Friday, March 29, 2013

Do You Need an App?

The last blog post discussed apps as branded experiences, featuring Nike Training Club and Go Pro Workouts as apps that bring professional athletes into users' training routines. The takeaway was that apps can be a valuable addition to a firm's product portfolio. Apps can engage people with your brand, build loyalty through repeat interactions with an app, and even create revenue. The benefits of apps make them an intriguing possibility to incorporate into product strategy. But, before visualizing your slick new app on a smartphone or tablet, ask the all-important question "do we need an app?"

The issue of whether app development would be beneficial to a brand has less to do with deciding if an app is needed and more to do with whether customers value an app associated with your brand. Apps are not novelties; they are products... even when you give an app away. A product delivers benefits valued by customers. If benefits of app usage is perceived to justify the "cost" (time or money) to acquire and use the app, then developing an app would be an appropriate marketing decision. On the other hand, app development driven primarily by IT groups with little regard for what users would want or value from an app are futile efforts.

The question of the usefulness of an app inspired this post, but the source of inspiration was not directly from sports. A feature at about an app that empowers users to track what makes them happy in their daily lives offers a lesson to sports marketers. The idea behind the Track Your Happiness app is for users to be able to capture the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in their daily activities that contribute to their happiness. Although skeptics wonder how an app could possibly figure out what makes us happy, the point is that the Track Your Happiness app responds to a need that so many people crave- the quest to be happy.

Sports marketers responsible for developing digital marketing strategy can learn from the concept behind Track Your Happiness. Deliver value by giving people what is important to them. For users of Track Your Happiness, it is happiness. For Yahoo! Sportacular, it is about having access to a virtual buffet of scores and news from a wide range of sports. Convenience, inside access, or in-depth information are other examples of benefits that users might seek from digital interaction with a sports brand via an app. The 5Ps of sports marketing presented in Sports Marketing begins with Positioning, which focuses on understanding customers and their needs. Platform is how we respond to those needs, including development of apps as branded digital experiences. It is no coincidence that Positioning is the catalyst of sports marketing; without a keen understanding of customers it is unrealistic to expect that effective marketing decisions can be made.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Apps as Branded Experiences

How did we ever get along without apps? I'm kidding, of course, but the emergence of apps as part of the experience of using a smartphone or tablet has changed how marketers and consumers interact with the Web. Recent statistics estimate more than 800,000 apps are available for Apple devices and more than 670,000 apps developed for the Android platform. Apps play a part in extending our sports consumption beyond the TV or computer. They let us watch March Madness games, get scores and news in real-time, and make adjustments to fantasy team rosters. Apps are more than a communication channel; they are a digital experience that can be used to strengthen existing brands or build new ones.

An example of how apps can go beyond being a website shortcut and be a highly interactive experience is development of fitness apps that feature professional athletes as virtual personal trainers. One such app is Nike Training Club, a free app available for iOS and Android platforms, that includes 15-minute workout videos led by professional athletes. Tennis star Serena Williams is the most notable celebrity trainer in Nike Training Club. Another app, Go Pro Workouts, is an element of a digital fitness program format that sells for $49.99 and counts NFL players Von Miller and Jamaal Charles among its virtual trainers. Using well-known athletes brings awareness and instant credibility to these digital fitness products.

Apps are products, but resist the temptation to think about them as only products. The power of apps is their ability to engage people with a brand repeatedly and extensively. If you are an app user, particularly for sports, are there certain apps you go to over and over? For many people, perhaps it is ESPN ScoreCenter. For others, it might be MLB At Bat. (ESPN ScoreCenter and MLB At Bat are among top 10 downloaded apps from iTunes App Store). These apps are extensions of high equity brands. But, an app need not be linked to an established brand to be valuable.

