The Troops Still Remain A Largely Untapped Platform…

As Memorial Day is upon us here in the States, it is interesting to take a quick look at a group that is passionate, young, loyal, appreciative, athletic, budget conscious and enthusiastic, yet is among one of the most underserved groups for brands looking to reach the male demo and grow a fan base…the men and women of the military. While the Federal Government recently announced a big cutback in sports spending on recruiting advertising (over $80 million affecting properties like fishing and NASCAR at first), it remains a mystery as to why many brands looking for that young active male demo don’t go right to the bases and places where these loyal families and “captive” audiences sit. Armed Forces Radio and TV remains a very fertile and cost efficient ground for sports brands to reach a loyal audience, and bases are always looking for programs to keep the troops and their families busy and connected to mainstream America. More importantly, these groups, once discharged, remain very loyal to those who supported them while serving their country, with NASCAR-like brand buying and affinity. So why don’t more brands look to use sports to activate with the troop. Is it because of the perception of Red Tape? The sometimes transient nature of the military and their families? Neither are clear but for those brands who can figure it out, the captive audience waiting to attach to their products, services and even teams as potential viewers and ticket buyers, is huge. Now there are a number of strong programs that serve as one-offs for honoring military men and women once at the game to give them and their families a chance to attend events. Camoflage Kids is one great one, and on Memorial Day MLB will have a series of ceremonies at all games, but those are all outbound programs once these young people are on site. Brands should look to base activation programs, tied to sports, to really make a sound investment.

Now virtually every sports property honors a local vet during a break in play. Those moments are inspirational for sure. Some teams have set about hiring programs for those returning in droves from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. All good. However sustaining programs that support the military and their families at the core rather than just a base visit here or there is really what would be unique. It may not sell huge amounts of tickets at first, but the word of mouth amongst the military is very powerful, and the legacy built in for what will be a long future of a solid fan base or a consumer alliance is probably well worth the initial investment. Several lifestyle sports…NASCAR, the UFC, Ironman…have done a good job with putting their brand with the core of the military. Finding a brand to activate with that sport is still not easy though, but combining that powerful sports brand with a solid consumer program is something that is worth cracking as we hopefully move toward more troops coming back to the States and entering civilian life.

The Great Brand Run Of NBC Sports…

There was a time not too long ago where some in the sports and entertainment industry thought the sun had set on NBC Sports as a property. No NFL, Olympics in question, not a lot of forward movement, Comcast rumors of a takeover and on and on. Looking at NBC Sports as a property today that seems hard to imagine, and probably for brands and for casual fans the fact that those rumors were greatly exaggerated is a very good thing.

As Mike Emerick called the overtime on NBC Sports Network on Friday night for the Devils-Rangers, the promos and cross-promos that came across the screen showed how far brand NBC Sports has come. There was a robust MLS offering, the Stanley Cup Final, the potential of a Triple Crown, the Olympics, the Olympic trials, and lots of NBC Sports Talk. Factor in some poker, golf, Indy Car, the French Open, and the fact that Football Night in America transplanted American Idol in the TV ratings, nit to mention all the Comcast Sports-related assets down the line, and one sees a healthy, vibrant brand which runs from cable to broadcast and is growing its web presence as well. Maybe somewhere down the line a print presence and even more robust web-only elements complete the picture, but even without those tied in, it seems like a great time to be in and around 30 Rock if you like games these days.

Now of course none of this was done overnight, the executive team over the years looked at how to cultivate emerging sports like the Dew Tour and Poker After Dark and even developed a dog show stand-alone property. They forged a landmark relationship with the NHL that made the two true partners with incentives to grow together (along with a new tentpole event in The Winter Classic), and of course the rebranding of and reprogramming of VERSUS made the causal fan aware even more of what an NBC Sports offering looked and felt like.

