From the Mayors to the Players…MLB incorporates giving back and service into every message…

Its the time old tradition…the Mayors of a city betting the obligatory food items and jersey exchanges for the big game. You see it everywhere every year and its cute, it gets coverage and its part of tradition. However not in baseball this year. The Mayors of Philadelphia and New York…Michael Nutter and Mike Bloomberg…changed a the wager from the traditional to the productive, and instead of exchanging cheese steaks and cheesecake only they will exchange working on a community service project in the other city. The idea fits perfectly in line with MLB's continuous ties to giving back that have played out across the playoffs and the World Series in every city games have been played, from assisting with veterans to improving the lives of the impoverished. Even the on field awards ceremonies have highlighted community service, as evidenced by Derek Jeter winning the Clemente Award for his work Thursday night and the Detroit Tigers Curtis Granderson being honored with the Marvin Miller Award for his community work on Friday. Since the All-Star game, MLB has gone above and beyond to tie all their major projects at major events to bigger causes, whether that's player programs or a partner like Bank of America rebuilding houses in St. Louis, and then using all their media…print, TV, digital, to promote the good works. In these challenged times it is a very smart play for the league to take not just a leadership approach, but a leadership approach that is properly messaged so that everyone watching is getting the positive story on all fronts (Terry Lefton's SBJ piece this week had great insight into the ideas). Looking for negativity will take a great amount of work this time of year for baseball, as all efforts have been effectively pushed toward a positive outlook on the field and the good works off it. A very well constructed and clearly delivered and consistent message for a sport that appears to again be putting many of its larger issues behind itself and is making a strong play for its game, its partners and for its fans, to tell positive stories and merchandise those good ideas effectively.

Some other good reads…the blog Subway Squawkers had a very interesting look at how a Philadelphia reporter viewed his position at the World Series…pretty strange to do in these challenged times for newspapers…the New York Times John Branch has a good piece of the continued value of high school football in communities going through difficult times…and the LA Times Sam Farmer has a compelling story of a high school coach in California who continues to lead his team after being diagnosed and dealing with ALS over 31 years ago

Hebrew National Strikes While The Sanchez Dog Is Hot…

Timing is everything, whether you are an official team partner or not. Take Conagra Foods Hebrew National Hot Dogs for example. The Kosher Dog, with a few professional sports ties but not many, made a very smart play this week to tie to the Jets, the NFL and poster boy quarterback Mark Sanchez by capitalizing on the shots of Sanchez munching on a hot dog on the sideline during Sunday's romp over the Oakland Raiders. In honor of the on-camera hot dog sneak, Hebrew national announced today a plan of free hot dogs for anyone holding a ticket to any professional football game this season (hello UFL) where a quarterback is caught on camera eating a hot dog. The announcement strikes home for many reasons. One it is a great ambush marketing play for a brand which is more regional than national and usually doesn’t get national exposure, especially even remotely tied to a professional sports brand. Second it is set up so that the chances of a mega-giveaway are slim, but if the viral nature of the offer gets out and there is a quarterback and a cameraman smart enough to catch the sneak during a broadcast, the exposure will fare outweigh the cost. Third, it is perfectly worded to avoid any mention of NFL team, so as not to infringe upon any rights, and fourth, it is a great example of a brand making light of an incident which probably was taken way to seriously anyway. Now will a team take advantag. Could a college or minor league brand up the challeng. Will Hebrew National be prepared for a deluge should the challenge play ou. All to be seen. Regardless of the outcome, the brand beat the competition to the bunch and added in a nice PR spin, as captured in the New York Post and other places Wednesday. Good old fashioned spinning in a time when brands are always looking for the unique, cost efficient brand.

