William and Mary Takes The Brand Choice To The People…

Usually with expansion teams in sports, mascot or naming contests will be held to sample the local flavor and see what ideas can arise that brand marketers hadn’t thought of. Usually the name or logo still comes from a well positioned, well thought out plan intent on making sure that the merchandising rights, colors and traditions of the area are kept in tact. The choice, especially in this era of maximum return on the investment, is never random. So the College of William and Mary took a bold step, and one that certainly got them some solid publicity, in opening up the choice of their new mascot not just to local fans or alumni but to anyone interested in providing an idea. The school had to change mascots, but not nicknames, becuase their long-standing mascot was a misrepresentation of an Indian, which the NCAA ruled in appropriate for institutes of higher learning. The choices came from all over the country, and although the University President will make the final call, the Williamsburg, Va. school will get to unveil the final choices on ESPN Tuesday, again getting some great name recognition for one of the few Division I schools never to make it to the NCAA Tournament. In this digital age, most schools are still struggling to correctly embrace new media, so William and Mary's choice is a great one, and could open the idea of other schools/minor league teams opening up “naming rights” for teams for a day, a year or for a permanent change at the right time. Smart, calculated investment, good payoff in exposure.

Some other good reads...USA Today's Mike McCarthy had a great feature on how the economy is hurting even the savviest of former athletes…the ability for condoms and hard liquor to continue to get wider exposure in mainstream media continues to grow, as evidenced by Trojans’ latest campaign, reported in the NY Post...the idea of marketing effectively to movie-goers appears to also be gaining steam again, as shown by Taco Bell's latest play…and Media Post had a good piece on ConAgra's expanded spend in the marketplace

New Ownership Looks To Keep The Fins Fizzing…

Because the NFL is so much the American spectacle and a weekly destination watch for much of American, we often forget that several franchises still need to work in case of those rainy days to build brand value year-round, keep fans and business partners interested and engaged, and find new ways to generate revenue despite lofty ticket prices, PSL's and TV money. For every sold out stadium there are a few still figuring ways to make sure market value grows. Perhaps the best example of that this offseason is the Miami Dolphins, under new owner Steve Ross. The fins have seemingly made a move every week, whether it is in fan access programs, new seating plans, altered colors, different naming rights deals and most recently, celebrity owners. Even with a much improved playoff team last year, the Dolphins ownership change, not to mention the sluggish South Florida economy, kept the teams brand building in flux, and with his hefty investment to buy, Ross and his management team have looked to every possible avenue, assuming nothing and taking no one for granted, to make sure that the Dolphins brand value ascends not just in South Florida, but in a national buzz and relevance quotient that is reflects in increased merch and ticket sales and a grander place in the NFL hierarchy. All the offseason buzz generation is a very smart move for the first year owner, and they have played to every segment of a potential audience to grow marketshare. While some may say, “Its the NFL, what do they need to sell themselves fo.” the answer is simple….as an owner trying to invoke change you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and in this economy taking anything for granted, especially in a market where discretionary dollars can go elsewhere, could be a very fatal flaw, even for the most solid of brands, sports or not.

The Immediate Hope Of A Good Draft…And How Itezsms Used…

With the NHL and NBA Drafts happening withing 24 hours of each other, it was interesting to see all the subtleties and action that athletes and their agents, along with eams, quickly pulled together. A nice composite of the goings on before, during and then right after the draft was put together by Goodwin Sports Management in their Rookie Chronicles segments, which followed their three guys…Terence Williams, Patty Mills and DeMar DeRozan…as they got ready and then had their names called on Thursday night. The best thing was the unique perspectives from each athlete and how they got ready and then went through what really was a life changing experience that few can appreciate. The immediate Twitter reaction, and their response to questions, also showed the impact active players can make for a brand with fans in a 24/7 news cycle. The Knicks also offered up their picks and coach Mike D’Antoni for a chat with season subs, also a nice touch for a fan base that craves access and is being given a chance to connect for the top dollar the team demands. On the NHL side, the draft in Montreal took on a multilingual feel, with a number of teams, from Vancouver's Roberto Luongo to Chicago's Scotty Bowman speaking in French to the Canadian crowd as they made the picks for their teams, a nice touch to give the teams a bit more diversity and personality on draft day. However the best play probably came from the Islanders, who on one of the few sunny getaway days in June, managed to amass 10,000 fans at Nassau Coliseum for a draft party as they took the league's number one pick and immediately built goodwill for a long-suffering and oft-ignored fan base. They not only made the popular choice in John Tavares, they had him messaged correctly and gave the fans all that they wanted to hear and experience in the draft…hope for the future. Well played out on the Island, across both leagues and into the digital space.

