April, 2012 | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

The Amazing Viral Power of The UFC

This past Thursday may have been one of the busiest sports days of the year in New York. The Mets hosted the Miami Marlins and their ex-star Jose Reyes, the Rangers and Devils played Game 7′s against the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers, respectively, the Knicks were closing out the regular season and looking to send the Charlotte Bobcats to the worst record in NBA history, and then there was that little event, called the NBA Draft. On top of that, the Yankees had an off day and superstar Mariano Rivera was doing an autograph signing at Macy’s. Yet with all that, and despite the cold temps and drizzle, one of the biggest draws came from an athlete who has been injured, won’t compete again until November, and plies is trade in a sport still not legal in New York State on the professional level. His name is Georges St-Pierre, and he remains the UFC welterweight champion.

Despite all the competition, close to 1,000 fans lined up at a SoHo Sports Authority to get a photo and an autograph with the Canadian star, who was there because of his work with MISSION AthleteCare and the launch of their new ENDURACOOL towel (I was there because of Mission). The fact that so many, with little advertising on such a crowded sports day and at dinner time (6 p.m.), and that the crowd was so diverse, small kids, Wall Street types, moms, people from all races and backgrounds, continues to speak volumes as to the drawing power of the UFC in the key younger demo. While Rivera had the benefit of a large media buy from Macy’s as well as advertising all over the outside of the World’s Largest Department store in midtown, GSP had his twitter and Facebook followers, the followers of the UFC, and some help from marketing and The Sports Authority to come to a SoHo corner. The result, with just a little targeted social media push, was a huge outpouring of support that was respectful and very orderly as well.

Now many may still be opposed to the spectacle of MMA and what happens in the ring. However one cannot knock the entertainment business that the UFC has built and grown around such marketable and personable stars as St-Pierre, especially in a State where no fans can still watch him compete live. He never wavered on a photo, never complained about the location, welcomed the questions, and probably added even more fans who were just casually strolling by. There may be some brands that still consider fighting in a cage barbaric, or may think that the UFC as a draw may have plateaued, but that has little to do with the charismatic and viral draw of the athletes who do compete, and also train to stay in top shape, using the different disciplines of MMA.

St-Pierre’s following is global, as is the UFC’s, so its hard to say even with the social push how many people would have seen and then been able to come in the New York metro area. That really makes the outreach even more impressive. If he were in town promoting a specific event…for example this coming week’s UFC fight in New Jersey, a naysayer could say that was the draw. However here is a guy who has had knee surgery, is not from the area (although he spends a great amount of time training in NY with superstar Renzo Gracie) and will not compete again until probably November. He was also there working with a new product, not a mainstream sponsor like a Budweiser or even Harley Davidson and there was no requirement to purchase anything to attend the meet and greet. If he were an NFL player with no ties to New York or a NASCAR driver on an off weeknight, the impact would have been nowhere near as big given the same marketing spend. It was simple, effective, viral and social marketing at its best, and spoke very loud volumes as to how to pick an athlete and then draw a crowd, on the most crowded of days, to get grassroots exposure.

Certainly worth noting for brands looking to draw as to who to partner with. The UFC athlete, and their ability to connect with fans, is still very, very impressive.

Wrestling The Olympic Gold Standard…

Four late springs ago, as athletes finalized their preparation for the Beijing Games, I had the honor to work with the US Olympic Wrestling on a promotional tour of New York as they readied to go abroad. Unlike other Olympic years, the Americans were younger and largely untested and many officials were worried about their staying power once they faced older veterans on the mats of Beijing. With some time before the trip, USA Wrestling brought the team to New York to do some press and fundraising, and the result was a whirlwind two days of media visits, tours and training.

Part of the breakneck publicity chase involved some early morning media opportunities, and I piled two of the youngest wrestlers into my car for a trip into Manhattan on the final day. Both were 18, one from the Midwest, the other from the Southwest, and both were full of excitement for what lay ahead when they got to the Games. They both fell asleep on the trip into the Lincoln Tunnel, but both awoke in time for a series of spirited TV and radio interviews throughout the morning. As the day ended the two joined the rest of their teammates and left New York, on their way back to train in Colorado Springs before finally heading abroad. When I returned home that night I noticed that one of the young wrestlers had left his wrestling shoes in my car. A few calls later the officials decided to chalk the loss up to learning, and they would be able to outfit him again without an issue. I decided to leave the shoes there, and sent the wrestler a text that after Beijing he had to come get the shoes again.

