More Examples of The Value Of Being Green…NASCAR and Wilson…

Two brands which most people don’t usually think of as being “green,” NASCAR and Wilson, recently continued the trend in being more enviro-conscious in their branding, production and presentation, once again proving that if you can be “green” and “first” in a category you can get your brand a nice pat on the back and some good exposure, as well as being environmentally friendly. First Wilson recently became the first brand to introduce to the North American sporting goods marketplace by bringing the first eco-certified basketball (it is black and green) to the marketplace. Do we need a “green” basketbal. Will it make a bigger dent in the carbon footprint in terms of overall productio. Maybe. But by branding it first and making a distinction in color, the sporting good company got some bang for the time it spent in development and marketing. Second was the interesting announcement by the always looking to be innovative folks at NASCAR to announce the largest solar energy project at a sports facility, for the track in Pocono, Pa. A sport that revolves around large amount of fossil fuels seems like a disconnect for being green, but the ability to be “first” “largest” and “effective” gets the message out, positions the sport correctly to a legion of fans that remain very brand loyal and again sets NASCAR up as a leader in a field that has suffered in the current economy and can use leaders for alternative energy sources. Will it make those folks driving RV's a little more conservative when they fill u. Probably not. But it may make the facilities business see new options for sponsorship, community programs and ways to be more cost and enrgy conscious than they are today. Good timing and positioning on both by two brands who are not necessarily associated with always being green.

Some other good reads…Media Post had an interesting piece on Southern Comfort's digital initiatives, which although not sports-related yet, speak to the male demo very well…the Washington Post's Tracee Hamilton had a good piece on the craziness revolving around the start of NFL training camps…Yahoo.com's Adrian Wojnarowski had an interesting look at the craziness of Stephon Marbury's most recent online escapades…and ESPN.com has a good inside look at Isiah Thomas and his time on the road recruiting this summer…

Media Guides Go The Way Of The Dinosaur…

As we see the printed word fade into the distance in favor of digital space, we now see another “staple” of the media business, the media guide for professional teams, heading in the same direction. John Lombardo in this week's Sports Business Journal pointed out that the NBA has dropped the requirement for teams to print guides for the first time, instead deferring to the team's discretion to use one on a memory stick instead. In addition to being a cost savings and green move by the league, the move to digital books gives the teams the ability to update information, and even insert business partners and promotions, into the books as the season goes on. The elimination of the printed books totally at this stage is probably a mistake, as there will be media, a dwindling few, who will come in to get information without the use of a laptop, and news rooms will still have to have hard copies available for non-game coverage, but an idea which seemed out of touch for the NBA as little as three years ago now seems more realistic, and can have not just a cost reduction, but an upside in profit and brand integration as well. The coverage by mainstream media actually is a plus in the effort to remove hard copies of media guides…as there is a major market familiarity with teams, staff and players through the course of the season. Ironically it is in college and the smaller markets where hard copies, perhaps not glossy full blown books, but information guides, still will have a need for media that are not readily familiar with the team. Still even in those markets and at the college level, the ease of upgrading and adapting to technology can give team communications staff s greater opportunity to be more cost efficient and creative by using the digital space.

Some other good reads…the Washington Times’ Tim Lemke has a good piece on Geico's sports branding work...Maury Brown of the Business of Baseball has a very comprehensive look at social media's impact on the daily lives of reporters…and the New York Times had a very strong piece on the dollars girls sports brings to towns...

Loving The Comeback…Phelps, Watson, Armstrong…Even LeBron…

One thing the American sports public loves, especially in challenged times, is the art of the comeback. Even the biggest star, once shown with feet of clay, somehow moves up the popularity and sympathy list, when he or she starts the road back or finally gets toppled. Like the evil Mafia dons turned benevolent dictators, we seem to soften images, and often times brands are there to take advantage of the return to popularity as the once iconic become iconic again. Now does it “just happe.” No. Obviously the commitment from the athlete has to be there, and there has to be a solid marketing plan behind the brand reinvention, but with the commitment from both the athletic side and the business side, the re-image can sometimes be more popular than the original. Three cases in point from recent weeks. First Tom Watson. His unlikely run at the British Open, one where Tiger Woods again slumped, helped re-engage fans in the possibilities of what-if, even when he fell off the lead on the final day. Watson's partners, which included Adams Golf, had a nice bump, and eventhough TV numbers were not record, his unlikely run gave the event some sustainability and probably re-energized his brand for a slightly older demo, as well as connecting him to many newer golfers for the first time. Second, Lance Armstrong. Eventhough there was the public falling out over the final days with teammate and eventual winner Alberto Contador over the timing of the team Radio Shack announcement , Armstrong again went through an amazing brand re-invention during his amazing Tour de France run. He twitters, embraced fans, softened a once hard image, avoided the pratfalls of the doping world and connected with the fickle French fans like never before, giving the sport and his brand going forward another huge boost. Third Michael Phelps. With his marijuana episode in the rear view mirror, the folks at Octagon have repositioned Phelps as the athlete America loves while most of us are jumping again into summer swimming pools. Even better for the future of swimming, Phelps actually lost a race this week, to German Paul Biedermann,a swimmer using a soon-to-be-banned swimsuit, which sets him up for even more watercooler talk going forward. Last is LeBron James...although with little damage really, James NBA playoff antics, and the mystery of the dunk film from this summer, showed some chinks in the LeBron armor, just small ones, which probably made him just that more interesting at this stage of his career to draw in even the small group of casual fans who may not have been that interested in all his positive work over the last few years. Now where can these brand re-inventions go in the futur. A lot of it is up to the athlete, but with Phelps already looking ahead to 2012 and Armstrong back on the top of his racing game, the different demos that they speak to and the brands they engage should have some nice pop. For Watson, it may be more quiet endorsements and speaking around his golf, but all will be positive in the slightly older demo he speaks to, and for LeBron…how high can one g. After all, the elusive NBA title still awaits, after his upcoming Nike-sponsored world tour. We do love the comeback.

