Touch football fundraisers appear at NFL stadiums
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — When Nicole Fountain was on the staff for MetLife Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands, planning events was among her main duties.
Fountain worked with such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift, who staged concerts in the building. She organized major events and oversaw social media for the stadium while running media relations during Giants, Jets and college football games and international soccer matches.
Then she had an idea that has morphed into something special: Touch of Football, a fundraiser for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.
"I had joined forces with the foundation's local chapter in New Jersey," says Fountain, who suffers from the inflammatory bowel disease. "I was about to do a half-marathon with the foundation and was asking about all the things they put on. I was always looking to host new events, and perhaps bring more awareness to the foundation and fundraising.
"I had the idea to put on a charity football tournament in the stadium."
The Giants and Jets were interested in helping, and in 2011 the event debuted. More than $100,000 was raised.
"A ton of teams wanted to not only have the experience of taking the field during the NFL season on the same turf as their favorite players on the Jets and Giants," Fountain explains, "but there were all these people who knew someone that had the disease who didn't realize anything was being done on a local level.
"So we started doing it annually at the stadium."
Soon, four other NFL stadiums were hosting Touch of Football games, in Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis and Foxborough, Massachusetts. By the end of 2018, the Touch of Football events are projected to have raised $2.7 million.
On Sunday, the eighth annual New Jersey tournament will take place at MetLife Stadium and is projected to raise nearly $115,000.
It's estimated that more than 3 million people in the United States have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation is the largest nonprofit, voluntary, health organization dedicated to finding cures for the diseases and to improve the quality of life of children and adults who are affected by these diseases.
The Foundation works to fulfill its mission by funding research; providing educational resources for patients and their families, medical professionals, and the public; and furnishing supportive services for those afflicted.
There are 38 chapters of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation in the nation.
Among those afflicted are such athletes and former pros as Larry Nance Jr., David Garrard and Matt Light.
"Eighty cents of what we raise per dollar goes to mission activity including research," says Jeanine Kober, the foundation's communications manager. "We have programs and support to help with the quality of life, and every person's journey is unique and different. We have local education and coaching as well as online, and health centers. We offer quite a bit in terms of support to our patients."
The foundation holds more than 100 events annually ranging from galas and luncheons to golf tournaments and fishing tournaments.
The touch football games at the NFL stadiums are particularly popular and even bring out local celebrities.
In Seattle, Pro Football Hall of Famer Walter Jones, one of the most popular players the Seahawks have had, attended the 2017 event and then fielded a team this year that included former Seahawk Cliff Avril. Lawyer Milloy, Spencer Hawes, and Pearl Jam's Mike McCready have attended.
"When the foundation books the stadium for that day, they get all the digital outlets to help promote sponsors of their event," Fountain says. "We do a lot of sponsor outreach for the tournament. It's expensive to put on these events, so to offset that we bring in sponsors.
"In New Jersey, we're fortunate to have support from the Giants and Jets. The Giants are a presenting sponsor and helping to offset costs. The Jets donated a package of tickets to help with our fundraising efforts. The (participating touch football) team that fund-raises the most money gets to attend a Jets game together."
Even better, they're aiding an important cause.