Are there more mountains to climb for the brand? Sure. Ironing out whatever comes next with Comcast Sports and their regionals, looking at the ever-growing market of college football, integrating with a robust entertainment side and evolving even more with a web and mobile presence are all in the mix. However to watch where the brand is today and how it has evolved beyond “just” a programming channel is impressive, and is a credit to those with the vision and the ability to fight off the naysayers and create a proactive media brand.

One Governor Taking A Gamble On The Future Of The Sports Business…

Someday sports fans and team owners may have New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to thank for games that are more engaging and for a revenue source that does not yet exist in the United States. Christie this past week continued his strong push to challenge the Federal Law that does not allow sports betting anywhere other than the five states that were grandfathered into the existing legislation, maintaining that the limit restricts New Jersey’s business growth despite the fact that its casinos have long been regulated and established legal centers for all other forms of gambling. The challenge, Christie believes, will open up new areas of commerce and tourism not just for Atlantic City, but for the horse tracks that are currently struggling to stay afloat throughout the state.

Naturally the NFL continues to publicly back the law in place, continuing, along with other sports leagues, to distance themselves from any form of professional wagering expansion outside of the States where it is current legal (the biggest being Nevada). However the battle will only last as long as the legislation currently in place holds. Cantor Gaming, the company managed by Wall Street giant Cantor Fitzgerald, continues to be more bullish with their Las Vegas-based sports book, pushing out…what else…the betting lines for the opening weekend of September’s NFL season two weeks ago, the earliest ever. Now the lines never appear in NFL properties, but the league certainly won’t fret about the talk generated on places like ESPN’s highly rated “Mike and Mike” radio show the morning the lines came out. A multi-state sports legal book would generate even more interest in the major, and some minor sports, and keep fans even more engaged.

Away from the gambling for dollars, the advances in mobile and hand-held devices can make for lots of fan engagement for virtual betting or other forms of activation in even the biggest blowout. Acceptance of regulated wagering in-arena would have fans more engaged in the action on the floor or the diamond or the ice, and again would create a huge, legal opportunity for teams to bring in increased revenue through new and innovative sponsorship.

Now none of this is unique the world over. Soccer and other sports have had legalized onsite gambling, especially in the mobile space, for years. Have there been issues in places (Italian soccer, Indian cricket, men’s tennis) with match fixing and player issues? Yes. However those issues have happened in North America as well, and with regulation on digital gambling and more sports books the transparency in the industry would make incidences less, not more. While some view regulated gambling as a scourge, the rest of the world seems to be doing all right, and regulating at the Federal level is the key.

As we have said before, the regulation of sports gambling and the establishment of a sports book is becoming more and more a certainty. It fits with the growth of casual and competitive gaming, and is still one of the largest revenue streams not yet tapped by professional sport in North America. Other streams…hard liquor, condoms, even casinos…were once on the banned list that also includes tobacco these days, and all are seen as OK now. Where would sports business be today without ads for Viagra or Cialis ads? The stigma and worry with those categories came and went, and so in all probability will be the issues with regulated gambling at some point down the road. It won’t be the main reason people will flock to games, but it won’t detract either. The industry knows gambling exists and it is an enhancement to viewers and the fan experience. It just cannot acknowledge or engage in the space yet.

When it does happen, all owners should send a thank you note to the current governor of The Garden State, as he will be helping them improve the fan experience and bring in more dollars via sponsorship in one fell swoop.

Yin and Yang of Twitter…Osi Umenyiora and NASCAR

The endless debate rages on as to how and what twitter as a social platform can do for sport. We started the weekend with New York Giants defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora trying to use the medium to help Lawrence Taylor buy back his Super Bowl ring…provided Umenyiora found a million followers. Then we had NASCAR cutting a “deal” with Twitter to help manage and effectively market the medium to the sport’s uberloyal fan base, starting with the Pocono 400 in June.

One great idea, one poor one. Why?

