Getting An Added Fix Of Fall Football…The UFL Or…The Lingerie Leagu.

With the AFL gone and the AAFL never started, the quest for NFL alternatives to fill the void continues on. While most agree that the talent level for the secondary football gap between college and the NFL is there…and the CFL has done a good job of trying to assume that role…the model that is financially and socially viable remains a mystery that even the NFL with NFL Europe could not solve. . So now we move to the fall and the launch of the once-delayed, several times evolving four team United Football League, while the once tried, well pitched and curiously positioned Lingerie Football League has also garnered its own position. the question is…can the UFL find an audience, and would anyone really care…brands or fans…about the LF. While many have snickered, the UFL has pushed ahead and has done a good job of stealing enough headlines, signing media deals and positioning itself as a serious alternative or addition to the college and NFL audience. The coverage it has received, from AP to the Sports Business Journal to the markets where teams will be, certainly creates the air of legitimacy, and all the executives have done a great job of looking forward and staying on message. Now whether fans will show up…the price point is right…sponsors will sign on and media will cover remains the literally million dollar question. Many “good ideas” have come and gone in the recent economy, and even mainstream well established brands have taken a hit. However one thing is for sure, the people behind the UFL are pressing on and showing the confidence in an idea that helps in an uncertain climate, and look like they will create a platform that brands and fans may lean on as a cost effective alternative once the ball goes in the air. On the other side is the Lingerie Football league, which has done a great job of marketing itself and gaining mainstream business and some sports press by pandering to male dominated media. Media outlets from si.com to cnbc have given the league concept some play, and although the numbers of 8,000 guys showing up, TV partners signing on and “celebrity owners” have yet to materialize, the credit has to go to whomever built the PR plan and catered right to the male demo with which the league is looking to go to. Whether the concept gets off the ground and actually gets brands to sign on seems like the longest of longshots, but the buzz generated is certainly worthy of any startup brand. In the end which will last longe. For those looking to grow the sports marketing space the answer is probably both, although the UFL will certainly open more doors for the long term.

Some other good reads…Darren Rovell had a great listing today for the sports twitter rankings…a piece of info which will surely gain ground and brand equity for his blog over time…Maxx Boxing's Tom Hauser had a solid profile of former HBO and MSG head Seth Abraham… wsj.com had a good profile on what's next for the biggest names in English soccer in a challenged economy…and the Fort Meyers News Press has a profile of new Dolphins head Mike Dee

Marlins Prove That Crime Does Pay…Sort Of.

Many may have said over the years that the Florida Marlins lack of support in the community, despite ultra-competitive and exciting baseball for the majority of most seasons, is a crime. So the Marlins have gone to great lengths over the years..the Manatee Dance Team anyone…to find ways to lure people into what is now Landshark Stadium. However this week, as reported by Sarah Talalay in her Sun Sentinel blog, the M's worked with local law enforcement to promote click it or ticket weekend...police officers who found select drivers complying with the law were given pairs of tickets to Marlins games as a reward, and the Marlins community service teams and mascot were out in force drawing attention to a critical community service program for the police. It was a different way to move distressed inventory, tied a solid program to the team, got some good off field exposure for the brand and raised even more casual fan interest for the team going into the pre-summer period where school is not yet out and fans may not be 100% focused on baseball. Nice play for the team and the community.

Are The Blackhawks The Model Franchis.