Some other good reads…the Detroit News had a good piece on a group returning baseball to kids in innercity Detroit…Media Post had a piece on the new UFL uniforms produced by GameWear...and New York Magazine had an interesting piece on the Yoga brand Lululemon and how it is growing as a fitness necessity.

Leaving Your Core Business To Get Into Event Production Can Be A Costly Afflictio.

There is still some debate about the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, as to whether it is.ho. and a viable business or just a niche sport whose success is solely dictated by the success or failure of the one true brand in the market on the professional side, the UFC. Those who lean toward the latter received more validation for their point this past weekend when the spor.s latest UFC challenger, the highly successful apparel brand Affliction, announced it too was getting out of the event game and was going back to doing what it does bes.running a very lucrative brand for the male demo that follows the UFC and trains in MMA.

Afflictio.s bold entrance and then departure into the event side of the business is a good example of what happens when companies, especially in a challenged economy, try to be something that is a departure from their core success. They usually find that the barriers to entry are so high and the cost to sustain too much that success in the short term is limited or non-existent. Affliction knows how to market to young me.they have made a sizable business on selling edgy apparel…however the event business and the teeshirt business provide different models for brand success, and just because someone wears your clothes doesn’t mean they will pledge loyalty in terms of dollars for all the other ancillary events you may be running.

On the other side of the MMA equation is the UFC, which continues to be strong as the professional MMA brand of choice for the hardcore followers and the casual observer. This week CNBC will take another in-depth look at how the UFC has built brand around their experience and has made the investment grow by sticking to a formula that works…which is marketing the brand and the experience and fighters in the Octagon. The ancillary UFC activities outside of TV and their successful Spike TV partnership are just that, they are add-ons to the core business. Although they oversee many of those brand extensions they never distract from the message of the fight game and what occurs in and around the event. Now can the argument be made that the investment Affliction made into growing their brand through the cost spent on fights was worthwhil. Perhaps. But to justify the millions spent in production and promotion would mean millions of teeshirts and Affliction-branded apparel sold in that short time period outside of what would normally be sold. Did they put on a quality product and help lift the sport of MMA overal. Yes. Would they have been better off in the apparel business and working with the UFC to move produc. Probably. Sometimes even the best brands will acquire new secondary businesses and experience growth. However the most successful brands who do acquire outside of their sweet spot will have capital and plan to look long term. Sports is so much more of a short term play that those type of ventures usually can be costly and sometimes even deadly for the original brand. Would it have been a sign of a healthy sport to have a viable alternative for the UF. Yes. Does it mean the sport is not growing without a healthy number tw. No. It means that the right competitor has not found the model, if it exists in the space. One thing is for sure…the Afflciation challenge, like all the others before…ProElite, IFL etc etc…was not the right one.

Competitive Eating Helps Nathanezsms Build A Brand…

Maybe it is because many people like spectacle, but the old sideshow mentality, especially in a digital world, still draws the casual observer. The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, and all the other subsequent “competitve eating” events around the world, have spawned an interesting following that draws as many as 30,000 people for some events and has gotten some brands pretty solid exposure for their products. Although there have been few brands on the antacid side or the pharma industry who have used the contests to battle obesity yet, there is no doubt that some chains have used the eating “craze’ to grow their business in ways never really seen before, especially taking advantage of low cost digital marketing and branding. The one who has really shown how to do it is Nathan's. CNNMoney recently listed their fastest-growing companies in the US, and the hot dog chain was among the leaders in an industry where midsized fast food chains are struggling. Now of course Nathan's franchise business needs to be attached with in-arena or in-stadium brands building programs to really get outside of its core base. However with an online business, kiosks and now a signature event that casual sports fans can point to as a must see or must watch event, the Coney Island hot dog once connected only to New York or those in the New York area, has found a niche to grow with and can take that niche and really attach to other brands, teams and events around the world if needed, all tied back to their July 4 event. Smart calculated move by Nathan's which took a small event and used it to really move product and build brand without a comparatively huge spend.

