The Walt Disney Company and ESPN Team Up with Special Olympics for Global Initiative to Promote Social Inclusion and Acceptance through Sports

September 06, 2013

The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and Special Olympics today announced a two-year global initiative that will leverage the power of sports to promote an environment of social inclusion and acceptance, by uniting people with and without intellectual disabilities through the Special Olympics Unified Sports program. 

Targeting Eight Growth Markets

With a multi-million dollar financial and in-kind investment, Disney and ESPN will support Special Olympics’ goal of registering one million Unified Sports participants, including athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities), teammates (individuals without intellectual disabilities) and coaches, by 2015.

The new collaboration, announced by John Skipper, ESPN President, and Timothy P. Shriver, Special Olympics CEO and Chairman, expands on Disney’s and ESPN’s 30-year commitment to Special Olympics. A portion of the new funds will be directed to Special Olympics Programs around the world to help grow Unified Sports initiatives, as well as to enhance Special Olympics Unified Sports branding and marketing initiatives to increase awareness of the program.

Eight target growth markets have been identified, including four domestic (Connecticut, central Florida, southern California/greater Los Angeles and Seattle) and four global (Argentina, Brazil, India and Mexico). ESPN will also help Special Olympics develop and strengthen the Unified Sports global brand through marketing assistance, target-market research and in-kind ads and public service announcements across ESPN platforms. Additionally, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN have become the global presenting sponsors and official media sponsors of Special Olympics Unified Sports, and will lend their branding to Unified Sports events in the eight target markets.

Quotes from ESPN, Disney and Special Olympics

John Skipper, ESPN President, Co-Chairman of Disney Media Networks: “Through this exciting new initiative, we’re proud to play a leading role in this global initiative to encourage social inclusion through sports. We’re inspired by the tremendous work done all over the world by Special Olympics through Unified Sports. Inclusion and acceptance are values that our company stands for and I know our employees will passionately support this wonderful effort.”

Tim Shriver, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Special Olympics: "We are thrilled that Disney and ESPN recognize the power of Special Olympics Unified Sports and want to support the growth of our program that creates a level playing field in schools and communities throughout the world. Our movement is a social revolution using sports to achieve our goals and Unified Sports is our path to creating communities that are accepting and inclusive."

Leslie Goodman, Senior Vice President, Corporate Citizenship, Disney: “Sports have the unique ability to transcend social and cultural barriers. Disney is proud to support Special Olympics Unified Sports, which is helping to create a better world through compassion and understanding.”

Special Olympics Celebration at ESPN’s campus

In conjunction with the announcement, ESPN hosted a Special Olympics Unified Sports celebration on its Bristol, Conn. campus—one day before ESPN’s 34th anniversary (Sept. 7). Teams participated in Unified Sports recreational competitions, which included basketball, flag football and soccer. Special Olympics athletes played alongside Portland Trail Blazers’ NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, X Games skateboarder Mitchie Brusco, U.S. women’s soccer player Kristine Lilly, ESPN NFL Live host Trey Wingo, ESPN SportsCenter anchors Sage Steele and Kevin Negandhi and several ESPN employees.

Additionally, Sue Swanson, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, was on site to support the announcement as was Special Olympics International board member and champion figure skater, Michelle Kwan.

About The Walt Disney Company

The Walt Disney Company, together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a leading diversified international entertainment and media enterprise with five business segments: media networks, parks and resorts, studio entertainment, consumer products and interactive media. Being a good corporate citizen is a time-honored Disney tradition. Through contributions, collaborations with local organizations, in-kind gifts and volunteering, Disney helps to brighten the lives of kids and families in need and strengthen communities around the world. In 2012, the Company donated more than $292 million in cash, in-kind support and products, and Disney VoluntEARS gave over 586,000 hours of service.

About Team ESPN

Team ESPN, the corporate outreach program of ESPN, encompasses ESPN's multi-faceted initiatives, including volunteerism, corporate giving and cause marketing, while also utilizing its diverse media assets. Through Team ESPN, ESPN employees and fans join together to make a difference in the communities in which ESPN works.  Its slogan is “Fans Helping Fans.”

About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is an international organization that unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports every day around the world. Through work in sports, health, education and community building, Special Olympics addresses inactivity, injustice, intolerance and social isolation by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities which leads to a more welcoming and inclusive society. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown from a few hundred athletes to more than 4.2 million athletes in 170 countries. With the support of more than one million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics is able to deliver 32 Olympic-type sports and more than 70,000 competitions throughout the year. Visit Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org. Special Olympics Unified Sports is currently active in more than 2500 schools in 45 states, in the United States alone, with over 500,000 participants globally. Engage with us on: Twitter @specialolympics; fb.com/specialolympics; youtube.com/specialolympicshq, and specialolympics.org/blog.

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