Some other good reads…the Chicago Sun Times had a good piece on the venerable game brand strat-o-matic and their Negro League game set…the Washington Post's Norman Chad had a good column recently on the disconnect between commercial slogans and what they represent…and Media Post had a good list of eight ways to kill a brand

Womenezsms Hockey plus Menezsms Wrestling Make For Unusual But Effective Partners…

The combination of a challenged economy, lack of buzz at the national level to date and a dearth of sponsorship activation has certainly slowed the fan interest in what is usually one of the busiest times for an Olympian and for Olympic branding, the run up to the Games themselves. Now hopefully in the US all that will change with Olympic Day in New York on November 4, but in the meantime there has been some interesting activation and fundraising efforts starting, some of which is coming from unusual places.

One of the more unique partnerships to raise funds and awareness is the one between USA Wrestling and the two time defending gold medal champion USA Wome.s Hockey team. USA Wrestling, traditionally one of the stronger National Governing Bodies in terms of fundraising and building awareness, found itself with growing support in a year that is still far away from London 2012. So what to d. Reach out to an NGB on the winter side which needs help, has great stories and could benefit from a branding an exposure side by an unconventional partnership. The resul. On November 9 in Bernardsville, New Jersey USA Wrestlin.s local fundraising group will host a honoring members of the Olympic hockey team heading to Vancouver, as well as 1980 Olympic hero Mike Eruzione and world silver medal wrestler . Jake Herbert. The event gives great added value to all involved.

First it creates a platform in an off year for USA Wrestling to create some awareness. Second, it provides a pretty unique perk for those who follow wrestling and are in general supportive of the Olympic movemen.the chance to meet even more future Olympic stars before they had to the games. Third, it shows other NG.s how to form potential mutually beneficial partnerships in a time when their sport may not be top of mind. Fourth it gives the Olympic Wome.s Hockey Team much needed additional exposure, a larger fan base and some much needed funds going into Vancouver, funds which can be channeled back into development at a time when brand sponsorship and individual donor monies have become more scarce. Fifth and finally, the model presents a pretty interesting and low cost way for a potential brand to connect with two diverse support groups across the four year Olympic cycle, one in the winter and one in the summer. Now are there drawbacks from such a pla. Could there be a disconnec.namely fans of wrestling may not care about wome.s hocke. Sure. But the core of the idea sends a very positive message across the board. Namely that athletes of diverse backgrounds, many with great stories, can work together to build each othe.s brands in a very cohesive and somewhat unique manner. Good points for the wrestlers and a great goal for wome.s ice hockey.

Some other good reads…CNBC's Darren Rovell has a good followup piece on the two pitchers from India who now have sold their story to Sony…Crain's Chicago's Ed Sherman has a great piece on high school students building their own golf course…and the Albany Times Union's Pete Dougherty has a good column with ESPN's Doug Gottleib on where he started his hoops broadcasting career

Garden Growing New Partners, Ideas Again…

It has been tough times in recent years for patrons of “The World's Most Famous Arena.” The lack of on court success, a slowing economy, an aging building and a weak public perception had caused a good deal of the shine to come off of Madison Square Garden and perhaps lower the perceived standard of excellence the building and the organizations housed in the building had long held. However, steadily it appears that perception, consumer confidence and new and innovative promotional partnerships may be returning the business of MSG back to where it had resided for so long, in the upper echelon of sports and entertainment marketing and branding in the world. The announcement of a long rumored renovation, the ever improving on-ice play of the New York Rangers, an enhanced outreach through digital media and an ever-growing unified community presence for all the Garden brands have led the uptick in interest and buzz as the NBA season approaches this week. On the business side, a just-announced landmark airline deal with Delta Airlines, complete with Garden icons Mark Messier and Willis Reed filling the captains outfits, new entertainment sponsorship plans, and brand extensions to other Garden-related properties are all contributing to an uptick in interest, new best practices for partners and a more entreprenurial overall atmosphere than has been seen in some time above Penn Station. Now can all go sour with bad teams on the court and on the ic. It certainly won’t be a positive. However what is being seen is the aggressive ability to effectively tell good business and branding stories to all constituents, much like the cross river rival Nets have been doing so well, and that sort of business buzz can help insulate partners if the athletic performance falters. Even with problems on the athletic side, all the moves are smart and solid and send great messages to partners that the Garden is more than willing and ready to solidify and create new business than ever before.

