August, 2009 | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Will Soccer In New York Ever Hit The Goa.

With the first hint of fall you start to hear the bounce in thousands of parks and recreational centers across the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It is the thwack of kids from four to their mid-teens dribbling and passing soccer balls. Like baseball and softball in the spring, fall soccer is a rite of passage more now than ever before amongst young kids. Still even with the grassroots success, the connection to the pro game still lags behind, perhaps in the New York area more than anywhere else in the United States, and it is that disconnect which has continued to slow the growth of MLS in the biggest media market in the world. While MLS has had great success in Washington, great buzz in LA, solid plans built out in Dallas and Columbus and Chicago and New England, the New York market remains a frustrating afterthought.

So is hope on the wa. Perhaps. Last year's run by the Red Bulls put some life in the franchise, but the combination of delays in moving to the new Red Bull Park, a cutback in marketing and branding over previous years (ironically by one of the world's leaders in guerilla brand building, the Red Bull parent company), and a dreadful season have really put a damper on their growth in branding and marketshare in the area. In Southern Jersey, the lure of an expansion MLS franchise with solid support and branding out of the gate should help the growth of the pro side, while the WPS title taken by Sky Blue FC may help a bit on the women's side, although the lack of all traditional branding outlets…a home field, marketing and partnership dollars and television…really slowed any chance of success for the brand in their inaugural year. Even with those problems, the grassroots for soccer, and all the potential branding opportunities to cultivate and then embrace fans of the sport as they go through their developmental years from players to consumers are still here for the taking. Ironically, the soccer brand that continues to have the most name recognition and success at the camp level in the area is a brand that has been gone from the pro game for over 30 years…the Cosmos, and their soccer camps in Rockland and Noethern New Jersey.

So what will it take for the grassroots to transform into professional success in this area. An extended, committed brand marketing campaign aimed at youth is critical. The establishment of stars, both on the field and off, is second. The intimacy of a home field and the use of all means possible in the social and traditional media market is third. Can it be don. Ironically with the opening of Red Bull Park next season that home field, if marketed correctly, can be a big step. The building of stars is not easy, but has been done in other markets even with the restrictions of the MLS cap, but the brand must also invest the dollars around the players developing to be successful. That is an investment each team must decide to make on their own. The last point is the grassroots attachment. These days fleeting attention spans tend to make the youth market very tough to access, but with a weekly captive audience, attaching and building a brand with regular contact, information and messaging can and should happen. Will we see success on the brand side for soccer in New Yor. Tough to say at this point. The potential remains, but the brands must decide what the dollar investment needs to be to get there, and in this challenged economy, that spend may be a very tough one.

Some other good reads…The Bergen Record's Stefan Bondy had a good piece on the surreal season of WPS champ Sky Blue FC…the Washington Post's Liz Clarke had a good profile of Rafael Nadal...the LA Times’ had a good piece on the cash flow issues facing European soccer… the Sporting News had a solid q and a on the Rick Pitino issue and how much damage he has done to his brand…and the Orlando Sentinel had a good look at what college teams are trying to do to limit media and control messaging