Technology makes app development relatively easy, but beware that a lousy user experience can cause an app to deliver an unintended negative blow to a brand. Too often, I hear marketers wondering out loud "maybe we need an app" without really having a clear strategy or tapping the potential for apps to create unique experiences for users. Nike Training Club and Go Pro Workouts get it; the perceived value in an app is influenced by the benefits derived from the user experience. - "In New Apps, Professional Athletes become Personal Trainers"

Monday, March 25, 2013

No NHL was no Problem for CCM

CCM, a hockey equipment brand marketed by Reebok, recognized a potential threat last year. The possibility of a player lockout by the NHL would be a blow to a company whose products are used by hundreds of players. Interest in CCM products among youth and adult hockey players stood to take a hit if the exposure CCM enjoyed via the NHL was affected by a lockout. Reebok/CCM's worst fears were realized when the players were locked out on September 15th. The protracted work stoppage ran all the way to mid-January, and half of the 2012-2013 schedule was wiped out. Utilizing the NHL and its players as a communications channel was largely impossible during the lockout, but CCM was prepared to keep its brand relevant among key audiences.

The threat of a lockout led CCM to develop a campaign that focused on engaging youth hockey players. After all, this market would still exist and have needs regardless of whether the NHL lockout occurred. One tactic used to maintain CCM's relevance among youth hockey players was to sponsor a hockey camp for elite 11-and 12-year-old players. The program was carried out in eight North American cities in 2012 and will be expanded to 16 cities this year. Also, CCM switched its print advertising focus during the lockout from featuring player endorsers to targeting youth players through its "Start Your Legend" campaign. CCM has an impressive roster of young NHL stars as endorsers including John Tavares, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Carey Price. But, with those players out of action during the lockout CCM switched gears and focused on the youth player market.

The key to building a strong brand is being relevant among the audience you seek to serve. CCM has been a staple in the hockey equipment market for years because youth players value CCM's products. Player endorsements can be an effective means of building familiarity and liking for a brand. But, for a product like hockey equipment it is not enough to associate it with star pro players. Grassroots hockey players might take notice of a product endorsed by an NHL star, but ultimately their decision on which brand of stick or skates to buy will come down to answering the question "what's in it for me?" CCM understood the importance of building relevance among youth players by taking the message directly to them where they are right now.

CCM's Facebook page exemplifies marketing communications best practices on multiple fronts. The page itself is a great example of how social media can be used to complement traditional mass media advertising. CCM's 132,000-plus community on Facebook gives the brand far greater reach than it could achieve with print advertising alone. Also, CCM's Facebook page celebrates two relevant player segments for the brand, featuring videos of star NHL players using CCM products as well as amateur players who seem to be heeding CCM's call to "start your legend."

Marketing communications is the "voice" of the brand. Marketers have a variety of communication tools available to reach and engage target markets. Different tools such as advertising, public relations, social media, and sales promotions have their own strengths and limitations. CCM has long used advertising to associate its products with star NHL players, and it should continue to do so. At the same time, experiential marketing to youth players through hockey camps and engaging people interested with the brand through social media are important tools in their own right. Together, the different communication channels used by CCM work to create synergy in communicating the brand's relevance. Although CCM did a masterful job of managing its brand during the NHL lockout, it would be safe to say that CCM executives are relieved that the NHL and its players have made labor peace for the next 10 years.

Sports Business Journal - "CCM's Youth Focus Helps Allay Lockout Pain" (subscription required)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Customer Experience is the New Black

Marketers sling the words "engagement" and "experience" like politicians trade barbs about their opponents - often and sometimes recklessly. They are ideas talked about a lot but tend to fall short in being realized. So, when good customer experience is recognized it can be like a breath of fresh air (instead of hot air). The Chief Customer Officer Council has named its Chief Customer Officer of the Year for 2013, an award that acknowledges a leader whose organization demonstrates a commitment to building customer relationships, cultivating profitable customer behaviors, and creates a customer-centered culture.

The recipient is Pete Winemiller, Senior Vice President of Guest Relations, for the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA franchise. The team has a reputation for offering one of the most exciting game atmospheres in the NBA and was number one in ESPN the Magazine Ultimate Franchise Rankings in 2012. The fact that Winemiller and the OKC Thunder received the award is not surprising when you consider the mindset of the organization:
  • The Thunder aspires to be "the most fan-centric organization in professional sports"
  • The dedication of all employees, particularly front-line service personnel, is cited as a key to success
  • The experience created is seen as a way to reinforce the organization's core values to customers
Curtis Bingham, CCO Council executive director, says that the customer is the most important ingredient for business success, not product, service, or technology. Bingham refers to customer experience as "the new black," a popular mindset that must become ingrained in an organization's values in order for it to reach its potential as a source of competitive advantage.  Bingham adds that products and services are increasingly becoming commodities, making customer experience the most powerful differentiator available to a marketer.

