Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pick 6: Brands, Stories, and Trends Shaping Sports Business #25

Pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training is a more encouraging sign of warmer weather ahead than any signal from a groundhog. In the meantime, what is going on in sports business as we wait for the great thaw to occur?

1. A Creative Way to Link Pricing and Weather

Minor League Baseball has a long history of creative promotions to build fan interest. The latest example is the Wilmington Blue Rocks 4-cent tickets promotion for its home opener on April 16. Why did the Class A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers offer fans the chance to buy up to eight tickets for such a ridiculously low price? It matched the ridiculously low temperature on the thermometer (4 degrees Fahrenheit) in Wilmington, Delaware on February 16th, the date of the promotion. The team pegged ticket prices for the promotion to the temperature that day.

The possibilities for promotions are limited largely by the imagination of those in charge of marketing. In this case, the Wilmington Blue Rocks sold over 3,000 tickets for its home opener on a day that customers would otherwise would not likely to be thinking about baseball. And, the Blue Rocks now have assured that they will have over 3,000 customers to whom they can sell merchandise, food and beverage (hot chocolate anyone?), and future game tickets. 

2. MiLB Delivers on Game Day Experience

"Take me out to the ball game" is more than just a saying for Minor League Baseball. MiLB is proud of its franchises' ability to deliver a pleasing experience for game attendees. One indicator of marketing effectiveness is the Net Promoter Score (NPS). This measure of customer loyalty compares how likely customers are to recommend a brand to others (promoters) to customers who would not be likely to recommend the brand (detractors). MiLB's most recent NPS of 58 puts it in the company of brands like the NFL, Westin Hotels, and Pandora Internet Radio.

The simplicity of NPS (it is a single-item measure) and the importance of what it measures (loyalty as demonstrated by referring others to the brand) makes it a metric that many executives monitor closely. Despite the strengths of NPS as an indicator of loyalty and simplicity of measurement, many marketers see limitations of what a single-item scale can reveal, particularly why customers are inclined to recommend or not.

MiLB Fans Enjoying the Gameday Experience, According to National Study, by MiLB, 

3. MLB Team Fan Fests Turn Up Heat in Off-Season

The start of baseball season may be over a month away, but let's face it- fan interest does not end even when a season does. Many sports teams have found one way to feed fans' insatiable appetite is by having fan conventions during the off-season. These events are an excellent way to maintain brand relevance during a time when teams historically went silent. Fan conventions can be used to create social media conversation, help sponsors get in front of fans, raise money for team charities, and yes, even sell tickets. 

4. On Deck: Faster MLB Games?

A criticism often leveled about Major League Baseball is the slow pace of play and length of time it takes to play a game compared to other sports. In contrast to football, basketball, hockey, and soccer, baseball has no game clock, and the time needed to complete an MLB game is thought to be a turn-off for some fans, particularly younger consumers. MLB is addressing this issue by implementing some changes to speed up pace of play. Among the innovations are a clock limiting time between pitching changes and innings as well as requiring batters to keep one foot in the batter's box at all times.

While MLB can be credited for taking steps to speed up games to make them more fan friendly (although baseball purists might argue that claim), some observers think MLB has not done enough to bring its product into the sound-bite, highlight era. Should MLB do more to speed up games, or would too much emphasis on increasing pace of play do more harm than good?

Discuss here

5. NASCAR Goes to School to Build Next Generation Fan Base

Brands are constantly looking to cultivate their next generation of customers. NASCAR is partnering with schools to connect students to the sport through study of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) concepts. Acceleration Nation is an initiative that provides instructional materials for teachers to use in STEM courses. The program has dual benefits of demonstrating social responsibility by offering schools instructional tools while promoting NASCAR to a demographic crucial to the long-term success of the sport. 

