Monday, April 29, 2013

Sell Experience, not Products

There may be a time in the not too distant future when we  look back fondly at shopping trips being for the purpose of buying products. Why? Retailers are transforming their offerings from a focus on merchandise to creation of immersion experiences for their patrons. Shopping is evolving from a functional task ("I need a new pair of running shores") to a hedonic experience ("I am entertained while buying running shoes"). Sports marketers should observe closely developments in the retail industry for inspiration on how to enhance the augmented product (amenities that add value to the consumption experience).

One example of creating experiences to transform the retail shopping experience happens to come from the sports industry. Sports Chek, Canada's largest sporting goods retailer, opened a model store in downtown Toronto that could be a glimpse into the future of shopping. The Sports Chek "retail lab" concept is not your father's sporting goods store- technology heavily influenced the design of the store. Among the technology-influenced experiences shoppers have in store include:

  • Tile, tablet, and touch screens that enable delivery of customized information
  • Adidas "digital shoe wall" that shows images, videos, Twitter feeds, and info on athletes using Adidas products
  • Reebok build-your-own-shoe kiosk
  • Customization of ski and snow boards and boots
  • Digital community board that brings the store bulletin board into the digital age with info on community sports leagues, local events, and connects customers with each other.

There are too many features of the Sport Chek retail lab experience to list here. The point is that when marketing experiences, the product is merely part of the cast and not the star of the show. As marketers, we cannot lose sight of the fact that people do not want our products or our brands (sorry to be the bearer of bad news). Instead, they want what products or services do for them to make their lives better- added convenience, more enjoyment, or greater empowerment- whatever brands can deliver will be embraced.

Marketing experiences rather than products is the proper mindset for marketers to embrace as they seek to differentiate their brands from competition. Technology can be a complementary component for creating unique experiences, but integrating technology into the experience should be done in ways that add value for customers. Sports Chek seems to succeed as much of the technology integration benefits shoppers by giving them more product information or better customer service. Whether technology or personal interaction is used, a focus on creating valuable experiences can add a layer of benefits to a product that attract and retain customers.

SGB Weekly - "Sport Chek Launches Digital Lab Concept" (page 14)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Wide or Narrow: How to Clip a Great Sponsorship Portfolio

Sponsorship can be an effective strategy to connect a brand with its target market. To succeed, it must be just that- a strategy. Selection of a sports or entertainment property with which to link a brand must consider who should be reached (target audience) and what should be accomplished (objectives). Another aspect of sponsorship as a strategy is the thematic nature of a sponsorship portfolio. For example, Bridgestone has amassed a collection of partnerships with major professional sports properties including the NFL, NHL, and PGA Tour. The audience characteristics of the fan bases for these leagues are a good match with the customer Bridgestone desires to serve. Other sponsorships complement the league-wide deals including venue sponsorship (Bridgestone Arena in Nashville) and Bridgestone Invitational (PGA Tour event in Akron, Ohio). Bridgestone has made a strategic decision to cut a wide swath by spreading its sponsorship investment across multiple sports to maximize audience reach.

An alternative approach to crafting a sponsorship portfolio is to adopt a narrow focus, using a single sport (or even a single property) to align a brand with a specific audience. One brand succeeding in developing a narrow sponsorship portfolio is Great Clips. The Minneapolis-based company has more  than 3,000 locations. Great Clips is using auto racing, primarily NASCAR, to reach people who are potential customers. One way in which Great Clips communicates its motorsports involvement is through the Great Clips Racing sub-brand. The website for GCR includes driver bios, a photo gallery, social media links, and news. GCR falls under the company's racing sponsorship portfolio that includes:
  • Title sponsor- Great Clips 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Atlanta
  • Title sponsor- Great Clips 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Phoenix
  • Sponsor- Driver Kasey Kahne in NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series
  • Sponsor- Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma California
  • Sponsor- Fast Friday, a preliminary event for Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Sonoma Raceway
In addition, Great Clips will activate its Sonoma Raceway sponsorships by having a mobile salon on-site on two racing weekends (for the Sprint Cup Series and IndyCar Series). The mobile salon brings the Great Clips sponsorship to life, enabling racing fans to see and interact with stylists and even get a haircut. This activation is a platform for Great Clips to familiarize fans with the brand and show employees in action.