Customer experience may be the new black, but it should not be viewed merely as a fad or trend. When a business desires to have ongoing relationships with customers, a focus on experiences that convey the firm's values as well as delivers value will be appreciated by customers and stand out in an environment in which many companies talk a good game about experiences but often do not deliver.

Direct Marketing News - "Aligning Customer Experience and Marketing at NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder"

This posted appeared originally in the Marketing DR blog on October 30, 2012.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Your Story is Your Brand

Yesterday, my friend and colleague Dr. Colby Jubenville spoke to my sports marketing students. His visit has become a tradition in my class as I look to Colby to share his insights as a former football coach and mentor to graduate sport management students. Among the points Colby made to the class was the importance of telling your story. After all, our personal brand and identity are comprised largely of the stories of the events, trials, and accomplishments of our lives. Our story makes each of us unique, enabling us to stand out in a crowded field of personal brands that all want the same thing: a shot at working in sports business.

One of the most poignant suggestions Dr. Jubenville made with regard to the importance of our brand story is that if it is difficult to tell or reads more like a short story than a novel, we must work on creating more content. How? By getting off the couch or from behind the screen and experiencing life! For students aspiring to launch a career in sports business, it means acquiring relevant experiences and becoming immersed in the industry. A suggestion that fits point was made by Rob Farinella, founder and president of Atlanta-based Blue Sky Agency, who says people wanting to work in sports business should become a fan of sports business. Read publications and blogs on sports marketing, follow sports business professionals on Twitter, join relevant groups on LinkedIn. In other words, let sports business consume you like baseball fanatics track batting averages and ERA. The knowledge gained and interactions experienced if this strategy is followed will help in building one's brand as a prospective sports business professional.

In addition to committing to following sports business, we build brand stories through what we do. For students wanting to position themselves for sports business careers that means attending presentations by business experts (regardless of whether it is sports related), reaching out to meet and learn from people already in the industry, and volunteering to gain experiences that add to knowledge. Our stories arise from what happen to us; it is hard to write a story about "nothing"... unless you are Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza!

We should always be working on our brand story. One of the best pieces of advice is this quote from Charles "Tremendous" Jones: "You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read." You are author of the most important story that needs to be told- your personal brand story. Your story is your brand; prepare for your career now by working on the stories that define you.

Monday, March 18, 2013

March Madness: A Branding Wonder

The NCAA basketball tournament is more than a sporting event; it has become a part of our popular culture. Even the most casual sports fan associates "March Madness" and "The Big Dance" with the NCAA tournament. Its status as a cultural icon is enhanced through 24/7 coverage in sports media, non-stop conversations in social media, and increased interest in the women's tournament. The evolution of the NCAA basketball tournament should be the envy of marketers in any industry. Why? It has become an example of how building a strong brand can set the stage for developing new brands that are extensions of the core successful brand.

The NCAA basketball tournament is not a brand; it is a family of distinctive individual brands. Some of the brands are owned by the NCAA, while others are creations of media partners. Regardless of origin, the end result is a powerful core brand, one that was worth $10.8 billion in TV broadcast rights in a 14-year contract the NCAA signed with CBS and Turner Sports in 2010. The competition on the court is intense and exciting no doubt, but what exactly makes this event so valuable? Consider the following brands that the tournament has spawned:

  • March Madness
  • The Big Dance
  • Championship Week
  • Selection Sunday
  • Sweet Sixteen
  • Final Four
  • Big Dance Concert Series
You get the point - the success of the core product led to brand extensions that only added to the stature of the NCAA basketball tournament. Successful products do not automatically mean brand extensions will succeed. Look no further than Mobile ESPN and the XFL for examples of new products rolled out by strong brands that failed miserably. The NCAA basketball tournament and its brand extensions succeed because of the intense emotional connection people have with them. The drama and excitement of the games, predicting what teams will be selected, and of course which team will win it all make for captivating entertainment that the best writers would have trouble creating for television.

