Photo courtesy of the National Black Bank Foundation.

Major League Soccer’s Deal With Black Banks Emphasizes Influence Sports Have on DEI

Several months ago, we wrote about the creation of The Colt’s Tony Dungy Diversity Fellowship and the positive impact it will hopefully have on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in football and what other teams across sports can learn from it. 

And this month, we’ve seen yet another example of the influence sports can have on DEI. 

Back in March, Major League Soccer struck a $25 million loan with seven Black-owned banking institutions to “change the perception of the banks’ capacity to do business with large companies and better impact the communities they serve,” according to The Tennessean. And so far, MLS has achieved that mission. 

In the time since the deal happened, those banks have struck deals worth millions in capital to reinvest in the Black community and the underserved neighborhoods within close proximity to the banks. Not all of the banks involved in the MLS deal have produced the exact same results, but one bank in particular, Atlanta-based Citizens Trust Bank, has “significantly increased its footprint in funding the Black community,” The Tennessean writes. 

Citizens Trust Bank was assembled by the National Black Bank Foundation and served as a mediator in the MLS deal. Jason Eppenger, Alabama Market President for the bank, told The Tennessean that his branch in Birmingham, Alabama, has achieved “two to three” sizable deals valued at $10 million in capital that he attributed to the exposure from the MLS deal. 

The Birmingham branch of the bank has lent more than $5 million to affordable housing developers “ to rehab more than 60 dilapidated units in predominantly-Black neighborhoods across Birmingham,” the news outlet writes. 

“Our bank specifically, CTB, has historically been real estate-heavy in the transactions that we do and so this (MLS deal) was a different avenue for us to earn,” Eppenger told the news outlet. “And the more diversification that we can get in earnings, in my opinion, it just allows the banks to be more dynamic in the communities that they serve.”

What the MLS Deal Means for Black Banks

In 1976, there were more than 50 Black-owned banks in the United States. Since then, that number has dwindled to 18, according to the National Black Bank Foundation. 

Because Black banks are limited by undercapitalization, that has “restricted the flow of credit [the sector] could create for underserved borrowers,” the National Black Bank Foundation reports. And because Black banks are thought to be limited in human and capital resources, many major companies have overlooked them, National Black Bank Foundation co-founder Brandon Comer told The Tennessean. But this partnership with MLS could signal that line of thought is changing. 

“Major League Soccer’s partnership with the National Black Bank Foundation is a tangible step in the efforts to close the racial economic gap in the United States, and it’s the right business decision for us,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement

“As a league, we continue to increase our initiatives in support of racial justice. In order to make a genuine impact, economic justice must be part of the equation. This transaction with a syndicate of community-focused Black banks is an important measure, and it is our hope this will raise awareness of the importance of Black-owned banks and their impact on the economy,” Garber added.

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