Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cleveland Browns Focus on a Better Fan Experience

Here is an assignment for aspiring sports marketers: Improve a product that has been mediocre at best for many years. The product is the Cleveland Browns NFL team. How mediocre has the product been lately? The team's record over past five seasons is 23-57. The last playoff appearance was 2002 and lasted only one game. The Browns had three head coaches during that period and begin this season with yet another new coach as well as a team owner beginning his first full season. Still want to take the assignment?

A New Playbook
New ownership means opportunities for changes in leadership direction, and Jimmy Haslam appears to be doing just that. The team has announced several initiatives intended to improve the fan experience of attending Browns games at FirstEnergy Stadium. Experience enhancements include:
  • Partnering with cell phone service providers to improve service and signal quality in FirstEnergy Stadium
  • Adding 20 new turnstiles to and 44 new security checkpoints to make stadium entry more efficient
  • 100 new television screens added in fan areas around stadium
  • New pregame music entertainment featuring on-field DJ
  • New video player introductions
  • A drumline
  • "Inventive" halftime entertainment
Of course, these new wrinkles in the gameday playbook will do nothing to make tackles or score touchdowns for the Browns, but they can energize fans and influence their evaluations of their experience on Sunday afternoons.

"It's the Experience, Stupid"
Former President Bill Clinton never worked in sports marketing, but if he did I suspect he would adapt a line he made famous during the 1992 presidential campaign. In his election battle with President George H.W. Bush, Clinton suggested that Bush was out of touch with what Americans were concerned about, saying "it's the economy, stupid." Today, sports marketers have come to understand "it's the experience, stupid." The volatility of the sport operations side of a franchise due to free agency, player suspensions, coaching transitions, and competitive intensity render marketers powerless to manage the on-field product. Besides, that aspect of the business is responsibility of others in the organizations.

Yet, sales and marketing departments are responsible for managing relationships and maximizing customer value regardless of performance on the field. Fortunately, fans attending a sporting event can come away believing they received good value and feeling satisfied even if their team did not win. The core product being marketed is entertainment, with the sport itself only being part of the total entertainment experience. Control what you can to make the entertainment experience as satisfactory as possible. Winning is gravy; it can make the challenge of attracting customers easier to accomplish. But don't count on winning to make everything better, just as the Cleveland Browns are doing.

WFNY - "Cleveland Browns Announce Plans for Enhancing Fan Experience"

Monday, July 29, 2013

Does Marketing Influence Cheating in Sports?

Cheating and sports have a long shared history. Point shaving scandals, failed doping tests, recruiting violations, and spying on opponents are a few of the most infamous ways players  and coaches have been known to cheat. If the objective of the game is to gain competitive advantage, cheating can be a means of accomplishing that aim just like more intensive training or better performance strategies.The stain that is cheating in sports surfaced again last week when Major League Baseball suspended Milwaukee Brewers All-Star outfielder Ryan Braun for the remainder of this season for violating the league's drug policies.

It's not Just Sports
Cheating in sports garners a great deal of publicity given the importance of sports in popular culture and the status enjoyed by athletes and coaches as celebrities and role models. As disheartening as it may be to hear how Lance Armstrong cheated his way to seven Tour de France titles and vigorously denied wrongdoing (further tarnishing his brand), bending and breaking rules is not limited to the sports industry. For example, another front page news item in the past week was the indictment of SAC Capital, an investment firm charged with insider trading that lasted for more than a decade. Whether you are a world class cyclist or a hedge fund manager, temptations lurk to violate rules and laws to come out on top.

A study by researchers at the University of California Davis and University of Chicago found that cheating, whether it be in sports or in the corporate board room, can be attributed to "extreme pressure to perform." Donald Palmer, UC Davis management professor and co-investigator in the research study, summed up why athletes and executives succumb to the temptation of cheating when he said “people who perform vital roles and for whom there are no or few substitutes will experience elevated pressure to engage in behaviors that bolster their performance, including wrongdoing.” Palmer's characterization of those persons who would cheat in sports sounds like the college football coach under immense pressure to win games to please alumni and donors as well as earn a bowl game bid that will generate more revenue for his university. Or, it is the professional athlete looking for any possible edge to maintain his or her health in order to perform at peak levels in the hopes of landing a huge contract and endorsement deals.

Is Marketing to Blame?
The steady stream of scandal, misbehavior, and cheating in sports leads observers of sports marketing to question what role, if any, marketers have in this situation. On one side, it could be said that misbehavior by athletes and coaches is just that- bad decisions and mistakes made by individuals who happen to represent team and league brands, too. After all, if a college basketball coach systematically bends or breaks NCAA recruiting rules, it is usually due to decisions made on his or her part and not because the athletic director said "win at all costs, even if it means cheating." 

