Using Soccer Players to Kick the Habit

Feasibility of involving Major League Soccer in preventing tobacco use by youth

Prospect Associates, a public relations firm that works on many RWJF tobacco control initiatives, conducted a study of the feasibility, scope, and potential benefits of establishing a relationship with Major League Soccer (MLS) for the purpose of promoting smoking prevention among youth.

Prospect Associates surveyed all 10 Major League Soccer teams to learn about their structure, programs, player and community relationships, and fan support. It met with representatives of three teams, DC United, Tampa Bay Mutiny, and the New England Revolution, to explore their interest in and capacity for developing a major tobacco control program.

Results

In a report presented to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Prospect concluded:

  • Soccer as a sport and MLS were excellent vehicles for delivering the tobacco-free message to a youth audience.
  • Criteria for a successful tobacco control program included involvement of local school systems and teams' community programming (outside the stadium).
  • Future funding for tobacco-free messages and programs could be achieved through three possible sources: fines collected from players, corporate sponsorships, and MLS team and league contributions.

Recommendations

Because some MLS teams lacked the staff or structure to handle a major public health campaign, the project director recommended that RWJF initially work with one team, DC United.

DC United had an established community-based outreach program upon which the tobacco-free message could be overlaid and the demographics of the Washington area (a large population of Hispanic American youth) made it ideal for instituting the program.

Funding

RWJF provided a $51,588 contract from February to September 1997 to support this work.

After the Grant

This feasibility study was used to guide RWJF's Sports and Philanthropy project (ID#s 037939, 038221) that is working across professional sports with teams and player foundations. The project provides technical assistance to help teams and professional leagues improve the practice and effectiveness of philanthropy in their communities.

RWJF's staff determined that this approach could provide more leverage than a team-by-team strategy.

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