Below are some thoughts we put in the updated Sports Publicity text which will come out in November on twitter usage. In the case of an individual athlete, the idea that “I will do this if I get to a million followers” has jumped the shark. It hasn’t worked with charities for the most part, and is becoming white noise with athletes and other sin the entertainment field trying to get a mass following “just because.’ The social media audience is becoming more savvy, and the days of quality followers that can be used to merchandise brands or other partners is becoming more important than just volumes of passive followers, many of whom may be spam or may never actually read or engage in anything that the “prominent figure” endorses . There is also a growing backlash from athletes and others who try to openly use twitter growth or Facebook likes as a ploy to help a charity or a brand.

If the effort was sincere, then why not just support the effort with the fan base you have cultivated, and use traditional media to help grow the word as well? Sincerity in cause and brand marketing is much more important than “follow me.” The other need is for consistency of message. The ability for athletes or any celebrity to endorse one brand this week and another random one the next is getting more and more difficult. People want to be cultivated and want to see a steady message, not some willy nilly shoutouts. Sure there are a few exceptions…an Oprah shoutout or something that Shaquille O’Neal may like carries weight because their work in cultivating followers has taken time and has been proven effective. It is very, very difficult to replicate, especially when someone is pleading for followers with no real backup.

Umenyiora’s appeal is a great example of what happens when the request for followers rings hollow. It is great that he got to 50,000 plus followers. That is the core he should work with and that is still a powerful group that will grow, so long as he seems sincere in his efforts. Otherwise the white noise gets louder.

Now NASCAR is a different story. Their athletes are marketing machines, they appear sincere in their outreach and the fans are looking for more interaction. They rarely have to seek, fans seek them and will follow.

NASCAR has also allowed, as we have seen in previous races, to use social media platforms for drivers and crews in race, the biggest result of which was Brad Keselowski tweeted from his car a photograph he had just shot of a jet-dryer truck engulfed in flames right after having been rammed by driver Juan Pablo Montoya. He added 100,000 Twitter followers in a few minutes because of his content and the viral nature of the shot.

The partnership with Twitter will support live race broadcasts. During a race, when fans click on #NASCAR, search for #NASCAR on Twitter.com or visit twitter.com/#NASCAR, they will reach a Twitter platform scrolling the most relevant tweets from NASCAR drivers, families, teams, commentators, celebrities and other racing fans and personalities. Twitter.com/#NASCAR will be available starting with the Pocono Raceway race weekend and then on June 10 in conjunction with TNT’s first of six television broadcasts of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Smart way for the medium to embrace, and for sure a good litmus test of proactive brands who will not have to beg for exposure. The exposure will come to them. Quality beats quantity.

Now those points…

One, it’s not for everyone.

Just like parties or driving fast cars, social media is not a practice for everyone. Coaches, athletes, even some brands may be risk averse or simply not have that much to say. Therefore participating in a social media campaign of any kind is not something that everyone must do. Understanding and following what is going on from a distance makes sense, so being on twitter or Facebook from a monitoring standpoint is a great thing to do. If you have nothing to say, or add, then don’t say or add anything.

However understanding what is going on is important. Silence can be the best form of intelligence.

Two, Size doesn’t always matter.

When social media exploded there was a burst to get to large number of followers. However social media is about peer to peer engagement of thoughts and ideas. Making sure you, your client, your business partner have the right followers, whether they are 20 or 20,000, is just as important as having a million in many cases.

Three, know who is in your posse.

Many people sign on to twitter or Facebook, Google Plus or engage in LinkedIn or any other social platforms and never bother to see who is following them or why they are following them. Ask from time to time; check your lists for spammers or unusual content, block those who are offensive to you. Just like people at a party in your house, responsibly managing your lists is an important piece of business maintenance. Then, knowing who and what is being said amongst your user groups will make your social media engagement just as valuable and effective as anything else you do in communications.

Four, ask questions.

Make sure you ask people why they are following you if you don’t know. Drop a question from time to time to some followers. It is important to be involved in the social space if you choose to be, so engage when you can.

Five, speak when you have something to say.

