One of my favorite quotes comes from Eric Ripert: "Success is not just a reward; it's also a responsibility."
For Eric, the co-owner and executive of Le Bernardin, that means using his media profile to talk about sustainability, about feeding your family healthy food, about helping the community through organizations like City Harvest...
He's not alone. Many businesses embrace goals that extend beyond revenue and profit: Doing good, giving back, benefiting others -- but that means truly caring about a particular cause, and actively seeking to address the problems you see.
For giving back to work, it has to be something you believe, and not just a marketing strategy.
Which is why Audi of America and Major League Soccer (MLS) just announced Audi Goals Drive Progress, a multi-year initiative designed to help provide funding for on- and off-field MLS Academy programs. (In simple terms, Academies are formal programs run by each team to identify and develop youth talent, with various teams ranging in age from under-12 to under-19. And in case you don't think academies are effective... Lionel Messi is a product of the Barcelona academy.)
The primary goal of every MLS Academy is to develop, in simple terms, home-grown talent: Kids who will someday play for the first team.
Doing so not only requires having the resources, though. Like any business hoping to build a team of superstar employees, developing outstanding players starts with casting as broad a net as possible. And making it possible for some of those kids, especially those whose families lack the resources or the geographic proximity, to become part of an Academy.
That's why each club will launch unique programs that not only support player education but may also include transportation and even housing -- and, in some cases, technological support for players to access resources remotely.
Of course, a steely-eyed direct marketer might look askance at the program. Unlike some companies who do good in an obvious way ("Every time you buy this widget, we donate another widget to charity!") and make social good an integral part of the brand's identity, Goals Drive Progress is somewhat understated.
Granted, Audi will donate $500 for every goal scored in the regular season, $2,000 for every goal during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, and $10,000 for every goal scored in the MLS Finals, for a total commitment of approximately $1 million in 2019 alone. And the team with the highest average fan social posts per game will earn an additional $50,000 for its Academy.
But still: The nature of the program means the results won't start showing up on the field for several years.
Which fits right in with Audi's overall marketing approach.
"As a brand positioned as a progressive luxury choice," says Loren Angelo, VP of Marketing for Audi America, "we identify trends and opportunities. We partnered with MLS five years ago because soccer was gaining significant momentum in America... viewers could take greater ownership of their local MLS teams through nationally-televised games... it's a great opportunity to engage with a growing, affluent audience." (A recent Gallup poll shows soccer ranks second in popularity only to football in the 18-to-34 demographic.)
"In short, we want to help grow the sport of soccer in America," Loren says.
That's a lofty goal. Even though MLS attendance ranks third behind the NFL and MLB, still: The popularity -- and revenue base -- of soccer in Europe and Asia means the world's best players play for teams in other countries.
"To take the sport of soccer to the next level," says Todd Durbin, MLS EVP of Competition and Player Relations, "nothing is more fundamental than ensuring all players have the opportunity to participate in our Academies... and that we have the ability to get the players with the most potential into our Academies.
"This program will increase our reach and ability to provide those benefits to a whole new generation of players: If each club can bring in four or five players each year that they otherwise could not, spread that across twenty-six clubs over five years... that's 500 players, which is roughly the total population of our league. Add that up... and we can give the next generation of players an opportunity they might never have had."
Access. Opportunity. Education. Development. Great missions.
So if you see success as not just a reward but also a responsibility, how can you leverage that success to give back in a truly meaningful way?
Start by thinking less about your goals and more about the people you're trying to help.
For Audi, that meant starting the conversation by saying they wanted to invest in the sport in a way that provided real and meaningful benefits, including expanding the sport's reach and driving greater participation at the youth level. That synced perfectly with MLS's goal to be the premier player development environment in the country.
And with the problem MLS was already trying to solve: You can have the best development system in the world... but it doesn't matter if the right people don't have access: Players in non-traditional markets, players outside the normal reach of league teams, players without the economic support to attend, players who need the right kind of academic support...
That led to focusing on two key areas. One is geographic access. Solutions include transportation, providing day-long programs instead of shorter, more frequent sessions, developing residency academies...
The other is performance. Hence the Audi Performance Centers to provide technological support, academic support, psychological growth... developing players not just as athletes but as young men. (Because not every player will go on to play professionally.)
All of which bridges a gap that often exists in the business of sports, where partners play a vital role in a league's success.
"Every single technical (coach, trainer, etc.) person I've talked to is as excited about this program as they have been for anything we've done over the last twenty-five years," Durbin says. "Getting money and support from a world brand leader in the automotive industry and in the sport of soccer... and not just to build a brand and engage with fans but for the specific purpose of making players better, making the game better... it's truly a competition-based program that provides real access to players who were outside of the system."
"Every strategy we go to market with," Angelo says, "must have a high level of authenticity in regards to our positioning. W want to be more than just the four rings (the Audi logo) on the pitch. We want to be part of the experience. That's why we're so excited about the opportunity to help build something that was already a primary initiative for MLS, one they really need."
Which, if successful, also benefits Audi. A rising tide of fans, interest, and engagement will naturally float all boats.
"Four or five years from now, we think we will see Academy players making up a significant percentage of MLS teams," Angelo says. "We think we'll see the MLS as a key theater for the U.S. men's national team. We think we'll see U.S. players among the top ranks of world players. While those sound like huge goals... at Audi, we like to think big."
Which is exactly what some youth players who will now have access to MLS Academies will also get to do: Think bigger than they once thought possible.
Which is a great outcome of acting on the responsibility that success brings.