This week in New York The Sports Business Journal will award it's Sports Business Awards for 2008. The nominees in 15 categories are all more than deserving, and in many ways are very reflective of the leaders who will help innovate and lead the industry thro9ugh the continued tough times and into the future. Many on the list read like the usual Who's Who, but as with many things SBJ does, there are a few surprises. One brand on the list few could have predicted less than two years ago falls under both executive and team of the year…The Chicago Blackhawks. Under the leadership of John McDonough and Rocky Wirtz, the franchise has become a model for outreach and innovation, with one of the best stories coming in Monday's Chicago Tribune, which pointed out how the team has not only rebuilt its core base of hockey fans, but has cultivated new fans in both the female and African American communities. In a sport that sometimes struggles to grow outside its borders for the casual fan, the Blackhawks have gone above and beyond in customer service, brand building, community relations and communication to the media and to the fans that it is OK to check out hockey. Now of course winning helps, and the team started turning the corner just as the brand builders hot their stride, but in this economy, winning and giving a fans the reason to invest in both dark and bright days have to go hand in hand, and the Blackhawks played both sides of the brand development card to make sure that a storied but sullied franchise was returned very quickly to its rightful place among elite brands. There is a simple rule of effective communication…listen twice more than you speak. The Blackhawks new leadership listened to everyone…old and new fans, returning and emerging brands, league and television partners, grassroots and professional organizations…and have created a brand that may be the sports gold standard for years to come.

Some other good reads…the Miami Herald's Dan LeBatard has a very compelling look at all the troubles of former Yankee Jim Leyritz…The Washington Post's Liz Clarke has a great profile of Andrea Jaeger and her ministry helping kids…and Yahoo's Phil Murphy has a good look at how the golf world is supporting Phil and Amy Mickelson in their hour of need…

Memorial Day Thoughts…Why Don’t Brands Activate More With The Militar.

As Memorial Day is upon us here in the States, it is interesting to take a quick look at a group that is passionate, young, loyal, appreciative, athletic, budget conscious and enthusiastic, yet is among one of the most underserved groups for brands looking to reach the male demo and grow a fan base…the men and women of the military. While properties go after the recruiting side of the military for sponsorship, it remains a mystery as to why many brands looking for that young active male demo don’t go right to the bases and places where these loyal families and “captive” audiences sit. Armed Forces Radio and TV remains a very fertile and cost efficient ground for sports brands to reach a loyal audience, and bases are always looking for programs to keep the troops and their families busy and connected to mainstream America. More importantly, these groups, once discharged, remain very loyal to those who supported them while serving their country, with NASCAR-like brand buying and affinity. So why don’t more brands look to use sports to activate with the troop. Is it because of the perception of Red Tap. The lingering effects of the stigma of the Bush Administratio. Neither are clear but for those brands who can figure it out, the captive audience waiting to attach to their products, services and even teams as potential viewers and ticket buyers, is huge. Now there are a number of strong programs that serve as one-offs for honoring military men and women once at the game to give them and their families a chance to attend events. Camoflage Kids is one great one, and on Memorial Day MLB will have a series of ceremonies at all games, but those are all outbound programs once these young people are on site. Brands should look to base activation programs, tied to sports, to really make a sound investment.

Some other good reads…the Washington Post had a great Sunday profile of former NFL’er Peter Boulware… the LA Times had a worthwhile read on Frank McCourt's effort to rebuild Monday's LA Marathon...and AP has a very important read on the Cleveland Cavs bringing in a Chinese investor to their ownership group

Kobe vs. LeBron…or Dwight…Digital Immediacy Gives Brands Flexibility Like Never Before…

