May, 2008 | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Two Tales, Same Ball…MLS Thrives, MISL Crashes…

This week was a big week for soccer in the United States. No matter how you feel about England's win with David Beckham over the U.S., the sport of soccer in America benefitted and is growing on the outdoor side expontentially with each passing week, as highlighted by the Houston Chronicle piece. The industry bible, The Sports Business Journal, named MLS their League of th.Year this week for their growth, sponsor activation, vision and proactive stance to promote the game on all levels.The Philadelphia Inquirer had a good piece this week on the bright future for expansion into the area, and we touched on the lucrative and diverse jersey sponsors MLS has announced in recent weeks as well. Soon friendlies will begin to draw even more attention to the regular MLS matche., an.a series of other iniatives, including a four on four Futbolito event and other grassroots efforts will reach out to futher address all of the passionate and fringe interests of the game. MLS spends the dollars, finds and activates the sponsors.effectively use.the digital space and has embraced the Hispanic audience, while growing at the grassroots level. All those pieces are what is needed to succeed as a viable property in the U.S. today.very disappointing dissolution of the Major Indoor Soccer League this week.without that committment to spend and match return with business and media partners, the reliance on tickets and “free” expsoure (publicity) doomed the concept. For those who are just casual fans of the sport of soccer, MISL seemed to be a very American alternative…fast, exciting and high scoring (ala the AFL or indoor lacrosse). But unless the teams make the financial committment to work together and find ways to grow, the soccer success in this country will remain outdoors.

On to some other piece.of note. With the French Open attracting little attention in the United States, some props have to go to the WTA for continuing to promote their personalities, albeit abroad. The most recent version of Hello Magazine has a six page spread and interview wit. young star Ana Ivanovic (as reported by the women's tennis blog), which is still a solid step for the staff in a time when the sport seems to have lost its way in the publicity area…Sunday's issue of Play Magazine has a great piece on bullfighting, and its continued success and growth in Spain and other countries (any branding oppts ther.), while Fox Sports.com's Mark Kriegel has a good piece on the Lakers Mitch Kupchak, and all the behind the scenes work the GM has done to get LA back into the finals

Tracking Awareness For Brand Success In The Concrete Jungle…

PR Move of the Day:The latest success surfaced in the last few days, as the Reebok Track and Field Championships looked fo. angles to not just promote athletes but also drive interest in event attendance in a sport that has faded from the lexicon, even with the Olympics on the horizon.?The promoter.took a world class story with both political and athletic overtones, the presence of Chinese Olympian Liu Xiang, and put him on a perfect weather day on top of the Empire State Building for a presser that combined all the elements of the city, the Olympics and the political issues and the event this weekend. The mov.gave journalists, the event and the sponsors much more than a tired press event.Rich Deitsch's piece on si.com probably summed up the success of the event best. Great non traditional exposure, great way to spin the tried and true and take it to another level.

Some other good reads heading into a weekend...also on the Olympic side, Ad Age has a good piece on the way sponsors are now looking at the humanitarian side of Beijing in light of the earthquake tragedy…with MMA grabbing the prime time spotlight this weekend, legendary boxing writer Tom Hauser has a great piece giving insight into the issues that, even in a good year, boxing still needs to overcome to be successfulgoo.insight into a sport many don’t understand from the business sideanother good piece on how digital marketing fits together was offered up by Kar.Greenberg on Media Daily today…again not sports but great insight by experts into how this all works for those looking to learn where ROI can happen online…lastly, another great boost on the digital side for the WNBA, teaming with partner adidas to have fans design their own shooting shirts online…nice activation and added value, with great potential to have a practical application for the best of the best designs down the line.?

Wood vs. Flesh…Which is More Valuable In The Minor.

PR Move of the Day:push the envelope in promotions, and can often be th.trial space for many more refined promotions that will make it to major events with major sponsors and major dollars. Every once in a while the promotions will go to far, as happened this year with the KC T-Bones Michael Vick Jail Night, and sometimes they will be so out of the box they hit on many more opportunities that were never thought of before. Such was the case this week when the Indy League Calgary Vipers traded pitch John Odom to the Lardeo Broncos for ten custom maple bats. The viral nature of sports these days, as well as all baseball shows on XM and other online spots, created a boon for the bat makers, a celebrity out of Odom and gave the league and the teams some great national exposure. Intended or not, a sponsor…the batmaker…got a huge ROI for product, whic.has gotten more national exposure recently with the battle between aluminum and wood bats heating up. Nice way for all to benefit.

