Category Archives: sports business

You Need Scouts

I don’t think there has been a baseball movie made that didn’t feature some weathered old guy seated in the bleachers somewhere.  He usually utters undecipherable baseball jargon while taking copious notes.  This, dear reader, is the baseball scout, who used to be how talent was discovered.  If you’ve seen or read Moneyball, you know that the scout is an endangered species.  This article from USA Today last week talks about how many pro scouts are still unemployed one month before the start of spring training.  The reason?  Data.

Photo by Justin Lafferty 00:19, 7 December 200...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Baseball is in the throes of the Moneyball movement.  Teams have been laying off scouts and turning to sabermetrics, which Wikipedia defines as the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity.  Baseball has fallen in love with data.  Maybe your business has too.

Here is the problem, both for you and for baseball.  There are certain things that don’t show up in data.  A player’s leadership qualities in the dugout aren’t quantifiable.  Potential can often be visible but not measurable.  That’s true in your office as well.  The data may show you what it happening but it’s hard for it to show you what could be happening.  That requires humans: scouts.

We all need scouts.  We need people who use the data as a tool but who also have the experience and wisdom to know when the data is missing something.  That doesn’t mean projecting one’s wishes into the numbers nor distorting the story those numbers tell.  It is, however, an acknowledgment that there is often a bigger picture than what’s inside the frame.

Here is a quote from a scout:

I’ve got 23 years in the business,’’ Wren said, “and now clubs don’t want that experience? I look at teams now, and they’re hiring guys who aren’t really scouts. They’re sabermetric guys from the office, and they put them in the field like they’re scouts, just to give them a consensus of opinion.

That’s dangerous for a baseball team.  It could be fatal for you.  You’re up!


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All FIFA-ed Up

One of my favorite movies is Casablanca. It came to mind last week as the FIFA scandal unfolded. Soccer fan or not, you’re probably aware of the indictments issued (with more to come) against high-ranking administrators and marketing executives. If you’re not the details are here.

Casablanca? Yes:

That was, in essence, the response by Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, who claims to have had no clue such corruption was going on.  I’ll wait while you stop laughing, but this really is no laughing matter.  We are watching a major sports organization implode and there are billions of dollars involved.  It is a classic PR crisis, and one thing you can’t do in this situation is to go dark and allow others to dictate the conversation.  That is, however, exactly what the brain trust at FIFA is doing:

A quick look into Socialbakers Analytics tells us that that’s not what was going through the minds of FIFA’s PR team: out of the almost 8000 questions posed to them on Twitter in just under last month, they’ve responded to zero.

That’s from the Social Bakers blog.  Into that vacuum you have one of the indicted executives citing a piece in The Onion as supporting his innocence and several of FIFA’s corporate sponsors have expressed dismay while threatening to pull their financial support.  After all, brands sponsor sports in part so they can transfer the goodwill that fans feel for the sport to the brand’s equity.  When that goodwill vanishes, the brand is damaged as well.

What should they be doing?  I’m not a PR expert but I know silence is not an option.  The few messages they’ve put out there have been met with ridicule and the reelection of the man at the head of the organization, who claims he can clean it up, is widely seen as a negative.

“You can’t just ask everybody to behave ethically just like that in the world in which we live,” Blatter said in his opening remarks to the FIFA congress. “We cannot constantly supervise everybody that is in football,” he added. “That is impossible.”

Really?  Most big companies with which I’ve worked do exactly that, and the stench of corruption has been around the beautiful game for as long as I’ve worked in sports.  Staying silent in a crisis is bad.  Making statements that deny culpability (FIFA is trying to argue that all the problems are with other soccer organizations, not FIFA) is worse.  As with Louis in Casablanca, what’s been going on is very obvious and as the old line goes, I’m choosing to believe my lying eyes over FIFA.  You?

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It’s getting to be the weekend again which means that many of you will be watching sports.

Cheerleader of the Aachen Steelers team at the...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe it’s your local baseball team, maybe it’s one of your kids, or maybe it’s one of the many hours of televised sports that will be available.  The reason sports rights fees continue to rise so dramatically despite the continued fragmentation of audiences is because the market sees sports as one of the few pieces of content that really must be watched as it happens.  They’re sort of DVR-proof.