Those shoes never left my back seat until after the games, when Henry Cejudo became one of Beijing’s darling’s becoming the only Hispanic American to win gold in any sport four years ago. Henry was true to his promise and returned to New Jersey following the games with his gold medal, but instead of taking the shoes back he signed them and gave them to me, and today one sits in my office and the other on a shelf in my son’s room, next to photo of him wearing the gold medal Henry let him borrow for a few minutes.

The other young boy asleep in my car was Jake Deitchler, who at 18 became the first high school Olympic wrestler in almost 40 years. Like Henry, Jake’s future was bright, and despite not medaling in the Games, he became the face of a bright Olympic future.

This past weekend in Iowa, the 2012, Olympic Wrestling team was selected, and neither Cejudo nor Deitchler, the two youngest and brightest four years ago, were not on the team. Cejudo was upset in the finals of the trials, and retired on the spot. Deitchler’s career ended in the years following the Olympics due to a series of concussions. He is now a coach in Minnesota, and was the subject of a feature article in the New York Times last weekend.

The last four year’s Cejudo and his team rode the American dream story…gold medal, sponsorships, speaking engagements, a book, a potential movie. The son of illegal immigrants from Mexico, young Henry was a star among Olympic stars. Deitchler, not so lucky in competition, but lucky to have at least lived the Olympic dream in China. I thought about their stories and where they were this past week, as the 100 days countdown to London got in full swing. The brand value of Olympians is strongest now, as the promise of the Games beckons, and will rise as the winners and their stories emerge. Make no mistake, almost every Olympic story is a great one, and the best are usually the ones that are positioned for success as the curtain rises and destiny takes over.

However the lesson from these two young men is that fame and the window of Olympic opportunity can be fleeting, with an injury or a wrong move the 24/7 world we live in is on to what’s next, not what is past. Cejudo, though not going to London, maximized his window of opportunity, and hopefully will continue to keep that window open going forward. Deitchler maybe not as much, especially without the medal to merchandise.

Regardless, these two young men, who I had the chance to meet, and who enjoyed the comfort of a Honda Accord for a little shuteye one morning four years ago, are still examples of how the Olympic opportunity can lead to endless possibilities if time and circumstance and fate fall into line. It is something worth watching again as we head toward London, as experts in the business of sport determine on many levels who wins, and who doesn’t regardless of where they end up on the platform.

The gold lifted Cejudo to marketing success, the lack of medal probably left Jake a little short in the eyes of the business world. In my mind though, just getting there made them winners.

And now back to the business.

A Good Platform Coming: National Train Day

There are few brands in the Northeast that use sports more as a platform for awareness than Amtrak. From New York to Boston to Philly to Washington, fans cannot watch a broadcast or attend a game without some kind of call to action by America’s premier national train service. It is with that in mind that a fun opportunity exists for those sports brands to activate with an active demo in May. That platform is Amtrak’s National Train Day, which will be held on May 12 not just in the Northeast but in cities across the country to build awareness and loyalty for rail service as the summer approaches.

Now what can teams do to activate in a fun way with their partner? Well there are a host of digital activities already in place, from Facebook posts to photo contests and beyond. Several teams like the New Jersey devils have already encouraged fans to upload photos wearing gear while on Amtrak, to win prizes from the team and the brand. Maybe there is a “training” component that plays off the physical kind of training and the actual riding of the rails, where fans are rewarded not just for being green and taking public transportation, but for being fit and leading an active lifestyle as well. If you are any one of a hist of MLB teams that have Amtrak as a partner, maybe its time for a “Spring Training” event, where kids online get to do a series of contests related to the rails and are rewarded with tickets and other opportunities by the teams. A number of celebrities are involved in the program, most notably actress Rosario Dawson. Finding some players or coaches with a passion for trains, from model trains to conventional travel, might also be in the offing for a promotion.

