“Brand Kobe” Finds Its Place…No Not That Kobe…

So the Thanksgiving business lull comes and goes, and with it comes, hopefully the end of the NBA lockout, which means the players and teams can get back to the business of basketball. One of those key to NBA success is Kobe…as in the Lakers Kobe Bryant, and in many ways how his season goes can help determine the business success of many. Lots of questions to be answered in LA this winter with the Lakers, but the Kobe brand should continue strong.

However this past week brought the continued unique emergence of yet another Kobe…competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi. The thin, energenetic Japanese native helped establish the world of competitive eating in the world of popular culture, as he broke record after record, not just of hot dogs, but of meatballs, hamburgers, whatever was placed in front of him. Kobayashi helped create the competitive marketplace, and with it helped create a brand for himself to travel the world and not just win contests, but draw attention and business away from the eating table. With that brand came challenges though, and as others signed their rights away to compete at select elite events, specifically the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest on July 4th in New York, Kobe did not. As a result he and his team have forged on to find other ways to establish himself and partner with other events to expand his business portfolio.

This past week, the Japanese competitive eater again took another step to prove his brand is bigger than the one July 4 event, staging an event in New York to set the record for most turkey consumer in ten minutes. He and his team partnered with YouStream to show the event live, and Kobe used the event to again talk to his dedication to events away from just the niche world of competitive eating…he used it to talk about helping those less fortunate on the Thanksgiving holiday in his now adopted home, New York. Yes he broke the record, but even more impressive, with little dollar spend or promotion, were the almost 100,000 word of mouth downloads of the video that followed on one of the busiest holiday weekends on the calendar.

What does it say about “brand Kobe”? First it says that yes, competitive eating is still a pretty unique prospect for those who are well…best at it. They can draw crowds, thousands, to watch them ply their gastronomic trade. Second, and more important, it says that Kobayashi has actually created his own brand away from one event, one that has a following and one that, if he can diversify and show his personality away from just eating, could have value to companies looking to connect with a young, unique and very strong personality. It is a great market for brands looking to be edgier and more viral, who can push the envelope a bit in exposure in their quest to reach a larger audience. It is not as much about the act, it is about the personality and the story, and Kobayashi is looking to carve his niche as an endorser, a supporter of causes that can draw views, and one that almost certainly can be bigger than the one event which he helped put on the map.

Maybe down the line one Kobe and meet the other, as both are champions and unique personalities, and both certainly worthy of their own exposure as they ply their trade and draw attention around the world.

Hockey Is As Hockey Does…

One of the burning questions during the NBA lockout has been, “How does hockey, or the NHL, take advantage of the casual fan during a fall of no NBA hoops?” The answer is simple, they don’t, not really. One of the biggest misconceptions is that fans will jump to another sport or activity quickly to fill a void, and that other sports, leagues, activities should spend large amounts of dollars trying to grab more casual eyeballs. In reality, cultivation of fans takes a long time, and those passionate fans will return to their viewing habits over time when the lockout is settled. Also the assumption in these challenging time that casual fans will go and spend those same dollars on other sports or activities they may or may not like is also a bad one. In most cases those dollars will go to other leasure activities or they will be banked for when the activity they are passionate about comes back. So what do other sports like hockey do during the lockout? What they should do best, concentrate on their own strong and casual fan base.

That’s what the NHL is doing, and had planned to do regardless of the lockout. The hockey fan will get his first in a longtime dose of national coverage on NBC this Friday, followed by enhanced and expanded programs on Versus over the weekend. Many regional networks are filling their NBA void with college hockey (the annual sold out Cornell-Boston University at MSG will make it to air for the first time this weekend) or maybe some expanded NHL shows, which is also a help to reinforce the value of the sport to those flipping the dial. The NHL/NBC partnership even pulled in some added eyeballs with a presence in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Also on the content side, the ability to pitch and place personality stories about fans, players and the game itself is a bit wider without competition for space from the NBA, so a little more friendly ear from media decision makers can help grow the game a bit as well.