Johnnies Give A Seat To Tweet…A Move That Could Set The Pace…

It is sometimes the simplest of moves that make the most sense and can set the pace for others. This week, St. John's University decided that they would have a designated, unbiased person have a credentialed spot for all their hoops games and be credentialed as a “Twitter” member of the media. His name is Peter Robert Casey, and he is a credible, well thought young person who both understands the media and has a passion for the game, and he has built a rather large twitter following, So St. John's whose fall in the New York market from the college that was on par with all pro teams in terms of exposure to less than a blip on the radar these days, will give Casey a seat to tweet what he likes and when he likes throughout the course of the game, in pregame media sessions and postgame. Unlike other media members this will be his sole assignment…he wont be filing stories or covering other things (although he has that option)…and he wont be paid for his service. It gets St. John's a little buzz, maybe draws some additional casual eyeballs their way in a crowded marketplace and helps get them some additional exposure. It is not unlike the Islanders, who had open space in their pressbox, creating a blogger area a few years ago, which paved the way for other teams to slowly welcome the bloggers into their space and led to former PR Director Chris Botta creating his t highly popular blog Islanders Point Blank. So whats the downside to St. John's or other schools to credential an active twitter “correspondent.” Like the blogging space, credibility and traffic is a small concern. The person or persons should have legitimate media skills and be treated and act like a professional. They should also have a solid following and not be looking to use this opportunity as their chance just to build some personal gain only. End of the day it is simple, no cost with a good upside for any team or brand looking to grow its base. It can be no different than the radio stations doing live updates from games or the beat writers now filing blogs on the fly. One of the ironies of course is that it is a Big East school making this move, which is counter to the schools of the SEC trying to restrict media coverage and usage as has been reported lately (good summary on Sports Business Daily on the SEC's moves). Now of course Twittering is different than posting live video and infringing on media rights, and St. John's search for coverage is different from what Florida or Georgia still receives, but it is a smart move by the Johnnies.

Some other good reads…Great piece found by SI.com's Rich Deitsch on 25 things journalists need to do to be relevant today.…the Seattle PI had a good piece on new Pac 10 commish Larry Scott and his challenges…also on the college front, WSJ.com had a good piece on the ban of college colors on beer cans…and the New York Times had some good info on who really reads and uses various forms of social media

Sharing Content…Why It Works, Why It May Not…

Recently there has been more and more talk amongst media outlets of sharing content, especially for sports. Media Post laid out an extensive plan with many of the top newspapers looking to share editorial over the next few months , which will certainly give outlets that have already cut back on travel the advantage of having some fresh, albeit less local, content. It fills pages, and probably exposes some writers and columnists to a larger audience than before, and may actually create some double duty for beat writers who may have to file one story for the local team and one with additional quotes for the road team. From the aspect of saving additional jobs and keeping content fresh for those papers, it works. Where it doesn’t work will again be in the loss of point of view or quality writing, or additional access for writers who may get to know an athlete, a coach or a team just that much more when he or she is with those athletes every day. Although in this time many professional teams have a skeleton crew traveling with them for long trips anyway it may not make that much of a difference, but for times when there is extra access needed…or blog notes or a breaking story…the lack of a road presence may not play well with a shared content idea. Still it is a calculated risk papers will take. However into that void comes opportunity. Locally, any number of sites are popping up to fill the gap in local coverage. In the Hudson Valley Region of New York, writer Rich Thomaselli has launched the Hudson Valley Sports Report to give more coverage to local sports now not being covered by newspapers that had cut back. Enterprising publicists will also be able to track which stories and which writers are getting more play on a regional level, and can increase the breath and scope of their clients’ coverage by pitching a columnist who can potentially have a piece syndicated to many markets as opposed to just one. The gap will also create opportunities for enterprising bloggers who get access to expand their following as well. Now will any of this make money or drive traffi. Unknown. It will cut costs and use economies of scale for newspapers who continue to go through lean times as they adapt to a new business model, but whether the shared sites, or even these low cost alternatives can become a profit center remains to be seen. The fact is that media coverge of the past is fading into memory and the current day coverage remains in flux in an economy that remains sketchy. Figuring out which media outlets will grow, and then merchandising that coverage, will be the biggest challenge.

Some other good reads…The Buffalo News had a great piece on local colleges using twitter to manage their messages…The Florida Sun Sentinel has a q and a with Dolphins owner Steve Ross…and the site Soccer By Ives has a good q and a with Red Bulls head Eric Stover