6. Got Stats? NHL Ramps Up Statistical Offerings to Fans

The National Hockey League has taken its stats game to the next level. A new statistics portal developed with partner SAP is an ambitious four-stage project that adds more game data, will bring more data visualization to users, and eventually have statistical data for every NHL game ever played. Data-hungry fans represent a highly involved segment for the NHL and other sports properties. Look for more initiatives like the new and improved stats portal at to meet the information desires of highly involved fans.

Video of the Week

University of North Carolina coach Dean Smith made the four-corner offense popular (and at the same time despised). The Tar Heels paid tribute to Smith by running the four-corner set to open the game versus Georgia Tech in memory of the late coach- a touching moment.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pick 6: Brands, Stories, and Trends Shaping Sports Business #24

Here are six stories from the past week that delve into the present and future of sports marketing.

1. DICK's Sporting Goods and U.S. Olympic Committee is a Partnership that Works

A recent announcement that DICK's Sporting Goods had agreed to be a sponsor of the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams does not seem unusual at first glance. The link between a sporting goods retailer and sports is about as logical as a partnership can be. What is unique about DICK's involvement with the USOC is its commitment to help athletes. Most Olympic athletes do not have multi-million dollar endorsement deals with brands. They pursue their Olympic dreams in obscurity and often with limited financial means.

DICK's Team USA Store Ambassador Program will employ aspiring Olympic athletes at DICK's stores. They will have a job and a flexible schedule for their training. It would have been simple for a brand like DICK's to hand a check to the USOC and be done. Instead, it is providing assistance through jobs and equipment to the people who will benefit most: the athletes. 

2. Las Vegas Bets on the NHL

For years, Las Vegas has longed to have a professional sports franchise. But, it has been overlooked in large part because of its standing as a gambling mecca. The National Hockey League is considering Las Vegas for an expansion franchise. An effort has launched to get deposits on 10,000 season tickets to demonstrate support for an NHL team. This situation is not unique, but what is different for Las Vegas compared to expansion franchise pushes of the past is that social media can be used to build fan awareness. A campaign that includes the website and a Twitter hashtag #VegasWantsHockey is helping to move toward that goal. Will social media be a key to success in the Las Vegas NHL team drive?

3. The Promise of a Better Sports Consumption Experience via Technology

Technology innovations have a track record of making sports consumption more enjoyable. On-screen graphics that show first down lines, field goal range, and red zone statistics are three examples in football alone of how technology has enhanced the TV consumption experience. Another way in which the TV sports product has improved is camera angles. Skycam technology gives us a closer view to the field of play from cameras suspended on cables above a field. 

Soon, the view will be even more up-close as experiments with GoPro cameras and jersey cams show game action from the participants' perspective. These enhancements, coupled with the drama of live sporting events, are among the reasons why sports properties continue to command lofty rights fees from TV networks. Is there a risk that the in-home consumption experience becomes so good that attending the event in-person loses appeal (and threatens the ticket revenue stream)?

New Technology and the Future of Sports, by Verdan Vukusic, Overtime

4. Beacons a Difference Maker for College Sports?

College football and basketball are revenue generating sports at many universities, but how can other sports gain greater visibility and fan interest? The University of Mississippi is using beacon technology to enhance the fan experience and promote all sports in its athletic program. Ole Miss links its use of beacon technology at its football, basketball, and baseball venues to its Rebel Rewards program. Beacons add to the fan experience at the Ole Miss baseball stadium by serving player stats and providing timely information on concession and restroom wait times. The rewards program app is the means through which a fan is able to benefit from beacons located throughout the venue.

A bigger picture goal is that rewards program encourages attendance for less popular sports by awarding extra points. Ole Miss is not using technology for technology's sake; it is striving to improve the fan experience and build a following for all of its sports teams.

