BOSTON (CBS) – What does it take to create a successful fan experience at Red Sox game? If you’ve ever been to Fenway Park, you know it takes more than great action on the field. The teams work — in entertaining, creative and philanthropic ways — to connect with fans.
They organize visits, tours and special events for students, patients, veterans and community groups. They raise money to support victims of natural disasters, accidents and attacks. In short, they create an environment to connect with fans and deepen a sense of community. Roughly a year ago, Boston-area teams also came together to promote an initiative called Take the Lead.
After a number of ugly racist incidents in the stands at Fenway, the teams created a public service announcement to denounce racism. It featured star athletes including Patrice Bergeron, Matthew Slater, Marcus Smart and Dustin Pedroia who looked straight into the camera and called for greater inclusion at all venues. And the effort to elevate diversity also reaches into the front offices of the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics and Revolution. For the first time ever, they “share” an employee who experiences and contributes to the teams’ marketing and community relations.
The first-ever Take the Lead fellow is 25-year-old Dorchester native Olivia Irving. A graduate of George Washington University, Olivia had a full-time job at State Street Bank when she saw the Take the Lead PSA and read about the fellowship. It was the perfect fit.
“I took a leap of faith and realized that’s what I needed to do for my career. And I would do it a hundred times again,” she said. She is, primarily, with the Red Sox and then works two-week rotations with the other teams. How would she describe the experience so far?
“It’s honestly been amazing. It’s a behind-the-scenes look no one’s ever had before. Especially in this time with all the teams playing, it’s good to see how the different organizations work with their crazy schedules and events,” she said. She says the fellowship has opened her eyes to the incredible work that goes into connecting with the community on game-day and beyond.
“Members of the front office can have as big an impact on the experience as members of the team. There isn’t just one avenue in sports to make that impact,” she said.
Olivia says her experiences — before the fellowship –were always positive at sporting events in Boston. But she commends all the teams for using Take the Lead to create an atmosphere of inclusion and denounce discrimination. Asked whether she would agree that all the teams had work to do in elevating diversity before Take the Lead, Olivia said yes.
“But I don’t think that’s something unique to Boston. It’s global. I’d say everyone has work to do. When you see that these different athletes are willing to come together on something so important, I think other cities can follow the same model,” she said. She says Take the Lead has made it possible for people to talk about diversity, on a regular basis, in a way that’s lead to open discussions void of defensiveness. She says when representatives of the teams get together for meetings, they often extend the time they’re together because the conversation is so meaningful. The most challenging aspect of the effort, she says, is realizing that things can’t be changed in a day. “I just try to be patient, knowing you have to put in hard work to be successful,” she said. And she insists it is NOT a PR stunt. “Everyone really believes in it and has plans to take it further and continue to grow it,” she said.
Olivia says it’s important that part of her job is giving back to the community. She’s participated in the Bruins “Fan Fest.” She’s volunteered at The Women’s Lunch Place with the Patriots and at Rosie’s Place with the Red Sox. She cheered on riders in the Pan Mass Challenge and worked at the Game Change Summit at Gillette Stadium to prevent teen dating violence. Reflecting on the women at Rosie’s Place, she knows the outreach makes a difference.
“For them to know that people care about them… meant so much. Being able to do that, in the field of work I’m in, was great!” she said.
But the most rewarding experience is hosting patients from Boston Children’s Hospital and the Jimmy Fund.
“Seeing those kids so happy when they’re going through so much is amazing,” she said. Olivia’s fellowship runs through March.