Some other good reads…si.com's Ian Thomson has a quick look at what lies ahead for the NBA…good summary of thigns to watch out for…Yahoo.coms’ Mark Spears has a great profile of former NBA phenom Isiah Rider…and ESPN.com's Jason Sobel has a good look at the caution that needs to be applied to whomever golf's next potential stars good be.

The Military, Don Cherry and Ugly Jerseys Create A Hit In Kingston…

Much has been made of the NFL's use of anniversary AFL jerseys this season. The created buzz and although luckily most of the Denver Broncos striped throwback socks won’t be at retail, the jerseys raised some extra interest. Whether that buzz is needed for the NFL to raise awareness who knows, but it certainly created a little more water cooler talk. However many other leagues and brands do need buzz, and one, The Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, took three big steps this past week in helping a cause, identifying with a legend and creating some great exposure for the brand and for hockey in general. The Frontenacs hosted a Military Appreciation Fundraiser and brought in hockey legend Don Cherry on the same night, using Cherry's appearance to move tickets and raise money for Soldier On, a charity which assists injured soldiers. However the team went one step further by creating a Cherry ugly jersey, looking like one of the legends, suits, and auctioned off each one, signed by Cherry himself, as an added fundraiser both online and in arena. The result…by creating a collectable, it was a “one time game used wear,” the team created buzz, and coupled that with a strong grassroots fundraiser that the community could rally around…to make this promotion another great example of how even in the smallest of markets a great idea promoted well can get national play.

Some other good reads…the New York Times’ Pete Thamel has a good profile of Myron Rolle and his quest for a Rhodes Scholarship in England in his year away from football…the LA Times TJ Simers has a good look at the mess unrolling with the Dodgers and the divorce between owner Frank McCourt and now fired team exec and soon to be ex wife Jamie McCourt…and the Washington Post's Michael Wilbon has a solid profile of Redskins new offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis

In Search Of The Ultimate Fan Experience…

The ying and yang that goes on between discretionary dollars fans can spend and getting premium access for those dollars is a battle that is only increasing in intensity for teams, brands and partners. With access to social media, much of which is free, teams have to continuously justify prices, knowing that the revenue stream for those dollars to the bottom line is more important now than ever as the larger pool of advertising spending goes south. So how does one create an effective, attractive and unique fan experience with limited resources and in the face of stiff competitio.something which is truly unique for a fan, not cookie cutte.but still justifies both what the fan can spend and what the team, or even the partner brand, can justify as worth the investment.

One company trying to solve that key issue for teams, and for fans too, is theultimatefan.com. Unlike many.road tri. brands, ultimate fan looks to partner with teams and develop a revenue sharing model so that the experience, the messaging and the branding is positive for all involved both at home or away events. The company works to create sample packages for teams and fans that make the most sense for a price point and for fan access and experience. Best of all, the stream of business theultimatefan.com is creating can bring in brands for sampling and fans for focus groups, since many of those using the service are key first-adopters and are usually pretty passionate fans. The company currently has three NHL teams, the Kings, Islanders and Flyers as partners, meaning that creating shared experiences amongst teams, something which the teams themselves rarely get to implement, are now a possibility. The shared experience can also introduce common brands to team.Amtrak as a partner for teams in the Northeast Corridor for exampl.that can also bring added revenue for all involved, a big difference in the approach of many.experientia. companies. Now are there many in the.event busines. looking to create the fan experienc. Yes. However the unique partner approach theultimatefan.com has created gives them a potential synergistic advantage over local companies just looking for one brand or for big events on the road. They can get teams to work together to form partnerships that may not be on their radar scope as the teams focus on local sales and marketing, and create a great economy of scale for brands who may have interest in reaching fans in multiple markets but do.t have the time or expertise to negotiate through a plan team by team. Also, by tailoring packages to various groups at affordable prices and listening to their clientele, theultimatefan.com can create experiences that are truly unique and not cookie cutter, especially when you are able to have the endorsement of the team and some of their assets behind the project, like alumni and access to arena and practice areas not usually afforded to the experiential fan companies.. Is it enough to pull in brands and give the fans tremendous RO. All to be determined.

