PHILANTHROPY WITH MUSCLE: Supporting community is part of new teams’ game plan

 

The next time fans buy tickets to see one of Las Vegas’ newly arrived or soon-to-arrive pro sports teams, they might take a moment to think about more than that great power play, rebound, interception or goal.

They could think of a schoolkid attending a basketball clinic, a valley charity receiving a much-needed check, or a neighborhood cause adopted.

That’s because Las Vegas’ newest major league teams didn’t come here just to play games. They’re also becoming members of the community and altering the philanthropic landscape.

Charitable efforts by the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, the NFL’s soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders, the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces and the United Soccer League’s Las Vegas Lights FC already are making a difference. That’s all to the good, said Julie Murray, CEO of Moonridge Group, a Las Vegas philanthropic consulting firm.

Murray remembers talking with Raiders owner Mark Davis in May at the Raiders Foundation’s “Celebrity Swing” benefit for Veterans Village Las Vegas. “He said, ‘We’re not just bringing great athletes to this community. We want to be making a huge impact in this community and collaborate with other sports teams.’ ”

Team representatives say supporting the community always has been part of their game plans. Even before the Golden Knights had players, John Coogan and the Golden Knights Foundation were preparing for the team’s inaugural season.

“We started as early as the (team’s) name unveiling in 2016 to get to know some of the other foundations in town, to understand the important causes to support,” said foundation president Coogan. The foundation identified five areas of need — youth development and sports, health and wellness, education, military and first responders, and hunger and homelessness — that it began to support through corporate sponsorships, in-game programs, and ticket and merchandise sales.

The Las Vegas Aces’ philanthropic focus includes education, military and first responders, and women’s empowerment, said Autumn Spicer, the team’s community relations manager. The Aces kicked off its first season in Las Vegas in May and players arrived in April. By early June players had made almost 100 community appearances, volunteered more than 175 hours, while the team had donated 100 tickets per game to local nonprofits, 750 tickets for a first responders’ promotion and 1,700 tickets to at-risk youth.

Both the Raiders and Golden Knights have used benefit events to raise money for area charities. The Lights used a “$5 Kick Back” program by which charitable causes get $5 for each ticket purchased using a code for that charity when buying game tickets online.

“I think we have a couple hundred codes out there,” said Lights owner and CEO Brett Lashbrook. “I’d like to have thousands of codes.” Lashbrook said the program, which supplements other fund-raising and community outreach efforts, helps “smaller entities that are important to our fans.”

While the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation has written hefty checks to area charities during its inaugural season, the team also saw fundraising success with its 51-49 raffle, in which fans at home games bought raffle tickets and winners kept 51 percent of the raffle ticket pot while the rest went to the Golden Knights Foundation.

Veterans Village Las Vegas’ roster of benefactors now includes the Golden Knights Foundation and the Raiders Foundation. In May, the Raiders held a “Celebrity Swing” benefit at Topgolf Las Vegas for the nonprofit, which provides housing and other services to veterans. Founder Arnold Stalk said he was “humbled” that the Raiders chose to work with his group, and that the ripple effects of such alliances extend beyond the dollars that the teams provide. A relationship with a team also “enhances our brand,” Stalk said, and signals to other potential donors that the teams’ “have said this organization is worthy of our charitable dollars.”

Adding to the new Las Vegas teams’ philanthropic muscle have been charitable causes that individual players and their families have adopted. Teams’ philanthropic impulses can filter down to fans who adopt their teams’ charities as their own. In that way, sports teams not only raise money for community causes, but help build “a sense of community and a sense of pride,” Murray said. q