When it comes to sports marketing, corporate-sponsored bobble heads, magnetic team schedules and giant foam fingers may come to mind. These items are fun and still present at most stadiums. However, fans are becoming accustomed to seeing professional franchises in every major sport using charitable community outreach as a significant marketing tool.

Young fans have growing accustomed to seeing large book buses roll into the parking lots of their schools. The Charlotte Hornets and Oklahoma City Thunder are great examples of this. Fans are thrilled when Reading Rooms pop-up at their local Boys & Girls Clubs (courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers). And fans expect to read articles, or see Tweets or posts highlighting the latest charitable outreach event powered by team mascots, cheer squads, players, and coaches.

Though many teams in the NBA have been pioneers for literacy outreach, they are not alone in their support for the health and education of young people. NHL, MLS, NFL and MLB teams all have community outreach departments—many with budgets as large as their marketing departments—and all are charged with getting out into the community to support young people in need. They work with local businesses to raise funds for new libraries and community centers. Programs like NFL Play 60 help to generate funds and create a culture that fights childhood obesity. Other charitable efforts are aimed at health issues like childhood cancer. Team entourages are regularly seen visiting local schools, inspiring young people as they share stories of reaching their dreams. They often hand out free books, book bags, school supplies, clothing, and sporting equipment.

Professional athletes and the teams they are affiliated with are often maligned due to the enormous amount of money they earn. Rarely, are they applauded for the work they do to support underprivileged youth, or the charitable foundations they support and/or fund. Take a closer look at this wave of philanthropy and you will see that these sports businesses are successfully using community outreach as a way to build stronger brands and a larger fan base. And it’s working. The leagues keep growing and their charitable efforts do too.  Philanthropic marketing in sports has virtually replaced traditional marketing—and the big winners are the young people being courted.