March Madness is in full swing- here's hoping your bracket is the best ever in 2013. And, if your team is in the tournament for the first time ever or returning after a long absence (say 24 years like my MTSU Blue Raiders), enjoy the dance.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Athletes are Temporary; Brands are Enduring

Athletes are among the most popular celebrity endorsers. Associating high profile athletes with brands makes use of their popularity to build brand awareness. And, the endearing traits of great sports personalities can become associated with the brands they endorse. A great example is Gatorade's "Be Like Mike" campaign; it created a strong connection between Michael Jordan's unique athletic abilities and Gatorade's products. For the most part, associations people hold for athletes are relatively permanent. They do not change when an athlete retires. It seems that we prefer to remember athletes at their prime and hold onto the most positive memories and associations.

The fact that new brands are enduring helps explain a licensing agreement announced recently by Steiner Sports, a sports collectibles and memorabilia company. Steiner Sports is planning to develop a line of products that celebrate Joe DiMaggio, the New York Yankees legend. In his life after baseball, DiMaggio was perhaps best known for endorsing Mr.Coffee products. The licensing agreement with Steiner Sports is not the first for the DiMaggio brand; AriZona Beverage began selling a "Joltin' Joe" coffee product last year.

Although Joe DiMaggio has been deceased 14 years and has not played baseball in more than 60 years, his brand remains relevant in our culture today. Background provided by the official Joe DiMaggio website sheds light on his brand has endured. Three characteristics of the DiMaggio brand are particularly salient:

  • Joe = American Dream - Son of Italian immigrants who rose from a poor childhood to pinnacle of success in his chosen sport
  • Joe = Hope - His 56-game hitting streak in 1941 was refreshing to a country that has just emerged from economic depression and was about to go to war
  • Joe = Us - His story of hard work and following a dream is one that has been pursued by millions
In sports, athletes come and go; the average career for professional athletes is less than five years. Even most athletes that exceed the average fade away and younger players take their turn. But, certain athletes leave an impression that lasts far beyond their time on the field of play. Heroic accomplishments on the field coupled with an endearing personality off the field make athletes like Joe DiMaggio remarkable as product endorsers and relevant brands long after their playing days are over.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tecate Implements Market Segmentation Strategy via Sponsorship

Tecate has carved out a market in the highly competitive beer category by targeting Hispanics almost exclusively. The shift in demographic characteristics of the American population has given Tecate a steadily growing target market, and long-term demographic projections suggest targeting Hispanics will be a very viable strategy for years to come. Despite the seemingly good fit between Tecate and the demographics of the U.S. market, it would be a mistake for the brand to view Hispanics as a single market segment. The characteristics of the Hispanic demographic can be broken down further into first generation and later generation segments. While Tecate's brand and messaging resonated well for Hispanics newer to the U.S., reaching second- and third-generation Hispanics who are considered more bi-cultural represented an opportunity that Tecate could pursue.

Sports sponsorship has become an important marketing vehicle for Tecate to expand its relevance among Hispanic Americans. One property that Tecate has used successfully to reach its target audience in the Grand Prix of Long Beach. The event, a three-day "festival of speed" scheduled for April 19-21, was one of the most successful events for the Champ Car Series and was woven into the IndyCar Series schedule when the two leagues merged in 2008. The Grand Prix of Long Beach offers more than racing; it includes concerts, a lifestyle expo, and family fun zone. Tecate has been associated with the event as "Official Malt Beverage Sponsor" for twelve years. But, an association via sponsorship is only the beginning of the story for Tecate.

The demographic characteristics of Grand Prix of Long Beach attendees are a favorable match with Tecate's targeting strategy of expanding its appeal among later generation Hispanic Americans. It is estimated that thirty percent of the event's 150,000 attendees are Hispanic, and Tecate has prominent exposure throughout the weekend. Tecate is bringing its sponsorship to life through several different activation tactics. It is title sponsor of concerts on Friday and Saturday nights. The brand is also sponsor of the Miss Tecate Light Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach competition. Another on-site activation is an experiential exhibit in which fans can get their picture made in Victory Lane celebration scene with Tecate Light brand ambassadors. Tecate has complemented its event marketing plans on race weekend with a retail sweepstakes in California and Nevada with prizes including a VIP racing experience.