It used to be that media plans, carefully crafted and built over time, could be gone in a heartbeat if an entertainer bombed or ran afowl of the law, or an athlete was injured or failed to live up to expectations. The classic story has always been the Dave vs. Dave decathlon battle leading to the Olympics that never materialized because of injuries and underperformance. Even three years ago, Amex's “Andys Mojo” campaign built around Andy Roddick for the US Open, flamed out when Roddick when down too early in the tournament, and there are countless stories of teams pulling down billlboards after early season trades or problems. However today's digitial opportunities gives media and brand at least more flexibility than before. Even the LA Dodgers “Mannywood” issues could have been much more costly in years gone by if the team did not have the ability to adjust on the fly. Was it somewhat costl. Yes. But not to the extent of other years, where billboards, ads, and other pieces could not be swapped out digitally. Even media guides, once a massive spend to store and print, are now being updated and adjusted more on CD and online, saving time and money. Latest case in point on this issue are the brands that have spent and built toward the NBA Finals and a potential Kobe vs. LeBron mega-final. Jeremy Mullman in Ad Age on Friday had a good piece pointing out potential pratfalls for brands building who have built NBA campaigns and are not part of the the matchup, especially adidas and Gatorade, while Darren Rovell had a good piece earlier in the week about Vitamin Water and their ability to adjust by also having an underused Dwight Howard in their stable of athletes. Both give great insight into the gamble of aligning with one particular athlete or entertainer vs. overall partnerships. However both also show savvy brands that can now adjust in a digital environ and deliver impactful messaging around an event like the NBA Finals by delivering right to the consumer online and with social media, and even some guerilla branding if needed. Just a few years ago, none of that would have been possible and the brand damage could have been massive. Now the ability to adjust on the fly is both creative and a time saver and provides flexibility in messaging that few could have predicted. Picking the right spokespeople is always important…being able to adjust in times of crisis is even more important, and the media environ now provides that opportunity.

Some good reads…Media Bistro had a good piece on the White House potentially getting into the VNR business with high level guests and limiting media availability…another good piece showcased San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg and how his marketability could help college baseball…and the New York Times has a great piece on new uses for the Zamboni

When Is A Twit Legi.

While the pressure to find new ways to get bigger ROI and link athletes closer to fans spending their discretionary dollar grows, the legitimacy or original reasons for using social networking as a valuable tool becomes more clouded in many ways. Shaquille O’Neal's Twitter success, with the help of Charlotte-based Sports Media Challenge, broke the ice and showed athletes and brands how that medium could work as a successful connection tool. However Shaq the brand and the personality is different than virtually anyone else (his trip to sports broadcasting boot camp this week is the latest example of how he sets himself not just apart, but as a leader in trying to redefine who he will be in the future) Just because Shaq.gets i. and can be a smart investment for partners, does.t mean that every athlete, no matter how much perceived value they have, can be like Shaq or that any athlete will be able to embrace new media and use it personally and effectively for all. Take Danica Patrick for example. A week ago Patrick told CNB.s Darren Rovell she was not a person to use Twitter to communicate with fans, and then this week it is announced one of her sponsors is “urging” her to use Twitter as part of their deal. Now again she is being guided by the folks at Sports Media Challenge, but will a sponsor-induced twitter feed have any value to fans if they think it is not legit or sincer. And will it become an issue like the one that has arisen for the University of Tennessee, where head football coach Lane Kiffin had to self report a violation because an assistant, under Kiffi.s twitter and facebook pages, posted info that was a minor violation about a recruit. Now that people know it is not really Kiffin posting will they follow i. Will they car. And what does that do to the idea of access to the.rea. athlete, coach or entertaine. Do brands worry about legitimacy of posts if they do decide to partner with someone who is using a third party to pump out thoughts that are not really those of the celebrit. Do the celebrities car. Also will the incorporation of sponsors remove the.cool factor. or will it enhance the value of what is being sen. Now Danica Patrick, despite the fact that she has yet to win a race, remains a very savvy marketing machine. However could there come a time where a post goes up from.Danic. and her sponsor that is contrary to what she says in a press conference or to a fa. Then the sincerity of.Danic. on Twitter goes out the window, and the damage control, not just for her brand and her fans, but with anyone effectively using these social media platforms goes out the window. For those who are savvy enough to communicate with fans and brand..Neal, Pete Carroll et.kudos. To those who are being forced to create contrived.opportunitie. beware. The great thing about social media platforms is the direct access that is casual and is sometimes both insightful and a very unique look inside those who are followed by the masses. Once it all becomes.access in a ca. the casual fan and the diehard will be both annoye.brands beware of backlas.and will be off looking for the next way to be an insider, and all those dollars and effort will be lost. Twitter and other platforms are great for some, they are neither.require. or useful for all.