How One College is Using Tech to Grow Sports beyond Football, by Kate Kaye, Ad Age

5. Turning Content into Cash

Sports has an advantage of being one of the most interesting forms of content that exists. Familiarity with sports and liking of one's favorite teams and players have magnet-like properties that attract eyes and ears. Other industries are envious of the content marketing advantage that sports possesses. Given this advantage, sports properties should explore how content can be repurposed to reach wider audiences. A case study from MediaForward discusses how it did just this to maximize the impact of the Oklahoma City Thunder's weekly show, "Air Thunder." The case study is a call to consider what content assets can be used in multiple formats to expand reach and create new revenue streams.

Innovation in Cross-Purposing NBA Content, by Ken Adelson, MediaForward.TV

6. All-Star Games Bring Out All-Star Sponsor Activation

The NBA All-Star Game in New York last weekend put the sport's biggest stars on the world's biggest stage. All-Star Games have evolved from a singular event to a multi-day festival that celebrates a sport. As All-Star games have evolved, they have attracted greater interest from sponsors looking to tap into fan affinity. The 2015 NBA All-Star Game also featured all-star sponsor involvement in the weekend's events and on the streets of the Big Apple. 

The creative activations executed by brands including Nike, State Farm, and Samsung are reminders that a sponsor's marketing of its association with a sport property is limited only by the boundaries of the imagination and good taste (and of course, rights granted by the property).

Photo of the Week

Speaking of creative activation around the NBA All-Star Game, Nike made its presence known with a shoebox-shaped station on a New York street corner. The site promoted Nike SNKRS app, which lets buyers customize and purchase shoes using their phone.

Photo Credit: Twitter- @SoleUniv
See the Nike SNKRS station in action via Nike's Instagram video

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pick 6: Brands, Stories, and Trends Shaping Sports Business #23

It's the pre-Valentine's Day edition. Yes, that's this week. Don't worry, you still have plenty of time to shop as the special day is nearly three days away- procrastinators unite! In the spirit of Valentine's Day, let's take a look at six articles about relationships.

1. Caddies Aren't Interested in Spreading Sponsorship Love

It seems that sponsorship has permeated sports in nearly every possible way. It is part of the landscape to see professional golfers wearing caps, visors, and shirts adorned with patches of their corporate sponsors. Players are handsomely compensated for this providing brand exposure. The same cannot be said for their caddies, including a group of 80 caddies that have filed a $50 million lawsuit against the PGA Tour. Their complaint is that they are forced to wear bibs with sponsor logos without receiving any compensation. The PGA Tour has threatened to not allow caddies to participate in events unless they wear the bibs.

Should caddies be forced to become human billboards even if they do not want to? Does the PGA Tour policy violate caddies' rights; what if a caddie is told to wear a bib with the logo of a company that it does not like or prefers the sponsor's competitor? How could the situation be used to sponsors' and caddies' advantage rather than coercing caddies to participate?

2. Adidas Aims to Change Game for Buying Limited Edition Sneakers

You have probably heard stories about buyers standing in line for hours for a chance to buy the latest in-demand sneakers (or have been in those lines yourself). Although there is a ritualistic quality to this practice, it is safe to say that the experience for buying a high demand product could be improved. Adidas has set out to do just that by developing a mobile app that lets users pre-order limited edition products, giving them first crack at the latest styles. Adidas says the app can streamline the customer experience, better matching demand with inventory. Are there other products in the sports industry that would benefit from adopting a mobile pre-ordering system like the one Adidas is developing?

3. Online Viewers of Sports Video See More Ads... and Advertisers Know It

Research from Adobe hailed 2014 as the most digital sports watching  year yet. The rise of the mobile consumer included greater consumption of sport-related video online. Research found consumers viewed an average of 4.2 authenticated sport videos in 2014 versus 3.8 per month in 2013. Perhaps the statistic that draws the most interest is that viewers of sport videos see 66% more ads per video than viewers of non-sport content. 

If you are viewing sport videos, this statistic suggests you are highly engaged with the content and may perceive a context match between content and commercialism. Does it also mean you are likely to see more advertising given your inclination to view ads when consuming sport video? Ad sellers and advertisers have a history of not being able to curb their enthusiasm when encountering engaged audiences. We should monitor advertising in sport-related videos during 2015 to see if more ads creep into this channel.