Some other good reads…another great site uncovered (by SI's Rich Deitsch) is newseum.com, which every day shows the top headlines from papers around the globe…for those looking for circulation numbers, good list put together by Brian Solis of PR 2.0…and the Times on Friday had an interesting look at home-schooled kids playing football in Georgia.

Can Soccer Take Advantage Of Its Big Kic.

Within a 24 hour period this week, the brand value sport of professional soccer in the United States took a huge jump. First came the coups of ESPN scooping up the Premier League from virtually bankrupt Setanta Sports, followed by the US’ stunning 2-0 win over Spain in the Confederations Cup, followed closely by Steve Nash's second annual grassroots soccer fundraiser in a New York park, along with the Sports Business Journal piece that WPS is doing better than expected. From the grassroots to the professional, all seems to be going well. Now is there a way for some brand, or a series of brands, to take the good news, tie it in a package and use it as the latest, and strongest, all-encompassing boost for a sport that was already well positioned going into the recession (because of their structure and cost cutting measures) but now has a variety of platforms that are highly visible to attach t. We shall see. Of course Confederations Cup final against Brazil still remains, but the continued interest of Nash (who will be part of the ownership group for MLS Vancouver) as an ambassador with both the world class pros he brought to New York and with his NBA friends, plus a steady women's product gives the sport another boost while others are struggling. However for brands who have held back on investment waiting for the economy to turn or the right opportunity to invest in, maybe this weeks series of events for soccer will get them a well placed kick for new activation and partnerships.

Some other good reads…Darren Rovell's second set of Twitter rankings are out…Yardbarker's Adam Best had a good little primer on how to launch a successful blog…Media Post had a good examples piece of how “professionals” use twitter effectively…and AP had a good wrapup of the Brooklyn Cyclones highly successful Baracklyn Night.

The Interesting Approach of Brand Ty Lawson…

As the NBA Draft approaches Thursday, it will be interesting to see the branding winners and missteps taken, and how quickly in this digital age teams will look to immediately activate with their picks…will guys be twittering new fans from the podium, who will be the first to stream and text messages back home and will any team look to Twitter their pick before it is announced, as happened in the NFL Draf. Speed and immediacy, whether they can be monetized or not at this point, will be interesting, as well as how well athletes today understand perceived brand value vs. real brand value. Tuesday's Washington Post gave a great glimpse inside the workings of North Carolina's Ty Lawson as he prepped both on and off the court for this Thursday's coming out. The piece had great access into Lawson and the team around him that is prepped to strike once his name is called, and how they can roll out the new branded Lawson to the Carolina faithful, and to the faithful of his new team. It is a very smart message to try and show potential fans, the media, teams and brands that Lawson is ready for the marketing and playing tasks ahead. however one thing that misses from the article, and is critical to be factored in…are the plans of the team he is selected by. Are they ready to work with Team Lawson on his brand roll out…does it conflict with anything they are planning for their elite customers or partner. Are both sides ready to work together to maximize the opportunity each has create. It sounds simple, but often times it is not. The best partnerships are when teams and athletes start from day one to pull for a common goal…brandwise, community wise, activation wise, access wise and most importantly playing wise. For every LeBron James brand, there are countless others that tried to build upon failed on court or on field focus, and although some athletes can succeed as marketing brands based on just performance, the opposite, brand success with limited on field success, is the rarest of the rare. The Lawson prep story shows smarts by his team…hopefully he lands with the right team that can take advantage of his smarts both on and off the court.

Some other good reads….Darren Rovell has a great q and a with IMG's Mark Steinberg…the Fort Worth Star Telegram has a good feature on the 50th anniversary of Dave Campbell's Texas Football…and si.com's Jon Wertheim had a good sneak peak at last year's epic Nadal-Federer Wimbledon match, which he fashioned into his latest book.

Majoring In The Minors…Hudson Valley Goes To The Ladies…

Ladies Day has long been a baseball tradition…women arriving at the ballpark get discounts and promotions tailored to them, and MLB has gone to great lengths in promoting and raising money for Breast Cancer Awareness. However the Hudson valley Renegades, again showing the advantage the minors have to be effective and creative, will take Ladies Day one step further in July, banning men (those off the playing field anyway) from the stands for the first five innings of their July 7 game.</a> The salute to women, will allow women in while keeping the men outside until the fifth inning, effectively showing that the Rens’ female fan base is both important and recognized by the organization. The night will of course have the usual fun promotions and music that the minors always have, but it sends a smart message to those decision makers in the household…we appreciate all you do in bringing the kids here and to the games, and lets have some fun just with you. Not a huge departure from the ordinary, but it should make for a fun night, a good promotion, some additional brand extensions and some good old fashioned PR which will probably be copied by others along the way.