The fall is always crowded in the marketplace, and most fans don’t really engage in winter coverage until we are closer to the holidays. Now hockey does have a window for expanded content to remind those who do follow when the weather is colder to come aboard a bit earlier. It is less about conversion of hoops fans and more about enhancement of their own casual followers and reinforcing the support, with broadcast and brand partners, that hockey makes good business for the passionate core and the casual follower.

What hockey, especially the NHL, can and will do best with during these challenging times for the NBA is to focus on their core business and fans, and enhance their own product. When the NBA does come back it will fill its own void in a media frenzy. However until that point there is a void for content and feel good enhancement of a good product, and that is the best place to focus for the business of hockey.

Of Tweets, Handles and Hashtags…

In 1929, the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians came up with an innovative idea for fans to distinguish their players from one another on the field…both teams put numbers on their uniforms. The need for numbers had been tossed around before, even used in other sports and by the Indians in baseball as early as 1916, but the Yanks, as the elite team in baseball, decided to take the chance and make the game that more friendly, and their players that much more distinguishable. So the numbers tradition in baseball for all teams was born. At first glance, maybe it wasn’t that much of a big deal, and it certainly wasn’t viewed as scandalous at the time, but the billions of dollars made in licensing and apparel in sport since can point to that little change in uniform. It wasn’t earth changing in terms of the game was played, but it certainly was for the way the game was sold.

Today’s uniform game is an ever changing shell game of quick sales and memorabilia collecting, from the shamrock covered special edition helmets of Notre Dame to the pink uniforms adorned by college teams in support of breast cancer awareness. Ironically the brand that has stayed the course perhaps more than any other (except Penn State and perhaps Alabama in college football) remains the Yankees, the only MLB team without a third uniform or even names on the back of their road jerseys. So with all the change going on almost daily in the uniform game, what’s next. more importantly what are the new communication vehicles that will be “firsts” that will seek to tie the media world and fandom to the teams of today?

Let’s try hash tags and twitter handles. On the “first” side, we had two breakthroughs recently. First the Mexican soccer club Jaguares de Chiapas decided to augment names on their jerseys with their teams twitter handles, and then this past week the enterprising grounds crew and marketing staff at the Mississippi State University decided to add a hashtag in the end zone for this week’s rivalry game for The Golden Egg against rival University of Mississippi this Saturday. What does it all mean? Right now it means it’s great to be first with an idea. Will it be a game changer in how fans engage with teams like numbers on uniforms? Hard to say. There is probably more value in the large static MSU hashtag than their will be for twitter handles which may be indistinguishable on the back of jerseys, but both are certainly noteworthy.

Now the use of hashtags in game representation is new but not unique. A few NBA teams dropped hashtags on dasherboards last year during games to incorporate in-game promotions into broadcasts, and that type of social media usage will probably increase and become as mainstream as url’s are now. It is just another form of message communication to a larger audience outside the venue. Twitter handles of teams could also play into that larger outreach, especially in signage, and corporate partners will certainly use their own handles to spark promotions and instant activation, especially as the usage of mobile devices continues to increase. Usage for the athlete him or herself is up for debate. Like every form of media, social media is not for everyone, and it can still be a distraction to many. So requiring athletes, or anybody for that matter, to use social media is silly.

Now one place where handles can become more useful is in traditional media outlets and information sources. A handle could very easily replace a hometown in a press release, especially one done digitally, with a link directly to the athlete or the team’s feed. that could spark a more immediate and positive reaction and give both fan and media member more information over time. the listing of handles in media guides and programs, as well as in other public information, may also become standard over time. However, almost like a nickname, that information should also be used at the discretion of the athlete, coach or administrator. It is not for everyone. Could it become cumbersome and confusing with too much information being pushed through portals, while the team wants to be able to control and monetize the message? Perhaps. However the chaos that could come at first will find its way through, and the bet that standardized use of social media information will come into play as well.

Also this week was the debate of the death of the press release, and the use of social media as the primary way to get information out to your audience. ESPN.com’s Maria Burns Ortiz had a good column on how the University of Arizona used twitter to announce the hiring of Rich Rodriguez as their new head football coach, in advance of the official press release and news conference. While it certainly was buzz worthy and somewhat innovative, the limits of breaking news in a limited number of characters, even with a photo attached is, well, limited. You also run the risk of people missing the message in the fleeting seconds that a twitter post is able to be read. Now coordinating that message with traditional media, and making sure that the right “influencers” are checking the feed at the right time is a different story. It all comes down to alignment, proper messaging and coordination.

