April, 2009 | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Cause Marketing And Brand Support In A Down Economy Still Effective

As budgets get cut and sponsorship dollars and budgets are frozen due to the economy, brands and other organizations continue to reshuffle the deck in hope of finding a correct mix…literally cause and effect…to keep the dollars flowing, the brand growing and the opportunities interesting. Even today with Chrysler declaring Chapter 11, one of the stories pointed out that one of the groups that could be hurt the most with dealer cutbacks would be local Little League sponsorships, so the trickledown to the small guys continues. One great example of a group that can rise to the occasion to assist those in need…more through equipment than dollars, and equipment may be even more of a need, is the group Pitch In For Baseball. The not for profit links corporations or groups with baseball equipment and then takes the equipment and finds it a home. Whether that can be Mizuno cleats in Ghana or Gatorade and fence supplies to rebuild fields in Galveston doesn’t matter. What matters is that equipment and potential marketing dollars go directly to a cause with immediate grassroots impact…and that impact translates into awareness, brand loyalty for those effected, and good will in a community that can have a pebble in a pond effect for brands…marketing dollars combined with philanthropy get community, cause and brand exposure for a triple payoff. A recent example of Pitching For Baseball was this story on FoxSports.com, where the group is filling the needs of a Little League whose equipment was stolen.. Brands who have excess fill the local need, serve in a philanthropic manner and create a legacy for the community, a great payoff for all involved.

Some other good reads…the Washington Post had a good piece on Mike Flacco, brother of Ravens QB Joe, and his rise in baseball in college…the New York Times visited with Little Leaguer Patrick Schuster as his four straight no-hitter streak ended…and wsj.com had an interesting read on how Procter and Gamble is changing its focus more from women to men in their product marketing…

Does Yanks Move Help Or Damage An Elite Bran.

The story of the week will be the Yankees taking an about face to lower ticket prices, and Darren Rovell in his blog on Tuesday took a detailed look at some of the reasons. On another level, the rule of thumb many times is to hold the line and never lower or discount in season, as it hurts the long time brand value where people will now look to bargain for something elite that they could never get a lower price for before. Mercedes, Nordstrom's etc. rarely lower prices, as you know with those high quality brands you pay the price for high quality service. Even in sports for all their oncourt issues, the Knicks front row and rows behind the bench at Madison Square Garden remain the priciest seats in sports. Now although some may argue this was just a slight PR spin and that the Yanks knew all along that they had minimums to hit and just adjusted prices closer to those minimums, that may not necessarily be true. The view of empty seats around home plate in what is an endless season can damage brand and become more the longer term story than the lowering of prices. Even Tuesday night, most stories still were spinning that the prices remain too high for the average family, and more discounting is needed. Then there is the issue of all those who paid full price and how refunding or additional tickets will have to be handled with them. For those elite seatholders, the higher price was never a real issue, so now angering them with “discounts” around them will also have to be handled. Now there is some value to public perception of reacting to the economy and fan demand to lower ticket prices, and the Yanks will get some due for that. The bigger question is will this “discounting” just make the Yanks another team and less of an elite bran. In this marketplace, especially in a new facility, getting people in to sample product and determine value is tantamount. The Yanks tried to hold the line and did the research to see what the public will bear, so hopefully the brand will hold, team performance will rise, and the lower ticket for the elite seats fills those voids. Short term damage slightly abated, and longterm if any to be determined.

Some other good reads…The San Antonio Express News had a good piece on MLB's continued efforts to reach minorities…the Kansas City Star had a good piece on the difference between maple and ash bats.…and the Bergen Record had a good profile of ESPN's Mike Yam

Majoring In The Minors: Fresno Puts Forth A Twitter Challenge For Its New Rival

The value or effectiveness of twitter for teams, athletes and fans continues endlessly, even spurring a Maureen Dowd column about general use in the New York Times. However there is always room for innovation and proof that the simple technology, even without an ad compenent, can have some unique spin. Take the AAA Pacific Coast League Fresno Grizzlies, who last week set up a Twitter Challenge with the front office of the newest PCL member, the Reno Aces. While both teams acknowledge they are using the technology effectively to communicate information and promotions to fans, they are aware of Twitter burnout, turn off or overkill. So the two front offices agreed that the winner of this past weekend's series….the first between the two franchises…would get all their tweets from the series re-sent to the twitter signup list of their opponents on April 30. What does it d. First of all it makes light of the seriousness of the Twitter “era,” showing that the technology is casual social networking and not always intentioned for the hard news sell. Secondly, it gives consumers an idea as to what other information is being communicated through the technology to a different fan base. Third, it created a news hook to drive some casual interest to the media and to fans who may not have known that the teams were even using Twitter as a tool. Fourth, it gives some ancillary added value to those already on the Twitter feed from a team, and can create some fun moments looking back at what was sent. In any event, it again shows the intuitiveness of teams in the minors and their ability to not just use a medium in the traditional manner it was intended for, but to find a way to take it to another level. Twitter wars amongst teams anyon.

