It's been a record year for the Eagles. With several franchise milestones surpassed on the football field, the city has erupted with excitement for the hometown team. Philadelphia is buzzing.
Now gearing up for its second Super Bowl appearance in six years, the Eagles community's passion has boiled over into much more than what happens on the field. The dominant playoff run has reflected an outpouring of support for the Eagles Autism Foundation, raising about $1 million dollars for innovative autism research and advocacy within the past few weeks alone.
"The economic impact on philanthropy tied to the enthusiasm and success related to the team is just creating this transformational outcome. From a fundraising perspective, it's been beyond what we expected," said Ryan Hammond, Executive Director of the Eagles Autism Foundation.
EAF has far outpaced its mark from this time last year, eclipsing an ever-growing total of more than $3 million dollars so far in this fiscal year, and there are still three months until its marquee event. On May 20th, the Eagles will host the sixth annual Eagles Autism Challenge bike ride, sensory walk, and 5k run.
"I knew we were going to capitalize on every single opportunity there was available to us to raise money. But when I sat back and reflected on the fact that it was approaching a million dollars, I was completely blown away," Hammond said.
"We've been able to just see the success of the team and translate that into opportunities for donors and the community to be involved."
It's unsurprising that Eagles Autism Foundation has reached this caliber of contributions this year. The team, led by Hammond, has tirelessly planned and executed initiatives all season long, namely the Eagles Radiothon on WIP, gameday auction experiences, 50/50 raffles featuring limited-edition pins, matching gift drives for the Eagles Autism Challenge, plus new Stoutland University T-shirts and lululemon gear. Together, these efforts have propelled their fundraising total forward, all the while weaving autism awareness into the fabric of the Eagles community.
"Before we knew how great the season was going to be, we had the Radiothon and raised half a million dollars there. That was a record for us this year. To start that outright with that level of enthusiasm and to see the team start off so strong and keep winning, we started launching auctions every single week leading into the game and utilizing resources with matching tickets to a VIP experience," Hammond said.
"Then, when it came time for the playoffs, we were able to tap into some of our leadership donors to launch the matching gifts. We felt like it was twofold. You were going to inspire and create urgency around fundraising for Eagles Autism Challenge participants and you also were going to get folks to register."
Last year, Eagles Autism Foundation raised about $4.2 million to be invested back in the community. It's well on its way to passing that amount and there's still plenty of time to sign up and raise funds to participate in Eagles Autism Challenge.
In September of 2017, shortly before the team's first-ever Super Bowl win, the Eagles announced the creation of the Eagles Autism Challenge. Since then, it's raised over $20 million dollars for the autism community. Propelled by care for his brother who has autism, Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie made it a top priority to integrate awareness and inclusivity into all facets of the organization – even in the end zone.
"His leadership allowed us to change the culture. The biggest testament to that, from an organizational standpoint, is when we added Eagles Autism Foundation to the banner behind the end zones," Hammond said.
"That's where the most critical part of the game happens. When you're watching and you see that, it speaks volumes. There's no louder message to amplify our commitment than that example right there."
Its next great feat is becoming a fixture in the Super Bowl experience.
Following Super Bowl LII, the team partnered with KultureCity, a non-profit based in Birmingham, Alabama to create a sensory-inclusive environment at Lincoln Financial Field. Its purpose is to ensure a positive fan experience for Eagles faithful within the often loud and overstimulating environment.
The sensory room prevents fans from missing out on a special experience by offering a place to take a break from the crowds and decompress or reset instead of exiting the stadium. This allows the autism community and beyond the opportunity to celebrate the Eagles without the concern of the standard "no re-entry" policy at the stadium.
"One in six of us has a sensory need. Whether it be autism, anxiety, PTSD, Dementia, Parkinson's, ADHD, or even a whole host of other rarer or even undiagnosed conditions. Oftentimes, for these individuals, loud places, crowds, noise, lighting effects, and other external stimuli can be overwhelming and sometimes physically painful, depending on what their sensitivity is," said Uma Srivastava, KultureCity's Executive Director.
"Even though these individuals might be the biggest Eagles fans, an environment like gameday might be overwhelming. Our goal is to provide tools so that folks are able to come in, enjoy, step away for 10 to 15 minutes, and go back in."
The sensory room at Lincoln Financial Field has provided hundreds of fans with helpful resources since its establishment. So in January, when the NFC Championship Game was approaching and a Super Bowl berth was well within reach, the Eagles Autism Foundation reconnected with KultureCity to devise a plan to ensure fans traveling to Arizona will be met with the same resources they'd have in Philadelphia.
"We live our mission, it's a part of who we are. It's weaved authentically into the fabric of the Eagles. We're playing in Arizona for the Super Bowl, so that means that the mission will continue to be executed there when we are on the ground," Hammond said.
KultureCity has built partnerships with 17 NFL teams since it began working with the Eagles in 2019. This weekend, KultureCity will unveil a permanent sensory room to be utilized for Super Bowl LVII and all future events.
In addition to the sensory room, there will be many resources available on Sunday and during the festivities leading up to it.
Here's what to expect:
• At the NFL Super Bowl Fan experience, there will be a sensory vehicle available near the Pickleball courts. This will take place at the Phoenix Convention Center.
• At Music Fest, there will be a sensory room near Guest Services. This will take place at the Footprint Center.
• On gameday at State Farm Stadium, there will be a sensory room located outside of section 104 on the main concourse.
• At all three events, there will be sensory bags that include headphones, a SWOOP plush doll, and more. All you need to do is ask!
Here are some additional resources:
The Eagles are committed to ensuring the autism community has the resources they need, whether they're cheering on the team from Philadelphia or on the road. Click here for more information about how to donate or get involved with the Eagles Autism Foundation!