Some other good reads for the weekend…Media Post had a good look at the issues Gatorade is having to build brand…ESPN.com had a good piece on how Manchester City is looking to expand their branding footprint…the San Diego Union Tribune had an interesting look at how relegation would work for American sports…and Wired.com had a good list of 100 “things” young people may never use

Black Knights of the Hudson Look To Build Brand, Seize The Apple…

It has long been one of the mysteries of sports branding. New York, the centerpiece of the sports branding and business world, has been a college football graveyard. Yes, bars full of displaced college alumni flock to watch games with friends on Saturdays, the Heisman is housed there, and there are many other things to do on a Saturday, not to mention the perception that it is a pro town with two NFL teams. The casual sports fan in New York has never been engaged by local college teams in almost 50 years, save for St. John's terrific runs in hoops in the 1980's. The last team with any local cache on the football side was Fordham, a program which lost its national stance in the late 1940's and early 1950's. So can a local team capture the audience, the branding and the media attentio. Judging by announcements this week, Army my just be making that push. The Black Knights of the Hudson, just 30 miles north of the City, have long been one of the jewels of Saturday college football, not for their onfield play but for the pageantry and patriotism that comes with games at Michie Stadium. This week, along with the Yankees (who need to fill suites more than seats), Army announced a series of college football games with Notre Dame, Rutgers and Air Force at Yankee Stadium beginning in 2010, which will give Army a great local stage to compliment their games up the Hudson. Now can it parlay into great new branding and revenue for Arm. Maybe. It will become a great non-baseball sales tool for Yankee Stadium because of the opponents as much as Army. But with this week's announcement of a presenting sponsor for Army-Navy, a new coach, a huge void in a football team to root for in the New York area (Rutgers too will still try and fill that void), maybe just maybe the Black Knights can become New York's college football team.

Some other good reads…the Washington Post had a good profile of Ari Fleischer.…Foxsports.com's Matt Cronin has a good look at American tennis hopeful Sam Querry…the New York Times had a good profile of the Dolphins’ Ricky Williams…and wsj.com's Matt Futterman looks at how Pele can still be able to cash in on long-ago success.

Being The Big Tweet In A Small Pond: The Griz Break A Record…

Earlier this year the Lakewood Blue Claws became one of the first teams to effectively use Twitter to move tickets and then unite their loyal Twitter followers with face to face meetings during a Twitter night. Now the Fresno Grizzlies, with a media partner (beehive..com), will not just do a little tweeting to build brand but also have “Fresno's largest tweetup” at the end of the month for a July 30 game against Colorado Springs. The Grizzlies, who are one of baseball's great innovators in fan activation and unique year-round events to keep fans engaged, will use the night to reward followers with instant twitter discounts, a special meeting area, twitter-only discounts and other text-related contests. Putting a “Fresno's largest” bill to it and then bringing in a media partner is also a great move to expand their twitter base, build email lists and even engage more casual fans. There is one big irony in the whole announcement however, and it speaks perhaps more to the fact that minor league sports promotions, combined with social networking, has become more of a draw then the game itself…nowhere in the Griz announcement does it mention anything about baseball...not a player, not the opponent, not the Grizzlies standing in the Pacific Coast League…not a thing. Even with the omission, the Grizzlies tweetup event is great…great promotion, great way to show how to effectively use Twitter to drive brand awareness and ROI, great way to bring in a media partner and another great step up the innovation ladder for minor league ball promotion.

Some other good reads…Media Post had a good piece on the partnership between EA and Major League Gaming…this week's Sports Business Journal has a great piece on how newspaper coverage of sports is changing and how teams are adapting…and the New York Times had a good look at the USTA's new campaign bringing grassroots players and a new feel to the sport.

Yankees Take A Leadership Position With Hope Week…

Sometimes being the premier brand in a city, let alone a country, can lead to complacency. Even in a down economy, the demand as a destination and a brand to be associated with still conveys great opportunity with little effort. On another side, the relevance of brand can also lead to a guarded stance with regard to creating partner opportunities…one which does not allow the brand to do the “extras” for attention or brand growth that others need to be successful. Also, being a brand in demand can put those involved on such a high pedestal that the downside of not being all inclusive in projects, leaving out a partner or not being able to assist all involved, can bring more negative than the positive of assisting most. So with all that in mind, the Yankees deserved some credit for creating their first-ever HOPE Week. All week the team and staff will be in the city doing community service events, all tied in with various goodwill around the city. Now some may say that this is what a premier brand is supposed to do to give back to the community, and it is true that teams do community events year-round. However for the Yankees to make a concerted effort to use the power of their brand, especially without a corporate push, to touch so many charities within one week, a great followup to all the work MLB did in St. Louis around the All-Star break, is a great move. The positioning of the events, between Sunday's Old Timers Day and this coming weekend's Hall of Fame induction, and during a time of year when media are looking for events (no NBA, NFL, NHL or college, and minimal NASCAR and just off the British Open) also makes great sense. A solid, well positioned week-long event for a team and its players which sometimes do not get their due for all they can do off the field.