Many people fall into the trap of speaking just for the sake of saying something. Don’t. If you have an idea, a link, a story to communicate then do so, and make sure it is reflective of your overall social strategy. Don’t just post something because you haven’t said anything in a while and feel a need to do so.

Six, remember who you represent

Sometimes people think that they can separate their personal thoughts from their professional by using a “this is my thought not my company” disclaimer. That can be a big mistake. We are all intertwined for better or worse, and the alter ego idea in the digital space does not work. You speak for all those you represent at all times, so always have those around you in mind.

Seven, watch the chains that bind you

It is very easy to comment on a photo or a public chain in social media. Once you are on it you can lose control of those ties and they can spin very easily into a questionable area of comment, whether you are still commenting or intended to be part of a conversation that grew or not. Cut the ties after you comment, it will save you a lot of headaches.

Eight, watch the inference.

We lose all nuance with the printed word, despite the addition of emotions and small catch phrases. If something gets lost in the printed word pick up the phone and call the person. A little voice contact can take much of the sting out of a misguided email, post or tweet.

Nine, Think before your post.

The biggest mistakes made in social media come from those who react emotionally. Be professional, pause and then say what you have to say. Once a thought is out the amount of time taken to retract or clarify will cut away from all the productive time you have.

Ten, Be Genuine and Creative

Don’t use social platforms to create white noise or endless useless chapter about a subject you are working with or promoting. Make your platform as much editorial as advertorial and as diverse as you can. It is social, so be social while balancing the work effort. Social media provides lots of opportunities for us to connect with people from around the world that we would not normally be able to.

The Soccer World Keeps Getting Smaller…And Bigger…In The U.S.

There used to be a time in the 1970’s and 1980’s when fans of professional soccer in the United States would find a time to tune in on PBS and hear the legendary announcer Mario Machado call highlights of games gone by in a one or two hour edited show to satisfy the thirst for video of the world’s most popular game. The North American Soccer league came and went, World Cup action was shown on some third tier UHF stations or on closed circuit. There was not much “there” there for fans of Man U. or Real Madrid or Lazio, especially when you left many urban areas where the game was still popular.

Fans today of anything soccer would find that very hard to believe. Today we have networks dedicated to the game in the States, the most healthy of grassroots sports, an ever-improving MLS prospect and more Americans contributing to the growth of soccer globally than ever before. However what is even more impressive is the way that elite clubs and the professional leagues from around the world, starting with the Barclays Premier League, have made such inroads into the American sports landscape. The last two weeks have seen record numbers of viewership for Manchester City’s title run and for Chelsea’s Championship League title, and this summer will see a record number of friendlies for elite clubs, from AS Roma, Chelsea and Tottenham to The French League Championship to Liverpool to Zaglebie Lubin and many other clubs. While it is not unusual for some friendlies to be played in the States before soccer kicks off around the world in August, the breath and depth of clubs and the stadia they will be playing in is rising, and that is reflective of the rising tide of interest in the sport in the States. It is not all about Americans and MLS. It is about seeing the best clubs from around the world, ones that have worked with American media companies like Fox and ESPN, to integrate matches year-round into broadcast and news coverage, so that young people in the States especially are just as big fans of Wayne Rooney as they are maybe of Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. The brands that support the elite soccer clubs around the world are also going to continue to get added ROI with the marketing and broadcast of elite soccer in the States, as companies like Emirates Airways now will have a growing affinity to an American marketplace through their non-American sports sponsorship.

The broadcast and digital world has opened possibilities for elite soccer clubs in the States much in the way the NBA (of all U.S. based leagues) has expanded their growth globally outside of the borders of the U.S. Stars are now easier to follow, the passion of clubs and the beauty of the game is easier understood, and it is no longer a stretch to watch the best clubs in the world compete live on TV (with much being in the mornings in the States when there is little live sports competition) where it may have been in years past. The highlights are now brought in as they happen through sports-specific networks and dropped side by side with baseball, hockey and hoops scores. It no longer is unusual to see a great Real Madrid goal during the morning SportsCenter, where that would have seemed very strange just a few years back.

