Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pick 6: Brands, Stories, and Trends Shaping Sports Business #19

As 2014 winds down, here are six memories to take away from the past year in sports marketing.

1. It's the Experience, Stupid

In a play on the famous "it's the economy, stupid" crafted by Bill Clinton's presidential campaign team in 1992, today's sports fan expects a technology enhanced experience when attending live events. Venues are playing catch up to have the needed infrastructure to empower fans to use their mobile devices. We are connected anywhere, anytime, and fans will not accept mediocre technology access. Simply being at a sporting event is no longer enough to create memorable customer experiences.

2. Social Sports

Speaking of technology and mobile devices, 2014 marked another year in which social media became more prominent in sports consumption. This trend was especially evident during the FIFA World Cup tournament. Sporting events represent the ultimate in live programming, and social networks like Twitter are ideal channels for letting fans gloat, complain, taunt, and talk in real time about the sports, teams, and athletes that are intertwined with their self-identity.

3. Gentrification of College Football

The long anticipated playoff system in college football has been implemented with a four-team College Football Playoff. Its first year has met all expectations so far in terms of stimulating and maintaining fan interest. The CFP may be having another effect- widening the divide between the haves (Big 5 conferences) and have nots (all other BCS conferences). The recent decision by the University of Alabama at Birmingham to drop football could be an isolated occurrence affected by many variables. Or, is it possible that other institutions that spend heavily on football with little demonstrable return might question their participation in a system that is stacked against them?

4. The Activist Athlete

In late 2014, high profile cases involving police and African-Americans in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City fueled conversations about race and equal treatment of all citizens by police. Athletes joined the discourse in a very public way, marking a departure from the practice of steering clear of political and social issues that could negatively impact an athlete's standing with sponsors or fans. Athletes have a platform from which to exert influence- will more of them decide to make their voices heard on social issues of the day?

5. Non-Competitive Olympics

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi delivered its share of memorable moments in competition, but there is an area in which the Olympic movement is seeing competition whither: Cities battling for the right to host Olympic Games. Soaring costs and tremendous demands on infrastructure have made hosting an Olympics less appealing. The IOC must make hosting a more appealing proposition for cities around the globe that have become reluctant to submit bids.

6. The Reality of Fantasy

The fantasy sports industry experienced transformation in 2014 as daily games from providers like DraftKings and FanDuel sparked new interest and participation. Innovation is a driver of growth, and the popularity of daily games should serve as a call for pro sports leagues to figure out how to build interest in their brands through daily game fantasy products.

Thank You

Your willingness to take a few moments to read our take on sports business is very much appreciated. You probably read for the same reason we write- love of sports. It is a privilege to be able to share with you. Happy Holidays to you and yours, and may 2015 by your best year yet!

- Don Roy

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pick 6: Brands, Stories, and Trends Shaping Sports Business #18

It's after Thanksgiving, and these six turkeys are still around to read about what is going on in sports business. So, what's been happening?

1. New Commissioners, New Marketing Directions for NBA and MLB?

The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have new commissioners, Adam Silver and Rob Manfred, respectively. It just so happens that both brands are also in play for marketing agencies to court. What should be the marketing priorities for the NBA and MLB as they begin new eras under the leadership of Silver and Manfred? How will selection of agency partners play a role in shaping the future of these brands?

2. Parking is a Bear of a Problem, but App Solves Problem

The live sporting event has become vulnerable as rising costs and time investment lead many fans to question the value of attending in person versus consuming indirectly on TV or online. Another sore spot is parking- the cost to park a vehicle and convenience (or lack thereof) of finding parking reasonably close to the venue dissuade many would be attendees. One way to overcome the parking challenge is to enlist technology. The Minnesota Wild have done just that, partnering with Parking Panda to enable fans to use an app to search for parking options and even reserve a space. If Parking Panda or other similar services spread nationally, it makes one wonder what are other ways in which technology can remove impediments to direct sports consumption.

Minnesota Wild, Parking Panda to Let Game-Goers Reserve Parking Spots, Katharine Grayson, Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal

3. Is the NHL Interested in Developing a $100M Product?

A projection that a new product could generate $100 million in revenue is an attention getter, to say the least. That is the estimate that a World Cup-style hockey tournament could generate for the National Hockey League and its players. The projection is all the more interesting as the NHL weighs the benefits of allowing its players to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The feeling is the NHL is not so interested in having its season disrupted by a tournament that it does not control in a country that is not important to the league in terms of building a fan base. Should an NHL-operated World Cup become the premier global tournament for ice hockey, just as FIFA World Cup is for soccer?

4. Big Five or Bust? Are Mid-Major Football Programs in Jeopardy?

Creation of the College Football Playoff and expansion/realignment among the big five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) may be widening a divide between the Big Five and the "Little Five" conferences (American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt). Will some institutions in the little five group decide that dollars spent on football could be better utilized elsewhere? One institution, C-USA member University of Alabama at Birmingham, has apparently come to such a conclusion. Disbanding the football program appears imminent. Will other institutions evaluate their financial commitment to big-time football now that the Big Five conferences have in effect broken away from the rest of the NCAA's Football Championship Series (FCS) schools?

5. Is the NFL Television Product Too Good?

Good TV programming attracts viewers. In turn, larger audiences attract advertisers and drives up bidding for broadcast rights. The NFL has mastered this formula; some observers believe it has done so too well. The financial requirements of attending an NFL game, coupled with safety and convenience woes being cited more often as negatives to attending games, could have the unintended effect of the NFL become a made-for-TV product. Is the popularity of the NFL so great that it can weather dissatisfaction with attending games, or are changes needed to make in-person attendance more compelling than watching from one's sofa?

6. Real Madrid Tweaks Badge with New Sponsorship Deal

Signing a new corporate partner often garners more than mentioning snippets from a press release, but a change to the badge of Real Madrid was driven largely by its association with a new partner. The club announced a partnership with the National Bank of Abu Dabhi, then adapted its badge to remove the cross at the top (see before/after picture below). The change was thought to be an attempt by Real Madrid to not offend Muslims, an audience likely to be attracted through the new partnership. This case makes for interesting discussion- to what lengths should a sports property modify its brand identity or other marketing assets to win favor with a sponsor?