If students ask which sponsorship portfolio strategy is better- a wide collection of different properties or a narrow collection of properties sharing a common thread like auto racing- the answer is an unequivocal "it depends." The variables making the answer "it depends" are the very ones mentioned at the beginning of this post: target audience and objectives. The more diverse a target audience's characteristics, the more likely that a wide breadth of partnerships is ideal for appealing to different sports interests and preferences. When the target audience characteristics are more homogeneous, finding a single idea around which to build relationships (e.g., college football, action sports, or auto racing).

The wide versus narrow question entails trade-offs, too. A wide sponsorship portfolio could maximize audience reach, but it typically comes at a higher cost and requires more resources to manage and activate the various partnerships. In contrast, a narrow sponsorship portfolio will be more manageable but likely does not create as large of a brand footprint as a more diverse collection of sponsorships. Regardless of which strategy is preferred for selecting sponsorships, their success ultimately depends on what a sponsor does with the relationship once it is owned. Activation is the fuel for sponsorship success. Otherwise, the portfolio is little more than a collection of name brands that are not being utilized to their full potential.

Sports Media Pro: Great Clips Renews Sonoma Ties, Adds Fast Friday

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

You Can't Fake Culture

Each semester, students in my sports marketing class make a short presentation about a sports marketing agency that they have researched. This “show and tell” exercise gives the class exposure to 20-plus companies serving the sports industry. The idea is to broaden their perspective on the breadth of career opportunities available in sports marketing. At the same time, students are exposed to the “players” in the industry.

The last presentations for the semester were made yesterday, and a student, Amanda, gave an enthusiastic presentation about The MarketingArm, the Dallas-based agency that helps clients create activation programs for their sponsorshsips. Perhaps the most striking takeaway from Amanda’s sharing of The Marketing Arm’s work is the unmistakable influence of the organization’s culture. The Marketing Arm takes great pride in its culture; events such as bowling day, cookie day and spring break trips serve to energize employees and reward them for their hard work. It is not surprising that the agency has one several awards for its creative work as well as recognition as a great place to work.

One characteristic of organization culture is that it cannot be faked. Sure, employees can put on a good show if a visitor shows up, but in general the shared values that guide and influence how a firm conducts business are enduring- culture cannot be turned on and off. Organization culture sets the agenda for what is important. For The Marketing Arm, it is evident that its people are important. After all, the company’s output is not a product that rolls off an assembly line; it is the creative efforts of employees working to deliver profitable ideas for clients.

We want students who aspire to work in sports business to make it, to achieve their dreams. But, it is also rewarding to see them happy and fulfilled. Getting an opportunity to break into sports is one thing, but being able to do so with an organization whose culture values employees (especially early career professionals (can be the difference between having a job in sports marketing and having a professional career in sports marketing. Checking out potential employers in sports marketing should include asking the culture questions- What are the underlying shared values that guide the organization? How is culture reinforced in manager-employee interactions? How does culture impact how customers and clients are served?

Kudos, The Marketing Arm, for your efforts to establish a culture that is employee-focused. You impressed students in my class! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

An Elite Classification for College Football- Good or Bad?

Conference realignment has shaken the foundation and traditions in college athletics in the past three years. The effects of realignment are most noticeable in football as all eleven conferences whose members compete in the football bowl subdivision (FBS) either gained or lost members. As conferences have expanded to enhance their competitive position or simply to remain viable, the direction of future realignment is predicted by many to be a further stratification of institutions. Currently, six conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC) plus Notre Dame comprise the 69 institutions that make up the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Non-BCS conferences are jockeying to position themselves as worthy counterparts, but at the same time BCS conferences appear to be positioning to distance themselves from the rest of the pack.

Some expert observers of college athletics predict four "super conferences" of 16 teams each will be formed as a new football classification within the NCAA... or perhaps not under the NCAA. If college football purists were dismayed by the effects of conference realignment on traditional rivalries, they would be crushed by further segmentation that results in formation of an elite classification. It is difficult to factor out emotions when considering if consolidation and stratification makes sense for BCS institutions- college football as we know could be altered as geographic rivalries give way to match-ups with seemingly little of the pageantry of college football. Personally, I am still getting used to West Virginia doing battle with the likes of Texas Tech and Kansas in the Big 12... but I will adapt!

What would be the pros and cons of forming an elite classification?


  1. Enhance competition - Teams would have fewer games against "payday" institutions that play for a much needed paycheck but have no chance of winning.
  2. Increase value for sponsors - A classification made up of BCS league institutions would create a product rivaled only by the NFL in terms of competitiveness and caliber of play. The profile of these teams would be elevated, thus making them more attractive for corporate partners.
  3. Move closer to a true playoff? - Breaking away to form a new classification would give members a blank slate with which to craft a playoff and championship format. They might opt not to deviate from the current format, but changes might be entertained.


  1. Further "arms race" of college athletics - Elevating current BCS institutions to an elite classification likely steps up pressures to have best coaches, best facilities, and other "bests" that all require money, and lots of it.
  2. Erode traditions - One of the defining characteristics of college athletics in general and especially college football is the influence of traditions. Rivalries in particular would likely be affected. If traditional opponents are not in the "club," the result will be less frequent meetings or perhaps no further meetings at all.
  3. Incompatible with other sports - Elevating BCS institutions to a top-tier classification within the NCAA or breaking away to form its group seems plausible in football, the likelihood is lower that it can extend to other sports.For example, a men's basketball tournament for this elite classification would not include the Gonzagas, VCUs, and Wichita States of college basketball. An exclusive tournament would not necessarily mean we would enjoy the most exciting tournament.
The pace of change in college athletics has been rapid in the past few years, so the idea of a stratification of BCS institutions to form an elite classification is is not far fetched. Indicators point to changes of some type in the top football classification, more likely sooner than later. The scope of change and the role the NCAA has in a newly formed classification remain to be determined. And one more thing to be determined: Will the formation of a new top-tier classification in college football be good or bad for stakeholders?

This post was inspired by "Is Next College Sports Realignment a Split from NCAA" (USA Today, April 22, 2013).

Friday, April 19, 2013

Which Social Networking Sites to Use? Let Your Fans be Your Guide

Social networking sites have changed the way people connect and communicate with one another. Fast, convenient interactions with people anywhere who share common interests are made possible by ubiquitous networks that have become familiar brands. Naturally, marketers could not resist the urge to join in the fun. After all, the very customers and prospects they desire to reach are members of these communities.

Sports and Social Media
As consumers we are left wondering if there any place that is safe from being bombarded with marketing messages. One exception to that feeling is the willingness of sports fans to connect with and around their favorite leagues, teams, and athletes. Social networking sites provide an outlet for people to express their affinity, participate in a community of fellow fans, and gather information. Instead of being an intrusion on our enjoyment of social media, the presence of sports brands and personalities on social networking sites is embraced by fans. Instagram photos give us a glimpse of morning practice; tweets from a player show personality traits that cannot be observed on the field of play, and Facebook posts let fans ask questions, make complaints, and talk trash about opponents. The question is not whether sports brands need to have a presence on social media; the question is which social networking sites represent the optimal mix of channels to engage target audiences. You do not have to be ever

Where the People Are
One answer to the question of where to connect with various audience segments on social networking sites is a study done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. In the report The Demographics of Social Media Users - 2012, a breakdown of social networking site usage by demographic groups can give guidance on which channels offer the best opportunities to reach certain target audiences. Among the study's findings on the appeal of different social networking sites were:

  • Twitter and Instagram are favorites of 18-29 year-olds, African-Americans, and urban residents
  • Pinterest appeals to women, particularly under age 50 and with some college education
  • Facebook has the broadest appeal but has a higher percentage of users who are women and a high percentage of 18-29 year-olds.
Check out the complete report for a more detailed breakdown of demographic characteristics for each social networking site. It will eliminate the temptation to lump all social media users into the same demographic subgroups.