This rising tide is also a boon to MLS, which continues its steady path of growth. While some may say the friendlies are what “real” fans want to see in soccer in the States, those matches draw more attention to the game, which in many markets brings casual fans to MLS and gives the league a great chance at conversion on a consistent level. All things good about soccer means better opportunities for all in the business.

Now none of this is to say that soccer is reaching its highest point of engagement in the States any time soon. MLB, the NHL, the NFL, and the NBA still rule the roost consistently, and soccer even at the highest level still has to compete with those four as well as NASCAR and a passionate intercollegiate audience that only exists in the States. That won’t change overnight. However what is changing is the growing acceptance of elite soccer as a must watch and talk about event in the U.S., with the numbers of the last week showing that to be true. It hasn’t happened in a vacuum or that suddenly. It has been a steady and strategic build, but it is a build worth watching and admiring as most of the soccer around the world takes a brief respite before the heat turns up again in mid-summer, much of which will start in the States.

Continued Giant Brand Success…

Ring ceremonies used to take two forms for championship teams. A quiet, low key team only event where players celebrated amongst themselves and those insiders who were part of their title run. Then there was usually the more public ceremony which most teams do, many times on the first home game of the next season. It gave the fans a chance to experience the moment and also relive the championship memory, and hopefully spread some good karma for the next season.

So what do the Super Bowl Champion Giants do? They find a way to create both a brick and mortar and virtual experience, fully sponsored but not over the top, to unveil their new rings. The team took the ring party to Tiffany’s, complete with blue carpet this week, with media on hand to see, touch and feel the rings along with the players. Select business partners and a few lucky fans were also on hand for the mid-May brand building event at a time of year when most NFL teams are quietly going about the off-season workouts.

Then there is the virtual world. For years many leagues have licensed out cheaper replicas of the actual championship rings for sale to fans in various forms, from paperweights to items fans could actually wear. Not the real thing, but pretty close. However the Giants took the fan experience one step further, working with the augmented reality company GoldRun to create an app where fans could download the actual ring that the players and staff unveiled this week.

With the app, fans virtually try on and snap photos with the team’s Super Bowl rings, as well as the Lombardi Trophy, and then take part in a shared online experience with others wearing the rings and “holding” the trophy. Those who downloaded were eligible for a series of prizes and inclusion on Giants.com and the team’s official Facebook Page.

The app and the ring ceremony were the latest and greatest examples of how Big Blue, while never sacrificing the tradition and value of their brand, has been able to ramp up their engagement with fans and brand partners year-round. Their chats with players during the playoffs, their video streaming during the victory parade, their year-round enhanced digital and broadcast video offerings, and their work with Pinterest as a marketing channel late last season have all given fans the ability to further immerse themselves more personally in all things Giants, regardless of how the season ended.

While some iconic brands in sport and even entertainment have sat back and enjoyed the spoils of victory, the Giants have gone the other way, looking for even more ROI and activation points for all who want to experience the team year-round. Another winning week for a championship franchise, even though the beginning of their title defense is still a ways down the line.

Kings Prep Led To The Sunny Days Of Today…

It certainly has been a long slog for the L.A. Kings to reach the national spotlight, one that still has them battling with their Staples Center co-tenants the Lakers and the Clippers, as well as the currently struggling but still popular Angels and the newly reborn by ownership Dodgers for the attention of the sometimes fleeting and always busy casual sports fan in Southern California. For the hockey fan, except for the style of Rogie Vachon and Marcel Dionne in the 1970’s and Wayne Gretzky’s short lived but effective run later, the Kings have always been somewhat of a late night afterthought for most of North America.

However as this year’s club moves closer to the Stanley Cup Finals and a trip to either New York or close to Manhattan (New Jersey), the Kings have positioned themselves off the ice for mainstream and social success.