Majoring In The Minors: Sometimes Itezsms Just The Quest Thatezsms The Fun Part…

One of the keys to minor league promotion is buzz…buzz leads to ticket sales and family fun, which is key when you are limited on marketing stars, who on the minor league level, are very transient. With that in mind one of the keys in buzz is always “new” or “fresh” or “first” or “record breaking.” The last one, record breaking, is always the most interesting, since it will give fans a sense of history, not to mention giving the team the ability to move more collectables or mementos from the event. World's largest pizza, world's largest pillow fight etc etc…have all come down the pike this year. However, as our friend Ben Hill pointed out recently in his column on the Business of Minor League Baseball, getting the “record” is not always that easy, nor is it always important. Hill studied the Wilmington Blue Rocks’ quest for the world's largest game of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” a fun effort to get fans interested in a between innings promotion, with maybe a little sponsor tie thrown in. Did it matter at the end of the day that there was a challenge issued by the real recordholders in Taiwa. No. Were people excited to be involve. Yes. Did it sell tickets, combined with other promotion. Maybe. Did it generate a little buzz, especially when there was a bit of “controversy” thrown i. Yes. Does it give the Blue Rocks a chance to re-promote and try the assault on the record agai. Yes, especially since everyone loves a comeback. The key points here are that the Blue Rocks found a promotion that was affordable, simple, involved all their fans, generated buzz and was at least semi-attainable. Whether it is a real or contrived “record” is not really the point. The point is they created a quest for a record, and sometimes the involvement in that quest is what gets people juiced and contributes to the fun of the experience.

Some other good reads…the New York Times Rich Sandomir had a good piece on the marketing of Jets QB Matt SanchezAd Age had a look at some ad execs who have come and gone, and where they have gone…and Time Magazine this week has a look at the business of fantasy sports...

Ravens Military Partnerships Build Strong Support Ties…

The ability to have to aggressively build brand amongst major professional teams is needed the least by the teams of the National Football League. Revenue sharing, national television, superior ticket sales on a season basis and a tremendous in-game atmosphere give most teams a base to be discriminative in their brand building exposure, as opposed to being aggressive in outbound programs. However even the best of teams in this challenged economy are looking to new revenue and brand building streams to generate interest and eventually dollars, with even some of the most storied franchises like the New York Giants facing a limited number of ticket holders at top dollar. One of the teams that has always found ways, even in the best days, to attach themselves to their community and build fan base is the Baltimore Ravens. Like the Colts before they moved to Indianapolis, the Ravens and their blue collar style have been emotionally tied to the city they call home. In short, the Ravens “get” their audience. The latest example of that sense of devotion to community was chronicled in this wee.s Baltimore Sun, with the Ravens hosting a special session for enlisted men and women, a project that drew 50 last year and 500 this year. The Capitol District, from Washington through Baltimore, has always had a military base, and the teams in the area have been able over time to partner with that core group for support. Ironically, as the team just to the south, the Redskins, constantly fight for message control, the Ravens always seem to find ways to expand their reach to the grassroots. Now will that style bring in more dollar. Unsure. Will courting the military help in selling luxury suite. Probably not. But in moving merchandise, building goodwill in the community and driving brand support it is a very smart move. It is true that the Ravens, like any other NFL team, still abide by the strict limits of access imposed by the league. However finding ways to go above and beyond to drive goodwill and find new story lines when they do.t necessarily have to, is the sign of solid leadership and partnership, both keys to success regardless of on the field success.

Some other good reads…the LA Times has a good profile of race driver Dario Franchitti...Sarah Talalay in the Sun Sentinel had a good piece on Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves doing a charity bed race in South Florida…and, courtesy of Terry Lyons blog, is a great piece on how Warriors head of PR used some unconventional ways to get his first job with the LA Lakers

Toques and Beavers A Fun, Simple Fundrasing Idea Up North…

With all the high level, high tech, multi-tiered investment and brand building ideas that come along, sometimes its the simplest that can be both fun, generate buzz and create some easy fundraising and brand building ideas. One that is gaining interest and is assisting athletes in Canada as we move towards Vancouver 2010 is a site called Toques and Beavers. The site, with a simple and entertaining flash game, gives people of all ages the chance to play against others or by themselves and raise funds for Canadian athletes training to compete next year. No multi-media, high tech social media components with layered themes and glitz. It is easy to get, it is fun, it doesn’t crowd your desktop and it is easy to share. Maybe its too simple in this gadget ag. Perhaps. But the game signifies what the Games used to be…no strings attached and a simple way to raise funds for non-sponsored athletes to train and compete for Canada. Almost a throwback idea, but a good one that falls under the “Keep it simple” banner. It is exactly what you think it is, and the low overhead makes the transfer of funds right to the athlete very simple. Good idea in a complex time.