However by providing multiple levels of service and a menu of opportunities, theultimatefan.com can be a solid destination for revenue for teams and brands looking to link up and create a very unique experience with an ROI of loyalty and enhanced brand value, leaving the teams to concentrate on the business at hand.

Some other good reads…the piling on in Washington continues, with a Washington Post piece on John Kent Cooke's regrets of selling his father the Redskins to Dan Snyder…the Independent has a good piece on the struggles Italian Serie A clubs are having financially…si.com's Joe Posnanski has a great profile of Joe Paterno…and this week's Sports Business Journal has their annual great compilation of the best promotions for the year in sport.

Old School Branding:Mallards Give Everyone Something To Quack About…

Maybe its because baseball just lends itself more to creativity because of the summer communal atmosphere and the tradition of promotion that the minor leagues lends itself to, or maybe we just notice it more because baseball has a bigger platform of a season, but it always seemed like that entreprenurial spirit of creativity should apply just as much to minor league hockey as it does o baseball. After all there are less dates usually to fill, in most cases less seats and in many cases less competition for the discretionary dollar in the winter than baseball combats in the summer. Yet for some reason, minor league hockey in the U.S…maybe there is less affinity to the game, maybe there is less money and less time spent on brand development, maybe the fans don’t connect to the team like in baseball…has never made the promotional impact that baseball has. Well don’t tell that to the Quad City Mallards. The Mallards have taken the page, well probably the whole book, from promotional and brand partnership, and under new owner Chris Lencheski have sought to redfine how minor league hockey brands and markets itself in an area where minor league sports can be king. From lockerroom access for fans to a great new in-goal Hardees promotion (written about by Sarah Talalay in the Florida Sun Sentinel and sure to be copied by others) the Mallards are providing a steady flow of information to media, creating compelling new partnerships and promotions, and making the team a must see for fun if not for hockey. They have created media partnerships with a junior reporter program, and found every possible way to connect to the community to drive interest as the season opens. Is it tough to stay relevant in an area which does not have a huge professional or even college sports followin. Maybe. But the Mallards are taking every step possible to give fans and business partners a reason to support their efforts on and off the ice. The result may not be great in-game success but it will be a better, stronger brand, a quality family experience and good exposure to the sport for all involved, not to mention programs that could become even more of a best practice for arenas and their teams as they are for their baseball colleagues and their fields in the summer. Rocket scienc. Not at all. Understanding the marketplace, what attracts brands and how to communicate that experience to the media and to the fan. Absolutely. Hockey at all levels is a great experiential game. Here's hoping that the Mallards and the experience they are building leads to an explosion of interest and smart business practices in the sport, just like we have in baseball.

Some other good reads…Chris Smith has a worthwhile read of Mayor Mike Bloomberg in the latest issue of New York Magazine…not sports but a good personality piece…Brandweek had a good piece on the new ways to move sneakers through social media…and Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post had a very touching story of Joe Gibbs and how he is dealing with a grandson with leukemia

