Tag Archives: sports

A Yankee In Tailgateland

Not only is today Foodie Friday but it’s also the day before the college football season begins in earnest. While I’ve always been a fan of the college game, it wasn’t until I relocated down here in the South that I fully understood the passion and deep community involvement my neighbors have with their college football teams.

Photo courtesy Jonathan Ray

If you’ve read this screed for any amount of time you know that I root for the Michigan Wolverines. That said, I hold season tickets for NC State, one of the local teams. Frankly, given what I’m about to write, I’m not even sure that the tickets are necessary but it’s the only way to get a decent parking spot so you can TAILGATE!

Yes, I’ve learned the joy of tailgating, which is something Southerners appear to do not only at football games but damn near everything else from hockey games to concerts. I suppose some of them are pre-gaming a funeral as we speak…

In any event, tailgating is BIG business all across parking lots. I’d seen some of it when I went to games at Michigan, but it’s NOTHING compared to what goes on here. I suspect that a good number of folks really do just sit in the parking lot without game tickets and watch on TV. The food is sometimes your basic hot dogs and burgers but there are incredibly elaborate spreads too. At some southern schools, there are $25,000 spreads put on for hundreds of people as well as repurposed shipping containers made into tailgating palaces.

What’s the business point today? Had someone come to me for a business idea in my previous life in the sports business, I would never have thought to look at tailgating. I would have been missing a fantastic, and still growing, business. It’s a good reminder that we need to get outside of our little bubbles. Yankees don’t really have anything like this at games up north and although I went to dozens of venues in the South for games, I was working and didn’t hang out in the parking lot.

Our personal bubbles restrict the news we see, the information we digest and the decisions we make. It isn’t until we break out of them, either purposefully or by accident as happened to me with tailgating, that we grow. As people say to me when offering some odd-looking pregame snack, try it – you’ll like it!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Another FIFA Fail

I read a mind-blowing story over the weekend about how not to treat a customer. Actually, how not to treat THOUSANDS of customers. Then again, considering the organization that was doing the “treating”, in retrospect I shouldn’t have been so shocked as they hit a new low. But still…

The Women’s World Cup begins in a few weeks. FIFA, which many in the world of sports consider to be just a big criminal conspiracy (too many cases to list here) began distributing tickets to customers around the world. The rest would be comical is it wasn’t so sad:

With the tournament in France due to start on 7 June, Fifa announced on Monday that tickets were now available to print at home. This led in some instances to complaints from people who, having assumed they had bought tickets together, discovered this was not the case.

“Dear fans. We have noted some of your comments, re: your tickets,” read a message on the tournament’s official Twitter account. “When you placed your order, a message indicating not all seats would be located next to each other did appear, before confirmation of your purchase. Unfortunately we will not be able to modify your order.

So if you spent years saving up to take your daughter to see the best women in the world play, you might have to let her experience that joy whilst seated several sections away from you and from your wife who may be in a different part of the stadium completely. FIFA’s response: we don’t really care.

A few things. First, this would NEVER happen for a Men’s World Cup. FIFA has a history of telling the women to piss off while paying lip service to their game. They made the women play a World Cup on artificial turf and who can forget the head of FIFA’s suggestion that women boost the game by playing in tighter shorts and makeup. Second, even if they weren’t such sexist pigs, ticket sales make up a smallish percentage of FIFA’s World Cup revenues. TV and sponsorship are the big tickets here and unless and until the broadcasters and sponsors speak up, the dismissive attitude to the real fans won’t change.

FIFA has a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and they’ve done it again. We’ve been through this many times in this space but no business can afford to tell customers, no matter how small a part of the revenue picture that customer may be, that they don’t matter. People traveling to these games are among FIFA’s best customers. Do you still think they’ll continue to spend money with FIFA after this? Most of us can distinguish between supporting the game via our attention and supporting the people who run it with our cash. Fortunately for them, FIFA has no real competition. Can you say the same?