Tecate's sponsorship of the Grand Prix of Long Beach is an excellent example of how sponsorship should connect with a brand's overall marketing strategy. The marketing objective for Tecate is to expand the market for its products to a different segment of the Hispanic population. Sponsorship is being used as a vehicle to implement the market segmentation strategy. Too often, sponsorships are under taken without a clear connection to marketing and business strategy. Those decisions are destined for failure most of the time. In contrast, Tecate has a clear expectation of what its association with the Grand Prix of Long Beach should accomplish and how it will help solidify the brand's competitive position in the beer category.

Marketing Daily - "Tecate Goes Younger, Bicultural for U.S."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Positioning MLS to be a Marquee Pro Sports League

The 2013 Major League Soccer season kicked off recently. Now in its 18th season, MLS has worked to overcome competition on two fronts. First, European leagues and global competitions put MLS down the list of elite soccer properties. Second, the sports landscape in the United States has become extremely crowded with growth in collegiate sports and emergence of niche sports like action sports and mixed martial arts competing for consumer interest and involvement. In fairness to MLS, it is a daunting task to launch a brand from scratch and build it to the point of being on par with the NFL, NBA, and other established sports properties. Despite the challenges MLS has faced since beginning play in 1996, the league has made steady progress in elevating its profile. Today, MLS is 19 teams strong, with sixteen clubs located in the U.S. and three in Canada.

One of the most important strategic decisions marketers can make is brand positioning. It is crucial because it reflects a choice of how an organization's capabilities will be leveraged and communicated to differentiate from competition. A brand without a clear position is doomed because there is little or no perceived difference between it and alternatives. Positioning is particularly important for new or upstart brands attempting to gain traction in the market. People have to be convinced that they should depart from the status quo and adopt a different behavior. In the case of MLS, this challenge means convincing sports fans that being a supporter of an MLS club or fan of the league offers unique benefits that cannot be realized with other sports brands.

The basis upon which a brand is positioned is very flexible- there is "one right way" to position a brand. Marketers are tasked to determine a point of difference that is to become the basis of a brand position. Two criteria that an effective positioning basis must meet are:

  1. Is it real? - Does the point of difference actually exist for the brand? In other words, if you make a claim about how your brand is better, different, or unique there must be proof to back it up.
  2. Is it relevant? - A point of difference can be real, but if it does not matter to the target market it is little more than a novelty. Brand positioning is not about being different for the sake of being different. There is an old saying that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. Relevant brand positioning leverages a brand's point of difference that will resonate with customers and others.
So, if you are a marketing manager for Major League Soccer, how would you propose positioning the brand to give it the best chance to compete with other major sports properties (professional and collegiate) in the United States? While MLS lacks a collection of high profile players that can be found playing in European leagues, many clubs have something that is rather unique to soccer: Highly committed fan groups in the form of supporter clubs. These fan groups are organized and operated independently of MLS teams but are among the most passionate brand advocates for them. Supporter clubs give fans an outlet for expressing their identification with a team and connect with other people who share a common interest. The involvement level of MLS team supporter clubs should be the envy of marketers across the sports industry. The challenge MLS faces is how to tap the passions of supporter club members as part of a broader strategy to build a fan base for MLS. 

In a recent interview with MLS Commissioner Don Garber on the state of the league, he mentioned the importance of local club fans to build the MLS brand:
"It’s a matter of building your fan base and being more relevant in the local markets, having fans that really care about their clubs..."

Do you agree with "bottom up" strategy of MLS, making  growth in local markets a priority? Or, should MLS pursue a different strategy to differentiate its brand to compete in the American sports industry?

Friday, March 8, 2013

I Want to Work in Sports Marketing, but...

If you are a professor or a mentor and have heard this sentence before, how does it end? The sentence ending I hear most often is both surprising and concerning. Many students end up at my office door, sent to me by colleagues who know that I am "the sports marketing guy." As I talk with students, almost all of them profess a love of sports and a desire to do something business-related in the sports industry. The "but" that is a concern is when students say "I want to work in sports marketing, but I don't want to work in sales." The concern with this statement, especially when it is coming from marketing students, is a failure to recognize that marketing and sales are hopelessly intertwined.