Under Armour, Cal Ripken Hit A Branding Homer

One of the most effective ways to grow brand remains at the grassroots level. The direct daily contact with the consumer still cannot be beaten by all the Facebook-ing, blogging and YouTubing that brands attempt, and even the high impact effect of mass media, both print and broadcast, still resonates only partly with what we use as consumers every day. All are parts of the picture, but going to direct to consumer for what they need remains king. Even better, when you can make a strategic tie to a local community, the positive impact for the long range goes up another notch. Such was the case this week when Under Armour, already a giant in the apparel business, announced a deal with Ripken baseball. The tie between the two brands hits on many bases. First, it ties two Capitol District brands together, the legendary Oriole and his business, with Kevin Plank's DC success story, sending the message of two local guys again working together for a bigger good. Second, it seeds Under Armour product direct to a growing baseball community through Ripken Baseball, one of the most efficient and well run entities in the sport. Third, through Ripken's global work, it can give Under Armour the potential international platform that they have been looking to grow. Lastly it sets Ripken's brand apart from most others in the space, in grabbing the perceived “cool” in the youth market for Under Armour's apparel. All the connections are smart, strategic and even in a slow economy, show that both the sport of baseball and the Under Armour brand continue to grow.

Some other good reads…Business Week had a good piece this week on the reinvention of network TV…while The Nation had an interesting read on how the newspaper collapse is paralleling what happened to the telegraph… Cincy.com had a good piece on how cause-related marketing is doing well with brands…and NPR had a pretty strong segment on what brands are doing to try and grow their place in schools through public service programs.

The Ability To Tell A Story To The Right Audience: UConnezsms Donald Brown

As we move into the weekend extravaganza that has become the NFL Draft, it is interesting to see the continued activation, both print and digital, of the NFL machine as fans look to where the future stars will come from. No other off-season “event” has the power for two days that the NFL Draft does. And into the draft cauldron goes some pretty interesting stories, some of which received little attention on the national stage before now. Case in point is the NCAA's leading rusher, Connecticut's Donald Brown. While Brown was a key member of the Huskies building a solid Big East football power, the team was hidden in the spotlight of two mega-power college hoops teams and a market trapped between New York and Boston. Never really able to break through, his exploits were rarely showcased even on a regional stage. However following a great combine, Brown began to use the draft week as a way to tell not only his athletic story but his personal one as well…a personal one which includes a mentoring program for future college student-athletes like himself. The story this week became the feel-good predraft piece, and saw Brown featured in places ranging from the New York Times and Men's Fitness to Bloomberg.com (Scott Soshnick had a great profile) and CNBC among many other local, national and regional outlets. Brown's exposure goes to prove one thing…even in the most crowded market, there is room for a good story with the media, if you can find the right place and all the right angles to tell it.

Some other good reads…the AJC has a good q and a with Hawks owner Michael GearonUSA Today had a good piece on MLB's efforts to market young players…and Eye Cube has a good look at the new CitiField through the eyes of longtime Mets fan Bryan Harris.