An Athlete Gets A “Feel” For A Brand…

On Sunday, Jets kicker Jay Feely entered the record book for consecutive field goals made as a Jet, breaking a record held by Pat Leahy for over 20 years. Feely's success on the field has been tremendous, yet his feel for using his stature in athletics in a major market to develop a long term vision for success may be even more impressive. As documented in several media outlets this past week, including Greg Bishop's feature in the New York Times, the Jets kicker has been able to find ways using both social and traditional media to build his brand, and give both casual and diehard fans a little more insight into what he is all about. The result is an athlete who has a presence now in media where he feels well adjusted, well read and well thought out, in both the sports and the political world, and he has been able to use that exposure to build out a potential second career, not just when his athletic days end, but in the offseason when he has more time to focus on the long term. Although some will say it may be easier for an athlete who happens to be a kicker to have more free time to delve into other things (probably an unfair assumption as the special teams performers of the NFL may have the most tenuous place on a roster most times), the truth of the matter is that Feely's work in looking into leadership roles, both in sports and in society and social media, and then parlaying that interest into a vibrant career is both rare and admirable. One must keep in mind that Feely does not have the flash and dash of Twitter success stories like Shaquille O’Neal or Chad Ochocinco, and his posts may be a little more cerebral and outward looking than most athletes. On the political side, he is not the lightning rod for controversy, but his thoughts have gotten him placement with Sean Hannity on a regular basis on FOX, and could lead to a larger role in the future. Will it lead to big time endorsements, even in the media capital of the worl. No. However Feely's work is a great example of an athlete understanding the limits of time in the limelight and using that time to effectively build his brand, whether that brand is in the media or in business. The fact that he has been able to embrace and understand the value of a social media platform as a communication device for thoughts makes it all the more impressive, and can give his career a kickstart for the longterm, even as he continues to kick for the green and white.

Some other good reads…Parade.com had a good profile by John Feinstein of NFL Comish Roger Goodell…Terry Lyons on his blog has a look at the detail surrounding the fallout of writer Dave Scheiber leaving the St. Petersburg Times and what it says about the newspaper industry today…and the Baltimore Sun had a good profile of Under Armour president David McCreight.

Military Speaks Right To The Sports Core And Get Results…

The ability of brands to show ROI is sometimes very tricky, as so many different aspects go into monitoring consumer trends and buying habits. Yes it is a very intricate science and buying habits can be tracked, but the actual last second decision as to whether to choose product A or product B that can be driven by just one ad, or one activation program or even one key spend is still very hard to justify. Unless you are the military in the United States. There are very few brands that spend more on activation in sport outside of the United States Armed Forces, with the goal being both public awareness…hearts and minds…and recruitment. From boxing to college football, NASCAR to the NFL, the call to action and awareness for the military is pervasive and very detailed. Its messaging is clear and its goal is simple. So when it was announced this week the every branch of the military exceeded their recruitment goals for the year for the first time in decades, it should come as no surprise that there was a strong tie to their detailed marketing plan on how to reach that core young audience…advertising and activation around sports. Did the unemployment rate and the economy have something to do with i. Of course. But there is no doubt that the military knows its market, was able to concentrate their messaging to that market, and was able to show a direct ROI on their spend. A success all around. Now what will be the result of this sports branding succes. In all likelihood budgets will be cut, as there is less of a need over a cycle to keep hitting those high numbers of recruits, since the military cycle for a new recruit is more than one year and the churn from year to year with today's active military is lower than in peace time. Now that is obviously not good for properties who welcomed those spending dollars, but it does speak well to the premise that if you know your want to reach a young acticve crowd and spend efficiently, there are few activation platforms better than sports. If you want to know for sure, just ask the men and women in uniform.

Some other good reads…the New York Observer had a good piece on the survival of newspapers in New Jersey.USA Today had a good profile of Dolphins owner Steve Ross… and si.com's Rich Deitsch had his media power rankings for September

Squeezing Til The Sponge Is Dry…

In the 197.s and into the 198.s big tobacco fueled some of the most successful sports branding opportunities in history. Whether it was Phillip Morri. support of Virginia Slims tennis or NASCA.s Marlboro Cup, the cigarette brands created some of the most large scale and effective activation platforms in sports history. Then came all the legislation against smoking and the tobacco brands, and for the better in terms of health and social consciousness, all the spending stopped from those brands. So sports moved on, using the lessons learned in many of those activation platforms to bring in new brands who would spend, maybe not at the large numbers of tobacco, but who would continue to grow business and fill the gap. Banks and financial institutions, insurance, and technology, filled gaps with new money and new ways to reach the consumer.

