How does it work?
Pledgeball was founded in 2019 by me, Katie Cross. It came about initially as a solution for the feelings of despair and consequent apathy felt by those around me in the face of climate change.
I belong to a Bristol-based football team, the Misfits. Sat beside some 5 a-side pitches one Thursday evening, some Misfits and I came up with the inaugural Pledgeball tournament – a tournament where the only fee to enter was to make a small lifestyle pledge. As we researched lifestyle choices, we were amazed at the impact that small changes could have and stunned by their impact when we plugged in some football numbers. Such small changes really could have a huge direct impact on reducing carbon emissions if we encouraged teams, stadiums and entire fan bases to make them.
Following this the idea grew into what it is today.
Why Pledgeball works/our Research
In September 2020, we launched with our pioneer club, the truly amazing Brighton-based Whitehawk FC. I managed to attend the opening home fixture and launch Pledgeball – what a club! Chants about anti-racism, anti-homophobia, a no swearing rule, stickers promoting these messages and the fans changing ends at half time.
Our strategy very quickly had to adapt, as matches were suspended due to the pandemic. In normal circumstances Pledgeball works by encouraging fans to make pledges in support of their team (and the environment) every match day. Whilst the teams compete on the pitch, fans compete virtually by choosing from a list of pledges (ranging from using a reusable cup to installing solar panels). The team of fans that pledges to save the most carbon emissions wins that fixture, that Pledge-Off, and their position in the Pledgeball League is also determined by the cumulative amount they have pledged to save. Alongside the club, each home-fixture we also support fans to carry out these pledges by focusing on one particular fan-chosen pledge and providing supporting information and resources (eg vegan recipe cards, bike-servicing). So much for the plan – we quickly had to come up with a pandemic-adapted idea and so created the Virtual Pledgeball Lockdown League, which kicked off in January 2021.
Through the partnership with Whitehawk FC , I met one of their fans, Dr Mark Doidge, research fellow at the University of Brighton and international expert in football fandom. Mark has now become integral to Pledgeball’s working. His knowledge of football fandom and mobilising fans meant that he met the idea of Pledgeball with utter enthusiasm, convinced that football fans do indeed have the power to bring about the changes needed to address (not only) climate change. Jenny Amann, a Werder Bremen supporter who is now in the final phase of her Global Studies Master at the University of Gothenburg, did a research internship with Mark and chose to write her thesis on the impact of Pledgeball on individual’s behaviours and, more importantly, on their environmental awareness and attitude.
While we’re waiting for the research results and offline matches to return so that we can finally implement our offline Pledgeball plan, let me share some of the feedback we’ve been able to collect since our launch in September 2020. Fans who have pledged (Pledgeballers) have found the process empowering, seeing what small things can be done and also what huge impact these have collectively. Not only has it encouraged Pledgeballers to carry out the behaviour changes they have pledged to do, but it has also instigated a ‘raised consciousness’. After viewing the list of suggested pledges, Pledgeballers have been considering their environmental impact in other aspects of their lives, this raised awareness and feeling of empowerment influencing their day to day choices
Pledgeball works by addressing the barriers that prevent us from taking action – the feelings of being overwhelmed, powerless and unsure of what to do. It not only initiates and supports individual behaviour change but it introduces a new awareness, the impact of which spreads far beyond reducing carbon emissions as each Pledgeballer influences family, friends, clubs and companies and systems through their choices.
Football is a perfect platform for Pledgeball, as fans from all walks of life come together (virtually as well as actually) on a regular basis for one purpose and with passion. Clubs’ involvements also mean that practical support can be provided to facilitate fans carrying out the pledges. This is partly why, if you are a Club reading this, your involvement is invaluable.
Now and Next
Pledgeball can be taken on by anyone – an individual, a fan group, an amateur team, a Supporters’ Association, a club. Any fixtures can be added to the website beyond those that automatically appear – you need only contact us.
Now in March 2021, we have adapted our strategy in light of our pilot and are recruiting and preparing our second round of clubs, amongst whom are our first Championship Club and Huddersfield Town Supporters’ Association. We are also very excited to have fans return to Whitehawk’s Terrapurra to use the fixtures to support the fans in the changes they pledge to make. We are still recruiting clubs from all leagues to be involved in this second round.
And there is also a lot going on off the pitch/between match days:
– We joined with Spirit of Football for The Ball’s next World Cup Journey that will use football’s reach to highlight climate action taking place all over the world and create an inclusive platform to exchange ideas and enable creative and innovative responses to tackle climate change.
– We have and are running undergrad and masters workshops alongside Spirit of Football, having completed ones so far at the University of Erfurt and the University of Warwick
We now have a team of volunteers working with us – Dr Mark Doidge and Jenny Amann on research and development, Carlos Kassman and Josh Weinstock on social media, Kevin Miller, Phil Mepham on PR, my husband, Spencer, on a lot of the media (besides all the other forms of support and consultation) and my Dad on the website.
We have had input from a very kind bunch of individuals, many Misfits including Rose Worley, Lisa Hyam-Lee and Laura Fox, Hannah Craig of the opposition team the Bristols from the Bristol Women’s Casual League, a footballing friend, Nik, Amanda and James Medcalf and Jamie Lambert.
And then we have countless advocates from a variety of fan bases, who are what will make this work.