Sport Viewership Goes Digital, by Adobe Digital Index, Ad Age

4. A Social Alternative to Super Bowl Advertising

Advertisers spent $4.5 million for 30 seconds of exposure during the recent Super Bowl. While the enormous reach of the TV broadcast and the buzz around Super Bowl and its commercials seems to justify a $4.5 million spend, there is evidence that brands that were not Super Bowl advertisers scored without making the multi-million dollar investment. Research from Mediavest USA/SMG found that in some cases non-advertisers with an active social media presence around and during the Super Bowl had higher engagement than competitors that were Super Bowl advertisers. 

The Super Bowl consumption experience is no longer confined to the game itself and TV broadcast. It occurs on multiple channels for days before the game, during the Super Bowl itself, and after the game. Advertising in-game gives brands a spot on the big stage, but social media interaction around fans' interest in the game seems to trump the few seconds of glory an advertiser enjoys.

5. PGA Tour Turns to Online Network to Connect with Young Fans

Like many sports, professional golf has challenges in appealing to Millennials. One of the issues facing sport properties is the time investment one must make to take in a sporting event. Another issue is simply creating compelling content that keeps the audience interested. The PGA Tour is addressing these challenges by launching an online network, Skratch TV. Among the features of Skratch TV content is short videos rather than the lengthy format associated with network TV golf telecasts and innovations in capturing the action by using GoPro cameras and cameras mounted on drones. Research shows that the percentage of Millennials making up the TV viewing audience for the PGA Tour (20.2%) is smaller than for MLB, NASCAR, NBA, and NFL. Clearly, golf needs to attract younger fans. Skratch TV could be a significant step in that direction.

To Lure Younger Fans, PGA Tour Will Offer a Network Online, by Richard Sandomir, The New York Times

6. Twitter Group DM Offers Access that Fans Crave

A recent innovation to Twitter's service is the availability of private group messaging. Not only does the ability to hold group discussions privately add efficiency to the Twitter user experience, it opens doors for marketers to explore how to connect with customers in a way that gives them some type of special access. Adidas was perhaps the first sports brand to experiment with private group messaging, connecting Real Madrid star Karim Benzema with three randomly selected fans. 

One of the greatest benefits a sports brand possesses is the ability to give fans inside access to something for which they hold great affinity. Most Walmart customers likely would not get too excited about a private messaging session with the company's CMO, but if fans of a sports team are able to participate in a session with coach, player, or other member of the organization it could create a memorable experience that deepens the bond between fan and brand. It will be interesting to watch how other sports brands utilize this new Twitter feature.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Making the Grade: A Social Media Report Card for Collegiate Athletic Conferences

Having a social media presence is a given for virtually any brand today assuming its target audience uses social media. This statement is particularly relevant for sports brands as fans take to social media to follow their favorite teams and athletes as well as join in community with fellow fans. College athletic conferences are brands in their own right. Each conference is an umbrella brand over the brands of its member institutions.

Social media metrics such as Facebook likes and Twitter followers are captured by initiatives such as Sports Fan Graph, but audience quantity in terms of likes or followers is perceived by many social media marketers as vanity metrics. They measure quantity of clicks but not quality of brand-audience engagement. Some of the audience acquired may be attributed to relationship building that occurred offline. Given these limitations, what are alternatives to evaluating social media marketing effectiveness for sports brands?

