Corporate Social Responsibility

Professional sport corporate social responsibility initiatives: Evaluating their effectiveness

Lisa A. Kihl, Ph.D., is a member of the 2014-2017 University of Minnesota Extension’s Children, Youth and Family Consortium (CYFC) Community-engaged Scholars Program, a four-year, multi-disciplinary, cohort-based program offering a “learning community” paired with funding for community-engaged research. It is intended to build scholars’ capacity for community-engaged scholarship (CES), benefit communities, contribute to our knowledge about educational and health disparities, and catalyze institutional support for CES.

My Goal as a CYFC scholar

I will engage in partnerships to promote the evaluation of professional sport organization CCI related to youth health and educational initiatives to enhance sustainability and community impact. I have two aims. First, my project will work collaboratively with the local Twins RBI community to design and conduct a three-year longitudinal study to examine the association between youth participation in the RBI program and student engagement, dependent on race, gender, socio-economic status, family composition, and extra-curricular activities. We will utilize our findings to help community partners identify community resources to enhance educational opportunities and outcomes for RBI participants. My project builds on a two-year evaluative project that examined the quality of the delivery of the Twins RBI program1,2. Second, I want to explore the feasibility of using CBPR to work collaboratively with professional sport organizations and their community partners to design and conduct this research, using the findings to inform program delivery practices and policies. Dissemination of insights from this process may inform the use of CBPR at other RBI cites. Ultimately, my long-term goal is to assist professional sport organizations’ CCI to be more impactful in the community and address social issues through engagement in evaluative research. If you have any questions or wish to talk to me about my research, please contact me.

  1. Kihl, L. A., Tainsky, S., Babiak, K., & Bang, J. (2014). Evaluation of a cross-sector community initiative partnership: Delivering a local sport program. Evaluation and Program Planning, 44, 36-47.
  2. Kihl, L. A., Babiak, K., & Tainsky, S. (2014). Evaluating the implementation of a professional sport team’s corporate community involvement initiative. Journal of Sport Management, 28, 324-337.
Addressing the intersections of sport and education: Evaluating the educational outcomes of a professional sport’s corporate social responsibility initiative

As part of the program, Kihl will conduct a community-based research project that will be examining how Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program impacts academic achievement and student engagement. RBI is a Major League Baseball youth outreach program designed to increase participation and interest in baseball and softball among underserved youth and encourage academic participation and achievement.

Why evaluate the professional sports’ corporate social responsibility initiatives?

Professional sport organizations engage in various corporate community initiatives (CCI) that address important social issues including health and educational outcomes1, and in particular, academic outcomes for underserved youth2. High school sport participation has been positively linked with higher educational aspirations, a positive attitude towards school, higher grades, and decreased drop out3,4. However, the relationship between sport participation and academic achievement is not directly causal. The type of sport, level of participation, participant demographics, type of youth organization, and ecological context in which participants live can act as mediating effects. Furthermore, emphasis on grades or test scores narrowly reflects youth experiences. School engagement, such as student behaviors, feelings of belonging, and aspirations related to schooling5, which in turn impacts grades, is also important. Therefore, research needs to shift toward evaluating the association of school engagement with underserved youth sport participation in specific sports. Professional sport leagues and teams make sizable investments to address various community issues. For example, in 2010 Major League Baseball (MLB) and its 30 individual Clubs gave over $100 million to charitable outreach related to health promotion, physical education, public safety, medical research, literacy and educational purposes6. In particular, MLB and its Clubs have invested more than $30 million worth of resources in the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program7, a youth outreach initiative that aims to increase baseball and softball participation and enhance academic achievement and participation in underserved communities. Locally, the Minnesota Twins organization gives over $120,000 per year to the program, and since its inception in 1989 has invested almost $2 million8. While professional sport leagues are committed to “giving back” and making an impact in their local communities, most do not evaluate the effectiveness of these initiatives, partly due to a lack of available resources and expertise to conduct such evaluations9,1. As a corporate partner with unique power and resources, professional sports can be an influential agent of community social change10, particularly relating to health and educational outcomes for underserved youth. Community-based participatory research (CBPR) provides a sound framework in which the university, professional sports teams, and their community partners can collaborate to utilize their respective expertise to generate knowledge and enhance programming to produce long-term, positive impact on children, youth, and families. Therefore, it is critical that University researchers invite professional sport leagues to engage in collaborative partnerships to design and conduct evaluative studies and to translate the findings for application to sustained and effective youth initiatives relating to health and educational outcomes.

  1. Kihl, L. A., & Tainsky, S. (2013). Effective delivery of large-scale CSR efforts: Lessons from Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program. In G. Walters, K. Babiak, & J. L. Paramio (Eds.), The handbook of sport and corporate social responsibility (pp. 185-197). London, England: Routledge.
  2. Eccles, J. S., Barber, B. L., Stone, M., & Hunt, J. (2003). Extracurricular activities and adolescent development. Journal of Social Issues, 59(4), 865-889.
  3. Fredricks, J. A., & Eccles, J. S. (2005). Developmental benefits of extracurricular involvement: Do peer characteristics mediate the link between activities and youth outcomes? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34(6), 507-520.
  4. Fredricks, J. A., & Eccles, J. S. (2006). Is extracurricular participation associated with beneficial outcomes? Concurrent and longitudinal relations. Developmental Psychology, 42(4), 698-713.
  5. Dotterer, A. M., McHale, S. M., & Crouter, A. C. (2007). Implications of out-of-school activities and school engagement in African American adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 4, 391-401.
  6. Horrow, R., & Swatek, K. (December 23, 2010). Pro sports gave generously in 2010. Business Week. Retrieved from
  7. Major League Baseball Community. (2014). Reviving baseball in inner cities. Retrieved from
  8. Minnesota Twins Community. (2014). Twins in the community: RBI. Retrieved from
  9. Kihl, L. A. (November, 2009). Minnesota Twins reviving baseball in inner cities programs: Evaluating the effectiveness of gaining inner city participation in baseball and softball. Phase II. Unpublished executive summary. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
  10. Diehl, D. (2007). The sports philanthropy project. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Anthology, 11, 1-15.

Lisa A. Kihl is driven by her interest in the quality of delivery of professional sport corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives and how effective these programs address social issues within communities. Her involvement in community-engaged worked started in 2007, where she was invited to work with a local urban recreation center to help to create a safe environment for youth to participate in Minnesota’s Twins’ RBI program. The community engagement experience with the park and recreation center and the MN Twins helped her to better understand her role as a facilitator in community-based research.

I have a better understanding of how to actively involve community stakeholders in addressing issues that affect them, the process, and how to mobilize assets in addressing issues. This work also afforded the opportunity to collaborate with MN Twin’s Community Fund where I completed a two-year evaluation of the quality of the delivery of their RBI program. As a result of MN Twin’s evaluation, in 2013 MLB invited me to become a consultant for the RBI program. I currently use my research and teaching to assist different RBI programs around the country to enhance the quality of delivery.

Kihl is an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota and served as a consultant for Major League Baseball (MLB) Community Affairs Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program. She earned my Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2004 and her research interests intersect the areas of sport ethics and policy.

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