That’s part of the secret but the real truth is that sports make people care.  There is an emotional connection with the team or with a player.  If you ever played a sport I suspect there is a part of you that feels the excitement of competition again as well.  Fans are cheerleaders and maybe even more.  Some researchers have found that fans experience hormonal surges and other physiological changes while watching games.  The emotional connection is strong because, to a certain extent, whomever you root for represents you.  When they win, you do too.

That got me thinking.  How do we bring that deep connection outside of sports? How do we get them to see themselves not so much as buying products but rather belonging to a larger movement?  Apple certainly has done that.  Some mom and pop local businesses manage to do that as well.  The get their customers to root for them as they would a sports team.  Those teams are a central component to their daily lives.  How can we make our brands play that kind of role?

It certainly isn’t by selling.  When your team takes the field, they sweat and get hurt for you to win.  Are we making consumers feel that we’d do the same thing for them, or are we constantly asking them to do something for us?  How can we turn customers into cheerleaders? Something to think about.

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Filed under sports business, Thinking Aloud

Know The Fan

The folks at Sporting News Media released their annual survey into US sports media consumption, the US Know the Fan Report.  I’m embedding an infographic below with the results but a few points bear mentioning.

First, it’s now safe to assume that a viewer of sports on TV is using a second screen.  The study found that nearly half of sports fans claim to use an Internet connected device at the same time as watching . This use helps fans to catch up on what’s happening with other games being played via live text commentary and live scores, as well as to access non-sports related content, communicate with friends about the sports event on TV, watch clips and highlights of other games being played and post comments to social networking platforms about the game/event they’re watching.

I find it interesting that while 96% of fans report watching sports on TV, only a third self-identify as having paid for it.  In my mind, paying the $6+ a month for ESPN qualifies as paying.  3% use a pay-per-view service — down from 9% from 2012.  Facebook, YouTube and Twitter remain the most popular networks overall for fans to follow sports but fans are using them less as compared to last year to make use of newer social networking platforms such as Google+, Instagram, Pinterest and Vine.

Live streaming remains the most popular content accessed (38%), followed by videos of game/event highlights (31%) and videos of sports news (27%). More than half of fans that watch videos of game/event highlights online (51%) and videos of player/manager/coach interviews (56%), do so via mobile device.

My takeaway is that this sort of disruption is occurring everywhere and sports viewing is an excellent lab in which to look forward since sports is an important part in nearly every consumer’s life.  How are you preparing for it to hit your business?

US Overview

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Don’t Be An Idiot

Over the weekend, CBS and Turner tried an interesting experiment around the Final Four broadcast. They set up “homer” channels which have nothing to do with The Simpsons and everything to do with a particular team. Called TeamCasts, the channel would have announcers who openly rooted for a particular team and called them “us.” There was also a traditional, play it right down the middle broadcast available.
Apparently, not everyone got the message (or managed to decipher what the on-screen graphic meant that said it was a TeamCast) and Twitter filled up with complaints. Leave it to Charles Barkley to explain the problem:

Maybe a little harsh, but Chuck makes an excellent point, one we should remember.  People ARE idiots.  OK, not you and not me.  But there are idiots in the world.  Ever notice when you buy a cup of coffee that it says “this cup is filled with very hot liquid”?  That’s thanks to an idiot.  Ever see a piece of wrapped food that instructs the purchaser to “remove wrapper before consuming”?  Another idiot.

I don’t raise this to degrade my fellow humans.  I’m pointing it out because many of us assume the consumers are a lot smarter than they often demonstrate.  I am very aware of David Ogilvy‘s famous quote – “the consumer is not an idiot; she is your wife” and I agree with his point.  You can’t treat people like idiots.  You also cannot, however, assume that they’re a lot smarter than they are. They may not realize they have a problem that your product solves.  They may believe a competitor’s silly claim  that has no basis in fact because most people are too lazy to seek out the facts (just turn on one of the many news channels and you’ll be able to see hours of undocumented “facts”).

Don’t be an idiot.  As a marketer, strike the balance between respecting consumers and treating them as if they’re not really very bright.  As a consumer yourself, pay attention to facts and don’t go jumping on social media to proclaim your outrage when in fact you’re demonstrating ignorance.    Simple enough, right?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, sports business

Kids And Cards

Once in a while I spot something that elicits an “Aw come ON” from me as I read it. Let’s see if you agree. Bowl-BlackBackgroundThe piece was in yesterday’s USAToday and was a front page article in the sports section on the topic of high school football all-stars.  You can click-through the previous link to read it if you care to.  In a nutshell, participants in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl are asked to sign a couple of hundred trading cards each.  The kids aren’t told what the cards are for nor are they made to participate.  It’s “an opportunity, not a requirement.”  The cards are sold and in some cases they become quite valuable.  No money goes to the kids.