Divide and Conquer
The number one takeaway from the Pew Research Center study on demographic characteristics of social networking site users is that is is necessary to align social media marketing channels with the demographic characteristics of the audience we seek to reach. Segmentation is essential for two reasons:

  1. It is impractical to pursue an effective brand presence on all social networking sites, so focus on the ones that are the best match with your target market.
  2. Segmentation also entails adapting messaging on each social networking site used. In other words, do not simply copy and paste Facebook posts on Pinterest and Twitter pics on Instagram. 
Segmenting social networking site audiences will give direction on the types of content to share on the respective networks used. For example, Pinterest can be used to post any visual content, but for best results share content that will be of interest to Pinterest's primarily female, under 50 audience. Player photos and stats may be of interest, but what other content might appeal to this demographic segment of your brand's customer base? One opportunity is to explore how Pinterest can be used to promote licensed merchandise. Similarly, how could Pinterest be used to profile corporate partners and their products?

Sports and social media are an ideal match. People are emotionally connected to sports, and social media is a conduit to connect people with one another and things that matter to them (like brands and teams). The possibilities are extensive, but effective social media marketing requires the same commitment to targeting that is needed for any marketing endeavor to succeed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sports: Our Cultural Glue

As an educator teaching sports marketing, I occasionally get somewhat skeptical reactions from people about the usefulness of such a course in higher education. The perception could be that class meetings consist of debating which players will be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, sharing tips on how to draft for your fantasy baseball team, and watching March Madness games. Of course, we do not do any of those things in class... directly. But, these sports consumption activities are a part of our study of sports marketing because they reflect an inescapable characteristic of sports: they are woven into the fabric of culture. Notice I did not qualify the statement by saying American culture- sports are a universal cultural component.

We are reminded of the significance of sports in our culture as we have watched events unfold following the senseless bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday. While this act of terrorism occurred at a sporting event, the sports community responds whenever profound loss or tragedy strikes. For example, victims of the Newton, Connecticut shootings have been honored and remembered at sporting events throughout the country including the Super Bowl, at Major League Baseball home openers, and ironically, at the Boston Marathon. This weekend, Rutgers will conclude its spring football game with a flag football game played by 22 children affected by Hurricane Sandy. And, player names on jerseys will be replaced by the names of 90 towns affected by Sandy.

Not only are sports woven into the fabric of our culture, they serve as "glue" to hold us together during periods of adversity. Yes, sports have become big business, but they still serve a purpose for people that has  been relevant long before the era of lucrative TV deals and gaudy player salaries: sports offer an escape from daily life. The scenes at ballparks and arenas around the country this week have been a reminder that life will go on. At the same time, the suffering and loss of people affected by the Boston Marathon bombing were remembered. One of the most poignant observances occurred at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. Fans who normally view the Boston Red Sox as a hated rival remembered their fellow fans by joining in singing "Sweet Caroline," a Fenway Park tradition.

A reality of the world we live in is that tragedies like Newtown and Boston will happen again. The location will be different, circumstances will be different, but the resulting damage, loss, and pain will be too familiar. When it happens, we will apply our cultural glue to preserve life as we know it to provide some level of comfort.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Activation: The Fuel of Sponsorship Marketing

Sponsorship of sports leagues, teams, events, and athletes can be an effective strategy for building brand awareness, creating a desired brand image, or even attracting new customers. The power of sponsorship as a marketing strategy is not the mere association of a brand with a sports property. One of the most powerful differentiation points between a successful sponsorship and a mediocre one is how effectively a sponsor markets its relationship. Unfortunately, too many sponsors do not fully grasp the importance of integrating a sponsorship into the brand's marketing communications strategy and thus do not realize the potential impact.

Sponsorship = Horsepower
My favorite business author is the late Zig Ziglar. One of my favorite stories Zig told was about an old Indian man who found himself suddenly wealthy when oil was found on his property. The gentleman wanted to enjoy some of his newly found wealth, so he purchased a big Cadillac. He rode into town in his shiny, new car and was conspicuous not because of his luxury automobile but because it was being pulled by horses. You see, the man did not know how to harness the tremendous horsepower under the hood, so he made do with the only horsepower that he understood.