Too many students have a view of sales being a distinct (and undesirable) activity separate from marketing. What factors are behind this misguided perception of sales? Perhaps it is stereotypes of salespeople being pushy, self-absorbed people concerned only with making quotas and commissions. Or, maybe it is a view of salespeople intruding on buyers, trying to persuade them to buy something that they may not want or need. Whatever the source of the negative perceptions of the sales profession, aspiring sports marketing professionals seriously limit their opportunities to break into the field when they exclude sales.

I have observed this stance on sales taken by many students over the years, but I wondered if by chance it was a phenomenon limited only to my campus. Apparently it is not as I learned in a conversation with a team ticket sales executive recently. He shared with me that he had attended a networking event at which he spoke with many college students. An alarming theme in many of his conversations was that students had little interest in working in ticket sales despite their avowed desire for a career in sports marketing.

As a follow-up to his experience at the networking event, the ticket sales executive conducted an informal survey of peers in other organizations. His goal was to find out what proportion of total sports marketing jobs in an organization were in the sales area. He found that 37% of all professional positions involved sales. Many of the remaining positions were made up of non-marketing roles such as accounting, legal, and human resources. One position for which there was limited opportunity was marketing, the very field that so many college students wish to pursue.

The purpose of this post is not to discourage any student for pursuing a career in sports marketing. Rather, it is a call to those of us who mentor future sports marketing professionals to examine how we teach sales as well as understand students' perceptions about the sales profession. Do students really understand the role of sales in an organization's marketing strategy? What are their beliefs about what salespeople do? For example, do they view salespeople as problem solvers, assisting buyers in satisfying their needs and wants? Or, is their view of salespeople based on negative stereotypes? Of course, educators must depict the realities of ticket sales. But, we have the ability to mold students' attitudes about selling and equip them to compete for coveted entry-level sales positions in sports organizations.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Competition for ESPN is Good for Sports Industry

ESPN has been the clear front-runner in sports media for many years. Its dominance is even at the heart of the tagline "the worldwide leader in sports." ESPN has built a media business that includes cable TV networks, websites, a radio network, a magazine, and live events. Now, ESPN's dominance will be challenged by Fox Broadcasting Company. Fox plans to launch an all-sports network, Fox Sports 1, on August 17. The announcement of a sports network launch has been expected from Fox for some time. The company is hardly a newcomer to the sports entertainment category as it has TV rights to the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, college football, UFC, and international soccer. In addition to being a TV broadcast rights holder for these sports, Fox has interests in niche cable channels (Fox Soccer Channel and Speed TV), regional sports networks, a sports radio network, and sports websites. But, the missing piece in Fox's portfolio has been a cable network dedicated to a wide variety of sports programming comparable to ESPN.

The launch of Fox Sports 1 marks the most significant challenge yet to ESPN's market dominance. In contrast to last year's rebranding of Versus as the NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports 1 has more marquee live events to broadcast and a larger audience at launch (estimated to be around 90 million subscribers). And, FS1 will be part of a global media empire that has abundant resources to make a run at ESPN. No need to feel sorry for ESPN, however. It has sizable head start in terms of audience and its product portfolio.

Is the potential competition between ESPN and Fox Sports 1 a good thing for the sports industry? The answer is a resounding "yes." Competition will be beneficial for the following reasons:

  • The emergence of a strong competitor will force existing players (e.g., ESPN and NBC) to continue to innovate and position itself as better alternatives than the new FS1.
  • The demand for sports programming should increase as FS1 looks to fill a significant portion of the programming day with live events (one estimate puts FS1's plan at 55% live programming). The result will be more rights fees being paid to properties, more exposure that will aid in building a fan base for properties, and greater choice for live sports consumption.
  • Niche sports will have opportunities to gain exposure. While higher profile properties stand to gain in terms of higher rights fees, sports with smaller audiences could benefit if the additional live programming aired by FS1 leads to interest in having their sport picked up for broadcast.