On the other side, an argument can be made that external pressures coming from the business of sports is too great for some players and coaches, and they cave by breaking rules in an attempt to outperform competition. College coaches are hired not only to coach, but they are also the Chief Marketing Officer for their programs. Alumni group meetings, media interviews, community speeches, social media activity- coaches have less time today to actually coach athletes because of their marketing responsibilities for their programs. 

This post is not intended to take one side or the other in this issue. It is a topic that can be debated in the classroom or the coffee house with logical arguments that can be made on either side. Perhaps the bigger and even more complicated issue is how a culture of cheating in sports that probably goes back as far as sports competition itself can be dealt with by sports marketers to minimize damage to brand reputation.

Sacramento Business Journal - "Study: Cheaters Pressured to Cheat, on a Bike or Wall Street"

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Burgerville's Recipe for Sponsorship Activation

Sports sponsorship can be a powerful marketing platform, but not for the reasons that tend to come to mind. Yes, sponsorship can put a brand in front of an audience it covets in a positive environment. And, affinity for the sponsored property can influence affinity the audience has for brands aligned with the property via sponsorship. What can be even more important than enjoying targeted reach and building brand equity is connecting fans to a sponsor's business through activation. Paying rights fees for official sponsor privileges is only the beginning of a commitment to engage in a coordinated marketing campaign to use a sponsorship to achieve business objectives.

Basketball and Burgers
An example of how sponsorship should be managed as more than a promotion tactic is how restaurant chain Burgerville used its sponsorship of the Portland Trail Blazers. The Vancouver, Washington-based chain of 39 stores was recognized by the NBA this spring, receiving the Team Sponsorship Activation of the Year Award. Burgerville integrated its association with the Trail Blazers into its business through activation tactics that included:
  • New menu item- Introduced a limited time Blazers Burger in all stores to connect with sponsorship of the team and promoted through a multi-channel marketing campaign. Blazers Burger became the second most successful limited time product launch in Burgerville's history.
  • Courtside seat giveaway - Promotion tied to store patronage (use Burgerville Card three times during promotion period) to win two courtside seats and early admission to player shoot around. 
  • Meet the Rookies contest - Five customers won an exclusive meal with the team's rookies at a Burgerville restaurant.
 These activation tactics utilized several media channels and executed against objectives of generating brand interest and influencing product purchase. 

An Investment, not an Expense
Unfortunately, an activation program is too often an afterthought in sponsorship management. Sometimes, sponsors fail to adequately budget to market a sponsorship and are unable to spend aggressively to use a sponsorship to drive growth. Other times, sponsors put too much value on the assets received (e.g., signage and association privileges) and are not very creative in putting the "active" in activation. Entering into a sponsorship is like getting keys to a shiny new car. There are many places the car can take you; the challenge is coming up with a plan for how to get there. 

Too many times, sponsors just get in the car and drive around aimlessly, not taking full advantage of their asset. This situation certainly does not describe Burgerville. The company's multi-pronged activation of its sponsorship of the Portland Trail Blazers suggests that when sponsors are considering what to sponsor they should also be asking themselves how they could market the relationship. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Whose Brand is Vulnerable in NCAA Video Games Issue?

College football is one of America's favorite sporting escapes. The most recent Harris Poll on Americans' favorite sports found college football trailed only pro football and baseball in popularity. Already, fans are counting down the days until the 2013 season kicks off. College football is also big business, so much so that questions abound whether student-athletes should share in the fruits of the sports they help promote.A long running debate about whether student-athletes should be compensated beyond receiving scholarships to play intercollegiate sports has intensified.

The NCAA and its member institutions are enjoying unprecedented levels of revenues from media rights fees, corporate sponsorships, and brand licensing royalties. Student-athletes play a prominent role in enhancing the appeal of NCAA sports but are largely left out when it comes to monies generated from intercollegiate sports. Yes, they are getting an education and often have living accommodations provided, but is that fair compensation for the value they create? This question is at the heart of a lawsuit against the NCAA brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon, and concerns about the answer to the question have prompted the NCAA to backpedal from one revenue source that it could be forced to share with athletes. This week, the NCAA announced it was not renewing a licensing agreement with EA Sports for its NCAA Football game when it expires next year. The decision does not appear to be due to lack of market interest; the game has generated an estimated $100 million in sales and represents about 6 percent of the EA Sports revenue pie.

