Once again it seems like ideas good, bad and indifferent are flowing in groups the last few days, so here’s a look at some other best practices and some issues.
Squashing A Brand: The sport of squash is fast, ultra-athletic and pretty much refined to clubs and select colleges and high schools in the United States. It has never been “mainstream.” The International Squash Federation, with a large amount of support in India and Pakistan, has tried in vain to get the sport on the Olympic programme. Women’s Professional Squash, even more of an afterthought than the men’s game by the casual fan, is trying to resurrect itself as a viable alternative for a more edgy audience, and is slowly cutting its own course.
However this past week and coming up, a few lucky balances may give squash at least a little more play in the eye of the casual public sports fan. First, Trinity College, whose streak of National Championships and years without a loss, came to an end with a loss to Yale. The streak, 252 matches and 13 years, was great for Trinity, but not so great for the sport overall. Fans love winners and champions, but not total dominance which eliminates story lines. So by losing, trinity probably generated more publicity for the sport than at any one time in its admirable winning streak. Secondly, the professional sport of squash gets its biggest stage this week by playing in front of thousands…of commuters.
The J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions commenced in Vanderbuilt Hall of Grand Central Station in New York, bringing some of the world’s most gifted players to a glass cube for a chance at prize money, a title, and the curious eyes of all coming to and from work. Like the PBR recently (at Madison Square Garden), squash comes to a different place to get exposure with a brand (J.P. Morgan) that can court its high end customers who are interested in the game, as well as find a little extra brand recognition for those going to and fro their workplace. It brings the sport right to a large group of consumers who may never have seen the game before, and could take an interest. Will that interest mean that more people will run out to get squash racquets and balls/ Well, if there is not a lot of public access to play the game, probably not. What the event does do is create the potential for other showcase events, while also serving as a potential platform to tell the stories of the elite athletes who are competing. It’s not like squash will suddenly overtake any other racquet sport in popularity, but it is an interesting (and probably expensive) incremental awareness play, that coupled with Trinity’s loss, may have squash on the minds of more consumers this January than ever before.
Hashing Andrew Shaw: Andrew Shaw is a fast-raising talent with the marketing-savvy Chicago Blackhawks, an athletes with flair on the ice and a good grasp of how to grab the attention of the casual and die-hard hockey fan. He is funny, outspoken, and engaging in a marketplace which has again embraced its Blackhawks at a time when the media-hungry NHL is scrambling a bit to find new storylines with the injuries to Sidney Crosby and the slow year being had by Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. So into the mix steps Shaw, who has gotten support in the social media space with his own hashtag following (#shawfacts) about various musings of the day on and off the ice. The Shaw world got an even bigger test this week, when followers were put forth to win a signed Shaw jersey for the most engaging or interesting post. The social media world reacted really well, and the traditional media coverage followed suit, generating lots of buzz, traffic and awareness for the young star. What’s next? Maybe a charity tie to raise some funds, a brand hopping on board or maybe even a one off #shawfacts showing up on an actual game or practice jersey. Regardless it seems like Andrew Shaw is a star in the making, one who has effectively worked with those around him to get hos career on and off the ice on a fast track by blending an engaging story with the right media medium.
The Dark Side of Social Media: this week also showed us two downsides of social media, which detractors had a field day with. The first happened in new Jersey, when top college football recruit Yuri Wright was expelled from powerhouse Don Bosco Prep for posting explicit tweets under his tag. The school, rightly so, took a zero tolerance stance in a region that has had more than its share of sexting scandals on the high school level. It was the most recent reminder for all who can unknowingly be in the public eye, whether you are in high school or the pros or a private citizen. There are few if any filters available for what you speak about in a public forum. It is your responsibility and you always have to think before you act, because once its out there, it’s not coming back. Tough lesson for a young man with a bright future.
The second difficult incident was with regard to Joe Paterno, who as we know did pass away this morning. The rush to be first with Paterno’s death led to many erroneous and unconfirmed reports last night, one of which created an embarassing situation for CBSSports.com, who published without confirmation from the family. The rest of the night was spent backtracking and updating by many news sources, all of whom held CBS above reproach as credible. Now Paterno’s passing a few hours later doesn’t really change the fact that in the rush to be first, the loss of credibility and accuracy is called into play. Is it better to be accurate or first? This is also not a new issue, just look at “Dewey Beats Truman.” What it is, is another example of how fast our world has become, and the trouble that news sources of the highest level have in making sure that what is being reported is really beyond reproach. The death of anyone should not be taken lightly, and it is much more serious than something like Rob Lowe deciding to be the source for Payton Manning’s alleged retirement. Either way, the incidents point out the challenges all have in dealing with a fluid news cycle, with more questions and less answers as to what is right to do and what generates buzz, news, and dollars for those who report.