As a service, Amtrak remains vital to this country’s infrastructure. As a brand, few are more dedicated with their spending in sports than Amtrak.Therefore, combining their national activation with some fun call to action platforms for the sports demo makes good sense. Yes there will be the awareness messages at stadia and on air for the program. However going that extra mile would give fans added value, create a series of fun programs that can be done both in stadium and well away from a game that day, and raise awareness for a vital and effective business entity, all in the name of good fun and effective travel. Hopefully some proactive brands jump on the train, and have some fun.

Of Bulls, Isles and Curves…Some Good Ideas…

As we go through Relegation weekend in the Barclays PremierLeague (also an idea which would be interesting but not feasible for American sport), some good practices that came in from the last few days.

The Isles Keep trying: Early last year it was the Tattoo Franchise sponsorship, not the Islanders, again with a long offseason, have gone the viral route to promote their young star John Tavares for the cover of EA Sports NHL ’13 Game. The team has taken some of the great video games of the past and inserted Tavares into the covers, with the requisite twitter handle and call to action for their fans to vote. It’s smart to get out in front, smart to be creative and smart to support your young star and send the message that you are thinking about next season, even for a franchise as star-crossed and lost in the media mix as the Islanders are. Whether it works is secondary, as the team has no media footprint to promote by being out of the playoffs (while their local Rangers and Devils still play on at least for a while) and the campaign comes during one of the most crowded windows on the sports calendar, with baseball, hockey and hoops going full force and the monster of the NFL Draft coming into focus. Regardless, the campaign is fun, worthwhile and certainly a great example of being creative and making the most of what you have.

South Florida Goes All Out: The University of South Florida has its challenges trying to fill Raymond James Stadium for all their football home games, and they know one of those key steps to being relevant in the sports community year-round. So their promotion in the social space of their spring game this weekend, using every vehicle possible not just to drive awareness but to reward fans with prizes for creativity and support. This is not about just the spring game, it is about the growth of the USF brand into the fall, when real dollars are to be made. By doing all those efforts now, the Bulls can get the right support and casual fan awareness down the road. They realize it is a long, tedious haul that isn’t just about wins and losses. It is ablout being a part of the community.

Moyer One For The Ages…In Altoona: One of the great sports stories, at least for middle age men, is the Colorado Rockies’ Jamie Moyer winning a game at age 49. In recognition of the feat, the Altoona Curve has done what minor league baseball teams do best…seized the moment with a fun promotion. The Curve will offer $4.90 individual Diamond Club seats and a pair of Grandstand seats for the same price on Thursday night. Additionally, any Curve fans in attendance wearing 49ers gear of any team-from San Francisco’s NFL team to UNC Charlotte to Long Beach State-will get into the series opener with Richmond for free, as will fans wearing any jersey from one of Moyer’s eight MLB clubs over his 25-year career….anyone from America’s 49th state, Alaska, which achieved statehood just three years and ten months before Moyer’s birth, and any fan rocking stirrups emulating the lefty’s notable leg wear of choice. Fun move, easy to pull off, and again worthy of the being acknowledged for the spirit of creativity and timeliness.

The Next Revenue Frontiers Getting Within Sight…

It is no secret that as costs escalate and fans clamor for more access and brands for more ROI, that team sports needs to continue to be more creative in finding dollars to meet budget and in giving fans more reasons to engage. So with that in mind it should come as not a huge surprise that in the last few weeks the NFL has relaxed its long standing policy on having teams accept advertising dollars for casinos, and the NBA approved a new jersey signage deal for the Developmental League. Both are controlled and limited adjustments to test the waters, but they are the next significant steps in turning loose new revenue streams for professional sports in North America.