Some other good reads on the branding side…the issue of brand controlling content continues to get more exposure, as highlighted by a good piece this week in Ad Week on the effort leagues and teams are placing on generating and controlling message online…conversely, th.Huffington Post had a compelling piece on the issue in a broader scale last week, looking at reasons why media outlets owning teams and controlling content is going to be a big issue going forward…more info. on the Premier League growth was featured today on sports business.com, looking at all the revenue source.that have fueled success…with MMA making its first prime time MMA debut on CBS Saturday night, USA Today has a cover story on the sport and the added competition in the marketplace…finally, on the non-sports but fund rebranding story side, check out the Wall Street Journal piece on the rebirth of Hydrox to challenge Oreo in the cookie space…could make for another good minor league promo to find the better chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookie…?

No Lax of Support, But Can It Transfer Into Consistent Business And Brandin.

Once again this weekend, and really for the last few weeks, the great game of lacrosse grabbed its share of headlines, with Syracuse winning the Division I men's title in Foxboro, Mass, Northwestern taking the women's title in Towson, Maryland, and even the NLL Buffalo Bandits taking the indoor title with a last second 14-13 win over Portland earlier this month. On top of that, the ESPN-backed outdoor Major League Lacrosse season just kicked off, with all the intensity of coverage that “The Worldwide Leader In Sports” can help with. This pas.weekend produced great pieces in the Providence Journal and the Boston Globe about the growth of the sport on the grassroots side and the hope of lucrative professional efforts for indoor and outdoor lacrosse in New England, while a host of media outlets took the time to cover both championships, highlighted by a great SI.com piecebrain cancer survivor Jaclyn Murphy and the way the Wildcats have helped her. From St. Catherines Ontario to Roanoke, Virginia, solid support for lacrosse as a sport came forth, all signaling a potential bright future. However as we have all seen in many sports on the edge, confusion in the marketplace and a lack of consistent branding, pricing and promotion can hurt even the best of efforts. In order for lacrosse to succeed in the mainstream, the sport should look at the recent merger in open wheel racing and figure out how the outdoor ML.(with its ESPN piece) and the indoo. NLL can work together to jointly marke.and promote the sport, especially in the same markets. Now do the NFL and the AFL, and MLS and MISL need to work togethe.? Probably not, as the NFL and MLS are more established. But they do work together on certain iniatives, and when you have such alphabet soup in certain sports, finding ways to use economies of scale to reach the masses is important. Without that joint effort, it will be very hard, even with a strong grassroots following, for the sport of lacrosse to really break through.

On to some other reads...under the “All publicity is good publicity” theme, there were numerous stories out of the French Open about fringe American player Ashley Harkleroad telling the press after her match that she will be in August Playboy, and what it does for her as a “brand.. The answer is probably not much on the negative, a.her limited on court success to date is what would have gotten her mainstream coverage…will it help get her some buzz going into the US Open and other tourney.? Absolutely, so in that way it is good for tennis. Does it help the perception of female athlete.? Probably not. Still it got the sport more mainstream coverag.in a slow period and in these days of 24/7 news cycles and shock coverage, Playboy is probably much more mild than ever beforealso on the women's sports side, great piece in Sunday's New York Times on the continued issue of goalkeeper Hope Solo and her continued issues with her team following her outspoken comments about the play of Brianna Scurry last yearthe most interesting element again revolves around “what if a guy said it” and the lack of problems “he” would have…once again another issue in the perception of the male vs. the female athlete that is worth a read…also on the women's side, Katie Thomas had an interesting piece on the growing number of schools adding women's wrestling to their Title IX plan…lastly, today's Wall Street Journal has a great break on Microsoft's venture into American sports, as the jersey sponsor for the MLS Seattle Sounders a year before they start play…another in the latest series of branding moves on the American jersey, once thought of as virgin sponsor territory but one getting more lucrative with each MLS and WNBA deal..?