Some other good reads…while some follow the Lingerie Bowl, the UFL continues to make some steady moves designed to build toward their fall launch, and can probably thank Michael Vick for drumming up even more buzz…Dave Waldstein in Thursday's New York Times has a great look into Japanese baseball culture, pinned around the will he or won’t return of Bobby Valentine to the Lotte Marines next season…and Kevin Iole on Yahoo Sports has a good profile of the UFC's Rashad Evans before his title bout Saturday in Las Vegas

The Volvo Ocean Race Delivers For A Core And Tries To Justify The Spend…

It is the nichest of the niche, designed to inspire the sailor and sense of adventure in all sports and entertainment fans, albeit using the highest of high tech to satisfy sponsor spend and communicate in real time through satellite technology to millions of logged on interested parties. It is the Volvo Ocean Race, and as it recently left Boston Harbor, it proved again that with the right partners and targeting the right audience even niche sports can survive in a down economy. So how does an event bereft of all the traditional activation pieces…ticket sales, traditional signage, well known personalities, mainstream television, even normal sponsor product placement…surviv. By controlling costs, creating suspense and telling the stories of those involved, and using the races global appeal as it goes through various regions to retell and educate those who come to see the ships and crew in port. The high end clientle or racing also gives it digital cache, which turns into a good followthrough for a high end product like Volvo, or even other sponsors like Tiffany. Throngs of cheering crowds will not get them the same exposure for this select audience as naming rights and digital signage. Without mainstream television coverage, the niche is driven to the web for 24/7 info, from streaming video to blogs and photos, all capturing the high seas for those who cannot get the info anywhere else. Again, costs are controlled as the technology for streaming remains very simple…no need for multiple cameras ala Formula One or other high tech events. The property simply delivers what it is to exactly the base of clients that it needs to, while also bringing in a casual observer or two along the way. Ironically it was the Whitbread Round The World Race that actually helped launch digital sports, as Quokka used it as their driver to lead to a mega Olympic deal with NBC that eventually failed. However the base of that deal, showing that devotees and some casual fans will go online to catch their sport when there is no place else to get information, remains the driver in ocean racing, and shows the industry again how if you can create a simple model and deliver what you promise, even the niche can survive.

Some other good reads…Bill Reynolds in the Providence Journal has a good profile of Red Sox owner Larry Lucchino… the LA Times Jerry Crowe has a good piece on the Fabulous Forum…which is now a church…and the New York Times has a good profile of the Diamondbacks unlikely manager AJ Hinch.

Soccer Kickin It In The Great Northwest…

While the NHL deals with the mess in Phoenix and rumors abound about other struggling franchises, MLS continues to make smart moves to grow the business for the long term. The new Seattle franchise and their quick success on all levels shows that calculated growth can make sense. By starting with the franchise as a base and building the rivalry hub for the future with expansion into two other underserved markets in the summer months…Portland and Vancouver…both of which had previous success in the sport…is a huge visionary move for the brand. Seattle's success combined MLS move to bring in people who knew the region (like former Seahawks exec Gary Wright), talent which was established and not haphazard and an embracing of all that has been successful in terms of tradition in the area, right down to team colors and name choice. While many franchises and brands look to be bold and set themselves apart with brash colors and loud statements, the MLS club embraced all that is good and built quickly, a model which will probably be copied with the upcoming expansion. Now is all great with MLS in this econom. No, as evidenced by Michael Lewis piece on the Red Bulls issues at the gate in his Big Apple Soccer piece. But with success stories like Seattle, MLS has again shown that they have learned from others as to what works, and can create an effective startup brand under the tightest of markets that can embrace and grow with a community.