Grading College Conferences using a Social Media Audit

Students enrolled in my undergraduate sports marketing course at Middle Tennessee State University during the fall semester evaluated the social media presence of collegiate athletics conferences as part of their study of social media marketing practices in the sports industry. Twenty-five conferences were reviewed; each of the twenty-five students in the class conducted an audit of two conferences assigned randomly. The social media audit criteria included:
  • Social Networking Sites Used- Identified the sites used by the conference
  • Audience size- For each social network identified, audience size was reported on each site as of the date of the audit.
  • Content strategy- What content forms were used by the conference (video, photos, links to league members’ pages, other content).
  • Engagement- Evaluated frequency of content posts and level of interaction with posts (likes, shares, reposts, etc. from audience).
  • Critique of strengths and weaknesses- Reviewed overall social media practices of conference, indicating areas in which conference uses social media effectively and areas for improvement.
  • Overall Grade: Gave a grade for the conference’s use of social media marketing based on  analysis of content strategy, engagement, and strengths/weaknesses. Assigned grade of A, B, C, D, or F; +/- grades were allowed. 
Audits were conducted during the period November 7-21, 2014. Results of the students' analysis of the conferences appear in the table below. 

Social Media Audit Report Card
The Honor Roll:
Conference USA
Southeastern Conference
Mountain West Conference
Big Sky Conference
Pacific-12 Conference
The Rest:
Big Ten Conference
Atlantic Coast Conference
Northeast Conference
Colonial Athletic Association
Ohio Valley Conference
Big South Conference
Big 12 Conference
Southland Conference
Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference
American Athletic Conference
Atlantic 10 Conference
Sun Belt Conference
Mid-American Conference
Southwestern Athletic Conference
West Coast Conference
Missouri Valley Conference
Patriot League
Southern Conference
Western Athletics Conference
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

A Look at the Honor Roll

The top five conferences can be considered as making the Honor Roll as each had a 3.0 GPA or higher when the judges's scores were averaged. What practices made these five conferences stand out? Hear what the student judges had to say:

Conference USA
"It seemed that in some way each (social media) site was linked to each other. I believe this helps attract fans to their other pages and helps the conference gain more followers. They keep their audience and fans engaged with different content."

"They do a great job with keeping their followers informed of current news and updates."

Southeastern Conference
"Overall, the SEC is very good at keeping their fans informed. They post multiple times a day across many platforms and have a variety of different topics and media."

"The overall  presence of the SEC on social media seems to be working fairly well. It may work in the conference's favor to interact with fans more and comment and just have more overall interaction with fans considering the fan base is so large."

Mountain West Conference
"The Mountain West Conference does a great job with the way they use their social networking sites, using Instagram for pictures, Facebook more for fan interaction, Twitter for informational purposes, and YouTube for video."

"Direct communication via Twitter is a strength, communicating with fans that had technical difficulties watching the games. This makes the conference more personable and is a good way to sustain and grow their number of followers."

Big Sky Conference
"Social media practices are great on Facebook and Twitter. They post everyday and get people pumped up about upcoming games and events."

"Big Sky Conference appears to be very involved and active on their social media sites. They are extremely aware of how often they post and give fans and followers a wide array of news. The brand seems to be very well thought out and consistent throughout all social media sites."

Pacific-12 Conference
"This conference is very good about trying to involve fans, at least on Facebook. They post a variety of different media and ask the fans questions, which leads to the amount of comments they receive. They are also good at tagging the Pace-12 schools in some of their posts on Twitter. This gets the schools involved and puts the name in front of followers."

"They have good content on YouTube but not many views. They could probably make use of another channel like their Facebook or Twitter pages to make people more aware of their presence on YouTube."

Lessons Learned

Overall, the exercise was valuable in that it allowed students to apply social media marketing concepts and practices they learned to two collegiate sports brands. The results are not based on rigorous data analysis. However, they could be used by college athletic conferences to rethink how they utilize social media. It seems to be a given that these brands need to have a social media presence. Conference brands have what could be viewed as a built-in fan base from the fans of their member schools. The question that must be asked is whether there is a strategy in place that sets outcomes a conference should realize through its use of social media channels.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pick 6: Brands, Stories, and Trends Shaping Sports Business #22

Super Bowl XLIX is history- the Patriots are champions, the Seahawks are deflated, and the world of sports marketing continues to turn.

