Atlantis, Women’s Soccer and the Golden Ticket…

Atlantis The New Maui?  The fall has brought college basketball to foreign military bases, to campus streets and to some degree of success back to aircraft carriers. However one of the better branding and business opportunities is in a hotel ballroom in the Bahamas, where the Atlantis Hotel and Casino is trying to make their mega-hoops tournament the must-stop for every elite and rising college Division 1 program.

For years Hawaii has been the draw for programs, from Honolulu to Maui. The Great Alaska Shootout is also amazing always intriguing, but not the mega-draw it once was, and the south, from Puerto Rico and Cancun to Orlando, has been pulling off elite events with varying degrees of success over the years. Some like Maui (EA Sports) and Orlando (Old Spice) have also pulled in top notch brands to match their ESPN coverage of elite programs, but Atlantis and its aggressive scheduling may have something of a unique mix that could really make it work.

First, it’s not that far. Most of the US is less than three hours via air, making it not as taxing as flights to far away Pacific or southerner resorts like those in Mexico. That means packages can be created for reasonable dollars for alumni and booster groups who can make not just an initial but a return trip to the area after their first experience. Second it has the support of government and tourism. The Bahamas has long been a destination, but it is one that may not be as sexy for the 20 to 30 something crowd who are single and looking for a new kick. Bringing elite hoops events to the islands re-installs the value to a new group. Third, the proximity makes it very coach friendly. Want to have league meetings or a special event, the Bahamas are not that far away. Fourth, the weather is nice but not stifling. Teams in Hawaii and Mexico and even the Caribbean are there to play hoops for sure, but even with one off day there have been epic stories of sunburn and too much partying.  Atlantis is big but not too big, so keeping an eye on athletes and not having them wander off is an added plus. Fifth, the site wants sports. The ownership group is convinced that bringing hoops may lead to football and soccer which can bring even more tourists in slow times.  The TV and good will offset the compromising of ballroom and even the lack of huge revenue because of small seating capacity. Therefore bringing the best of the best year in and year out makes great sense.

Will it work? There are still sponsors to be sold, more alumni groups to be cultivated and a window with as big a broadcaster as possible to be cleared. The event also has to continue to bring its footprint to campuses and major media centers to convey its value. There is also a still struggling economy to deal with, even for an elite resort. But because of its aggressive stance and its proximity to the mainland, the Battle for Atlantis has a real chance at being not one of but the must go venue for college hoops going forward.

Women’s Soccer Tries Again: This week USA Soccer announced yet another attempt at a professional women’s league for 2013 as a way to grow the game and most importantly keep its stars playing in anticipation of the 2015 World Cup.  The clubs will be located in Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New Jersey, Portland, Seattle, western New York and Washington some of the areas where both WPS and the WUSA have tried before.

This business model as federations, USA, Canada and Mexico, bankrolling some front office and the salaries of many elite players, but the teams will be privately owned. USA Soccer will also help lining up a key sponsor or two and will put in place a TV deal that makes viewing and financial sense. The teams will still be privately owned and will be responsible for their own P and L, including stadia and front office duties, as well as signing non-elite players.

Will it work? Hard to say. The involvement of USA Soccer to absorb cost makes sense, and playing on the right dates in key cities will also be worthwhile (could you play doubleheaders with MLS for example?) but is there an ultimate model that could turn a profit or is the goal to have a subsidized “league”  that helps keep elite players in shape and in country around World Cup, Olympics and other key times? Even the best marketed women’s teams like Sky Blue FC in New Jersey couldn’t crack the code with fans, sponsors and media to be viable in the New York region, so why should this work?

If it is the goal to have a subsidized league to develop elite players great. If it can provide jobs, ancillary sponsorship and creative promotions ala minor league baseball (but with Major League talent), terrific. If it serves as good content for TV and digital properties, even better.  However to do the league because “it’s needed” is a dangerous idea. Developing a healthy sport that is valuable at the grassroots is important. If that’s what the new league does, great.  Soccer with any gender is an amazing sport, especially at the highest level.  Maybe with this new financial structure women’s soccer on the pro level, can somehow be viable for a lifespan that will supersede its two previous tries, both of which started with great fanfare and very quickly flamed out in a sea of financial losses. ill will and damage to the game.

Goin For Gophers: ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell had a great piece Friday on the Golden Ticket that the University of Minnesota is offering fans, anew challenging look at drawing fans willing to take a well, gamble.

The Golden Ticket costs $75 and is preloaded with all nine Big Ten Conference men’s basketball games. The purchaser has to carefully pick his or her games though because if UM loses one of the games that the holder goes to, the package is void.  The program created by  AudienceView,  is really a smart way to expose a middle of the road team with a favorable sequence of games to a casual audience looking for some fun nights out. For bad schools, it wouldn’t work and elite schools wouldn’t need it because they would go short on revenue as they run their schedule. So the program will have a limited life, one that the U of M coaching staff hopes goes away very quickly.

However for an innovative attention drawer designed to generate some buzz and pull in some casual fans, especially if they are all sitting together, the Golden Ticket, as Rovell pointed out, is worth the effort Minnesota is putting into it. It would be interesting for some professional sports with large swaths of distressed inventory to try as well. Could you play this out on a certain level for MLB or the NBA or the NHL when they come back? It could be a challenge but certainly could make some sense if fans were willing to pick their dates and make a little gamble. It would also have more year to year shelf life than NCAA sports as well.

Hopefully for the Minnesota program for this year, they lose less, bring fans back more, and turn those fans into full season ticketholders for years to come. That would be the ultimate goal for the school, and for Audience View it becomes a litmus test that other schools and teams see value in for years to come.

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