Activation = Fuel
What the old Indian man was missing (and thus not enjoying full benefit of his new car) was fuel to make the Cadillac's engine go. The fuel of sponsorship is the activation or marketing of the association a brand is entitled to promote as part of its sponsorship rights. Sponsors receive certain assets or privileges from properties, but it is up to them to create marketing programs around those assets to connect target markets to a sponsorship.For example, Coca-Cola is a long-time sponsor of NASCAR. An activation program that Coca-Cola has built around its NASCAR sponsorship is the Coca-Cola Racing Family, a collection of nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers including Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick, and Tony Stewart. Coca-Cola has activated using the CCRF since 1998, featuring drivers in promotions, packaging, special events, and advertising. The CCRF activation is a way for Coca-Cola to go beyond "official sponsor" designation and connect its brand with the NASCAR brand and driver personalities.

Budget for "Gas Money"
You would not attempt to go on a trip without putting fuel in the tank. Similarly, companies should not undertake investments in sponsorship without making sure they have adequate "gas money" to spend on activation. One measure of activation spending is a leverage ratio, a comparison of dollars spent on marketing a sponsorship to the rights fees paid. There are varying opinions about the optimal leverage ratio, with current industry average being about $1.70 spent on activation for every $1 spent on rights fees. Regardless of what you believe to be the right leverage ratio to strive to achieve, one thing is certain: A sponsorship will not "go" in the long run without activation fuel. Activation is the creative leeway that marketing managers can use to articulate meaning for their association with sports properties that they sponsor.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Is Referee Sponsorship a Good Call?

Is there any space in sports that should be considered a sponsor-free zone? Corporate names and logos are on venue walls, in concourses, on signage in seating areas, on the field of play, and even on uniforms. About the only object that has not had a logo slapped on it is the ball or puck (although they bear logos of their manufacturers). One space that has been mostly commercial-free has been the referee uniform. It stands to reason- one of the primary motivations to engage in sponsorship is for a sponsor to experience image transfer from the sport brand to its brand. Unlike teams and athletes, game officials do not evoke positive associations that a sponsor would want transferred to its brand. So, referee sponsorship would be a bad call for a company to make, right? The answer is "it depends."

A Good Value
The question of whether referee sponsorship is effective is not new, but it surfaced again this week when the Barclays Premier League indicated it was looking to sign a new referee sponsorship deal after its current agreement with Expedia ends this summer. The estimated rights fees of $1.5 million per year is a significant investment, but it is a fraction of what sponsors pay for rights to jersey sponsorships for top Premier League clubs. Aon has been the jersey sponsor of Manchester United since 2009 at an average annual cost of nearly $60 million. Most Premier League clubs fetch a much smaller percentage in jersey sponsorship rights fees than Man U but still are a great deal higher than the $1.5 million it would cost to be a referee sponsor. Moreover, the exposure a Premier League referee sponsor would receive is staggering. It is estimated that the reach of Premier League matches is 700 million homes globally. The cost per person reached via Premier League referee sponsorship would be incredibly low.

A Good Call?
A strong case can be made for the value of a referee sponsorship deal when compared to rights fees paid to associate with a team. And, the reach of top properties like the Barclays Premier League makes referee sponsorship an appealing proposition for brands with broad geographic reach. However, referee sponsorship is not going to be an appropriate association for all brands. Here are three considerations:

  1. What are the brand building needs? If brand awareness is a sponsor's objective, referee sponsorship represents a means for creating brand exposure at a much lower cost than being a team jersey sponsor. If shaping brand image is a primary objective, sponsoring referees will likely not have the same potential for triggering image transfer as team sponsorship.
  2. What is audience sentiment toward sponsorship? Some sports are more sponsor-dependent than others; sponsorship rights fees can be a crucial revenue stream to support operations. But, for sport properties for which referee sponsorship rights fees would be "gravy" on existing rich revenue streams the presence of referee sponsorship might be viewed with indifference at best or even cynicism.
  3. How can sponsorship be activated? The exposure benefit of a property with extensive reach like the Premier League is great, but the engine that drives a sponsorship is activation. What types of activation are permissible? A referee sponsor must commit to investing beyond rights fees to market its association.
The Barclays Premier League should have little difficulty securing a new referee sponsorship; it is one of the hottest sports properties in the world. What companies or brands do you see as prospective candidates to replace Expedia? What criteria should the seller (Premier League) use to select its next referee sponsor? - "Referee Sponsorship Up for Grabs" 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Transforming Fans into Influencers through Collaborative Marketing

The affinity advantage of sports gives marketers responsible for managing sports brands an upper hand compared to most of their non-sports counterparts. Why? The   emotions and passions people hold for sports leagues, teams, athletes, events, products, and experiences lead to people having high involvement, or interest. Marketing efforts that reach out to highly involved fans give them an avenue for acting on their feelings. In contrast, most brands do not enjoy having a throng of passionate customers for whom the brand has great importance or significance in their lives.

The Case for Collaborative Marketing
Yes, sports brands are fortunate to have an involved customer base, but having energized fans alone is not enough to ensure effective marketing. One viewpoint of how to connect with high involvement customers is collaborative marketing. Brandon Evans, founder and CEO of the marketing firm Crowdtap, uses the term collaborative marketing to describe a shift from marketing at customers to marketing with customers. Social media is an ideal platform for creating opportunities for conversations with customers. Evans goes so far as to say that a "penalty will be paid by those companies who simply view social as a mass communication channel for blasting out messages to a mass audience." In the article "Customers Don't Want Ads, They Want a Conversation", Evans identifies five trends he sees as signals of a shift toward collaborative marketing. Two trends in particular have implications for the sports industry:

  • Close, continuous customer relationships - Brands that strive to have meaningful dialogue with customers will likely stand out from competition
  • Peer-powered media - While sports is content-rich, fans want their voice to be heard... along with expressing themselves via photos, videos, tweets, and status updates. User-created content gives sports fans a vehicle for expressing their identification with a team or brand. 
Customer Collaboration: Fad or Future?
Not everyone agrees with Brandon Evans's vision of how collaborative marketing will shape the future of buyer-seller relationships. And, to some extent questions about our desire to collaborate with brands have merit. For example, I have no desire to create a relationship with my electric utility. Nothing against them, but as long as they keep the power flowing and I pay the bill, we're good. Similarly, I like my Black & Decker cordless screwdriver and would buy other products from the company, but my relationship is limited to using the company's products. But, that's me and because involvement is an individual-level construct it only represents my feelings. Other Black & Decker customers probably are open to entering into a relationship with the brand built on interactions beyond product usage.

I see collaborative marketing in some form being the future of marketing, particularly in the sports industry. People genuinely care about and like their favorite sports brands, thus opening them to the possibilities of how to act on their affinity by connecting with brands in social media or other type of community. And, as competition increases in terms of demands on our attention as well as competition from other sports and entertainment options, it will be crucial that sports marketers leverage the affinity held for their brands and engage customers and fans though collaboration.

Monday, April 8, 2013

From Affinity Advantage to Engagement Advantage

Sports brands are the envy of marketers everywhere. Why? Because of what can be termed an "affinity advantage." In Chapter One of Sports Marketing, the affinity advantage is cited as one of the distinguishing characteristics of sports marketing. Sports brands have a head start over brands in other categories in terms of consumer liking and willingness to exhibit liking. Walk through any public space such as a mall or college campus and you will likely find people wearing jerseys, t-shirts, and caps bearing the logo of their favorite teams. What you are less likely to see are people wearing the same items sporting logos for their bank or dentist.

Measuring Community in Sports
The affinity advantage enjoyed by sports is evident in another form: the ability to create communities around sports brands. While some non-sports brands such as Harley Davidson and Starbucks have famously built customer communities,  most brands struggle to energize people to join communities built around a brand. In contrast, sports brands attract people across different demographic groups to rally around something with which they feel a connection and passion. And, if you need proof that sports brands are magnets when it comes to forming community, look at Coyle Media's Sports Fan Graph. This website reports community measured by the number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and Facebook mentions. The king of community according to Sports Fan Graph is FC Barcelona, with a social media community numbering more than 15 million on Twitter and 41 million on Facebook.