The latest jersey move for the D-League follows the NBA allowing limited advertising on practice jerseys and approving uniform sponsors for the WNBA, both of which have added dollars and exposure for key brands with little to no resistance from fans. With the MLS integrating jersey sponsorships without issue, and the rest of the world easily accepting brands on apparel, the die is being cast for team and league deals not just for the NBA, but for all of the professional leagues to start integrating brands as part of very lucrative deals. Whats next might be minor league baseball, or maybe a series of exhibitions played outside the United States with a new key brand on a jersey, but the day is coming when the acceptance level and the dollars will be big enough to change the face of the pristine look for good for the biggest four teams sports in North America. it won’t be haphazard, it will be carefully planned and integrated, and marketed, but the day will come with each subtle acceptance of the testing that the leagues are doing.

Perhaps an even more steady stream of dollars somewhere in the future will come from the casino industry, with the NFL adjustment to their marketing rules the next step. The NBA pulled off an All-Star weekend in Las Vegas without incident, and New Jersey is challenging federal law for a sports book, which will be another landmark occurrence for professional sports when it eventually becomes reality. Online wagering, dealt a blow last year with the online poker scandals but long accepted again outside of the U.S., will be another very lucrative and controlled next step for professional sports teams, one which could not just dwarf current revenue streams outside of TV and tickets, but one, when combined with casual gaming, could create a new level of consistent fan engagement for even the most lopsided of games. The revenue stream tied t gaming and gambling will eventually be another accepted and regulated frontier to keep costs in control and value up, with one league eventually making the move to find a plan that is acceptable and beyond reproach.

The funny thing is with the large slate of events from around the world now on broadcast, ads and gambling have already been exposed to a mainstream public hungry for new and different across the United States. Casual gaming is growing at a very fast pace, and teams have struggled to find large revenue streams thus far through social media. So acceptance of ways to use casual gaming, the lucrative mobile space, and controlled wagering (for services or virtual goods first before cash) is not as radical an idea as maybe it was five to ten years ago, when the patterns for acceptable convergence of gaming and gambling, and even the fan’s appetite for engagement, was not as voracious.

Like many things in our society today, acceptance is tantamount, and what was once thought verboten has become wrote. Sports usually follows suit with what society wants, hopefully for the better of all. These two areas, signage and gambling, within reason, are both controllable and acceptable, and won’t be so far away as the waters get tested more and more.

Sometimes It’s The Little Ideas: ESPN’s Ballpark Bistro

Every once in a while you hear about a little idea that somewhere down the line for the right enterprising brand could have a nice payoff. One of those ideas is ESPN’s new Ballpark Bistro idea, highlighted on their front row site late this week.

Anyone involved in sport and entertainment is always trying to crack as many levels of the ESPN exposure code as possible. How to pitch and place stories of all kinds across the various ESPN properties, most of which are now housed in Bristol, Connecticut. While opportunities for coverage are certainly growing and becoming more diverse at every network, from NBC-Universal to Fox to CBS with its college network, figuring out how to make a Bristol splash, nationally, locally, regionally, from mobile to digital to TV to radio to print, is still a big deal. Even with all the goings-on at Bristol, the ability for ESPN and employees to actually get out and experience the places they cover around the world is always going to be limited. Our 24/7 world lends much more to a digital experience than an in person experience for the most part, and many times bringing the experience to ESPN is just not possible.

So what did the folks at ESPN come up with for the summer? A way for those of all levels in Bristol to experience a bit of the places they cover, via the kitchen. The company has started Ballpark Thursdays, with each Thursday being branded on all levels with the decor, the video, and the flavors of a particular region or team. The project kicked off this Thursday, with employees being treated to the sights, sounds and tastes of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Is it something that will garner lots of press? No. Will it maybe familiarize those on all levels at ESPN with the goings-on of a particular team or region? Probably? Is it something that maybe down the road can be participatory even more with the team or the region being feted that day? Absolutely. Maybe dropping in Tommy LaSorda or Clayton Kershaw, virtually or in person, for Dodgers Day, or how about a visit from Dave Schultz with a Cheesesteak or two when Philly day pops around, all in the nature of convergence and immersion. It gives those on the outside of ESPN a little more of an entree into the understanding and the culture of the campus, and provides a little extra for all those, from the highest profile broadcasters to the accounting and admin staff, a chance to correspond and touch and feel some different stories, ones that maybe are not always top of mind.

