Monday, January 12, 2015

Pick 6: Brands, Stories, and Trends Shaping Sports Business #20

It's the new year, back-to-school edition of Pick 6- here is a sampling of what has been going on in sports business:

1. College Football Playoff: A Value at $1 Million

The inaugural College Football Playoff has met or exceeded all expectations of stimulating interest in college football over a prolonged time period. And, it is proving to be a bonanza for advertisers involved with the new format. TV ratings for the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl were very strong, and the same is expected for the championship game. Ad rates are much lower than for the Super Bowl and even for the NCAA Final Four. Has the College Football Championship already become a top tier sport property in its first year of existence? All signs point to "yes." Will its immediate success lead to expansion of the playoff format to eight teams, or will the concept that has been so popular this year be the preferred approach going forward?

2. Dallas Cowboys Extends Brand Outside the Lines

The Dallas Cowboys may have lost a close playoff game to the Green Bay Packers, but team executives have plenty to keep them busy even though the season is over. The Cowboys are stepping outside of sports in launching a merchant payment services business, Blue Star. It will be a partnership between the Cowboys and Bank of America Merchant Services. The venture raises the question of how sport brands, particularly high equity brands like the Dallas Cowboys, can utilize brand extensions beyond their core category to tap new revenue streams.

Dallas Cowboys Branded Payment Company? Kansas City Business Journal

3. A New Coach Does More than Energize a Team

The University of Michigan got their man, wooing former star quarterback Jim Harbaugh back home to be its head football coach. The announcement excited the fan base, but it did something else that tends to be overlooked in situations like this: It stimulated interest among corporate sponsors. No one likes to be associated with mediocrity, particularly sponsors that are shelling out big dollars to partner with a prestigious sport brand like the Michigan Wolverines. Sponsor delight about Harbaugh's return to Ann Arbor was obvious, and it served as a reminder that a coach is more than a leader on the football field. He is also a key marketing asset that sells tickets, excites boosters, and delights sponsors.

Sponsors are on Board the Harbaugh back to Michigan Train, Courtney Brunious, The Fields of Green

4. Winning the Social Media Super Bowl

The Super Bowl has been a major marketing event for many years. Advertisers introduce new campaigns, spending millions on an opportunity to connect with viewers for 30 seconds. Social media has changed how the Super Bowl marketing game is played. Some of the most memorable social media moments in its brief Super Bowl history were spontaneous, such as Oreo's tweets during the power outage at the 2013 Super Bowl. Since then, some brands have beefed up their social media teams in the hopes of having and capitalizing on an unexpected moment to repeat the magic that Oreo had two years ago. But, it is more feasible to have a strategic plan of how to integrate social media with traditional advertising before, during, and even after the big game. It is like a choice of trying to catch lightning in a bottle versus influencing conditions conducive to making lightning strike.

5. Atlanta Hawks "Swipe Right" to Hook Up with Fans

Under the category of Creative Promotions, the Atlanta Hawks held a Tinder Night promotion as part of a Wednesday night game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Dubbed "Swipe Right Night" (a reference to what Tinder users do to express interest in meeting another user who is nearby). Tinder is an app used by singles to find people they would like to meet. Beyond being a unique promotion, Swipe Right Night illustrated an excellent use of promotions: Attract an audience segment that might not necessarily be regular customers. Some Swipe Right Night attendees might not have been basketball fans or been to Hawks games, but that is the very audience a team aspires to reach. What are other ways social media can be leveraged to attract buyers who may not otherwise consider buying?

6. NHL Uses Social Media to Expand Reach, Engagement

When it comes to the major sport leagues in the United States, the National Hockey League sits in fourth place, lagging behind the NFL, MLB, and NBA in terms of TV ratings and general popularity. However, the NHL is not content to accept its standing as a solid number four. Instead, it deploys social media to reach a fan base NHL Commissioner characterizes as "the most affluent, the most tech savvy, and the most avid." The NHL has expanded its commitment to social media, developing a new app this season and doubling the size of its social media staff to strengthen fan engagement. And there is evidence that the strategy is working. The NHL set TV viewership records in the US last season, and NHL teams had more sellouts than their NBA counterparts. Is social media potentially more beneficial for "lesser" sport brands for creating growth than more established brands? What factors contribute to social media success for a sport league or team?

Video of the Week

The sports world was saddened by the passing of ESPN anchor Stuart Scott on January 4th. His distinctive style was a breath of fresh air to sports broadcasting and is credited with attracting younger viewers to the ESPN brand. Here is a personal favorite from one of the many "This is SportsCenter" commercials in which Scott appeared. Rest in peace.

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