So at the end of the day, are these moves going to be game changers and standard operating procedures in the future, like we have names and numbers on uniforms? if there is a sellable feature or a way to drive revenue to such innovations, possibly. If the “stickiness” of end zone hash tags and handles on uniforms and announcing coaches via twitter proves to be less than perfect or effective, probably not. What is great is the use of innovation and social media in a positive way to communicate, and combine that use with traditional media. After all, a hashtag in an end zone isn’t effective unless the game is televised, and twitter handles on uniforms at a high school game won’t do much to grow interest and footprint with a limited audience. Maybe its a gimmick, Maybe its a new era. Either way it certainly is buzzworthy, and that is where most innovation gets its push, even before it can be monetized.

No Sheet, They Are Building An Impressive Brand…

The serial entrepreneurs behind the Sheets Energy Strip brand are no strangers to star power or the value of viral marketing. Guys like Jesse Itzler and Warren Struhl have made big bucks growing viral brands in consumer and commercial marketing for years, and are people who always seem to be ahead of the curve with trends in consumer activation. Now they have turned their focus to the energy “drink” market, mixing in traditional consumer market with celebrity and viral activation to try and take hold of the space.

“Sheets” is certainly different from competitors like Five Hour Energy or any of the hundreds of liquid refreshers in the marketplace. It is a simple concept, one that breath refreshers like Listerine and pharma companies with headache remedies have grabbed with great success. It is fast, easy to use and very consumer friendly. But the space is crowded, and just because a product is unique in delivery doesn’t make it successful on its own. Even coveted shelf space in consumer locations may not be enough to catch the eye and change consumer habits for a product that could be high volume but not high cost. So what did “Sheets” do to break through?

They launched their campaign via viral video, using the Denver Nuggets Danilo Galinari in a mock lockerroom press conference where he discussed his secret for success on the court, “Taking a Sheet.” It was lighthearted and played on the phrase the product would use across all its platforms going forward, and was launched well in advance of the launch at the consumer level, creating some fun anticipation for the launch. The concept, more than the product was pushed first. Following launch, the founders then brought in a series of athletes, comedians, and other entertainers, some with equity, all with a strong social presence and solid street cred in their communities, to help grow awareness. The social and celebrity push accompanied traditional marketing to the consumer, as well as a growing shelf space presence in consumer package goods stores where energy drinks and products were sold, especially to a younger demo. The brand also took their combined message directly to the retail stores by doing media events in stores in conjunction with an expanded launch.

There has been no hard sell on the medicinal value of “Sheets,” as some other energy products have tried. There is no long message, and thus far no traditional TV or radio. The most recent move was sponsoring the first college hoops event at the still to be opened Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY in 2012, a cost efficient partnership which may not bear fruit until next year, but one that gets the brand a toe-hold in a new arena complex which is big on hype and promoting its partners in every way possible. Great bang for the “Sheets” buck, while speaking to a younger, urban audience.

The message is clear for “Sheets.” It is different, faster, and more fun than many of the energy products out there, and their ties with celebs from all walks of life make it a brand that appeals to everyone. Its promotions have given it brand recognition in the marketplace against heavily marketed mainstays, much in the way Vitamin Water’s irreverent viral campaigns helped given them a toehold at launch. Will “Sheets” succeed on the commercial level? Remains to be seen, as the consumer they are going after has a short memory and a tendency to fly to the next hot trend. However from a launch standpoint, “Sheets” has hit all the right chords…fun, viral, easy to understand, and well placed in the consumer landscape.

You may not care for energy products, but you should care, or give a “sheet” for the way the product is being brought to market in such a crowded and fickle landscape. Smart play by smart businesspeople.

It’s The Little Things That Can Deliver A Big Message…

One of the good things about not sleeping much is you get ample time to think…and usually that’s a good thing. The other night I was watching one of the “Save The Children” ads on TV and remembered when we had donated to a charity a few years ago and got in the mail a note from a child we had assisted. That personal touch went such a long way to making us feel like we made a difference.