Some other good reads…The Indy Star had a good profile of Brandon Jennings leading into Thursday's NBA Draft…Darren Heitner's blog had a good piece on how social media is being used more by players and agents...and in what could be another fun minor league promotion, Kodak announced it is halting the use of Kodachrome film…Paul Simon night anyon. Instamatic nigh.

Baseball Plays A Doubleheader As A Social Unifying Brand

Many times in North America, the sport of baseball sometimes gets overlooked for its ability to aggregate people, expose brands and tell stories. because the season is so long and the game is so ingrained we sometimes forget the amount of eyeballs and dollars spent on the game, even more now on a global scale. And with the attraction, from Little league through the Majors, comes the ability to marry brands in large numbers to very worthy and promotable causes. This weekend…Father's Day…baseball takes on a doubleheader of well, timed, well presented and well thought out activation platforms…civil rights and prostate cancer awareness, and delivers on both. On the Civil Rights front, it is sometimes forgotten that baseball broke the color barrier with Jackie Robinson, for all professional sports. So when the sport started having a Civil Rights Day and game a few years ago in Memphis, Tennessee, it got some attention but not huge attention. The move to take the entire event and move it to a Major League city, Cincinnati, and involve a full few days of talks and involvement from peoples of all sports and backgrounds, was a great one, and the coverage received for both the sport and for Civil Rights issued was tremendous. For a support to promote issues in season is one thing, to take an active stance and deliver positive messages on a national stage is another, and baseball should get pig points for taking the time and the effort to build this platform for all and to work with the brands who will activate against it. The second weekend cause is Prostate Cancer Awareness, and by using their national platform of games on the Father's Day weekend…complete with blue bats for auction, sponsor and player activation campaigns in major media and at all games, the sport again hits a homer. Baseball announcer Ed Randall's Bat For The Cure, is also a great example of how the pooling of resources can work for the bigger cause through the sport. For whatever reason, the prostate cancer campaign is not as well covered as the all-pink breast cancer awareness work done in April and October through the various pink programs, but the yeoman work baseball does to collectively present the issue to millions on a day which is more father-focused than others, remains a great example of pooling resources the right way for all. Now could the two be split on other weekend. Maybe. But despite the timing, both garner great coverage, sponsor activation, and messaging. Great job by all.

Some other good reads…Editor and Publisher has a good look at the top 30 newsites for May…wsj.com had a great profile of Sudan soccer coach Stephen Constantine…mlb.com had an onteresting look at new technology helping teams in the recent baseball draft…and the Chicago Tribune had a good profile of former Bear Steve McMichael and his work coaching the CIFL Chicago Slaughter.

American Youth Could Be The Winners From This Weeks Olympic “games”

This past week saw the seven sports vying to be brought into the Olympics in 2016 and the four cities bidding to host the Games all travel to Lausanne, Switzerland for presentations to the International Olympic Committee Executive Board as well as the the membership countries of the IOC (for the cities presentations). The Chicago Tribune's Phil Hersch has a great summary of all the back and forth that went on throughout the week, including at least three of the cities being named by someone as a favorite, and no less than four of the seven sports projected to have the best chance, best presentation or fastest movement up (no one was acknowledged to have slid down, others just moved ahead) in a week of true gamesmanship. However one of the better moves of the week for all amateur sports in the United States took place on Monday in Washington, when President Obama named a new office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport. The timing sent a clear but subtle message to the IOC that sports, especially Olympic sports, are now a high priority for a President that helped use a sports platform to get to casual voters during his campaign. The move also gives the US a “Head of Sport” that virtually every other country has, and could potentially help create and administer a uniform vision…and potential amazing branding and marketing opportunities for someone who is able to unify groups that constantly fight for the same dollar, same branding opportunity, and same audience. The position can also help administer policy so that athletics leading to healthy lifestyles does become the priority in schools here that is used to be, all quality messages and potential for those involved in the space. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, the games for the Olympic Games continued, with countless dollars spent on presentations, lobbyists and travel by all groups…monies that probably would be best served in building the brand of sport with their constituents and participants. The Olympic games remain big bucks and mega branding opportunities and can still create tremendous good will and a legacy for all involved. The hope is that the legacy does outweigh the cost for the long term, especially for those five sports and three cities that will not be chosen in Copenhagen in October. Even with all the spending, pomp and circumstance, the biggest winner this week may already be the youth of America…and maybe even those brands which can more clearly serve them…through President Obama's deftly timed move as the political games begen this week. A move which could have Olympic sized popularity if the office does what it could do.