Protecting Brand Interests
Three sets of brand interests are at stake in this issue: The NCAA, its member institutions, and the student-athletes. Licensing ventures like NCAA-branded video games that feature teams and players are beneficial for all involve. NCAA Football video games create exposure for the institution brands and players. Fans can extend their affinity for college football by playing games featuring the teams and players they love... or love to hate. The branding benefits for the NCAA and member institutions must be balanced against the rights of student-athletes and use of their name and likeness. Many brands license their name and logo to be used on products. The difference in this case is that "employees" or people associated with the brand are instrumental to the popularity of the NCAA brand as a license. Should they benefit directly from their contributions? Also, the NCAA is very concerned about protecting its brand image from potentially negative effects lawsuits could have.

New Page in EA Sports Playbook
The NCAA may have decided not to grant a license for an NCAA-branded football game, but that does not mean video game players will not have a college football game to play in the future. Instead, a more generic game that is  not associated with the NCAA but still sells college football will be on the market. Inclusion of NCAA member schools will be up to each institution, and future college football video games will likely be developed without incorporating player identities.

The NCAA and EA Sports have taken steps to remove student-athletes and the NCAA itself from video game products, but is it the right decision? Is an avoidance strategy the proper course of action, or should the NCAA figure out how to maximize the popularity of players and at the same time include them in receiving the rewards of building a popular brand?

USA Today - "Legal Risks Raise Questions for Colleges and EA Sports"

Friday, July 12, 2013

5 Myths of Personal Branding

Note: This post appeared recently on the Marketing DR blog. We are sharing here given the importance of personal branding for practitioners, students, and scholars of sports business.

Personal branding has taken off as a practice for managing one's professional identity. The ease of communicating via social media channels has lowered the barriers to building a personal brand. I was first exposed to the concept of personal branding in 1997 through Tom Peters' seminal article "The Brand Called You." The ideas in Peters' article were a little unsettling- could you really market yourself like Levi's markets blue jeans? I was skeptical, but the confluence of less loyalty to employees among corporations and the emergence of the "new economy" brought about by the Internet convinced me that personal branding was going to be very relevant. Today, I encourage my students to apply marketing and branding principles learned in their coursework to managing their professional brands.

There are obstacles to putting personal branding into practice. Fortunately, most of the obstacles can be found between our ears- they are our own perceptions and fears about the importance of establishing and managing a personal brand. In my work with students and professionals looking to establish their personal brands, I have observed five misconceptions, or myths about personal branding:

1. Personal Branding is Bragging
Some people are reluctant to embrace personal branding because the idea of promoting one’s abilities and performance can be difficult for someone who is modest or does not like to “toot her own horn.” Yes, promotion is part of personal branding, but a great brand’s true value resides in the product itself and the benefits of the product to users. Promotion is how we communicate our brand’s meaning and makeup to the world, and that messaging needs to be real and relevant.

Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean was once asked how many games he and his brother, Paul, also a pitcher both playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, would win in in the 1934 season. Dizzy Dean predicted they would win 45 games between them and went on to say “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.” The brothers won 49 games between them that season, and the Cardinals won the World Series. I would say Dizzy Dean wasn’t bragging- his message related the value he and his brother could bring to the team. Personal branding is not bragging; it is backing up your meaning and makeup while communicating your value.

2. Personal Branding = Your Social Media Presence
The huge user numbers for major social networking sites can lead people astray, thinking social media is the key to personal branding success. Social media is a communication channel- nothing more. We can tirelessly work to post updates on Facebook, send tweets on Twitter, make connections on LinkedIn, and so on, but those efforts represent only a small part of the overall management of a personal brand. Social media plays a major role in the implementation of your personal brand, but your brand is not the words you say and images you share through social media. 

Personal branding is a process for identifying, developing, and communicating your unique value. The “identifying” and “developing” have to happen before there is anything to “communicate.” Thus, personal branding is by necessity more than one’s social media presence. You can have a brand without using social media, but you cannot communicate using social media independently of your brand.

3. Personal Branding is for Celebrities
You may have heard of personal branding but dismissed it because you believed it was something that only celebrities and other high profile people need to be concerned with their brand image and reputation. And, you are correct- celebrities in entertainment, sports, politics, business, and other fields use personal branding to communicate with their followers and maintain their status as opinion leaders. Social media has given opinion leaders in the “offline world” another channel for exerting their influence. 