Off the ice, the longtime cultivation of tastemakers in Hollywood, led by producer and season ticketholder Jerry Bruckheimer has led to a passionate concentrated but solid following in entertainments influencer circle. The group, put together by Kings legend turned president of business operations Luc Robitalle several seasons ago, was made up of execs with an interest in the game who, when needed, would turn a favor for the team. Whether that was helping coax stars like Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks to the Staples Center, or providing thoughts on in-game entertainment, was determined by what was comfortable. It was not heavy handed, but it certainly became very effective as the teams on ice fortunes rose over the past few seasons, and requests from the Kings to their “friends” turned to requests from their friends to the team on how they could help. Like in New York and for the Lakers, drive-by’s for celebs on location in L.A. now included the Kings, a must-be-seen spot moving towards the level of the Knicks celebrity seats or the front row for Kobe and Company.

Also into that mix went the aggressive cultivation of local media, bloggers and others interested in getting access to the Kings, the players and their front office, all with the hope of garnering good will through access for when the sunny days on the ice matched the beautiful weather outside. While many teams still remain skittish about the blogosphere, the Kings saw an opportunity and grew a following.

The team also went to great lengths to acknowledge and then aggressively use the social media space to grow its footprint, especially as interest in the on-ice performance picked up as the 2011-12 season went along. As Chris Botta highlighted in this week’s Sports Business Journal, the team has made a sometimes edgy but always entertaining investment in engaging not just their fans, but hockey and sports fans in general, with the news and insight coming off their twitter feed and on to other areas of social media. It is not heavy on tech, it is fun, and has made the Kings grow their following to over 100,000 since the start of the playoffs.

Of course the real fruits of all this work lay ahead, with the potential of the Stanley Cup finals, an NHL title, and then increased marketing and sales opportunities for next year and beyond. L.A. also remains an uber-competitive marketplace with fickle fans being pulled in many directions, so converting the casual into the consistent is a challenge for everyone.

However what makes the opportunity of today real is the consistent legwork the team put into doing all the little things over the past few seasons. There was no instant payoff, and the cultivation had to be both strategic and consistent with no real 100 pct. Chance of an ROI. It isn’t like cultivating a sponsor who suddenly walks in with a big check. The payoff comes sometimes in immeasurable little wins. A gift to a studio head’s son here, an autographed puck or jersey to a blogger charity there, a thank you to a group of twitter followers through a promotion another time. Slow and steady is the build, but when the payoff of that work is matched on the ice, the team is in a position to reap the rewards.

Some may think planning for a sunny day in L.A. is easy. In the Kings case it probably wasn’t that easy, but now that it is here, they can enjoy the glow.

The Dodgers Start Rehab In The Parking Lot…

It was a long drawn out public mess, this Los Angeles Dodgers sale. It ended up with a diverse group of successful businessmen, from sports and entertainment, taking control of the assets of a legendary brand gone astray for a cool multi-billion dollar asking price that probably had the late Bill Veeck, one of the great owners and promoters of years past, laughing from heaven. The business of sport had hit a new high. Even after the sale the Dodgers still had lawsuits to settle, one with Charles Sternberg, brought west by the club at one point to help rehab their image with past owners, for over $1 million dollars. Promotion it seemed had its price.

Still what would be the price of fan loyalty. What would it take to bring Dodger blue back to spend some green in Chavez Ravine? Despite the efforts to promote the team during the latter stages of the McCourt era, the battles with the media had turned the once loyal fanbase away, maybe even towards the Angels and Orange County and the fan friendly environs created by owner Artie Moreno and his staff, led by a former beloved Dodger himself in Mike Scioscia? The price it seems at first step, has been relatively low.

