Learning from the NFL: Athlete Led Fundraising in the Premier League

9 July 2021

by Raffaello Mizuta-Spencer, Development Intern

The statement that football can learn substantial lessons from its counterparts across the Atlantic is a controversial one, especially given the role of American owners in the proposed European Super League. However, English football can undoubtedly learn valuable lessons from the NFL’s outstanding promotion of its players’ charitable efforts and work in the community. In doing so, football clubs and the Premier League can substantially increase the benefit they bring to local communities across the UK.


The American impact on social issues in UK football

The actions of American athletes have already been reflected across the Atlantic. A movement that began with quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking the knee in 2016 has culminated in Premier League athletes protesting racial injustice at the start of every game. Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are just two examples of the new breed of socially conscious and outspoken British footballers. With individual athletes increasingly willing to buck the trend, doing much of their talking off the pitch, footballing organisations can similarly learn from their American counterparts in their approach to charitable initiatives.


British football organisations already support their local communities. Clubs’ football foundations do outstanding work for their local communities, with this support particularly notable over the course of the pandemic. For example, Arsenal donated over 120,000 meals to Islington council, with 250 laptops being donated to local schoolchildren. The Premier League also follows this ethos, with the Premier League Charitable Fund distributing around £35 million per year. The league also recently launched the Premier League Defibrillator Fund, supporting the installation of defibrillators at thousands of grassroots clubs across the country.


Raising the profile of charity

However, there is one area where these football clubs fail when compared to their American counterparts, and that lies in their support of their players’ social initiatives. If asked about the social initiatives that Premier League footballers have developed, the average fan would probably struggle to remember anything further than Marcus Rashford’s campaign for Free School Meals funding, and maybe Common Goal (detailed in this Cause4 blog post).


On the other hand, an NFL fan would probably show an awareness of several notable causes. This awareness lies with the NFL’s promotion of a plethora of player-led charitable initiatives, notably its Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. The award recognises an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field: every team nominates a player as their team’s ‘Man of the Year’, this player having significantly supported his local community.


The winner of the award receives $250,000 to donate to a charity of his choice, this often being the player’s own social initiative. All other nominees receive $40,000 for the same purpose. The award is discussed in the coverage of nearly every game, with it continually referred to as the NFL’s ‘most prestigious accolade’. This recognition has driven countless NFL players to develop and promote their own hugely successful charitable initiatives, with JJ Watt of the Texans notably raising $37 million to help Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey.


Why Premier League support matters

Given the Premier League and its constituents’ support for their local communities, why is it so important that they begin to promote player led initiatives? With a single player acting as a focal point, the potential for greater publicity for the scheme is notable; how many more people have heard about Marcus Rashford’s campaigns last summer than the Premier League & FA Facilities fund? This greater press coverage is wedded with a personal touch, forging a stronger bond than a corporate foundation can.


This can manifest itself in fans’ greater charitable giving. In the USA, the league led awareness for players’ charitable initiatives has resulted in a rush of donations for countless charities. Alvin Kamara’s historic performance on Christmas Day led to $21,000 in donations pouring into Son of a Saint, a charity he supports, from NFL fans. This represented another iteration of a long running trend in the NFL, whereby fans donate to show their gratitude towards, or solidarity with, a player. After Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s performance led to the Buffalo Bills progressing to the playoffs, fans showed their gratitude by donating over $100,000 to the Andy & Jordan Dalton foundation.


While the Premier League and its constituent clubs already do exceptional work for their local communities, there is always room for improvement: this improvement could come from a greater emphasis being placed on players in charity fundraising. The NFL has successfully fostered a culture whereby fans are aware of, and readily donate to, players’ charitable initiatives. This owes itself to the league pushing its players towards charitable activity and the personal and authentic touch inherent to an individual players’ efforts. The Premier League can similarly harness its stars’ power and media presence to bring greater benefit to disadvantaged groups and communities across the UK.

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