‘Through collaborations, we make an impact inside and outside the pitch’

Whoever thinks of football in Utrecht thinks of FC Utrecht. The club in the heart of the Netherlands is much more than that. In the middle of Utrecht, Heart of Health, the club contributes to a vital and healthy region. “Through our innovation platform FC Utrecht Next, starting companies can try out their innovations in the field of sports, health and exercise. Our stadium and the area around us is one big ‘living lab’.”

Within FC Utrecht Next, the club collaborates with knowledge institutions, the government and companies. “We offer start-ups, students and young professionals a stage to debut and grow. With us you can experiment,” says Sonny van Kranenburg, Manager Brand Activation. During The Pitch event, start-ups present their plans. For example, Swappsport introduces people to different sports, Sport-Planner gets people moving, Mr. Fill makes smart litter bins to combat litter worldwide and the Lees Simpel App turns difficult texts into understandable language. “Together we form a coalition that wants to take the next step, the next level. With this initiative, we want to create a leading example in the field of innovation and cooperation.”

Sportcampus

The cooperation FC Utrecht seeks sets the club apart from other clubs in the region. “Companies that normally work individually work together because we throw up a ball. For example, we work with five top clubs around us in Sportcampus Traiectum on healthy urban living. It is a breeding ground for sports and vitality. There we bring talents, athletes and coaches together, among other things. But we also do research on sports, exercise and vitality.”

Positive influence

“As a soccer club in Utrecht, Heart of Health, we want to contribute to a more vital and healthy environment,” Van Kranenburg continued. “Through our strong brand, we can have a positive influence. We can reach and connect people. In our stadium, everyone from society comes together.”

Meaningful change

UMC Utrecht is also a loyal partner. “Under the banner of ‘Wear that Band,’ we are creating awareness about measuring blood pressure,” says Dr. K. K., who is a member of the group. High blood pressure is one of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. On several occasions, captains wore a special “Wear that Band!” captain’s band to encourage people to measure their blood pressure annually. Van Kranenburg knows the collaboration makes meaningful change. “It touches me when a tough truck driver tells me he likes to have his blood pressure tested for his club, especially after losing a friend himself. That shows how valuable it is to spread the knowledge of UMC Utrecht.”

Social connection

But the club also has social connection high on its agenda. “As a club at the heart of society, we know how sport can fraternize. At matches, 20,000 people sit here with the same feeling. We don’t know each other, and together we form a unit.” To connect even more people, the club organizes, for example, a big Christmas dinner in Stadion Galgenwaard for lonely Utrechters at Christmas. By celebrating Christmas together they don’t feel alone. That contributes to good social fitness. “A lady of 100 years sends us an e-mail months in advance that she is looking forward to it. Nowadays she brings her friends from the nursing home. Wonderful!”

Footballers as role models

The association also succeeds in inspiring young people by using soccer players as role models. For example, players explain to children at elementary school the importance of drinking water every day. “In the class where the soccer players drew attention to this, more water was drunk months later than in the class where the teacher talked about this. That’s the power of an athlete as a role model.”

Heart of the neighborhood

Furthermore, the club moves into the neighborhood for positive social change. With FC Utrecht in de Wijk, the club embraces an amateur club in the region. “Together we are looking at how the club can become the heart of the neighborhood. A clubhouse where local residents feel comfortable. A place where young people can develop their talents.” Sports events, workshops and educational programs are also part of this project.

Building together

The mix of sport, knowledge, expertise and network, according to Van Kranenburg, is a powerful tool to make an impact on society, both inside and outside the soccer field. Through all the initiatives, the club hopes to show other places in the world that you can achieve more together than alone. “We really do it as a team, just like with soccer. Alone you go fast, but together you get further. Of course everyone does it in their own way, but together we contribute to the big picture. Together we build a place where we live long in good health, have fun together and leave the region beautiful for future generations.”

Sonny Van Kranenburg

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‘Through collaborations, we make an impact inside and outside the pitch’

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