Financial Planning With Ticket Selling…Moncton Wildcats Show How To Serve Season Subs…

PR Move of the Day:NHL Finals pulling record numbers for viewers on VERSUS, we found another hockey-related promotion (courtesy of a “hello” from team president Ray Delia) that the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Moncton Wildcats have come up with, one which many teams in these financially challenged times should take a look at. The Wildcats are partnering with a Financial Services Company to assist any season subs, or potential season subs, with debt financing and other financial issues questions when they sign up or inquire about next year's tickets. The company staff will look to see if the potential season subscriber can afford to get tickets and how they can pay for them, as well as looking at the person's overall financial picture and providing tips on financial literacy. It is great added value in a category that is in high demand for teams, shows community responsibility and will probably lead to a higher degree o.loyalty for the team that shows they have an interest in how their fans are handling their day to day finances.?Major move for a junior team.

Some other key reads on the digital side…for those who missed, the Philly Daily News has a good recap on the background on how the Eagles selected Wheaton College's Andy Studebaker in the sixth round of the NFL Drafta good workout combined with the effective use of YouTube got the Eagles to find and better evaluate the Division III standout and may be a foreshadowing of how to effectively use the video sharing site in the futureanother cool, albeit nonsports, digital idea was seen recently on the blog Dear Jane Sample…it takes a person through the day of every brand that someone touches from the minute they wake upfor those sports and teams that are always looking for a way to measure ROI, pretty interesting way to see the way brands impact and where…finally some other good reads…the New York Daily News’ Jesse Spector had a nice piece on the Orioles reaching back to the ’80's themes to reconnect with fans and jump start the team branding, while with the French Open beginning, Chris Clarey in Sunday's New York Times had a great piece on former French Open champ Yannick Noah and the iconic stature he continues to have

Racing To Find Answers To Economic Issues…

As gas prices soar, business looks for ways to use economies of scale and look for even bigger bank for a more limited dollar, brands, teams and athletes have to be more conscious than ever to look ahead for the clouds on the horizon and address the very real concerns of their fans and partners BEFORE they become a major issue. Now more than ever, being creative and proactive can be most important. With two mega races this weekend, NASCAR's Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte and the IRL's Indianapolis 500, there were a few pieces that showed that proactivty and perhaps some answers to the real concerns of fans and brands that are worth a read.recent days on how the gas crunch is beginning to effect fans attendance and spending patterns, and some of the measures that tracks are taking to help ease that burden.while on the Open wheel side, there was a great piece in the New York Times on Indy driver Sarah Fisher and her real issues when sponsors depart and how her team can compensate.?These pieces show both sides of the economic equation…how the athlete can be effected by the economy and what he/she has to do to address it, and what the league or brand has to do when the fan is being so adversely effected.the data company Joyce Julius released a solid piece of info this week on which sponsors are getting the most return from spending on drivers with TV exposure, with Dale Jr. leading the way. Good read for all those who often wonder how to correctly monitize brand exposure through TV.

Some other quick weekend reads…with the Belmont Stakes still two weeks away, the spinning for good pieces continues, including a piece in Saturday's New York Daily News on the reasons jockey Kent Desormeaux will be wearing a special patch in support of a fallen police officer during the race…good human interest with more to come…the Newark Star Ledger's Steve Politi has a good piece on the impact the Devils and Nets not making it past the first round has on the area around the Meadowlands Arena and the Prudential Center…on the off-sports page spin, Men's Fitness has a great piece on the Angels Torii Hunter and his workout routine, and Sunday's LA Times has a great read on longtime Muhammad Ali photographer and aid de camp Howard Bingham and a new exhibition of photos opening up…great look at one of the legendary men behind the greatest boxing icon of our time.

