport and Entertainment, looks at the NFL's decision to invite 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers to Super Bowl LV and examines other sports organisations that have taken an altruistic stance during the Covid-19 pandemic

Hannah Robertson

Last May, I wrote about the rise of the everyday hero, after we saw Sir Tom Moore raise over £30m for the NHS by walking 100 lengths of his garden before his 100th birthday. An impressive feat, and he wasn’t the only one going above and beyond during such a tumultuous time. The shop assistants, the delivery drivers, teachers, doctors, nurses (the list goes on) carried on working and keeping the world turning so that the rest of us could stay safe and stay at home.

Fast forward to January 2021 and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers from the Tampa and Central Florida area would be invited to attend Super Bowl LV on February 7. This follows on from the NFC Championship Game in January, which saw the Green Bay Packers welcome healthcare workers, first responders and season-ticket holders back to the stadium to watch them take on Tom Brady’s Buccaneers. The Super Bowl is one of the most iconic events in the sporting calendar, and what better way to lead by example and encourage other sports to follow suit as fans begin to make a tentative return to the stands.

The NFL, however, isn’t the first US major league to prioritise those on the frontline; back in April of last year we saw former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz, and actor John Krasinski surprise medical professionals at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center by donating four Red Sox tickets for life to everyone that works there. The staff of Beth Israel Deaconess Covid unit were also invited to Fenway Park for a private visit and Krasinski welcomed them to the field to deliver the first pitch of 2020 Major League Baseball season. A touching gesture for those involved.

In May 2020, The National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils also donated 10,000 tickets for the 2020-21 season to healthcare workers from their local health system as part of a new ticket system they introduced in the midst of the pandemic. A taste of things to come.

Last month Chelsea Football Club owner, Roman Abramovich, announced that he would cover the cost of providing accommodation for NHS workers to stay at the hotel located at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium. This is the second time Abramovich has rolled out this initiative, which allows NHS staff to stay in London and avoid long commutes after working long hours during this tough time. Nor was this the only example of a Premier League club giving back for a good cause, as Crystal Palace donated their stadium, Selhurst Park, to the NHS to be used a vaccination centre in the fight against coronavirus. The stadium is now one of London’s biggest vaccination centres and plays a pivotal role in the roll out of the vaccine in the city.

Although nothing can compensate for what these people have sacrificed over the last year, initiatives like these not only provide a vital pathway out of this pandemic but also indicate an exciting opportunity as to how our industry can give back to those who have given so much. Sport has the power to create positive change in the world and as we start seeing fans slowly and safely return to live events, it’s reassuring to see organisations giving early access to the people who have put their lives on the line to help others during this pandemic.

Could this be a trend for 2021? The importance of purposeful partnerships has never been greater, and today’s consumers want more from the brands and rights-holders they know and love. Although it’s hard to convey true altruism in any campaign or partnership, authenticity will go a long way, especially with the hyper-aware Gen Z audience. As stadiums start to refill across the world, hopefully we will see other sports follow suit and give a small token of appreciation back to our essential workers. Not just because it’s “the right thing to do” but because they deserve it.