Community ≠ Engagement
Sports brands use their affinity advantage to attract people to their communities, and social media sites make it easier than ever for fans to join a community. However, it is important to remember that likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter do not necessarily equate to fan engagement. This sentiment is echoed by social media expert Rachel Happe of the Community Roundtable. The Sports Fan Graph could be best described as a measure of content engagement; this occurs when people join your community via a "like" or "follow," and they may sometimes interact with content by liking it, retweeting it, or commenting on it. But, that may be the extent of their engagement with the community on social media. Happe says the next level is Community Engagement, which leverages the affinity people have to draw them in to more extensive interactions. Unsolicited comments on products or experiences, resolving customer service issues, or getting input for new product ideas are examples of engagement driven by a person's trust in the brand and willingness to discuss or comment with other community members or with brand representatives.

Create an Engagement Advantage
Sports brands are ahead of their non-sports counterparts when it comes to building community online. The affinity advantage of sports coupled with sports being a treasure trove of content (photos, videos, interviews, commercials, and more) give sports marketers the luxury of focusing on community-based engagement. Keep in mind that great content is not enough to foster fan engagement. It requires committing resources to start and have conversations with community members. People will join your community because they like you; they will be loyal to your community when you show that you care. Engagement is the means of showing that you care.

CMS Wire - "The Holy Grail of Engagement and Why Communities Matter"

Friday, April 5, 2013

Find the Best Boss to Advance Your Career

In the concluding chapter of Sports Marketing, a panel of sports industry veterans who contributed to development of the textbook were asked questions about career planning and management. The questions came from undergraduate sports marketing students, and the experts gave candid, insightful advice. Students had the luxury of tapping the wisdom of experts including:
The feedback shared by the industry experts gives students the benefit of years of working side-by-side with clients, colleagues, and of course, aspiring sports business professionals. Of all the advice given by the panel, I believe the most memorable thought came from Kathy Carter, president of Soccer United Marketing.  She was asked the following question:

Which would you recommend to someone starting out—look for a job you want or take any job you can find?

Carter's response fits whether the industry is sports, retailing, financial management... you name it:

 "I would look for the very best boss. Find someone who will take an interest in you and in your ability to learn and experience the business. Working with, or for, someone who challenges you to be better, supports your growth, and celebrates your achievements is far more important than the logo or the title on your card."

Finding the very best boss is a criterion that many early career professionals will likely overlook. Other criteria tend to rise to the top of their concerns including advancement opportunities, culture, and of course, compensation. But, if you have been in your career for a while you can appreciate the value of Carter's advice. Bosses come in all stripes- supportive, aloof, egotistical, indifferent, and downright bad- just to name a few.

The right boss has obvious value in terms of mentoring and shaping a person at a pivotal career stage, but how can you gauge whether a boss will help you develop your abilities? One indicator is to look at the paths taken by people who have worked under a particular boss. Are they moving into positions of greater responsibility over time, or are they stagnant in the organization? Or, if they are moving up by moving to other organizations, are they leaving because of lack of opportunities or lack of mentoring?

Another way to seek what you are looking for in a boss is to consider the mentors that have influenced you. What traits or leadership styles of these people had the most impact on you? If you recognize how bosses, teachers, and other mentors have contributed to your development to this point you can more confidently assess how a prospective boss might help you in the early stages of your sports business career.

Look for the very best boss- you don't know if you will find him or her but one thing is certain: You cannot get where you want to go all by yourself. Your superiors will play a role in determining whether you go on to have a long, prosperous career or if you just go on.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Creating Brand Awareness through Sponsorship is Academic

Academy Sports + Outdoors has a history that can be traced back to the late 1930s as a military surplus store, but for the past 18 years it has expanded its presence as a sporting goods retailer. The company now has more than 150 stores in 13 states. Its most recent expansion includes opening the Kansas City market this summer with two stores. Any business that is new to a geographic market is faced with the challenge of how to build awareness, create associations with the local community, and gain market acceptance. In response to these challenges, Academy Sports + Outdoors is taking a page from the sponsorship playbook.