NHL Seizes The Moment While Hockey And Soccer Abroad Grab The Spotlight…

With the NHL Finals moving this weekend, the league is continuing to ride their recent popularity by now effectively pushin.all the digital and in market activation pieces that they had installed throughout the course of the last year.Computer World this week details all the online activation that has kicked in, and with two strong markets in Pittsburgh and Detroit going head to head, the casual fan and the ardent one both have a community to check in with as well as some good TV numbers on Versus (good piece by Wayne Friedman on media Post).This may actually be the first time with one of the major sports where digital driven interest will fuel broadcast viewership, and it will be very interesting to see the ROI on the NHL's heavy digital play as they go into the offseason and start next. Nevertheless, great time to be a hockey fan and an NHL marketer. Newsday's Neil Best also has a solid column on the NHL's rise.

Also on the hockey front comes the confirmation that the Russian Continental League will launch with major cash in the fall. Many feel that the rising tide of another lucrative professional league will also help float the hockey ship in North America, although the last thing the NHL needs is a bidding war for talent. Still the continued fueling of non American branding into sport, whether it is American brands looking to activate abroad in emerging economies or non-American companies looking to spend money to grow their brands in North America, is a big growth opportunity for those looking to find career opportunities in the business. Another must read on the continetal sports picture comes from this week's Guardian. where David Conn takes a very important look at the amount of money, and the cost/benefit of what Premier League teams are spending in light of three clubs making the Champions League semi-finals (with Man U winning over Chelsea) this week. For those who are interested in continuing to learn about how soccer in Europe works, it is a very good piece to tag.

Some other miscellaneous reads...as always Terry Lyons blog caught two solid pieces in the last 24 hours…first, he put a post up on a Three On Three winner-take all event this summer in Las Vegas, run by former Michigan coach Bill Frieder…interesting branding and grassroots oppt. for some brands, and a good oppt. to see if street ball can bring some players…then he has a great link to Jerry Crowe's LA Times piece on former sports pop icon Rollen Stewart (he of the ’70's and ’80's rainbow wig) and his time now in jail…lastly, Darren Heitner's Sports Agent blog has an interesting piece on the development of a new “Hoops Dream” cartoon, with some interesting branding opportunties…

A Big Brown Delivery By UPS Scores Solid Points, while NASCAR goes “Mad Money” in Charlotte…

PR Move of the Day:credi.to UPS for seizing the opportunity to both activate and grow their brand in so many ways through their sponsorship with Big Brown, especially in this two week period leading up to the Belmont Stakes. Obviously the move right at Derby time made great sense for the brand and seemed to be a natural fit (although many times those “natural” fits fall by the wayside when the partner does not activate properly), an.perhaps it was out of the norm for UPS’ sports activation (in many ways it is similar to the Postal Service's timely sponsorship of Lance Armstrong…big money spent on a sports property outside of the normal sports genre that paid dividends for a very traditional and conservative brand). UPS is capitalizing in many ways…by granting unique access to loyal workers, and this week by giving $10,000 to a fund for horses in the name of Eight Belles.No way. Did it get UPS some solid points and gratitude in the horseracing communit.? Probably. Did it get the brand some great publicity in a time when maybe the focus would be on horse and not sponso.? Absolutely. Smart move, right messaging for the brand, relatively small amount of dollars that had direct return on the investment. Perfect activation, with more to come by one of America's most underrated activation brands.

On to some other good topics and reads…we linked earlier this week to the great New York Times piece on how soccer helped the NBA…now here is the role in reverse…the German national soccer team, in a piece on Yahoo, using hoops to improve their skills...interesting mix and definately another synergy between the world's two mos. popular sports, with maybe a brand looking to jump in…on to the NBA, where the Dallas Morning News had a solid feature this past week on the Mavs new coach Rick Carlisle, including some insight into his music interests which will soften his hard line exterior and probably make him that much more interesting in a market where they love to knbow about their coaches and athletes…great job by the Mavs to get the access and the insight…NASCAR continues their stromng mainstream and business PR push this week, having CNBC personality Jim Cramer do both live and taped shows from Lowe's Motor Speedwayin this day of the expensive remote, there REALLY needs to be reasons for shows to venture outside of their cost efficient studio…getting the CNBC crew to Charlotte speaks loudly to the PR dedication of the sport, as well as the savvy marketing and branding access that NASCAR has provided to CNBC over the years…. another good “insider” piece was the cover story of Wednesday's USA Today, looking at the unique relationship of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitching staff, and how their unique personalities have knit together to get them to the early season success they are havingagain great access leads to a solid piece….lastly, we have seen first hand the passion and success that eastern collegiate baseball can have on the national scale, but for a number of reasons the sport is usually shortchanged by the media and the personalities underpromoted by the schools…two recent pieces showed how success and good personalities can get mainstream coverage…the first was the New York Times piece on Columbia's Ivy League championship team, and the second was in today's Newark Star Ledger on Division III powerhouse Kean College and their quest for a D III World Series title…both go beyond the scores and tell the quirks of the athletes, the coaches and the players to a mainstream audience…well done by both.?

NHL Ramps Up For Finals, While Warner Shows Ways To Appease When Things Go Wrong…

With a great matchup with two American teams, one in Hockeytown and the other in “Sidneytown,” the NHL appears posied to finish off a year that has seen them make great strides to grow in the digital space, create unique sponsor activation and find ways to build some of their athletes like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovetchkin as crossover stars for casual fans, diehard hockey followers and for the brands that have worked with them regionally, nationally and internationally (click on NHL in categories for a list of all the successes the league has had since we started the blog). include a massive push both online and at retail.detailed in DMnews this week.?The season certainly has seen the league breakthrough in some key markets with increased activation and viewership, and a compelling final should give the brand a good offseason point to jump off from.

As the NHL readies for all the positives of the finals, it is interesting to see how others can recover from a flop. Ad Age's Madison and Vine has a solid piece this week on the make good efforts that Warner Brothers is taking on because of the failed draw of the movie Speed Racer. Although not exactly about sports, it does give some great insight into how a media brand handles poor performance (which can always equate to sports, since PR and Marketing can never control on field performance) and finds ways, especially with major partners, to do some make goods…two good Olympic reads as well…first the Australian has a piece on how marketers are spending, or not spending and when, dollars in China specific just yet for Beijing…then in today's New York Times is a good piece by Katie Thomas on USA Wrestling's “Fuel The Dream” project, which addresses th.unsupported costs of having immediate family members join athletes in Beijinganother good piece to read from the Times, also not really sports but with some interesting applications, is the weekend piece on how to revive old brands and bring them back to life…as many sports think “retro” during their season, might be some good application here as well…lastly on the MMA side, with CBS set to televise the first ever network event in a week, sherdog.com offered up a piece on why CBS is saying the event could be a success…definately something for those looking to expand into that elusive male demo will want to follow..

A Star, Big Money, International Appeal, No Language Barrier and Controversy…”The Sport of Kings” Rides A Big Brown Comback…

The beauty of the racetrack is unmistakable. Anyone who has ever spent a summer late morning and afternoon at some of the world's great sporting venues never forgets it. Howeve.a sport that seemingly had everything…money, international interest, drama, great branding, gambling, majestic athletes…lost its way through mismanagement and the ability to keep up with the changing times, to say nothing of the large investment needed to raise and breed horses and find the proper venues to run them and show profit.nice job to explain positioning in Bill Rhoden's Sunday New York Times piece with Alex Waldrop.?and solid activation b.Big Brown's sponso.UPS, took the opportunity to another level. Now the sport gets to ride two weeks of anticipation, activation and hype to the Belmont Stakes, and has the added opportunity of an invigorated Breeders Cup (and its 25th anniversary) to continue to build across the summer and into the fall. The importance of star power, as John Rowe pointed out in Sunday's Bergen Recordinteresting piece in Friday's WSJ on hi.role i.breeding for the future of the sport) . If the NTRA can continue to position the drama, and give good counsel on the positioning of the sport, the beauty and majesty of the “Sport of Kings” may be a story to watch for marketers this summer.

Some other good reads last few days…also on the horse racing front, Sports Illustrated had a great look back at the trotter Dan Patch and his majestic place in the sports world at the turn of the last century…the Wall Street Journal has a good piece on Visa's campaign and activation going into the Olympics…with the Oregon primary upon us, Senator Barack Obama weighs in on the Trailblazers recent success and his opinion on why they will be ones to watch next year.interesting considering what a political hotbutton the team was in the community only a year or so ago