It would be interesting, given the issues that circulate in college athletics today, if colleges and universities took that approach when asking for donations,e specially in athletics. Now there are probably many, many institutions that use players, coaches and administrators to call on high level donors. but what if a University had an athlete…any athlete or coach…target five donors with a letter, not a call, not a mass email not a spam phone message…and thanked them for their dollars to the University. It would be an amazing brand awareness campaign to show people who are questioning the value of athletics these days where their dollars are going and what stories these student-athletes and coaches actually have, and the personal connection…from the star quarterback to the swimmer to the student basketball manager…is one that could last a lifetime. It certainly isn’t an original idea, politicians do it all the time, but it pouts much more of a personal touch back into what has become a big time business that it would be refreshing.

Anyone who has gone to a college, prep school or university is solicited in many ways throughout the year, and most of the time it is in the most cost-efficient way…mass emails, volunteer calls, form letters and updates. That’s understandable. However in this rush to raise lots and lots of personal touches have been lost, and getting the buy-in from everyone affected by a donation with that little extra note would go a long way. For major institutions maybe there is no need or there are too many donors to make it realistic. Maybe it’s not just the athletes and coaches who send the notes, maybe five come from a media voice of the school…a prominent or respected radio voice, maybe even an alum…but those personal thanks and little notes would give any school just a little more connection to those who follow and believe passionately in all aspects of the school. Yes it is more work for an overworked and short staffed development or athletic office. Maybe some people would joke about getting a note from a member of the crew team while someone else gets the starting center or the Hall of Fame coach. but that connection, no matter how small, tells a story and provides a conversation piece that may make someone talk to another person about giving, or may tie that donor even closer to the school than before. The downside and the time taken could go a long, long way in good will, especially in challenging times for so many schools these days.

If it works for “Save The Children,” why can’t it work for alma mater. And on we go…

Playing Mind Games Good For Body, Brand…

This coming weekend there will be two events…one in suburban New Jersey, and one in England…that continue to show the growing business of mind and analytics connected to the competitive world of sport. In London, The Nation’s Cup, the first of a long series of events designed to show the strategic and analytic side of sports like poker and similar events/games (bridge, chess, draughts, go etc…) will be held in The London Eye, with players from 12 nations competing as teams in duplicate poker, which focuses more on skill and cognitive thought than it does on luck.

Almost at the same time at Pascack Hills High School, the First Lego League will hold its Bergen Qualifying Tournament in robotics, with kids from ages 9 to 14 competing in teams using science and technology to drive Lego Mind Storm robots to various tasks, with the winners moving on to the state and then the national robotics championships in the spring in St. Louis.

Are all these events some sort of rise of “nerds” into competitive events to try and steal the thunder from the die-hard sports fans and jocks for media and social attention? No. What these events signify is actually a melding of entertainment and gaming worlds to hopefully form a partnership of healthy mind, healthy body which can appeal to millions and even attract some amazing brands to a more diverse audience.

Mind Sports have been around for thousands of years, and many, especially chess, have been used by world leaders to teach strategy for ages, that is certainly no secret. Most have always operated in a vacuum and away from the casual public eye. The advent of competitive poker on television, as well as an elite champion like a Bobby Fischer, have helped to gradually raise the image of some Mind Sports over time. However in more recent times, as science comes to understand more about the stimulation of the brain to combat issues such as ADHD and Alzheimer’s Disease, the value of all mind sports has grown. Factor in the ever-growing popularity of gaming, both casual and competitive, and the case for unifying the millions who play mind sports together for a country by country competition and celebration makes great sense, and has endless possibilities. The strength will be in the numbers.

Similar to the mind sports opportunity, robotics is growing in popularity amongst young people. A culture that has grown up with gaming tied to advances in technology gives robotics on a competitive level a wide audience that can connect across any boundary via the digital world, as well as in person to person traditional competitions. The competitions teach the same skills…teamwork, strategy, attention to detail…as traditional sports do and help to also stimulate the mind.

So what does this all mean to traditional sports?