1. YouTube's New Sensation: The NFL

The NFL has loosened its grip on content (for a handsome price, of course) by partnering with YouTube to distribute highlights and other content daily. It is a departure from a focus on controlling the distribution channel to making content easier to consume. In an age when younger consumers spend more time streaming video from the Internet, sport properties like the NFL need to meet fans where they are.

The NFL's Cautious Embrace of YouTube, by Eric Blattberg, Digiday

2. Winning the Super Bowl in the Retail Trenches

Brands make a big splash by spending $4.5 million for a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl. Ads can build brand buzz, but they do not necessarily translate to products sold. PepsiCo leveraged its Super Bowl ad spend and halftime show sponsorship with massive presence at retail, garnering more than 62,000 Super Bowl-themed displays for PepsiCo products in the weeks leading up to the game. For a consumer packaged goods marketer, moving the sales needle is crucial, and PepsiCo made it happen with its Super Bowl marketing.

3. U. of Illinois Wants Input to Improve Fan Experience

This story is not revolutionary, but it is refreshing, nonetheless. The University of Illinois athletic department is addressing declining attendance at its football games by forming a Fan Council. It will consist of groups in Champaign-Urbana and Chicago and will meet four times a year. Senior Associate AD Mike Waddell says Marketing 101 entails listening to customers. A Fan Council can not only be a source of valuable input, but it can create perceptions that UI values stakeholder input.

UI Athletic Department Looks to Fans for Input, by Matt Daniels, The News-Gazette

4. Beast Mode Brand Wins at Super Bowl

The Seattle Seahawks may have come up short in the Super Bowl, but Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch's Beast Mode brand enjoyed much more success. A Beast Mode pop-up store in Glendale sold out of merchandise during Super Bowl week, and a $33 hat with the Beast Mode logo he wore to Media Day sold out on his website. Athletes are brands in their own right; will more players follow in the steps of Marshawn Lynch and build a personal brand identity? Should NFL players be encouraged to do so given the short amount of time they have in the limelight? Would a trend toward more "player brands" be at odds with marketing the brands of the NFL and its 32 teams?

5. Super Bowl Ticket Shortage a Black Eye for Ticket Brokers

The secondary market for sporting event tickets is robust. Buyers scour websites and ads looking for great deals. For marquee events like the Super Bowl, buying from brokers is often a matter of being able to find tickets. Many Super Bowl XLIX ticket buyers dealing with brokers were left feeling disappointed when brokers could not follow through on filling purchases made by buyers due to scarce supply of tickets. The situation is unfortunate for the many buyers shut out of the Super Bowl, assuming an order placed would be an order filled. This situation is not new; many concert goers are frustrated that prime seats are often snapped up by brokers, shutting out the average consumer from buying desired seats. If this trend escalates, will frustrated sports fans give up on trying to attend events and consume via TV (if at all)?

Resale Sites Renege on Tickets, by Darren Rovell,

6. Timeless Advice for Aspiring Sports Business Professionals

The new year is a time to renew focus or set new goals. If you are looking to break into sports business, you have likely heard the often given advice of build a network of professional contacts and gain experience through volunteerism and internships. Sports business professional Mark Burns builds on that foundation by identifying 12 actions a person can take to build relationships and gain experience. The tools available to make these things happen are more plentiful (e.g., email, blogs, and social networking sites), but their use ultimately goes back to the two keywords: networking and experiences. The common thread through Burns's 12 recommended actions is that they can add value to others, which is the essence of marketing any brand, product or personal.

Photo of the Week

The sports world lost another beloved figure on January 23rd when legendary Chicago Cub and Baseball Hall of Fame member Ernie Banks passed away. A few nights later, the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Tower in Chicago honored Banks with a lighted tribute featuring his "Mr. Cub" nickname and number 14.

Photo credit: Lisa Fielding