While I have some qualms about that, what caused the aforementioned response is the attitudes displayed by the adults involved:

“The answer is, ‘Well, you don’t have to.’ But for many of these players, this will be the only time in their athletic careers they are on a trading card. To be singled out at that point in time for their athletic achievement is not a bad thing.”  Leaf CEO Brian Gray says there is no pressure put on the high school players and they have the option to decline. “But really,” he says, “If you don’t want to be on the card, there’s something wrong with you.”

Seriously?  Anyone care to name an athlete who knowingly permits their name, likeness, and autograph to be used for purely commercial purposes without any compensation?  I’ll wait.  Didn’t think so.   Most of the kids think the cards are being used for non-commercial purposes – donations to soldiers, for example.  They are never told, and when they find out they don’t really understand how much some of them are worth.  Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck (a Stanford grad and by all accounts a smart man) objected to the card being issued, saying he had never approved it.  The company’s response:

Leaf responded by suing him, saying it had a First Amendment right to do so, claiming that the game operators had granted Leaf the license to player likenesses. The 2008 game was before Leaf began issuing sets of trading cards from the game, but it has issued alumni cards – such as the 2008 Luck card.

Now, I’m in my third decade working in sports and I’ve NEVER heard anyone claim they can issue merchandise as part of the First Amendment.  There’s a multi-billion dollar business called licensing that would disappear if that’s the truth.  Rationalization aside, why not just tell the kids clearly upfront what’s going on?  Hiding something?

One of my favorite Saturday Night Live characters is Dan Aykroyd playing a smarmy guy named Irwin Mainway who, among other things, sells “Bag O’Glass” and caters a school breakfast program with coffee and cigarettes.  His take is that “it’s a bottomless cup of coffee” makes it all just fine.  No, it really doesn’t and the trading card company’s isn’t OK either.  You agree?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, sports business

Getting Authenticated

I spent a good part of the weekend watching the Olympics (can I use that word without IOC permission?). Authentication FailNBC is wall to wall with them across all of their networks and it’s great. It’s truly the smorgasbord of sports – a grand buffet with a little something for everyone. Just in case you’re still hungry, NBC is also streaming everything to anyone who can prove they have a cable TV subscription. Seems fair – why have to pay for the same content a second time?

As an aside, that availability of this streaming has me confused about why people are complaining via social media about NBC’s TV coverage – what they choose to air  on which networks, etc.  You can be your own producer, and if you’re tech savvy enough to complain in the Twittersphere about it you’re probably savvy enough to figure out how to hook a computer up to a TV screen to watch the streaming as if it was TV.

I tried to get myself authenticated to do exactly that and found out that the weak link in the chain is actually the cable operator.  Well, specifically MY cable operator.  Every time I went through the process, which involves going to the site and entering your cable user ID and password via your own provider’s site, I got a weird server message.  Not an error message as if I had the wrong information – a message you see in the graphic that’s indecipherable.  I finally emailed Cablevision support.  To their credit, they emailed me back within the hour that I was now authorized.  I wasn’t – same message when I went to sign in.  I used an online chat link they sent me to try to resolve it.  The very nice person (named Keith, coincidentally) let me know after a few minutes that he was a TV support guy and I needed to chat with the Internet guy.  Start a new chat.  Kevin (the new rep) asked if I had Cablevision’s internet service, which I don’t.  I reminded him that as long as I had TV I was supposed to be able to watch the streams.  He checked (5 minutes) and discovered I was right.  The issue turned out to be Chrome on a Mac – I was authorized instantly on a PC using Firefox.  Once I installed Flash into Safari, it worked on my Mac as well.  Strangely, it now works on Chrome too.

I suspect we’ll see a lot more of this as the pipe we use to access content becomes less important than the content itself.  I’m hoping the bumps will vanish and that rather than a great product such as this surfacing once every four years, we can use it every day.  What about you?  Have you tried the streaming?  What do you think?  Any issues getting it to work?

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Filed under sports business, Thinking Aloud