The Travis Roy Foundation WIFFLE® Ball Challenge

Each year, about 17,700 new spinal cord injuries occur in America. Established in 1997, the Travis Roy Foundation (TRF) set off on a mission to help find a cure for spinal cord injuries (SCI) and maintain the well-being of survivors. The foundation was established by Travis Roy, a Boston University hockey player whose athletic career was devastated by his spinal cord injury at the age of 20. Spinal cord injuries affect every aspect, mentally and physically, of survivors’ lives. TRF raises donations that fund SCI research and provide survivors with the necessary equipment to manage their daily lives.

Travis Roy is a Boston University College of Communication alumnus. AdLab, BU COM’s student-run ad agency, has maintained a close working relationship with Travis and his foundation. Many students have had the meaningful experience of working with Travis Roy and gained valuable knowledge about communications, and just life, from him and his team. The foundation is near and dear to our hearts.

Every year TRF hosts a WIFFLE® Ball Tournament at Little Wrigley, Little Fenway, and Little Field of Dreams in Essex, Vermont. Over 19 years, TRF has raised over $6.4 million for SCI survivors. This is their largest event of the year, with over 30 teams of participants. This event is something that TRF fans look forward to all year. It’s a way for people to make new friends, see old friends, and help support spinal cord injury survivors. It maintains the foundation’s community, brings in the most donation dollars, and spreads awareness to new individuals. This year, due to COVID-19, TRF had to find a way to make this event virtual. It was devastating to cancel the event, but we knew that there could be an alternative that kept the TRF message alive.

TRF came to AdLab with this COVID-19 challenge. Our team of five passionate AdLab students were eager to help TRF execute their annual event in a creative way because we did not want COVID-19 to be a barrier to generating donations and awareness. So, we put our heads together and found a way to bring the WIFFLE® Ball Tournament to the social media playing field.

We developed the WIFFLE® Ball Challenge by encouraging people to bring the tournament to wherever they are. What can you hit a WIFFLE® ball over? Your house? Your pool? There was no scoreboard, just a hashtag: #BatterUpTRF. We gave participants three easy steps: swing, post, tag. The rules were simple:

  1. Film a short video of you hitting the WIFFLE® ball over any obstacle.
  2. Post on Facebook or Instagram using our script as your caption.
  3. Challenge 3 teammates to #BatterUpTRF and tag them in the post. They’ve got 48 hours!

The challenge started organically. TRF’s Facebook and Instagram channels posted a graphic introducing the challenge and outlining the rules. We created a landing page for the WIFFLE® Ball Challenge on the TRF website that explained the rules and even showed where to buy a WIFFLE® ball and bat. Travis Roy personally reached out to past WIFFLE® Ball Tournament attendees encouraging them to participate. He also posted a motivational video announcing the challenge, showing that this was a way for the TRF community to come together to make a difference during a trying time.

People stepped up to the plate. Organically, #BatterUpTRF was mentioned over 6,000 times and TRF’s social accounts received 489,000 impressions during the time of the challenge. The TRF feed began to fill up with reshares of old and new TRF fans hitting WIFFLE® balls over their homes, local landmarks, and even their dogs. Influencers joined the challenge, posting videos on their own accounts, creating even more momentum. Notable participants included comedian Bill Burr, Utah Jazz player George Sniang, NESN analyst Billy Jaffe, and Boston Patriots player Mark Rossetti. The challenge also sparked Boston pride and caught the attention of local micro-influencers such as Boston Pride player Sammy Davis, Boston College hockey Coach York, Boston radio personality Jermaine Wiggins and BU terrier hockey players. These personalities helped the challenge pick up speed.

The challenge gained momentum with the Fenway Park Challenge. Here, TRF partnered with Boston Red Sox by giving three grand prize winners the opportunity to hit a WIFFLE® ball over the real Green Monster. Categories included Most Impressive Hit, Biggest Wiff, and Most Creative Video. This friendly competition encouraged more participation and created a community of WIFFLE® Ball Challenge athletes.

In total, the TRF WIFFLE® Ball Challenge raised over $31,000 donations. Our team was proud to have continued the legacy of the TRF WIFFLE® Ball Tournament through social media. The TRF WIFFLE® Ball Challenge was just as successful as if it was in person. This challenge proves that with creativity, a pandemic won’t stop people from coming together (virtually) to make a difference and spread awareness.