Maybe the idea will just be a subtle feel good ESPN-only idea. Maybe it will evolve into something a little bigger, which teams may be able to utilize as an entree (no pun intended) to Bristol. Maybe the concept will get lifted to other forms of immersion with other media. Regardless, it is a fun and simple idea designed to increase awareness, understanding and fun, and it seems with its launch, is well on the way to doing so. Sometimes its the little things that count, even at such a huge entity like ESPN.

The Nets Have (Almost) Left The Building

In just over 10 days, professional basketball, at least the NBA version, will officially leave the state of New Jersey, when the Nets host the Philadelphia 76ers in what will be their final game during a two season transition period from the IZOD Center to their new home two rivers away at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. From Teaneck to Piscataway to East Rutherford to Newark, New Jersey’s star-crossed NBA franchise has seen a host of memorable, and like any organization, some forgettable nights. While the protests of the announced move have long been drowned out by the endless positive beat on the move to Brooklyn by the organization, the move will leave New Jersey with a bit of a gap in the professional sports landscape for the first time in almost 30 years. The question will be, is the Nets brand better or stronger in Brooklyn than it has been in New Jersey? And can or will the Knicks or even the 76ers, look to capture at least a portion of the small but solid fan based that may feel disenfranchised by the Nets long anticipated move?

As far as brand strength, the Nets under the current ownership and leadership have never been louder and more active. Nary a day goes by where the team is not trumpeting some appearance, partnership or activity, both in Newark and in Brooklyn. It is a constant beat to keep the franchise relevant while their rock solid competitors in Madison Square Garden rise and fall through Linsanity, coaching changes and the other drama surrounding “The World’s Most famous Arena.” The Nets have long preached promotion and family entertainment, and tried hard to keep their Jersey ties as strong as possible as their vision was drawn more and more to the gleaming new Barclay’s Center and it’s September opening. This season’s promise of a strong finish at The Pru was dashed in an injury-riddled season, as fans focused more on players to be (including one from Orlando) more than the ones here many nights. Still the Nets sold the experience, and did they best they could in a lame duck building to paint a smile for the fans who stayed loyal, the hopes of maybe even luring some to their new digs. While many franchises could have emotionally walked long ago, the Nets kept trying and trying to reward, even though departure was imminent.

Will Brooklyn be better for the team? There is an old saying in sport, “You either sell hype or hope,” and the Nets have done a good job of trying to sell both during their latest non-playoff run. The move to The Prudential Center from IZOD did bring some hope and a certain newness to the franchise, but the move to Brooklyn certainly symbolizes a fresh start. New arena, new professional sports in the largest borough of the City of New York, Long Islands millions not far away, a great new transit hub in the offing, and maybe with some strong moves general manager Billy King can help right the recent wrongs of administrations past. We all like new, and no one would like a fresh new start more than the Nets. Better? Maybe. Different and fresh? For sure. A new challenge to the established and hard charging Knicks for fans and dollars? Maybe, but then again, given the size of the market, the challenge may be different, but certainly not new.

So what about the building, which recently has been the subject of more than a little bad blood between the primary tenants and Mayor Corey Booker. Will the area suffer a blow without the Nets? Given the versatility of the building and the quality of shows that have been brought in and could be expanded, probably not. There are always concerts and other events that can probably use the dates, and those events, along with the Devils and Seton Hall, will keep the building moving and thriving without the current NBA tenant. Is it better to have the Nets than not? Yes. Is it a death sentence when the team vacates? Not at all.

By the way hoops will not be leaving Brick City at all, between the return of the WNBA Liberty, the NBA Draft in June, the Hall and other events, the hardwood will continue to get used at The Rock, just not as often as in the past two years. In the end, the Nets have had a nostalgic, if not always successful run, in New Jersey. The leave the state with a more vibrant brand than when they came from Long Island, and return to that same piece of real estate that juts into the Atlantic (albeit a little closer to the mainland U.S.) with lots of lessons learned and memories created and promotions spun. It may not have always been the “Perfect Together” slogan that former Governor Tom Kean always used for his State, but it was a good fit and when that did grow over time.