Remember, most people who have popular social brands already had well known personal brands. For example, Justin Timberlake has more than 23 million fans on Facebook and 22 million followers on Twitter. His brand is so strong online because of the value he has offered through his singing, acting, and performing for nearly 20 years. Social media has elevated the stature of personal brands like Justin Timberlake because fans and admirers can connect with him as well as other people who share an affinity for him. You, too can build a reputation for offering value to others... and it does not require you be a celebrity.

4. Personal Branding Requires You to Act Differently
The prospect of having to “act” like a brand is unsettling to many people. Their thinking is often something like “I’m a person, not a pair of running shoes!” Personal branding might be avoided by some people because of a perception that it requires them to act out of character. Thoughts like “putting on airs,” “phony,” or “arrogant” may cross the minds of those who believe that personal branding requires us to maintain a persona that could differ from who we really are. But, the most admired brands in the world are known for being remarkably consistent (think Amazon, Apple, Disney, and Google). They are authentic.

Building a great brand is not about coming up with a clever slogan or tagline, creating eye-catching brochures, or designing a slick website. Great brands make promises to customers and deliver on those promises. Do they fail sometimes? Of course they do, but even when a customer service failure occurs these companies work hard to recover from those failures to restore customer trust in their brand.  So, contrary to the myth that personal branding would require you to act differently, you must act yourself- be authentic! 

5. Personal Branding is All about Appearances
A brand is a multi-dimensional concept, with one dimension being observable characteristics or features. Product and service brands use tactics such as logos, color schemes, slogans, distinctive packaging designs, unique fonts, and brand characters to strengthen people’s association with their brands. These tactics help establish mental connection between a brand as observed by the senses and its Meaning and Makeup. Likewise, tactics can be used to associate your personal brand with what you. Your appearance, business cards, wardrobe, and résumé are some of the tactics used communicate your personal brand. But, there is a tendency sometimes to put too much emphasis on these outward expressions of a personal brand.

History can be an effective teacher, and to debunk the myth of personal branding being all about appearances we go back in time to the late 1990s. The commercial Internet began to grow and created opportunities to develop online business models. Entrepreneurs did just that, attracting great interest from investors seeking to profit from the Internet’s growth. But by 2001, many dot-com companies were going bankrupt, having burned through their investment capital while making little (and often no) profits. One reason some companies failed was they spent excessively on marketing, attempting to use marketing tactics like those of popular brands such as Coca-Cola and Chevrolet. The difference between dot-com brands and established brands was that the established brands enjoyed the benefits of decades of marketing. They did not buy their exposure overnight; it was payoff for years of delivering value to customers through their products and advertising.

Let Go of the Myths
Any of these five myths of personal branding could be persuasive in delaying or even foregoing the decision to develop one's personal brand. Do not let the myths define your brand through inaction. Embrace your responsibility as manager of the world's most important brand: You.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Focus on Customer Experience from Day One

Sports are a unique blend of the timeless and modern. Core attributes of sport such as  maximum performance and competition  have been present since people started running, throwing, and lifting. Sports have been modernized through technological innovations that enhance the core product and provide new sources of value.

An example of how sports marketing has brought innovation (defined simply as new value) to core sport attributes is a collaboration between Dick's Sporting Goods and IMG Academy. The two firms have partnered to develop the Day One app. The online resource helps athletes playing baseball, basketball, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, and tennis train for their all important Day One. The app includes resources in the areas of skills, strength, nutrition, mental, and speed. Instructional information is given based on how many weeks until your Day One, and weekly progress is recorded as users complete training activities.

Evolving from Selling Products to Experiences
The Dick's Sporting Goods Day One app is a good example of how sports marketers have adapted to the needs of customers. In Chapter One of Sports Marketing, a historical overview of sports marketing recounts how the industry has developed. Sports marketing has evolved over the past century, moving through four distinct periods:

  • Monopoly Era (1900-1950)
  • Television Era (1950-1990)
  • Highlight Era (1990-2010)
  • Experience Era (Today)

Today, customers not only seek to have their needs and wants met through the products and services they use, they often desire a consumption experience that adds value. In the case of the Day One app, Dick's Sporting Goods has created an ongoing experience for athletes preparing for an upcoming season or event.  Elements of the user experience include education, motivation, and accountability. Dick's is serving as a resource to their customers by going beyond selling products needed to compete. The Day One app can better equip athletes with the intangible characteristics crucial to success on the field.