If The Shoe Fits…Cole Haan and Maria Sharapova…

Sometimes on the surface the matchup of an athlete or celebrity with a brand may be a little quizzical, and such was the case when high-end shoe retailer Cole Haan announced its first-ever athlete endorsement deal with tennis star Maria Sharapova. Now Sharapova is already becoming the stuff of legend in the endorsement world, even in a down economy. Her deals with companies like Canon, Tiffany and the watch brand Tag Heuer pull in millions, almost as much for her ability to understand and deliver messages to a high end consumer as for her on court results and tennis pedigree. Still, matching Sharapova with Cole Haan still could be a stretch for a brand with little TV presence and no sports marketing background. Take into effect Sharapova's injuries which have kept her out most of the year thus far, and it seems loaded with issues for disaster. However look again. Cole Haan is a long-time Nike brand, her time off the court has allowed her to develop a key line to be debuted in the fall (right around US Open time) and her high end success with brands translates to the casual fan and embodies a brand which is trying to skew younger and find a new audience. The resul. A larger exposure for Cole Haan with a tennis audience that is still upscale, but with a twist to a younger audience who follow Sharapova religiously online through her site and will be even more interested as she begins her comeback toward Wimbledon, at a time when even the casual fan is thinking tennis. The result to date (profiled by Dan Kaplan in a recent Sports Business Journal)
have been solid for both the shoe company and for Sharapova…an expansion of exposure, a high end product line and the anticipation of return to action which will lead to more media attention for both. Well designed and well carried out.

Some other good reads…for those who wonder what sports life is like after sixty, turn to Monday's New York Times, which profiled IBAF president Harvey Schiller (almost 70) and Georgia State football coach Bill Curry …Reuters had a good look at the positives and negatives of Callaway Golf in a slow economy…and Media Post had a retrospective on Gillette's 70 year sponsorship of MLB.

Nats Send Mixed Message, Isles Try To Clarify One…

As one season starts for a star-crossed franchise (the Washington Nationals) and one ended (The New York Islanders) it is interesting to look at the messages sent to fans by the actions of the team. This weekend, the Nats benched and fined one of their young, marketable players, Elijah Dukes, for showing up a few minutes late after attending a team-sponsored community relations appearance. While the question of zero tolerance for deadlines is left to management, the question of what message it sends to fans and to players is another issue. First, since it was a team-sponsored appearance, it shows a lack of connection between the business and personnel side, which in this economy, when teams need everyone understanding the bigger picture, is very troublesome. Secondly it now gives players who question the value of team appearances to opt-out for fear of team reprisals. Third it gives the media fodder to continue to pile on a sinking ship, at a time when Dukes work on and off the field should be highlighted. Fourth, it creates a distraction for all on both sides at a time when the team is struggling to gain fans, activate sponsors and come together on the field. Usually things like this can be handled back of the house and should not become public. Although we can’t say for sure what the history is, the message the team sent forth is problematic to all. Then there is the Islanders, who put forth owner Charles Wang to the media to talk about the future of the club as it gets the number one draft pick and tries to accelerate its position for a new facility on Long Island. Wang's messages were not mixed at all, they were pretty clear and he delivered what fans wanted to hear. However sometimes a little too much clarity can also be problematic, as Wang called his present and home for the forseeable future, Nassau Coliseum, a dump, and said is he had to do it over again he would not have purchased the team. Unlike the Nationals issue, Wang stated fact that was the clear message of the organization with regard to the arena and the future of the team, and the organization should get credit for putting him out to speak to the media. Criticizing the current arena and second-guessing a decision at a time when you need to continue to build loyalty with fans is another issue as to when too much is said, but given the lack of candidness in sports today even that can’t really be faulted to a great degree. Good move and positioning by the Isles, problematic moves by Washington.

Some other good reads…The Philadelphia Inquirer's Bob Ford had a great ode to the late Harry Kalas this week…the New York Daily News‘ piece on Syracuse's Doug Marrone's grassroots efforts to rebuild Orange football is also worthwhileShaun Powell surfaced at the New York Times this week with a good look back on a forgotten USFL story…and the Arkansas Press Democrat had a worthwhile read on how adults continue to create problems for youth sports.

A Season Of Renewal: Isiah Thomas and FIU

Often times colleges in mid or low mid major positions will look to take risk in order to shock the system into a new level. The hiring of coaches, the jump to a new division or a new league, an aggressive marketing campaign all usually revolve around the elusive grab for both attention and the sponsor dollar, and with that the even more important alumni dollar. Into that mix usually goes some strange bedfellows…New Jersey Institute of Technology and their foray into a western conference, Army to Conference USA, Bob Hill going to Fordham as hoops coach are just some examples of bold and sometimes unsuccessful moves made by Universities that come to mind. The latest came this week, with Florida International University, a big commuter school in Miami with a big football stadium and a big athletic budget and nothing to show for it, hiring Isiah Thomas. Good mov. Bad mov. Only time will tell. Here are the first facts. FIU put itself, at least temporarily, on the sports map. It got some great local coverage, even positive columns in the major dailies (here is one about redemption from Michelle Kaufman). It probably bought itself some revenue in the form of ticket sales from the casual fan and buzz on campus. It probably upgraded its recruting stance and gave the school most had never heard of more street credibility. For Thoma. It put him in a place where there is no downside, either on location or opportunity. It is a school near a spotlight but not in it, perfect for image rebuilding and career resurrection. It gives him a chance to refine a coaching craft, rebuild his own brand and take resources probably underutilized and make them shine. He also made a great gesture in day one by donating his salary back to the University, a token gesture but a smart one. So will the University be adequately prepared for the inevitable protests by women's groups and questions of moral backslidin. Will they also be able to prep their students for the onrush of media at seasons star. Will those be too much of a glare, and when will the news cycle rest once the season starts. All chances, but if FIU is ready they can all be spun correctly and positively. Best of luck…brands love the comeback story.

