Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Pick 6: Brands, Stories, and Trends Shaping Sports Business #27

Tensions are as high for marketers in the boardroom as they are for players and coaches in the locker room. Here are six current examples of the tensions sports marketers face in their quest to build winners:

1. Technology as an Opportunity, not Threat to Live Sporting Events...

It is widely assumed that technology innovations will influence more sports fans to opt for the living room sofa instead of the folding seat in Section 307. The indirect consumption experience has been enhanced with high definition TV and second and third screens that many people use while watching sporting events, enjoyed from the comfort of their home. However, technology holds promise for making the live event more satisfactory, too. Four uses of technology at sports venues- better wireless networks, venue-specific apps, cashless systems and paperless tickets, and drone deployment- have the potential to add value for fans and utilize technology in ways that makes the decision to get off the sofa worthwhile.

2. And an Opportunity for Enhancing the TV Consumption Experience

Technology is being deployed to increase TV viewers' involvement and interest in sporting events, too. Direct consumption versus indirect consumption is not always a choice for sports fans. For example, PGA Tour events our held across the country, meaning that a golf enthusiast in Montana may have no choice but to watch TV coverage of this week's Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida to get his PGA fix. 

A situation such as this one typical of many PGA fans is why the new PGA Tour iPad app is an answer for how to meet the needs of high involvement fans. The app incorporates video, real-time player tracking, and other data to satisfy the appetite of fans that may be left longing for a better experience than TV alone can offer.

3. Li-Ning Seeks to Regain Balance

Chinese sports shoe and apparel brand Li-Ning enjoyed a rapid ascent to market prominence in just a few short years following its 2003 launch. Today, the company is working to overcome a third straight year of losses. Among the reasons cited for Li-Ning's woes have to do with marketing missteps. First, the brand has failed to link expensive athlete endorsements with its brand image, making the endorsements little more than very expensive promotional campaigns. Second, Li-Ning is caught between positioning itself as a high performance athletic brand and a lifestyle brand. Company leaders must deal with these marketing issues to put Li-Ning back on the right course, but will it be enough to compete globally with Nike and Adidas?

Li Ning's Woes a Valuable Lesson in Branding, by Li Ruiqui, Beijing Today

4. Don't Tread on My Logo

Brands occasionally update logos to give their brand identity a fresh look or reflect new positioning strategies. More often than not, logo changes seem to stir protest among customers and the public. It is a stark reminder that although the asset that is a logo is owned by the brand, its meaning and significance is owned by those to whom the brand matters. 

The latest example of public angst about a new logo comes from the Albuquerque Isoptopes. The AAA minor league baseball team recently unveiled a new alternate logo (meaning the existing logo is not being replaced) only to be skewered on social media about it. Backlash to new logo introductions is not new, so it stands to reason that brands should be prepared to "sell" customers and others on the reasons why a logo is updated or like the case of the Albuquerque Isotopes, complemented with a secondary logo. 

5. MLS Ready to Become a Major American Pro Sport Property?

The 2015 Major League Soccer season is now underway. Optimism abounds about the league as it appears to be stronger than ever. New franchises in Orlando and New York have kindled fan interest in those markets. Significant additions to the league sponsor roster include Heineken, Chipotle, Etihad Airways, and Advocare. Perhaps most notable is that the rise in MLS's popularity is being traced to interest among Millennials, a significant chunk of the 18-34 year-old demographic brands crave to reach and engage. Is MLS poised to make significant strides as a sports property with national appeal, or is this hope and hype from a small but passionate base that wants MLS to grow?

6. NBA, WNBA Lean In To Promote Social Issue

We live in the era of the activist athlete as sports stars use their popularity and social media platforms to speak out on social issues of the day. Some sports fans get uncomfortable when athletes starting co-mingling games and everyday issues, but other fans are moved by their heroes showing a personal side by taking stands on issues ranging from racism to literacy. 

Another issue that is drawing support from one pro sports property is gender equality in the workplace. The NBA and WNBA have partnered with Sheryl Standberg's Lean In movement in which players from both leagues have appeared in promo videos for the campaign "Lean In Together." The stance taken by the NBA to support this cause is in stark contrast to high profile embarrassing incidents of domestic violence involving some NFL players last year. On one hand, partnering with the Lean In movement is logical for the NBA given its stake in the WNBA brand. On the other hand, the NBA stands to benefit from a social responsibility standpoint as the NBA seems prepared to integrate Lean In Together into its marketing plan over the long run. It will not be a "flavor of the month" promotional campaign only to be replaced by a new campaign.

Video of the Week

Part of the NBA-Lean In partnership and the Lean In Together is a video campaign using the hashtag #LeanInTogether. NBA and WNBA stars are featured in the campaign to raise awareness of the leagues' association with Lean In. Here is work from that campaign: