It will come as no secret to anyone in and around the sports business world to say that Ted Leonsis and the folks at Monumental Sport and Entertainment think big. In the early days of building digital assets, the Caps and their new owner, just off his days at AOL, were one of the first teams to embrace what can be done on the web, creating one of the most engaged and content-driven team websites when most teams and even leagues were struggling on how to use “The web” as a means to get things moving. They found the way to make the Verizon Center the “IT” place in Washington and have been leading the charge to resurrect parts of the city that had gone by the wayside. From day one Leonsis and his management team also embraced the social aspect, becoming one of a handful of ownership teams to proactively use every channel possible to share information and proactively, and authentically, engage with fans. If there is an action to be taken, they find the right way to respond. They were also at the heart of Washington’s failed Olympic bid, believing that DC is a city of many nations and would be the perfect place to showcase what cities, which are becoming more and more the hub of choices for millennials and the new immigrant, can do to bring cultures together.
Then there is the content side. Monumental has always been about creating and distributing unique stories and finding ways to cross pollinate stories across any and every platform possible. Use the teams, the athletes, the building, as the spoke that drives your brand, all working together to engage both existing and new audiences, from various cultures. Also go find new territories and properties to pull into the family, as we have seen with their move to acquire Team Liquid as a first step into eSports, or make an investment into the data space as they have with SportRadar. It all enhances the brand, and while it might not bring an immediate ROI, it is a low risk, broader investment for down the road that can embrace a new audience, while keeping your traditional fan of the NBA, the NHL and event college sports in your building and on your platforms engaged.
But what about beyond the borders of the Capitol District? For years teams in the US were limited on the over push they could make outside the U.S., into territories not earmarked by a league. You can’t sell in Philadelphia if you are the Wizards, but can you sell in London or Beijing? In the NFL we have seen the strides that the Jacksonville Jaguars are making into London, building brand equity and grassroots efforts, so why can’t other teams in other sports do the same? We certainly see the effect European football clubs are having in the U.S. market, can the reverse be true as well? It certainly won’t be easy and will take some investment, but it is that disruptive risk which seems to fit the Monumental DNA and it has started to pay off with a brand like Etihad, who was looking to invest more in the US sports market and found Monumental’s teams and it asset a nice fit in the multicultural environ of Washington.
So with Etihad on the docket, the Monumental staff looked to the Emirates for some brand development, and went on a fact finding mission this fall. What they found, other than the potential of additional brands to partner their content with, was something they did not expect, but something that they may also be able to turn into partnership gold in the coming months.
Along with executives, Monumental had former NHL star Peter Bondra along on the trip for some hockey skills and good will events. And into their lives came Fatima Al Ali, a member of the country’s national hockey team, while Bondra and some others were conducting a clinic. With skates and traditional garb, Fatima showed off her stick abilities and the Monumental folks caught it all on video they were collecting for their OTT platform, and marketing and goodwill gold was spun.
Like so much of what Monumental has tried to do, the video and the engagement with this young woman was authentic, snackable and unique, making the storytelling prime for expansion, which took place in the next stage this week, when Bondra surprised her via Skype with a trip to D.C. and tickets to a game in February as part of “Hockey is for Everyone” month. The story reached an even larger audience, and since Etihad is now deeply involved, created ROI for the team, for hockey and for the brand well beyond anything originally planned.
What will happen next when Fatima arrives is in the works, but safe to say with an aggressive, forward thinking media company and the nation’s capital as a backdrop, the storytelling engagement will go well beyond the handoff of a jersey and a dropping of a puck. It certainly will be fun to watch, and can really provide a template for other wide ideas of brand engagement across continents and time zones that can be done but a forward thinking and aggressive property. You won’t always find an Etihad or a Fatima, but if you look hard and think big, the world becomes smaller and with it the ROI much more achievable as teams and leagues grow beyond their borders. Will there be some risk? Sure. Can the multicultural reward be expansive? Absolutely. With risk comes reward. That’s how disruptors succeed.