Some other good reads…USA Today hs an extensive piece on their new investment in MMA…Sarah Talalay's Sun Sentinel blog has a good branding piece with Dolphins owner Steve Ross…and Diane Pucin had a great piece on the Clippers Ralph Lawler in the LA Times

Can The NHL Postseason Grow On The Casual Fa.

The NHL postseason begins in earnest this week, falling at a good time after the Masters, just ahead of the NBA playoffs, before the NFL Draft and following the hype of opening day for baseball. It also helps to have many of the major markets where hockey has a strong brand presence…New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Detroit and Philly especially…all playing with intriguing matchups. The new digital platforms the NHL has pushed so hard to create and offer to fans (as reported in Sports Business Journal this week) also draw more brand attention, so the opportunity to capture the casual fan, especially in major markets seems to all be in place. However one of the more fun promotions, taken to a new level with a charity component, was also rolled out this week in nine NHL markets, the beard-a-thon (Terry Lyons not only profiles the project but joins in with a call to action from Boston in his blog). The Beard-A-Thon, supported online, in print, in arena and on TV will create some fun video as teams advance, and most importantly will both support the charities in local markets AND potentially give rival teams a chance to promote together, something which is a disconnect in many league-driven campaigns across all sports. While all the St. Baldricks promotions that teams have done over the years are worthy efforts, this one literally has the chance to grow on the fan base and the media over the six weeks of playoffs, and will hopefully raise funds and awareness as well as casual fan interest for those who normally miss the day in, day out routine of the NHL season. Nice job by Cenergy on concept and deliverable, with some interesting potential brand ties over time for the promotion.

Some other good reads…Reuters had a solid piece on baseball's brand growth despite the recession…CNBC's Darren Rovell had an interesting piece on the job UConn's Donald Brown is doing to promote his persona for the upcoming NFL Draft…Barry Janoff has a good q and a with FSV head Chris Russo…and Yahoo's Kevin Iole takes a look at all the marketing muscle invested in the upcoming Ricky Hatton-Manny Pacquiao fight.

Majoring in the Minors…Cyclones Make A Pitch To Future Fans…

We haven’t hit upon all that is minor league baseball in a while, so it seems fitting with Mother's Day not that far away that we should start things off with our hometown Brooklyn Cyclones and their just announced promo for moms current and those future fans, with Bellies and Baseball Night</a>, a salute to pregnant moms. Keeping in mind that the Cyclones are one of the minors biggest draws and don’t start play in the short season New York Penn League until mid-June, is a great example of the brand (and GM Steve Cohen) thinking ahead in case lean days do come. The team has traditionally had its share of medical sponsorships as well, and creating such a fun promotion, complete with Craving trays and all sorts of on the field contests which will draw the great photo ops, is very smart. Although currently unsponsored, the night is tailor-made for baby products, energy drinks or even the local OBGYN to come in and scoop up at a solid price. Smart thinking family entertainment night, which…who knows…may be copied by the parent team at CitiField at some point. By the way, the best source for all things minor league remains Ben Hill's milb business blog.

Some other good reads…Dave Waldstein in Monday's New York Times had a good look at draft sleeper Michael Ray Garvin…Edison Lee from the Council of PR Firms has a good analysis of the whole Alex Rodriguez messBusiness Week has a piece on Hispanic outreach now coming back from mainstream brands…the Global Post has the beginning of a season-long series on Dominican baseball…the mix of editorial and advertising continues its murky slide, as Media Week looks at US Weekly's mock cover and fires shots at ESPN Magazine for its cover ads a well…and Ad Age has a look at the growing brawl between Gatorade and Powerade.