Numerous scholarly studies published on sports sponsorship are virtually universal in their findings that the top two objectives sponsors have for their sports marketing investments are: 1) increase brand awareness and 2) create a desired brand image. The Kansas City market has formidable competition as Dick's Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, Bass Pro Shops, and Cabela's operate in that market. Academy Sports is making a splash in the Kansas City market by partnering with the Kansas City Royals. A multi-year sponsorship deal will put the Academy Sports brand in front of Royals fans at Kauffman Stadium and create a platform for the company to create promotions and other local marketing campaigns that tie in to its Royals sponsorship.

Sponsorship can be an effective tactic in support of geographic market expansion. Consumers in the Kansas City market will have few or no associations with the Academy Sports brand. However, linking Academy Sports + Outdoors with a brand that is familiar and liked in the market will not only give exposure to the Academy Sports brand but create secondary brand associations. One of the strengths of sponsorship as a marketing tool is that secondary brand associations, or thoughts about the sponsor brand originating from some other source (in this case the KC Royals), can be developed in the marketplace that might be difficult (if not impossible) to create otherwise.

The Academy Sports + Outdoors sponsorship of the Kansas City Royals does not guarantee successful entry into the market, but it can accelerate brand building efforts required to compete in a crowded space. Achieving "I know you exist" is a minimal accomplishment for marketers but one that is a must to have any chance of success. Not only will the Academy Sports-KC Royals association aid in raising brand awareness, it will also begin the process of informing consumers about the brand even before they set foot into one of the company's new stores.

Kansas City Business Journal - "Royals Team Up with New Sporting Goods Store"

Monday, April 1, 2013

MLB Fan Cave Hits Home Run

It's April 1- opening day for most Major League Baseball teams- no fooling! The 2013 season gets into full swing as 24 of 30 MLB teams play their first games today. Another place will be a hotbed of activity away from host ballparks- the MLB Fan Cave. Now in its third season, the MLB Fan Cave in New York is a testament to MLB's commitment to be on the forefront of digital marketing and media. The MLB Fan Cave is the season-long home for nine die-hard baseball fans (six men, three women) who will live, eat, and sleep MLB in 2013. The "cave dwellers" are also digital marketing agents for MLB, taking to social media to chronicle their experiences, share MLB happenings, and engage social media users.

MLB's Fan Cave is multiple things- a brand (as the logo suggests), a product that can be consumed digitally or in-person through visitor tours, and an experience for cave dwellers and the people they reach via social media. While the MLB Fan Cave is an innovative means of expanding the reach of the sport beyond traditional media channels, it does more than promote baseball. MLB Fan Cave positions baseball within a broader context of popular culture. This year, the Fan Cave will feature art exhibits and Fan Cave University, a lecture series in which speakers will discuss non-baseball topics.

Sports possess an affinity advantage over other types of products. The passion people have for teams and athletes coupled with inherent drama and story lines make sports interesting and compelling. Despite these distinguishing characteristics of sports, their appeal does not extend to everyone. MLB Fan Cave succeeds in reaching two distinct audiences: 1)high involvement baseball fans and 2) culturally hip social networks. The obvious audience reached is the die-hard MLB fan. After all, what serious MLB fan would not want to live in a "baseball cave" for six months? MLB Fan Cave effectively reaches another audience, social media users (predominantly younger consumers) who may not be accessible through MLB's other communication channels or through its broadcast partners.

The MLB Fan Cave is a great example of how brand extensions can be created to focus on new market segments. New products are the lifeblood of a business; they spur growth and customer interest. Sports marketers are fortunate to have interesting and liked core products. The challenge is how to leverage their core brand assets to create new products that have added value for customers and the firm. MLB Fan Cave can be looked to as a template for doing just that.

The Business of Sports - "What's New at the 2013 MLB Fan Cave"