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Soccer and Sustainability: A Look into New York City FC’s Earth Day Celebration

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The fight for sustainability is long from over but it is clear that NYCFC, MLS and adidas, are in it for the long haul.

Parley for the Oceans founder and NYCFC players during a Parley education session

Sports teams across the country celebrated Earth Day on April 22. While countless teams engaged in environmentally friendly activities off of the field, few found successful ways to bring sustainability to games themselves. New York City FC was an exception.

Through a unique partnership with MLS, adidas and Parley for the Oceans, NYCFC was selected as one of four soccer teams to wear game jerseys made from Parley Ocean Plastic. On April 23, the day after Earth Day, NYCFC debuted specially designed adidas Parley Ocean Plastic™ jerseys in their home match against Orlando City SC. Other teams that sported the unique jerseys on April 23 were Orlando City, LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders.

Parley for the Oceans, one of the partners in this activation, sets ocean sustainability awareness as its core mission and collaborates with various industries to create unique projects to help end the ocean’s destruction. Partnering with MLS and adidas, they implemented the Parley A.I.R. (Avoid, Intercept, Redesign) strategy to create specially designed jerseys made from recycled ocean plastic. It took 20 plastic bottles, collected through ocean clean up projects organized by Parley in the Maldives, to create each jersey.

Previously, in November 2016, adidas launched the FC Bayern Munich and Real Madrid C.F. Parley Jerseys, but this was the first time that the jerseys were worn in the United States.

Commenting on the new partnership with MLS, Adidas Vice President of Product, Global Brands, Soccer, Michael Batz, said, “Our core brand belief is that through sport, we have the power to change lives and feel that MLS is an ideal partner to transport and establish this belief in soccer — connecting a global sport with meaningful desire to preserve the environment. It will be the first step to explore and expand future opportunities.”

While the Parley initiative was a one-time activation, there is hope that it will expand to more teams and games across the league.

MLS’s Chief Administrative & Social Responsibility Officer JoAnn Neale commented on both the league’s commitment to sustainability both on and off the field.

“Major League Soccer and our clubs are committed to raising awareness about environmental issues through the League’s Greener Goals platform. Off the pitch, we’ll service our local communities as part of MLS WORKS Week of Service leading up to Earth Day, and we’re thrilled to support efforts on the field with Adidas and Parley for the Oceans to help create a cleaner, healthier environment,” she said.

Leading up to the jersey debut on April 23, NYCFC organized a variety of activities to celebrate Earth Day weekend off of the field. The club volunteered with its staff and season ticket holders at a Zero Waste event for GrowNYC on April 22.

Other fans and community members could participate in the club’s Earth Day initiative by purchasing tickets, which led to the planting of a tree for every four tickets purchased through a partnership with New York Restoration Project. Additionally, fans could participate digitally through an Earth Day photo contest on Facebook and Instagram that offered the winner suite tickets to a NYCFC home match and team-autographed jersey.

During the April 23 match itself, on top of the debut of the special jerseys, NYCFC showed a Parley awareness video at the stadium and provided and shared environmental facts throughout the day and provided eco-friendly dining products, such as cups made from plant-based materials in all suites.

NYCFC’s Earth Day weekend created a multi-faceted plan to engage players, staff, fans and community members on a variety of levels. Stakeholders could engage through opportunities to volunteer, purchase tickets that benefited a cause, engage in digital campaigns while the players wore sustainable jerseys. NYCFC and MLS’s honoring of Earth Day on such a broad spectrum, culminating in the debut of the Adidas Parley Ocean Plastic™ jerseys, set the league apart when it came to using sports as a vehicle to support sustainability.

Founder of Parley for the Oceans, Cyrill Gutsch, said it best when talking about the role of sports in the fight for sustainability.

“Soccer can lead the way,” he said, “It shows what we can achieve with the right balance of creativity, collaboration and technology.”

The fight for sustainability is long from over but it is clear that NYCFC, MLS and adidas, are in it for the long haul.

Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

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