First, the simple connection is to analytics and strategy. Coaches of any level, as well as elite athletes are constantly looking for a competitive edge, and the lessons taught by mind sports or even robotics, can satisfy another dimension for both strategy that applies to athletics and for an alternative way of thinking and expanding the ability to think quickly and effectively while competing. The world of traditional sports is also becoming more and more digitized, whether that is in scouting, analyzing skills, communicating or even watching events. Robotics and mind sports can also help provide a bridge of understanding into a high tech world by applying tools and technical elements to athletes and coaches. Then there is gaming. Perhaps the fastest growing segment of competition globally is competitive and casual gaming, whether you are considered a jock or a techie. Everyone enjoys games from Angry Birds to Madden ’12, and gaming provides another key common ground between mind sports and competitive traditional athletics. There is also the jobs marketplace. More and more we are seeing professional and collegiate athletics look outside traditional circles for leadership, and those with an understanding of the tech, strategic and business world are getting more and more opportunities. The competition in mind sports could help bring another employment dimension for those versed in both convention athletics and the expanded use of competitive mind sports and gaming.

There is also the projection of the complete individual, one that marries healthy mind and healthy body. First lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative has inspired thousands to get up and get active physically, and balancing that physical aspect with a healthy and active strategic mind fits very well, so a mix of competitive athletics with mind sports is a great balance.

If you are a brand what does all of this mean? Lots. Those brands of all sizes involved in traditional sport are always looking to get more bang and get access to a larger, wider demo. Activities like mind sports and robotics provide that wider audience. Tech brands are always looking to access a more mainstream audience that is becoming more savvy, and traditional sports provide that mix. Does it mean we may see Nike or Under Armour sponsoring robotics or the U.S. chess team somewhere down the line? It is actually a possibility. Does it mean that you may see more athletes paying attention to bridge or more poker players throwing a baseball, or watching rugby? That’s already happening.

So this weekend, as college hoops kicks into gear and college football winds down, and state playoffs in all fall sports are going in, keep an eye on the mind sports as well. Chances are in the not too distant future there will be links of all kinds…competitive, brand, national, digital…that will be built between sports of the mind and those of the body which will be very healthy indeed.

Movember Grows As A Promo…

The gold standard by which charities are measured these days remains the pink campaigns of Breast Cancer Awareness month, led by the yeoman work of Susan G. Komen. However as we reach mid-Movember, it is worth a tip of the hat to the growing work for the “Movember” campaign, which supports cancer that strikes men, especially prostate cancer and early detection.

the theme for “Movember” is to get primarily men (although women can help out with a fake one) to grow a mustache or not shave for the 30 days of the month, and then gain dollars through pledges for growing their ‘stache. The NHL, a league which has created a yearly ritual of not shaving during the playoffs, has joined in en force this year, with “Movember” nights and campaigns around the league, led by the New York Islanders and Anaheim Ducks, whose goaltender Jonas Hiller has affixed photos of all his teammates to his mask this month, all with mustaches. The Ducks’ tie is even more noteworthy since two players, Saku Koivu and Jason Blake, are cancer survivors.

Now “Movember” has its shortcomings; guys have to look a little unkempt in a month not known for vacations, and it is not as easy to activate such a program as it is with a “Wear Pink” campaign. Also other sports, especially Major League baseball, do activate against prostate cancer with blue bats and other events around Father’s Day each year. Still “Movemeber” has a great upside, with the potential of thousands of fake ‘staches being given out at games during the month, maybe even tied to Coaches vs. Cancer events in college hoops. The fake handouts are low cost and would make for great digital integration and TV. Still it does cost money to engage nationally or internationally, and the campaign is growing now with the NHL assisting. It is a fun and noteworthy push for awareness, one which hopefully can gain steam in the coming years for a very noble cause or series of causes.

National Gaming Day A Great Idea…

It was a well intentioned but underpublicized and marketed event, National Gaming day, 2011. Chances are if you are reading this it may be the first you have heard of the idea, which took place on Saturday, November 12. The concept is simple and effective…pick a day as a way to united family and community in a central location…the library…and use games as the rallying point for all in the group. After all, kids today are more and more about gaming, parents still have an affinity for board games, and libraries are one of the places in almost any community where endless resources for education exist for people of all ages at little to no cost. The event was promoted by the American Library Association as a community and awareness building initiative. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that libraries, like most education-based organizations in the U.S., are critically underfunded these days, so getting the word out or spending time being innovative is not a huge option. So the day came and went with not as much fan-fare as what could be. So here are some thoughts on how to expand, market and make National Gaming Day a bigger success going forward.