Some other good reads… Media Post had a good piece this week on 1800 tequila's branding deal with the LA Lakers…Crain's New York has a good small business feature on Inside Sports and Entertainment…and the New York Times’ Ken Belson has a great piece on how major and minor league teams are working together to share expenses and build brands in these challenging times

Tribe, Blue Jackets Follow Chitownezsms Lead…

It just makes good sense. Last year the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Blackhawks created a year-round marketing partnership which gave both teams a strategic offseason platform to promote their brands, athletes and give some added pop to potential shared sponsors at a time when a team may not be top of mind. Yesterday the Cleveland Indians and Columbus Blue Jackets announced a similar partnership, with the difference being a tie between two regional brands, as opposed to a pair of teams in the same city. It is a concept, teams from different sports but from a larger geographic area, working together to develop year-round partnerships, that makes great sense as brands look for more ways to diversify, stay relevant and give partners new ways to work with them in the offseason. More importantly it is probably a smart learning experience for two teams who can find ways to work together in a very competitive environment and test ideas…social networking, group sales, unique business partners, even day to day business relationships…that they may not get to try without a different year-round partner. Now obviously teams with similar ownership backgrounds have worked together with shared platforms, but often times those are in similar seasons…hockey and hoops are the best example. By looking outside the norm and probably swallowing a little pride of ownership, the Tribe and Blue Jackets have created an expnasion of the Chicago platform that seemed to work so well.

Some other good reads…The Washington Times has a good profile of David Falk... the San Antonio Express-News has a profile of Jerry Jones Jr…wsj.com has an interesting piece on the courting of German baseball prospect Max Kepler-Rozycki , and Media Post has a good look at Subway's latest Scrabble promotion.

The Quick On Vick…

As the endless stops and starts go along with Michael Vick, the two points that will matter to brands around the team and to fans who put down the cash for tickets and product are simple…will he continue to show remorse and work to improve his image and will he help the Eagles be a better team on the field and a better brand off it. Once again its way early to answer number two, but number one appears to have answered many of the questions to this point. Kevin Sullivan had a solid review of Vick's “60 Minutes” piece on yahoo sports today showing that the athlete is taking all of this very seriously and is taking the time to listen and think about answers before letting them fly. Well dressed, well spoken, never caught off guard and he said all the right things. On the Eagles side, the press conference and all the actions since have shown unity to date. Owner Jeffrey Lurie, president Joe Banner, coach Andy Reid and all the players have pulled from the same playbook, speaking the same lines and acting in unison with support. There has been no split in ranks, all are well rehearsed and all are speaking the language of redemption at this point, a steady message which speaks to all listening that they are willing to give this athlete and this person a second chance, dog lovers and all. The most interesting question has been posed by Bob Ford of the Inquirer, which is wh. Do the Eagles need the distraction or the test of talent to get them to the next level, and will it be worth it when every misstep is taken to a new level of scrutiny, even when the protests come. From an onfield brand standpoint that remains an interesting question. On the business side the first news cycle appears to be a positive and well communicated one, with some question remaining as to if and when Eagles top sponsors were pulled into the mix. However with no mass exodus on any front, the court of public opinion, at least for the first few days, appears to be leaning in the Eagles favor. There is also the notion, as was the case with some of the recent steroid revelations in baseball, that fans have almost become immune to scandal at this point. The Vick case has been well played out and even the casual observer now understands the plus and minuses, so how long will the controversy actually las. One news cycle over…another coming up, and a trip to New york looming for an exhibition game at the end of the month. The Eagles staff has now been through TO, problems with Donovan McNabb, the offfield issues with Andy Reid's family and the tragedy of losing a top coach to cancer only a few weeks ago. Plus they have the comfort zone of the media controlled environment of the NFL, a plus that no other sport has. So can it play out quickl. No. Will there be brand damag. Not yet. Now if they can only execute on the field as they have executed off thus far.