The planned of launch of Fox Sports 1 will make Fox Sports stronger. It should also make ESPN, NBC Sports Network, and any other sports media brand stronger, too, as they step up their efforts to deliver great products. What is unclear is how well the market can support three all-sports TV networks and their associated brands in the long run. The answer to that question will begin to emerge on August 17.

Adweek - "Fox Sports 1 to Launch Aug. 17"

Monday, March 4, 2013

NRA and NASCAR: Fit or Fail?

NASCAR's efforts to position itself as a mainstream could take a hit in the wake of an announcement by the National Rifle Association that it will be title sponsor of a Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in April. The NRA 500 will give the organization a platform for connecting with an audience whose values match well with those of the NRA. A theory used to explain how sponsorship works proposes that image transfer occurs from the sport being sponsored to the sponsoring brand. Thus, the NRA stands to benefit from NASCAR's brand associations of "fast," "exciting," and "traditional values."

The image transfer benefits of NASCAR sponsorship are evident for the NRA. However, transfer brand associations can be a two-way street. In this case, NASCAR's image will be affected by perceptions that people have about the NRA. Gun rights are a controversial issue these days, and negative associations that people might hold about the NRA could impact their associations with NASCAR. While it is possible that loyal NASCAR fans will accept the Association with the NRA, the very audience that NASCAR hopes to appeal to could be turned off by this partnership.

The NRA can  attempt to overcome criticism of its Sprint Cup Series race sponsorship through a communication strategy that builds a case for its partnership with NASCAR. Doing so could persuade people who may be skeptical about the pairing of NRA and NASCAR that the brands share certain positive traits or beliefs. A fine line seems to exist between making a convincing presentation of the positives of a NRA-NASCAR linkage and alienating people sensitive to the issue of guns and highly publicized crimes like the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings.

It is believed that limits exist on the appropriateness of corporate sponsors; not every brand willing to spend money on sponsorship is a suitable partner. Some people will argue such is the case in this situation. It is up to the NRA and its partner, the Texas Motor Speedway, to position their relationship as a venture that is beneficial for the two parties and their audiences. - "NASCAR to Sponsor April Race at Texas"

Friday, March 1, 2013

Patriotism as Product: The World Baseball Classic

The weather outside my hotel room in Chicago is the same as it was when I arrived two days ago- cold and dreary. The longing for a new baseball season is only intensified! Once every four years baseball fans do not have to wait until MLB's opening day to enjoy meaningful games. The World Baseball Classic is growing in fan interest and sponsorship support as a global sporting event. The 2013 tournament begins tomorrow- a 16-team field grouped into four pools playing in Asia and North America. The top two teams in each pool move on to the semi-final round in Miami, playing for the right to be one of four teams advancing to the championship round in San Francisco. The 2013 WBC culminates with the championship game on March 19.

Some observers of baseball might ask why the World Baseball Classic, which was first held in 2006 and again in 2009, even exists. After all, MLB has a World Series and its winner is referred to as World Champions. If anything, would a different world champion from WBC competition negatively impact perceptions of MLB's World Series champion? The inspiration behind the WBC is not as much about crowning a champion as it is building interest globally for the product known as baseball. MLB responded to the International Olympic Committee's decision to eliminate baseball from the Summer Games by creating an international tournament. Although the decision to drop baseball from the Olympics was a crushing blow, a silver lining can be found in that cloud. The Summer Olympics schedule prohibited the best baseball players in the world from competing because it conflicted with the MLB season. The WBC begins and ends before Opening Day. Some MLB players are reluctant to participate in the WBC because of injury concerns, but many more players jump at the chance to represent their country in a global baseball tournament.

Patriotism and national pride are powerful motivations for product consumption in general and sports in particular. These influences lead many of us to become captivated by Olympics coverage when the Summer and Winter Games are held. In the case of the WBC, the players represent us, a group of men figuratively carrying the flag for their respective countries. Building associations with baseball via a national team is a way to build fan relationships among people who may lack a strong connection (or none at all) to an MLB team or players. And, affinity for a country's team can affect feelings toward MLB teams when players from WBC teams return to their MLB clubs.

The time for the words "play ball" is approaching. For MLB, it also marks an opportunity to leverage its prowess in digital marketing and media to grow its brand and extend its reach globally.