New York’s Times Square has always been known as “The Crossroads of the World.” Millions have gathered there to celebrate the end of wars, New Year’s Eve, election results etc etc…the events that mark the passage of time. Even at its seediest in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Time Square was always a place known the world over as a must visit. Into the late 1980’s and ’90’s the Giuliani administration, area businesses and the Disney Company worked ling and hard to restore Times Square, and then the Bloomberg administration took it one step further by removing traffic lanes in two key areas with pedestrian areas to make the area much more mall and much less auto madness. Throw in lots of new digital technology, the home of Nasdaq, Reuters, Viacom, and Good Morning America, and the Times Square of today has become a “must be” place for anyone in the media world looking to impact a brand. Even with its various agencies and red tape, the high cost of unions, and its cluttered environment, the ability to capture a moment in Times Square is unparalleled.
So what does this mean for sports? Lots. In recent years, from NFL kickoff events, to Nascar drive-by’s to the PBR, Times Square has become the lynchpin for kicking off multilevel sports activation and awareness campaigns. There has been beach volleyball, Izod Indy Car’s jumping off walls, grassroots hoops festivals, and on and on, all with the idea of bringing awareness through the convergence of massive amounts of casual fans from around the world, broadcast positions from major networks and lots and lots of general buzz. The Nets want to tweak the Knicks? They take out a billboard and build a buzz campaign in Times Square. The UFC needs to promote its pay per view? Times Square is the place. In the past week and this coming week, EA Sports unveiled their new video cover with a large event in the square around NFL Draft and the support the league got on massive video boards on both sides of The Square, and this coming Thursday USA Wrestling and “Beat The Streets,” a grassroots organization that brings wresting as life lessons to inner city kids, will stage a USA-Russia wrestling match right on the street in Duffy Square. Yes there is lots of competition and non-sports events happen there all the time, but because of the availability of space with less cars, and the use of large scale media that projects blocks away to reach large groups, Times Square has become the home for some of the best marketing launches and publicity events for the industry. The area also is prime for guerrilla marketing oppts. for those with small budgets as well, and the ability to use social media to drive awareness to a Times Square event…bringing in thousands of people with the right placement…also makes the area a must consider not just for a New York event, but for one that can gain large scale international exposure. There are thousands of people with cameras, smart phones and social media accounts in the Square every day, so word of mouth, if played correctly, can help a viral spread very quickly. Is it easy? no. Is a large scale event cheap? No. is it a bee all, end all for a campaign? Nope. Does the loss of ESPN Zone as a hub make it less attractive for sports? To some extent yes, but the vacancy of that space actually opened up a new plaza for onsite activation.
End of the day, Times Square is a great property, and those who have sought the area and used it effectively have gained great exposure well beyond the traditional print and TV for an event launch. It is an innovative area which needs to be well thought out, but it continues to be a growing gem to build or launch good news sports events around, every day of the week.