Some other good reads…Kurt Streeter's LA Times piece on Vick is also a good read…the Bergen Record had a good piece on the issues of color in MLB…Alan Schwartz in the New York Times had a good piece on the plight of the lefty catcher…and Foxsports.com Matt Cronin has a good look at Andy Roddick heading into the US Open.

Nets Continue To Bounce The Promotional Ball During The Offseason…

Many times we have said that minor league baseball does the best job of staying relevant with fans and finding ways to build brand even in the offseason, especially since they have such a transient problem with players. On the professional side, perhaps no team does a better job with staying relevant in a very crowded space than the New Jersey Nets, who again this week, in the dog days of August and with players scattered to all parts of the globe, not only found great exposure points but also took a potentially negative story and turned it into a very positive one. The story in point involved an innovative ticket promotion that saw fans have the opportunity to get reversable jerseys, Nets on one side, top NBA players on the other, with a partial season ticket plan. As it was posted on the teams site, Deadspin took the Nets to task for “faking” a team promotion by selling the reversable jerseies. However in the real marketing world, teams are marketing their opponents and their experience more than their players more and more, as a way to pull in casual fans in the hope that you can convert them to fulltime supporters of your brand. Not uncommon at all, only the Nets have taken it to a bit more of a “physical” play by putting opponents jerseys in the hands of casual fans. The innovation actually spurred some tremendous coverage, including CNBC, the New York Daily News and Associated Press along with some debate, which in the middle of a ticket and brand selling season with really one top marketable star right now (Devin Harris) is what a brand could want. Is there risk in driving fans away from the team with the promotio. Little. Is there upside if one of the Nets players on the reversable emerge. Yes. Will it sell ticket. Yes. Great play, great way to turn what was an initial negative into a positive and an innovative way again to keep the team brand fresh and relevant in mid-summer.

How To Deliver The Message…

Two week's ago Sports Illustrated's George Dohrmann had a great piece on the amount of useless recruiting mail top hoops recruit Roberto Nelson received during his high school days, and it brought to light one of the biggest problems that marketers, salespeople, and communications folks deal with every day. How to cut through the junk, decide whats the most effective way to deliver a message and who is the best person to deliver it to. In the easy world today of spamming emails and press releases or sales pitches, or in this case, volumes of recruiting mail, the personal touch is lost, and with it goes the relevance. Many times people get caught up in trying to do things because “thats the way its always been done” instead of trying to be more innovative and effective with a personal touch. The digital world today has made it easy to hit send and hope to deliver a message, many times without knowing if the recipient ever reads, is interested or even knows the sender, or even worse, if the info is relevant to the recipient at all. In the “old days” editors and reporters would get deluged with faxes of press releases or volume of mail, but today's world makes the deluge even bigger because there is no real cost to blast or spamming email. The cost lies in reputation of the sender. Many times the inexperienced will not personalize letters or note, send to people no longer employed in a position or with a company or outlet or even worse, pretend to know someone when they really don’t. So what's the answe. Simple. Personal touch matters. Take the time to know who is on the beat, covering the story, selling or marketing the product or making the decisions. Are there points for mass distributio. Of course. Are there times when you send info to try and remain relevant or top of min. Yes so long as the info is useful. Is snail mail…a personalized hand written, note or item sometimes still the most cost-effective way to set yourself, your brand or your sales pitch apar. You betcha. The worst thing you can waste is your reputation for doing well and knowing your business and someone's precious time. Even asking periodically if someone wants to stay on a list, or if information that is being sent is appreciated or useful, is also a good idea. In these days of not just cost efficiency, but time efficiency, personal contact goes a long way in delivering the right message, and quality usually wins over quantity.

Some good Friday reads…si.com also had a good piece on what's next for baseball now that the Olympics are a memory... the NCAA News had an interesting piece on where small conferences are looking to find their new commissioners…and the Wall Street Journal had a good piece on Dave Bing's challenges as Detroit mayor.