Help Customers Be Untouchable
Marketing is a process for enabling people to meet their needs. Yes, it involves figuring out how to sell a product or service to maximize profits, too. But without the former mindset in place a firm will fail at the latter. Dick's Sporting Goods understands- its aim is to make athletes untouchable from Day One. It also realized that it needed a trusted resource to help deliver on this promise. IMG Academy has a storied reputation for developing athletes, so the partnership to create the Day One app is a great fit. Through the Day One app and initiatives like its PACE concussion education program, Dick's Sporting Goods is building brand associations as an essential partner for athletes' success.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Nike is MAKING Sustainability a Team Sport

Many companies tout their socially responsible behaviors. They want us to know that they are looking out for the good of the world around while doing business with us.For some organizations, being socially responsible is more than a marketing claim. Instead, social responsibility is ingrained in their purpose and influences all business decisions made- including marketing strategy. This week, Nike made news for its efforts to instill a sustainability mindset with its designers and product creators. Nike's initiative holds promise not just for the sports industry but could be followed by any firm that makes or sells products.

MAKING Sustainability a Reality
Nike has introduced an app for its designer and creator partners that gives guidance on sustainability considerations for new product development, The app, called MAKING, will enable Nike's partners to make more informed choices about the materials used to create new products. Four impact categories- chemistry, energy, water, and waste- are rated using data from seven years of materials research and analysis conducted by Nike. Watch the video below for a quick demo of the app.

Sustainability is a Team Sport
Nike's MAKING app is noteworthy for two reasons. The first one is more obvious- Nike is not just talking about being socially responsible. The company has invested in resources to make more sustainable product development a reality. The second reason MAKING is noteworthy is that Nike is building a sustainability team by bringing these considerations to its design and creative partners on the front end of product development. Nike can espouse socially responsible beliefs all day long, but if its partners are not on board with the model it would much more difficult to implement. And, rather than imposing demands that would make Nike look good from a sustainability standpoint but not necessarily benefit partners, information sharing initiatives like the MAKING app make the supply chain more committed to sustainability.

Nike has taken a leadership position in making sustainability a priority with its partners. Businesses outside the sports industry should look to Nike's example for inspiration to strengthen their sustainability practices.  Working closely with supply chain partners appears to be the next team sport Nike is targeting. If its track record of business success in team sports is any indicator, Nike's sustainability efforts will be MAKING a huge difference in the future. - Nike Unveils New App to Help Designers Invent Better

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Guns and Baseball: Weighing Social Responsibility

Independence Day is a time to reflect on the rights and freedoms that makes the USA unique. Sports are deeply intertwined with American life, so it seemed only fitting that a minor league baseball team would schedule a promotion celebrating one of the most treasured and in recent years, debated rights: the second amendment right to keep and bear arms. In a sector of the sports industry in which promotions seemingly are limited only by the creativity of marketers responsible for hatching them, Second Amendment Night with the Huntsville Stars (AA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers) does not look out of place. Considering some of the promotions other Southern League teams are doing (Garden Gnome Night with the Jackson Generals and Leprechaun World Championship Wrestling with the Jacksonville Suns), a promotion saluting gun rights is no more out in left field (pun intended) than what other teams have on their promotions schedules.

Exercising Social Responsibility
Why is Second Amendment Night with the Huntsville Stars being talked about? In addition to free admission by showing an NRA membership card, the team would be holding a raffle for three guns in a tie-in with a local gun and pawn shop. It is this link with firearms that drew criticism for the promotion. Horrific images of highly publicized gun crimes in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut are too fresh on the minds of many Americans. While rights afforded by the Second Amendment have not changed, attitudes toward guns have shifted. Thus, a promotion that likely would have drawn zero publicity outside the Huntsville area a few years ago has gained national attention in recent days. The Huntsville Stars will still hold Second Amendment Night tomorrow minus the raffle for guns. The dilemma faced by the Huntsville Stars is an example of how an organization must weigh social responsibility against business decisions.

Do Good to Do Well
Americans have high expectations for businesses to engage in socially responsible behavior. Surveys done at different points in time by Cone Communications have found a large majority of consumers (80%+ depending on the survey) believe corporations should be accountable for producing and communicating commitments to social responsibility. Expectations are that companies demonstrating social responsibility will be rewarded by buyers for their efforts or at the very least companies failing to embrace social responsibility will be punished at the cash register. We will never know if the Huntsville Stars would have received negative reaction to giving away guns since that part of the promotion has been scrapped. The team announced on its website that the raffle would not be held "in the best interest of baseball." That is an often-used statement in the sport, but one that is very fitting in this situation. Social responsibility must be an overarching consideration that guides all decisions in a business.  

Sporting News - Minor League Team Cancels Gun Raffle at 'Second Amendment Night'