In the same vein, because of the exponential growth in sponsorship, there were many categories that wanted in but were still deemed to be outside of a category that was acceptable. Hard liquor, condoms, gambling sites, even some other risq. or risky properties were passed over in lieu of more traditional spend, and that policy continued on into very recent times. Now come the financial cutbacks in brand activation that we have seen in recent years, and with it came a loosening of many categories once outside of the realm. Also into that mix fell, and continue to fall, the physical areas of advertisin.jerseys, helmets, on field et.that were also off limits at one point. Seeing spirits ads on field at Yankee Stadium, or Cash For Gold during the Super Bowl, is no longer frowned upon, as properties and media seek to make up a shortfall that now exists from traditional spending. Bottom lin.the advertiser was willing to spend, and in many cases have some fun with that spend or an activatio.and the brands or media companies needed the money.

Into that mix comes Spongetech, a company which emerged with big budget spends throughout this year, doling out millions in sponsorships for nothing but the biggest media properties available. From signage at MLB games to courtside at the US Open to practice jersey signage at the NFL and.officia. status for Madison Square Garde.s three teams, Spongetech is there, selling its presoaped sponges to all who will buy or watch. However, as was pointed out in Darren Rovel.s great piece On CNBC and in the New York Post this week, the Spongetech media play may be drying up, and the talk of SEC violations are starting to rise. So if Spongetech and its millions were a questionable business, do sports brands have a moral obligation to look deeper than the dollar, even in tough time.

Would brands have taken advertising for Bernie Madof.s investment firm if he was reaching out to the public, like some did with Allen Stanfor.s questionable businesses or in the spends Dennis Kozlowski made in sports when he ran Tyco, and if so would they have walked away if things smelled fish. Or did Spongetech come along, fill a gap for many brands, and since the money came in, can they leave with no harm, no fou. It poses an interesting question in challenging times for teams and media companies as to what the obligation for due diligence is. If it turns out that fans are lured to a questionable brand because of their alliance with a team, and that passion or.implied endorsemen. turns into a tragic money loser for those fans, are the teams morally responsibl. The answer is probably no, no more so than if an airline or a bank has an accident or financial problems that causes a fan in an affiliate or affinity program to have an unpleasant experience. The teams or the media companies are merely facilitators in most cases, and it is more a case of.Buyer Beware. However with more categories opening up to the mainstream in the search for dollars, what will be nex. And when will there be pushback from the public or from officials as to what is over the lin. Spongetech from the get-go seemed like a very strange play at the level of spend, as Rovell points out in his piece. But the dollars were there, so who was to question if you are a team or a property taking the mone. It certainly was.t a questionable product that caused danger, it was a very simple one, and one that is actually very effective for the consumer.

If someone is writing the check to you, should there be more due diligence behind the scenes, or should the dollar grab surpass the responsibility to consume. In this case it does.t seem like there really was much harm, and in the end the teams and the media companies were able to fill a much needed void. But if it does turn out the Spongetech was questionable and becomes a much bigger issue away from sports and into finance, will teams and media companies take a harder look the next time.the next great thin. comes alon. Time will tell, and it will be interesting to see if Spongetech is a one shot and dry up deal or if it continues to ooze trouble into the future.

Some other good reads…The Wall Street Journal had a good piece on Tuesday on video games doing more marketing to women... Business Week had a piece on why the Comcast/NBC potential deal could make sense... and the Washington Post's Tom Boswell has a good look at the chaos revolving around the Redskins