Some other good reads…Bleacher Report has a piece on WPS getting some much needed TV exposure for the fledgling brand…hopefully it draws some eyes to the women's game…the Daily News also has an extensive feature on the Sky Blue team from New Jersey...wsj.com had a good piece on why the World Baseball Classic worked for the long term.…and Sarah Talalay in her sports business blog had a good piece on Fantasy Sports Ventures expansion into the college area

Fins To The Left, Fins To The Right…Dolphins Hit It With Short Deal…

Steve Ross is a billionaire or has made the Related Companies into one of the most successful commercial real estate companies in the world. He has purchased the Miami Dolphins, has shown savvy to find a way to keep Bill Parcells around, has let the team continue to grow after a surprising playoff season a year ago, and has a host of minority partners who he will tap into, including the legendary Jimmy Buffett. So this week the team announced a short-term deal to rename Dolphins Stadium after A-B's Land Shark Beer, a Buffet brand. Eventhough, as Terry Lefton pointed out in the Sports Business Daily this week, the NFL will have the team remove the name for the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, the short term benefit to the small brand plus the good will and fun that will be built up through the summer of Marlins baseball and into the fall with the Dolphins will get the team and the area some much needed traction, spin and maybe a little bit of controversy in a down economy. This is not rent a stadium for the day, as some minor league teams have done. This is a smart, calculated move by some very savvy branding folks who probably have a bigger picture play involving the Buffett brand in mind, not to mention a great test market for Anheuser Busch. Will it “devalue” future naming rights deal. In this economy few are actually happening and none at premiums, and today when brands are looking to extract every ounce of added value into any deal, this one may be a bit cash poor but brand profitable. The biggest challenge will be to match branding and goodwill and fun for the new naming rights deal if Land Shark does go away. The images of The Coral Reefer Band may resonate deeper than a bank or other institution who may be willing to pony up after the season. Could it have been done earlier to give the Marlins more chance to adjus. Maybe. But there would have never been an optimal time and if played right, everyone will know where the action is for both teams. Fun, smart branding move for the Fins.

Some other good reads…The Wall Street Journal had a great fund raising piece on The Robin Hood Foundation and their amazing fundraising efforts even in a down economy, and how their new spin of social philanthropy may change the way charities raise… John Feinstein has a good post mortem on the Caps and their bright future in the Washington Post…and Chris Erskine in the LA Times has an interesting idea for a fans Hall of Fame...in this era of tainted heros.

Sprinting Ahead For More Fan Access…

It started with mic’ed up athletes and coaches, evolved to Helmet cam and driver cam and on and on until we get Tweets from Charlie Villanueva and others in the lockerroom all in the name of trying to give fans unprecedented access to the athlete in a time when the media are getting less and less access on a daily basis. So the ways brands have to look and think about what is still available and what is next remains a growing challenge for a demanding public, demanding brands and a shrinking traditional media field. The folks at Sprint, through their NASCAR Partnership, have come up with yet another piece of an insiders look, and found the perfect way to use their distribution methods to their subscribers to provide it. Sprint was given access to the non public driver/crew meetings before NASCAR races, and then gets that audio out to its subscribers via download. It is a simple, and very unique peek inside a sport that is all about accessability, and really gives an element of exclusivity to Sprint subscribers. Without a video component, the “fly on the wall” feel to the clear stream audio makes it feel even more inside and less contrived, and probably keeps those being recorded from being more guarded. Great access, great way to find another little “extra” by the NASCAR folks and one of their elite brands, and great example of a brand digging deep to find yet another element of access than is very intimate without being overly intrusive. Just please no NASCAR shower cam post race.

Some other good reads…AD Age had a great piece this week reminding people of the value of PR and why it is importantUSA Today fantasy baseball expert Ron Shandler had a good look at what and how injuries are impacting baseball's fantasy playDarren Rovell on CNBC had a nice piece on the growth of sports movie firms…and Octagon's First Call Celebrity Consulting blog had a good piece on the Dancing With The Stars marketing stars, led by Olympian Shawn Johnson.