Those lessons learned from a business perspective will serve the team and their fans well in their new digs, and hopefully will even pull some fans with their memories to check out the new place, in their old state. Every brand needs a dusting off from time to time, and the Nets brand will now get one, courtesy of their time spent in New Jersey.

Of Beards, Gekkos And Magazines…

The NHL Playoffs Are Here, So Grow Away: As the NHL Playoffs dawn again, so does the tradition of the unshaven, this year with a twist. It has long been a habit for players not to shave during the playoffs, and in recent years the promotion has been passed along to fans, who can grow their own facial hair for fun and charity, competing team by team. This years USA vs. Canada promotion picked up Just For Men as a natural sponsor, encouraging fans to go unshaven, join together and raise funds to support various charities as their teams advance throughout the playoffs. It is a promo that has grown from the grassroots to the mainstream, and even had the New York Rangers going one better, grabbing Norelco as a sponsor last week to sponsor fans getting one last shave before the playoffs began. With a stronger social media kick than ever behind it, the bearding can probably get even bigger and more mainstream this year, than in the past, riding the strong wave of support the NHL has garnered throughout what has been another strong season.

The Gekko Goes Along For The Ride: It is always interesting to see where the Cavemen and the Gekko for Geico will turn up next, and now it appears the crossover will be more and more for NASCAR. The Gekko made a great visit to Casey Mears garage in Charlotte in a new spot now running across many non-NASCAR platforms. It is a great promo for many reasons…it highlights Mears as a newer face for casual fans, it ties the GEICO brand even closer to NASCAR loyalists, and it opens up even more doors to get the little green guy out and about with a growing number of sports celebrities that fall under the GEICO umbrella. The spot is a little different than GEICO promos in the past, and again shows the value of what a NASCAR team can bring to the table in terms of a wider and more unique scope of partnership.

Family Circle Cup Passes Along Value Again: This past week the Family Circle Cup again made its stop in Daniel Island, South Carolina, in what remains one of the oldest events on the WTA Tour calendar. What makes the stop still so unique is its title sponsor and the ability to use the top tier event as a great activation and pass-through event for all the sponsors of both Family Circle and its current parent company, The Meredith Corporation. For years Family Circle has used the event as a spring stop for advertisers, bringing brands down for a weekend of fun and brand activation. The event’s TV footprint also becomes a showcase for elite brands, such as Dove, to launch activation programs not just around women’s tennis, but for the female and family demo as well. While most media companies will look for more of a broad band approach, Family Circle has chosen to use the annual event as their own pass through activation platform for those who partner with the magazine, an old but very effective way to gauge a corporate calendar. You know every year that this event is yours, in the same place, and build toward it with cross promotion and partnership launch programs for the rest of the year. Managed correctly, this type of event ownership can work very well, although it is somewhat of a dying breed as cost cutting makes such large scale activations more difficult to justify. Regardless, the Family Circle/WTA event is still a great example of textbook activation for an event.

Take Five: Some Suggested Reads To Start The Baseball Season

We are now ankle deep in baseball. So here’s a look at five good reads to get baseball start. Just my opinion, and only books I have read thus far, but all are nice companions for the summer game.

Wherever I Wind Up by RA Dickey and Wayne Coffey. One of the ways I can judge a book is how fast I learn something I didn’t know before, even about someone in front of the public eye so much. The story of knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey’s life is full of such little tidbits, from his love of Larry Bird to his off field interests to his play at the University of Tennessee with a host of current MLB’ers, including Todd Helton. There are lots of pages about the abuse he suffered as a child which makes the book more reveling than many baseball fans may need to know, but throughout you get the feeling that R.A. is a guy we should all root for. A very easy read.

Driving Mr Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball’s Greatest Gift by Harvey Araton. Another book that tells a tale largely untold, by one of America’s best writers, brings baseball fans, not just Yankees fans, along for the ride as Guidry, who had played for the Yankees during Berra’s time as a coach and last run as manager, picks up the legend every year at Tampa airport. The rides and the stories flow from there as easily as the other rites of spring training. As he does in all his works, Araton extracts so many facts and anecdotes from the pair that even the most knowledgeable of baseball fans learns more than ever before.