1- Make it about not just board games, but gaming in general. Board games are great family events, but in this day and age in order to connect with multiple generations “gaming” means interactive, it means mobile, and it means digital. Presenting new concepts of traditional games and connecting all online where families can play with other members not just in one library but in libraries across the country would be a huge promotion, one that a gaming company could underwrite. It would be a shared experience just like sitting around the table, but to a much larger audience.

2- Make it about education and strategy as well. There is a growing push to use Mind Sports…checkers, chess, bridge, poker, even scrabble, backgammon etc…as a way to promote strategy, and thinking as well as combating diseases ranging from ADD to Alzheimers. Include not just playing games but teaching these games to families and groups as part of the day. Maybe even a national tournament or competition tied to the day would be another hook.

3- Welcome, don’t shun the video game crowd. From Facebook to Zyenga, the casual game brands with huge dollars are looking for ways to expand into education and traditional groups who may not play or understand what gaming is. Use National Gaming Day with the libraries as a hook to work with these deep pocketed companies to co-promote educational and community platforms through gaming, that expand the library beyond its physical boundries. Video games in some ways may be considered “mindless fun but the educational value of gaming is growing with each passing day, and uniting these two communities would make great sense.

4- Use the day as a platform for innovation. Many groups feel gaming alienates kids from normal conversation and traditional interraction, so use the day as a way for parents and kids to come together on a common ground. Use the games, traditional and digital, as a platform to spur conversation by showing families how gaming of all kinds can be a rallying or conversation point,a and how these games and companies are creating innovative concepts and platforms for industries of all kinds.

5- Make it not just about the physical, but about the virtual. The library building is the center of the community on many fronts. However finding one day or time to get families to a location during the day is tough. Therefore by using the virtual and digital worlds as a pass-thru to pull people together makes great sense. Maybe the physical library becomes the central hub where all members have to go to for information or to participate in an activity throughout the course of the month, and culminates with another activity where the family unites in the home on another night. Gaming is all about the shared activity more than the place, so making it convenient and fluid can help expand involvement.

In short, the idea of National Gaming Day is a great one, and has the potential to reunite families around a common simple purpose…playing games for fun and thought. It also has a huge upside in revenue for libraries and education if promoted with gaming companies and brands looking to engage new and diverse groups. It can also serve as a bridge builder across generations, breaking down the stereotypes of board games as boring and video games as mindless. All in all a smart idea that has huge potential to grow in the future, just like the digital world.

New Jersey Hedges Its Bets…

Lost on the national sports scene Tuesday night, amidst the rising scandal at Penn State and the NBA lockout non-news, was the vote by Garden Staters to legalize sports betting in the State if the Federal Ban on such activities can be overturned. Right now Nevada and its casinos remain king of legal sports books, with New Jersey and other states where other forms of casino gambling are legal remain on the outside. While it remains a long road to legalization, the overwhelming vote by the citizens of the state, a state with more professional teams in the area than any other place in the country, if not the world, could be a boon to a struggling state infrastructure which once relied heavily on the casino and racing industries for a large share of the tax dollars. With the economy changing, the emergence of casinos in other states, the change and decline in horse racing and the advances in multiple state lottery systems, those large scale streams of income have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Professional sports leagues will continue to lobby against a New Jersey sports book. Nevada, with no professional teams, is seen in many circles as almost a safe haven for sports betting. New Jersey, with not just the Jets, Giants, Nets and Devils but with all the Philly and New York teams in close proximity, could be seen by many as wrought with issues and potential corruption. Those on the ‘pro’ side of the gambling issue see those teams in proximity as a huge plus for dollars spent, hotels used, and taxes earned. There is also the issue of college sports gambling. Again Nevada, with the University of Nevada (in Reno) and UNLV as the state’s only Division I programs, has a small percentage of local college action that is not on the official sports book. New Jersey, between Rutgers, Monmouth, Seton Hall, St. Peter’s, even NJIT, and all the New York and Philly area schools, could again pose a larger issue for regulators. Boxing, king in Las Vegas, along with MMA, pull in large dollars. New Jersey could look to also re-raise that tide and appeal with large scale fight cards more than ever. So the debate will rage in, with lobbysts on both sides pleading their case.