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The Real Magic

I bought a ticket yesterday to see the Michigan Wolverine basketball team play North Carolina. It’s a chance to see a team that I root for in person, and since I don’t live close to Ann Arbor, those chances don’t come very often without significant travel. It wasn’t cheap – over $100 to sit in a so-so seat – but as I’ve written many times, cost and value aren’t the same

Yes, the game will be on TV and I could just stay home and watch it, as I do many of their other games. In fact, as a person who made a living in the sports TV business, I often ask myself why people both going to games now at all. After all, it’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, and the viewing experience is often much better sitting at home. I know from my time at a league that clubs are well-aware of this and they try to make the game-day experience worth the time and money, and many do. But the real reason I and other fans go to the game is something that any of us can bring to our business: authenticity.

I’ve been to hundreds of sporting events. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts. They’re often forgettable – your team getting shellacked or a bad night for a band. But every time the experience is real, and part of that is sharing it with thousands of others. Some bands forget this – they use a lot of recorded sound in their show, often including vocals. Some teams come out tired and slow – maybe it’s their third game in four days. No magic there because in neither case are we seeing the real deal – an organization performing at its full potential. The fans know it too – there’s no electricity in the building (and in sports, there’s often a lot of negative energy expressed as booing). People want experiences, and especially experiences they can share.

This is something any business should remember. Customers want something real. They can tell when we’re “fake nice” or when we’re being unresponsive. They want consistency too. The fan who pays for the “off night” goes away unhappy and is unlikely to return. As our lives get more virtual, I think we all crave genuine things, experiences and businesses among the things for which we hunger. You?

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Filed under sports business, Thinking Aloud

Not So Great Expectations

The gasoline that keeps a good portion of the sports machine running is sponsorship. I’m using the gasoline analogy today because there has been a high profile sponsorship dispute going on in the world of auto racing and I think it’s instructive to any of us who sell or buy pretty much anything.

You’ve probably heard of Danica Patrick, NASCAR‘s only female driver in its top-level series, The Monster Energy Cup. She drives for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), who sold the rights to sponsor her car in 2016 for several years. Somewhere along the line things went south and Nature’s Bakery terminated what was a three-year deal after the first year, claiming that SHR “did nothing other than collect Nature Bakery’s money”. An additional issue was that Danica personally endorsed a competing product (albeit one with no visibility on the car or around the races). SHR sued to recover the agreed-upon payments. As it turns out, Nature’s Bakery will sponsor four cars during this season, split between SHR’s drivers, as part of a settlement.

I spent a lot of years selling sports sponsorships and I know first-hand how hard it is sometimes not to over promise in your zealous pursuit of the sale. In this case,  Nature’s Bakery was told to expect a 4-to-1 return on investment. The reality was there was no significant increase in sales. That could have been due to any number of reasons, including some that had to do with logistics and not with awareness, but it points to a core issue.

When you’re selling anything, setting expectations and agreeing on how performance is going to be measured is key. In this case, many of the measures of awareness did rise significantly, but if the client’s goal was sales then the buyer and seller seem misaligned. Keeping expectations of both parties on the same page and in alignment must be the goal of all parties, and the documents shouldn’t be signed until that goal is reached.

There also seems to be some inexperience in sports sponsorship at work here. A team that has Coke as a sponsor might very well have athletes who endorse Pepsi. An arena with Mastercard as a building sponsor might see an athlete who plays in that building in an American Express commercial. Danica is one of NASCAR’s most visible drivers and her personal endorsements should have been identified to the buyers (even though anyone could find them easily on her personal website). Always remember that a good seller sits on the same side of the desk (figuratively speaking) as their buyer since you’re both trying to accomplish the same thing.

Aligned expectations, appropriate measures of reaching goals, and transparency are how sports sponsorships (and others too!) get done and stay on track. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, sports business

Protecting Your Brand With Common Sense

The Olympic Games are almost upon us. Like most major sporting organizations, the Olympic Committee and the US Olympic Committee protect their commercial marks aggressively. That intellectual property is a huge piece of the value they sell to official sponsors and keeping non-sponsors from doing ambush marketing is a big part of any sports organization’s daily life. It becomes front and center during marquee events. 