Imperfect by Jim Abbott and Tim Brown. If Jim Abbott were still pitching today his exploits on the field and how he overcame the adversity of having only one hand would make him an internet and social media phenomenon, on par with Jeremy Lin or even Tim Tebow. However the soft spoken Abbott probably prefers it the quiet way, and tells his story of overcoming his physical challenges and making it to the Majors with the Yankees, throwing a no hitter along the way, in an inspirational tale that is a nice fit for young people short on role models and looking for heroes.

Summer of ’68: the Season That Changed Baseball, and America, Forever by Tim Wendell. From Bob Gibson’s almost unhittable season to the social unrest off the field, baseball became a metaphor for change in 1968, and Wendell does a great job of interweaving all the goings on in the clubhouses through a year of political and social unrest. Much deeper than maybe some casual fans want to know, but a great mix of sport and society.

Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson. It is another anniversary for the legendary “Veeck As In Wreck,” perhaps the best book by an owner about owners, penned by the late White Sox, Browns and Indians owner himself. The story is updated and retold for a new audience by Dickson, who can now include the later in life tales of Veeck with his shorts wearing and scoreboard exploding Chicago White Sox, Veeck’s views on politics, and a look at what may be missing from the MLB game today.

The Fan Cave Thrives…

With its seemingly endless season, its three plus hour games and its sometimes strange rules and never ending parade of stats, baseball has long been a punching bag for the fast and loose generation. While other sports like cricket and even football have sought to find ways to speed up the game, baseball’s traditions take precedent and the season goes on at its own pace. It is certainly a challenge for the powers that be to find ways to effectively engage a get it done yesterday generation.

Yet for the shots it takes, there is probably no game still more ingrained in Americana than baseball. Its traditions fit the fabric of spring and summer like few other elements of Americana, and no other sport anywhere in the world can find ways to engage the casual and ardent follower or a night, a week or a year. It is perhaps the most ethnically diverse sport in the world, and has pioneered, ironically, many of the platforms for engagement in the gaming world that others use today. The length of the season is sometimes a liability, but it can also be an asset as a way to continually find ways for businesses to drive revenue and for fans to enjoy the pastime, whether it is on the Major or Minor League level. Still with the positives, the game remains challenged to find more inroads into pop culture to capture a young fan who understands and has played the game but may stray to other areas after adolescence and until he or she reaches a slightly older age.

Enter the Fan Cave season 2. Back and better than ever.

Last year MLB launched a new initiative designed to enter popular culture and social media at another level. The cave, a storefront in lower Manhattan, was be a window to the world of baseball, where two applicants, Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner, from over 10,000 were chosen to not just use gadgets and gizmos to watch every baseball game during the season, but to also find ways to interact with a generation into hip and cool but not always into hits and runs. It was a great litmus test for technology involving the fan, from new games to the latest statistical app. to see what may have staying power and what will be more ho hum, all through the glass of a former Tower Records store on Broadway. Characters came by, celebrities and those in town from the sports and music world will dropped in, visited, exposed their latest ideas and tried to help make the Fan Cave become a key destination in the social media world. Mike D. dropped by, players on their day off were hustled in, and little by little the idea started to take hold.

At first glance purists grimaced, but the Fan Cave was not for them. Sabermatricians need not apply, but were welcomed anyway. It started to become an accepted bridge for some generations to experience an aspect of baseball as popular culture between Little League and parenthood, when the value of the game really takes hold again. The Fan Cave was part reality show culture with lots of cross promotion, but without lots of the edge.

Did it work? Yes. This year’s newly tricked out Fan Cave has more gadgets and more cross promotion (it even had a Scott’s Lawn on Opening Day, along with a Bernie Williams visit) than season one. It’s new inhabitants came from a pool of 50,000, and more and more public events will be involved this year, incorporating movies and music, to get foot traffic in the door and followers online. Baseball still has scores of content to talk about and that is still the core, but in the end The Fan Cave (naming rights deal coming soon?) as a social media experiment survived and thrived as the season went along, and is now set up for the sincerest form of flattery, similar experiments from other sports leagues in and around the world.

A solid MLB experiment done well.