Yes the new Dodgers group, the legendary Magic Johnson, baseball exec Stan Kasten, media mogul and Golden State Warriors owner Peter Guber and the rest, were a new refreshing series of faces. However the best thing about the group were faces that were smiling, were engaged and despite the high price tag, projected positive messages to the fans. They were not messages about billion dollar salaries or bringing new stars to the ballpark yet. They were messages that appealed to the beauty of the game and the fun experience that could be had again at Chavez Ravine. The process involved lots of media interviews for sure, but at the end of the day it was the simplest of acts, one that was really reflective of one of the last pieces that ownership had to settle before completing the sale.

They lowered the price of parking. A simple, relatively cost-free move, put forth as a peace offering over the parking fields that the McCourt regime coveted so much. Not a hard thing to do, even temporarily, but a move that showed that even the most elite of owners understood that the extra cost put a dent into the family experience from the minute that drive was completed. They could have cut some ticket prices, but lowering the cost of parking, other than cutting the price of concessions, probably meant more as a first step than any pep rally or giveaway could have meant. It was the first and surely not the last move the organization run by a group that has shown a willingness in other ventures to work with the fans and their experience, will do. It wasn’t a big hit to the pocketbook for the short term, but it showed change is coming and we want you here, because we have to repair the damage done.

Sometimes the simple things are the biggest and best remembered. For the Dodgers, a little parking change goes a long way.

New York vs. L.A. Not A Bad Thing For Brand NHL…

There was a bunch of silly debate the last few days about the economic impact that the Washington Capitals may bring to the area around the Prudential Center in New Jersey should they upset the Rangers in Game Seven Saturday night at Madison Square Garden and then face the upstart Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals. That is no longer an issue for the NHL, who could have the number one and two TV markets in the country face each other in the finals for the first time since the Lakers and New Jersey Nets met in the NBA Finals in 2001-’02, or have the first full New York vs. LA Final since the New York Yankees met the LA Dodgers in 1978.

That matchup, at least from a brand standpoint, should be another jump forward for the NHL and its partner NBC as the sport continues an engagement renaissance in the United States. Of course the NBA still also has the Lakers and the Clippers alive in the playoffs as well, so it is hard to say if LA will become enamored with hockey, or if other hockey markets will suddenly be aware of the Kings, but that market matchup if it happens is certainly not bad news for the NHL or its partners.

Of the four teams left, New York has its well established following and with basketballs put away for the winter in Gotham, Henrik Lunquist and company could become kings of New York like they were in 1994 when they last won the Stanley Cup. For New Jersey, their renaissance is similar to what the NHL overall continues to experience.

It has been a rocky financial year for the Devils on many fronts. The issues with minority ownership and the recent issues with Newark Mayor Cory Booker have given the team its share of fits, and the lack of interest in the lame duck Nets had in their two transitional years from the IZOD Center to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn were also kind of a wash for New Jersey, who also owns the building. But from a branding and loyalty standpoint, the teams’ commitment to its growing fan base through social media engagement, its alumni work and the positive outreach by its players has made the season for the brand of the Devils as good as any since the franchise relocated from Colorado and eventually moved to The Pru.

The next round will bring lots of excitement and a full house that will fill the establishments around the building for pregame dinners, parking and other goings-on. It will be a commuter series, with Rangers fans coming via New Jersey Transit. There are no back to back nights in NHL Playoff action as there are in baseball, so to think that suddenly hotel rooms are filling with fans spending money is foolhardy. They will come if they are in and then go back down the Turnpike or to Penn Station and head back out.
More importantly for the Devils brand, the Rangers bring added media exposure from both a national and a regional perspective, with the Rangers media contingent much larger than New Jersey’s regular media following, despite the fact they are both in the same market.

The hardest part for New Jersey from a business perspective will be capturing the excitement regardless of who, and turning that into positive news for ticket sales and brand awareness next season. Still, the groundwork for that next level of engagement has already been laid in the combo of solid marketing and successful on ice performance, which of course will be enhanced even more should the team do well in this coming round.