Companies find ways around this enforcement, of course. You’ve probably seen dozens of ads about “The Big Game” every January. You know they reference The Super Bowl even though it’s never said, don’t you. It’s a term the NFL tried to protect but was unable to.  The USOC and IOC are just as aggressive about terminology ranging from the obvious (Olympics, Games, Medal, Rio) to the less obvious (Effort, Performance, Challenge).

Today isn’t about whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Having spent much of my career selling and protecting commercial sponsorships of sporting events, you can imagine where I come out on ambushing. I do, however, have a bone to pick from the other side of my career, which is digital. I think it’s instructive for all of us.

Social media is social. Sharable. A conversation. More importantly, social media has become how many people learn and stay in touch with what’s going on in the world. Not in the USOC’s eyes, apparently. They sent a letter out last week which reinforces all of the aforementioned commercial restrictions around the upcoming games, especially with respect to athletes who may be sponsored by non-USOC or Olympic sponsors. But the letter went further.

“Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts. This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”

It doesn’t stop there. The same letter sent by the USOC reminds companies (except for those involved in news media) that they can’t reference any Olympic results or share or repost anything from the official Olympic account. I think that’s pretty far over the foul line. Social media by definition is meant to be circulated and almost any sponsor will mention “going viral” as one of their goals. How can you tweet or mention anything about the games without using a tag that’s discoverable? Why wouldn’t you want broader attention drawn to your event if it’s not otherwise a commercial message? Yes, I understand (better than most!) how sponsors try to share the brand equity of the event without authorization, but if all they’re doing is retweeting your own post, how are they sharing brand equity?

Protecting intellectual property is one of the most important things any brand or business can do. There are limits, however, and that protection should hardly ever interfere with common sense and the world of social sharing. You certainly don’t want to be seen as a bully. Do you agree with that?

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Filed under sports business, What's Going On

93 Out Of 100

Every year, the folks at Nielsen put out a review of the previous year in sports media. This year’s report is out, and one statistic jumped out at me. In 2005, 14 of the top 100 programs watched live plus same day were in the sports category. Ten years later, 93 of the top 100 were sports. That’s right: despite all of the fragmentation that’s managed to kill most other forms of programming, nearly all of the most-viewed programs watched live or same day were sports. Is it any wonder that demand for sports inventory is so high when it’s the only form of programming that is both widely viewed and watched in real time?

One would think, therefore, that being a sports programming distributor would put one, as Red Barber used to say, in the catbird seat. Looking, however, at the recent negative reports on ESPN’s financial future in the above context might cause some head-scratching (disclosure – I’m a Disney stockholder as well as a former employee). The issues, I think, are several things. First, sports, like any other form of media, is fragmented. You might never miss a NASCAR race but I couldn’t pay you to watch golf. Sure, you’re a college football fan, but turn on the tube any Saturday afternoon and you can choose from dozens of games airing live. That’s fragmentation, and what’s happened is that the rights fees paid to acquire that programming by the distributors bear little resemblance to the audiences and, therefore, the advertising.

Not a problem, you say. There are affiliate fees. That’s true, and in the case of some sports rights deal, such as the NHL and NBC, the rights fee is paid on the come. After all, if NBC can raise what they get from distributors for NBCSN from 10 cents to a quarter (as an example – those aren’t real numbers), their affiliate fees more than double. Hopefully, the demand for NHL or any other brand of sports programming can make that happen.

All well and good until “skinny bundles” show up. Suddenly, people who never watch sports (yes, there are more of them than you think) have the option of reducing their cable bill by not paying $7 a month or more for sports shows they don’t watch. This is what is causing the negative predictions about ESPN. Smalle income from affiliates based on fewer subscribers to sports channels means smaller rights fees available for the leagues and other rightsholders. Smaller TV deals mean…higher ticket prices? More expensive concessions? Smaller player contracts? Labor strife?

93 out of 100 gets an A in most classes. It’s nice that sports is “bulletproof”. So was Superman, but he, and sports, have their weak spot. It will be interesting to see where this goes, don’t you think?

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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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Filed under Huh?, sports business