The rise and institutionalization of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in sport is captured in a growing body of work in sport management. This literature suggests professional teams should be strategic in their approaches—matching internal resources with external needs—but we lack an understanding of the processes and mechanisms in the evolution to more strategic CSR, as well as specific practices that characterize these approaches. Further, by focusing on broad trends in how and why teams are adopting CSR, we miss the opportunity to learn from teams with innovative and authentic CSR approaches. To address these gaps, this article uses a qualitative case-study approach to examine how one professional team in the U.S.—the Detroit Lions—evolved their CSR to a more strategic and authentic partnership-focused model. Our findings point to key process steps and mechanisms in the decision making around, and implementation of, this approach, including the role of organizational structure, leadership, and community partnerships. We draw out themes around these central partnerships and highlight best practices. In offering a more nuanced understanding of professional sport CSR process and practice, we contribute to the literature on CSR in sport, sport-community partnerships, and sport and city revitalization.
Kathryn L. Heinze is with the Department of Sport Management, Sara Soderstrom is with the Department of Organizational Studies and Program in the Environment, and Jennifer Zdroik is with the Department of Sport Management, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Address author correspondence to Kathryn L. Heinze at firstname.lastname@example.org. The first two authors contributed equally.