That’s the value for New York. For those west of the Garden State, the Kings in the final does bring some glitz and glamor, more than the hopefully rescued business that the Phoenix Coyotes would, should they outlast the Kings in the Western Conference Finals. Phoenix has been a team twisting in the wind for the NHL for several years, but should ownership now stabilize they too can help breather life back into hockey in a non-traditional market. While many purists and probably several business partners, would prefer to see Phoenix play in a hockey-rich city like Quebec City going forward, the fact of the matter remains that the franchise has done amazingly well on the ice with their financial and market issues, and a trip to the Final could also help solidify the team.

Still, if you are a fan of hockey or sports business, the LA vs. New York matchup, Devils or Rangers, is one that could provide a little tantalization as a long and warm winter season of sport comes to a close.

Some other good ideas…MLB and College Baseball, “Dewing” An Urban Audience, and Avenging Athletes

MLB and NCAA Baseball A Good Fit: It came out the last few days that Major League Baseball is looking into a partnership to help enhance collegiate baseball in a number of ways, including putting money in a scholarship pool. Regardless of the scholarship money, an MLB/NCAA partnership would be a boon to college baseball, one of the most under-marketed properties on the college level. Bringing the marketing and promotional muscle of MLB to the table would lead to greater interest in the sport at the collegiate level, where many of the young stars of tomorrow would be coming from. Cross-promotions on campus with brands looking for an added spring pop for baseball would also help offset costs and create new opportunities to reach a younger male demo. MLB has done tremendous work looking to reinforce the sport internationally through the development of the World Baseball Classic and at the grassroots level with Baseball tomorrow and RBI and adding in a push at the collegiate level would make great sense. It is also not without precedent on the joint marketing front, as the NCAA and the NBA have teamed up to form ihoop over the past few years. While college hoops does well on its own, ihoop has given the sport great grassroots support. An NCAA/MLB partnership would shore up college baseball, enhance promotion and make sure that some of baseball’s future stars are getting an even greater opportunity to grow.

Avenging A Sports Experience:
While action films have long used a sports platform to market, few have really embraced promotions that could involve athletes. Maybe through the success of the Avengers that could change. This week a number of athletes, from the Indiana Pacers to several NFL stars, were heard in the social space debating the merits of the film and their favorite characters and scenes. Several blog posts speculated which athletes could morph into which super heroes as a spoof, and a bunch of minor league teams (the Camden River Sharks being one) will be running Super Hero themed promotions for fans this week. However the real value would be creating a digital space where athletes could either create their own super hero or tell the stories of which super heroes they have followed throughout their lives. There is certainly crossover product support for such an idea, as evidenced by all the key brands activating around the movie.

According to Front Row Analytics, Acura led the way in brand value as it continued serving as the vehicle of choice for S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents and Tony Stark. Acura vehicles have also appeared in past Marvel films with The Avengers tie-in, including “Captain America: The First Avenger”, “Thor” and “Iron Man 2”. In addition, The Avengers are seen wearing Bose headphones and Oracle engineered systems are visible in the opening scene. Dr. Pepper, Southwest Airlines, & MAC Cosmetics as well as other brand partners also received exposure during the film.

Marrying those brands with some of the real life super heroes people idolize on the hardwood, the gridiron and the baseball diamond…even the soccer pitch, could make for a fun and engaging promotion.

Dewing An Urban Experience: Another interesting program worth a follow is PepsiCo’s work with their Mountain Dew brand, trying to find even more of a young urban niche for the brand. The Dew Tour has done a great job of getting the lemony flavored drink more attached to a young and active crowd, and now they are trying to move it to young, active and more urban, demos that are reflective of the changing mosaic of the U.S. as a whole.

How to do that? Using rapper Lil Wayne and street skateboarder Paul Rodriguez to pull in another audience and further push the brand in geographic areas that are growing but the drink is still short of realizing its potential. The combo of a rapper and a Mexican skateboarder to go hand in glove with the other young stars in music and extreme sports already on the Dew bandwagon is a unique mix, and certainly one that is worth watching as the executions and promotions build across the summer when schools let out and kids in inner cities have even more free time to think and try a new beverage of choice.