Some other good reads…the NY Times’ George Vecsey has a good look back at the anniversary of the 1964 Army football team which upset Navy…the LA Times’ Kurt Streeter had a solid piece Sunday on the need for women's baseball programs… and the Saints’ Sean Payton does a must read fill-in job taking the place of the vacationing Peter King on si.com

Warriors Give Season Subs, Fans An Immersive Experience From Nellie…

Teams are constantly looking for new ways to engage fans, build brand and create added value and access year round. The problem is in this challenged economy, and with all the options out there to draw a fans attention, especially ones that are free, how do you find something that will work and keep someone engaged that will also have enough value to turn them into a new customer or keep them as a repeat customer with their discretionary dollar. One alternative that seems to be more cost efficient and has a bit of a wow factor is outbound personalized calls and video. One team, the NBA's Golden State Warriors recently used the technology developed by vontoo.com to create an outbound customized message from head coach Don Nelson directly to their season subscribers, along with a digital video where the subscribers name was embedded in the video. It is a much more personal use of the reverse 911 technology that teams and marketers have been using for several years, where you would get a message, a non-personalized one, delivered to your phone from a player, or a political candidate. Now the technology allows you to be immersed in the video and the message, with the hope that is both passed along to others to sign up and that it is engaging enough to keep the subscriber entertained and interested. The immersive idea also has a big upside for colleges looking to recruit general students or season subs, check out Boston College's play here, or even for theme park operators or tourist destinations looking to draw repeat customers…it makes you feel like you are “one of them.” Now the next generation should be the ability to have multiple customized voice messages sent to fans after they are engaged from various people, although that step may be a bit cost prohibitive at this point. However the Warriors made a smart investment to create both a wow factor and find a new way to keep their fans engaged, using their popular coach and the outbound immersive technology at a time when the team is in flux. Smart, cost effective way to stay engaged.

Some other good reads…ESPN.com has a great series this week on the business of college sportsBusiness Week had a good “how to” on working with Mommy Bloggers... and in the “good profile” space, Time's Sean Gregory had a solid profile on Newark Mayor and former Stanford tight end Cory Booker.

Why Being A Fan Helps The President…

There are many cynics that may say President Obama can spend his time, and the countries’ dollars…doing better things than glad handing the MLS champion Columbus Crew at the White House before heading off to throw the first pitch and hang out in the FOX booth at the All-Star game. However, the man who the Washington Times called this week the “Sports Fan Chief” , was astute enough with his team to recognize early on in his run to the White House that sports is a common bond for those on the fence about anything political, and gave him, more than any other candidate, another link to a demo that may or may not have voted or listened to him at all. Starting with his one on one with Scott Price of SI, his pickup games, his throwing out of the first pitch at a White Sox game, his NCAA tournament brackets, played a little golf and pickup games with the North Carolina hoops team, the President took the time to show that human side of him through sports, and it resonated with the casual fan who in tough times may give his administration pause and a bit of a second chance that they may not have if they had no connection to him at all. The ceremonial aspects of the Presidency, whether it is meeting a championship team or saluting the Girl Scouts, are part of the job and rarely if ever detract from the duties that need to be performed. If those ties for President Obama to sport are more public, especially in a time where America is looking for heroes and is working to get the 2016 Olympics, then so be it. There is a need for heroes and good messaging through sport to address needs like childhood obesity, girls participation in an active lifestyle, and even the growth of brands attaching to sports and entertainment, and if the President can use the cause celebre’ through sport to raise the profile of those issues, it makes great sense. Sport is also a great tie to diplomacy and as a way to connect back to those in the military who are defending the nation, and in these times of transition for the nation on a global scale those ties no matter how subtle can also be beneficial to the overall health of the country. Yes sports is a multibillion dollar industry. No it is not insurance or health care or education, but it does touch all, and if sport provides a bridge to the everyday business of the country as well as feel good opportunities for the people, it makes great business sense to be involved.

Some other good reads…the Detroit News had an in-depth look at where sponsorships stand today for most big ticket sports events.…si.com had a q and a with new Big East Comish John Marinatto…and The Oregonian had a good q and a with Oregon AD Mike Belotti.