From a sports branding standpoint, the dollars that could flow into the State, along with jobs and technology opportunities could be a windfall. Simulcasting has tried to keep race tracks moving along when meets have been shortened, in an attempt to bring more dollars in. a sports book at places like the Meadowlands and Monmouth would boost attendance, dollars and jobs. The flailing casinos in Atlantic City would get more interest, the ones doing well would drive their dollars upward. More dollars and more people mean larger brand spends and promotions in and around the tracks and casinos, which also lifts the bottom line. The casual dollars going elsewhere could now flow into a suffering local economy.

Would the worry of a criminal element or corruption come to be real for professional and collegiate sports? Nevada seems to have faired well with an increasing number of collegiate events, and the NBA All-Star Game did OK in the city. The biggest issue with Las Vegas not getting a team these days seems to be more economic than because of gambling…the base economy of tourism may not have the solid corporate base to support large numbers of suites that would need to be sold for large revenue. Yes, casinos would provide some of the seats to be filled, but in the end casinos want people in their casinos, not watching hoops or hockey. Rest assured, any sports book in New Jersey would be heavily scrutinized and regulated, with the leagues, especially the NFL, watching every step of the way.

New Jersey is not Nevada, and the lessons learned in the rise and fall of the casino industry has shown that. Las Vegas has re-invented itself time and again as a travel destination city, with gambling as the backdrop. Atlantic City has not. Would the sports book be the catch for all that ails the State? No. Would it be an intriguing partial answer for tourism and revenue? Probably. Would it cause more headaches to a state already with enough issues with corruption? Hard to tell. What about all those pro and college games in such proximity, would they all be off the board, which could curtail interest greatly? To Be Determined. One thing is clear though. The citizens of the state spoke pretty loudly Tuesday night, and they would like to place their bet on sports books to help raise revenue. If it can clear the federal hurdle, not an easy one by any stretch, it will certainly be an interesting sports business study to see how new age technology and old school sports wagering can re-invent themselves together in the Garden State, a bet that not too long ago continued to be a long shot, but one whose odds suddenly improved this week.

Gaming Grows…

The past weekend during NFL broadcasts, fans were treated to the latest preview edition of the mega-popular video game Call of Duty. However instead of seeing more shots of shoot em up action, we saw Jonah Hill, Sam Worthington, and even a little Dwight Howard mixed into the live action in the game? Many were waiting for the info on the new movie, but what they got instead was yet another carefully placed foray of real stars and athletes into the digital world.

Why? Because as much as we see live sports being king for content and exposure, the mix of gaming for brands to draw casual fans on a global basis is becoming even bigger. The live online gaming world now gives marketers, and a growing number of personalities, direct access to the younger demo live team sports is trying to regain and energize. On the other side, mainstream sports events still draw millions in a different demo, and the convergence of those two worlds for brands is now becoming real. Dwight Howard today in a commercial of live action for a video game will soon be followed by Howard or another NBA star being dropped into a live action game, not as a guest, but with his real time image playing against you, for a price, in an EA game down the line. Guest appearances by athletes or stars in non-traditional video games will also be part of the mix, as the world of sports and entertainment tries to assimilate with young gamers who may not always follow the latest movie or TV show or NHL game. It provides access to the demo directly in their world, like never before.

For brands, the mixing of the live event and the live gaming experience will also be a boon, with promotions targeted directly to players and maybe tied to a large payoff like meeting a star virtually and then in person. The two worlds, the gaming world and the world of sports games, have mutually co-existed to this point, but the next steps will be about convergence and growing the market to get the biggest ROI, and Sunday’s Call of Duty mix was just the next step to linking the two worlds seamlessly. It will make gamers out of casual sports fans and bring the stars of sport into the lives of those who were not overly interested before. The best is yet to come.