While many of the professional sports leagues in the United States and around the world make philanthropic commitments and efforts throughout the year, Major League Soccer takes sports philanthropy to another level. The league is relatively new in the US sports landscape and has worked hard to capture fans hearts in a realistic way. The average age of MLS fans is 40 and 15% of their fan base is under 18 years of age. To compare the NFL has an average age of 50 and only 9% is made up of kids under 18 years old.
The league understands that older generations of Americans have their favorite teams and their favorite sports. They also understand that many leagues are having issues keeping up with younger generations and the constant changes with attention spans and internet content that are occurring, so they are working smart. Knowing that their major audience of millennials and Gen-Z are some of the most social conscious generations on the planet, the MLS established the MLS WORKS program.
According to their website, MLS WORKS addresses social issues and is a platform for the league and club philanthropic programs. Their mission reads: “MLS WORKS seeks to establish Major League Soccer as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport.” The MLS is the only major sport in the United States that has made this kind of a commitment in the sports philanthropy space.
And boy, are they backing it up. Through giving campaigns, national initiatives and local programs in underserved communities, the MLS is making impact around the country. We broke down their major programs so you have a better idea of all that they do.
Soccer for All
The league’s diversity program has been highlighted throughout the season, especially in the last couple weeks with the World Cup coverage on FOX and FS1. The awareness campaign shares the league’s support of diversity of all sizes. Here’s more information and a link to watch their PSA.
“Soccer For All signifies that everyone is welcome to MLS, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.”
Kick Childhood Cancer
The MLS has made a commitment to fight childhood cancer in partnership with Children’s Oncology Group (COG). Each year the league raises money through “Kick Childhood Cancer” themed merchandising and awareness campaigns for COG. Each team in the league also participates in events and fundraisers for the cause locally in their communities. See what your local MLS team did here.
An extension of the league’s commitment to diversity is their partnership with the Special Olympics and ESPN. The partnership honors diversity and inclusion through Special Olympics Unified Sports. These are collections of teams that include people with and without intellectual disabilities who compete in what’s called a Unified Exchange program. This program brings Unified soccer teams from around the country to various exhibition matches at MLS stadiums before games. This is a great opportunity to engage MLS athletes with a worthy cause like the Special Olympics, and gives the Unified team members a once in a lifetime experience.
The MLS is committed to the environment as well. Their Greener Goals program works to find ways to lower their carbon footprint and raise awareness on environmental issues within the soccer community. Surrounding Earth Day this year, front office staffs and employees of MLS teams completed their 3rd annual Week of Service in their local communities to raise awareness of the Greener Goals program. The league is also a member of the Green Sports Alliance that encourages leagues and teams to support environmentally sustainable initiatives in their day to day operations and venues.
Not only does the MLS work hard to make their own impact in various areas and causes, they also honor their fans doing the same. Each year, every MLS team allows their fans to nominate a Community MVP, someone who is doing wonderful work in their community. Each team chooses an honoree to represent their team and highlights them at an MLS game. Those winners each receive $1000 towards their cause and tickets to the All-Star Game that year. One of the Community MVPs from around the league wins the grand prize of $25,000 for their chosen cause.
Every Save Makes a Difference
Thought we were done? Not yet. The MLS also has an in game philanthropic fundraising opportunity with their Every Save Makes a Difference initiative. Each save that is recorded on Univision broadcasts raises $500 towards support community soccer programs near the teams playing in that game. So far this program has raised more than $250,000 for 120 different community organizations.
Needless to say, the sports philanthropy league has all their bases covered. It’s refreshing to see a league so dedicated to making a real impact in the community. Efforts from teams, players and the league itself are streamlined and supported to make a maximum effort. The MLS has planned out a great starting road map for social initiatives to expand and grow over the coming years. This will definitely make an impact on the success of the sports philanthropy initiatives and social footprints being developed for the 2026 World Cup.