Some other good reads…Jon Marks in the Philadelphia Examiner has a good piece on MMA's move into Philly….the Washington Post had a great piece on Twitter's role in the Iranian elections…Media Post had a great piece on the role of social media in President Obama's election…wsj.com had a good piece on the Giants naming rights issues…and the Washington Times had a good piece on Comcast's expanding role in online media coverage

Brand Damage For Joe Buc. Life Is Easy, Comedy Is Hard…Or Is All PR Good P.

Mine is not to debate whether Artie Lange should or should not have been on with Joe Buck on HBO this week. The question becomes was the buzz created by Lange's obscenity-laced diatribes worth what a solid sports personality, Joe Buck, and a solid brand, HBO, were trying to d. The ratings showed that the show did very well…it was HBO, so there were no ads to worry about…the show certainly got more buzz for Lange than for the good pieces Buck had with Brett Favre and others, and the American mentality of watching a car wreck for fun goes on. Lange's exposure went up…every blogger and sports media personality talked about him, and what was a very bland show with maybe no hope of return for Buck, gave him some spice and a second life. Does Artie Lange need now to come back to HB. No. Does Joe Buck need to have a second shot, which may drive more interest to see if he can become a good hos. Probably. Was Buck's “brand” damaged because of the sho. Ho. Are less people tuning in to watch Baseball on FOX because of i. Injured maybe, but not damaged. Probably more will just to see if he will react to the show. The damage will be if Buck gets dragged into name calling and doesn’t take the high road, which he assuredly will. It also created some buzz around his personality and maybe even a bit of an underdog mentality to see if the potential September show will get better. Rest assured HBO probably liked the numbers and the controversy…there was no running away from controversy or numbers when Buzz Bissinger and blogger Will Leitch from Deadspin squared off on Costas’ show last summer…so maybe to a lesser extent the controversy will drive a second show, which probably wouldn’t be bad for all concerned. Given Buck's quality work and the quality of all HBO does, the opportunity to build a brand remains, despite the slow start.

Some other good reads…PROMO had a good piece on Wise chips assault on the record booksForbes.com had a great piece on the NBA's move into India...and the LA Times’ Bill Plascke had a good profile of Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak

Will College Athletics Lead Or Follo. Depends On The Leader

A few weeks ago we touched upon the great opportunity that college athletic departments of all sizes have in these troubled financial times to learn, become more business-like and show true value as community leaders to the students and the institutions they represent. Still the troubles continue ahead, as instead of investing and learning the business of sports, more colleges are looking to cut around the edges and find ways to slow the process of media relations and athletic branding down, rather than taking steps to grow through investment, a practice which certainly is taught in the classrooms of any basic history or economics class. The blog “Eye On Sports Media” recently had a great piece on the NCAA ruling to basically ban media guides as both a cost savings and a way to eliminate the evils of recruiting violations, thus giving casual media covering colleges the risk of getting information only through a higher tech application, like a CD-rom. Now is it smart to cut back on wasteful printin. Absolutely, and printing should be a Title IX must for schools, it should be a necessity for sports that get adequate media coverage. The frills are also not needed in making media guides vanity projects either…they should be what they were created for…to service the media. But the reckless elimination of such guides will probably hurt coverage in the long run at the risk of saving a few short term bucks. Stupid. Now let's take a look at the positive side, which is contained in the announcement of new University of Houston athletic director Mack Rhodes. Rhodes, going to the Cougars from the University of Akron, made a strong positive impression in his introductory presser, setting a tone not as a budget slasher but as a revenue generator, looking at the U of H as a part of the community that needs to embrace and be more business-like in the way it can grow and identify with the community around it. It not just sends the right message to the staff and partners in Houston, but it conveys a message as a leader for all of college athletics no matter what the size. You have a brand, invest and treat it like the commodity it is, go find the projects that can bring in a quality experience for new partners who can appreciate college athletes and show value, and your brand will grow. The smartest brands find cost-efficient ways to invest in the leanest of times, and colleges should be no different.

Some other good reads…also in the college space, the Arizona Star has a look at how Pac 10 schools can find ways to cut spending…some good, some short sighted…USA Today had a good piece on the rebirth of baseball board games like APBA and Strat-O-Matic…Media Post had a good piece on the recruitment of candidates to the popular Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man” academy, surely an athletic tie is coming here…and the San Francisco Chronicle had a good “give back” piece on former Oakland A's pitcher Mike Norris.