One of the most important assets to growth, and one of the most underrated, is the ability or the want to never stop learning. It doesn’t matter from who or from what, but the quest to keep trying and finding new things is what makes every day interesting and leads you to places you never thought you could go. Maybe I can be a bit, ahem; crusty from time to time, but my thirst for learning never keeps things stale.
Along that path of knowledge I have been given a great gift, this year it was times two. A chance to learn from a large group of young people interested in sports business, first for two weeks in a class with the School of the New York Times, then for another three weeks at Columbia. We took trips, brought in speakers, did projects and most importantly learned from each other. The time worked, even though the five weeks with a week in between can be exhausting. That’s part of LEARNING about time management!
Every year (I have done the class at Columbia for four years) I try and take a few August minutes to reflect on what these gifted young people; this year it was a total of 47 in to classes, from 11 different countries and 14 states, had to say. They learned and had fun, but what did we learn about them?
Usually it’s some note to file away, but this year we did a podcast with four of the young stars of the Columbia program, and also took some additional notes from what others took away from the class. The podcast, which is worth a listen here, runs about 50 minutes but will be very revealing for anyone wanting to LEARN about how young people with a passion for sports consume media, think about the business, and interact in a complicated world. Some of the highlights are below.
We want to thank all the rising stars we came across in the past six weeks, especially our four volunteers, Christiano Yao (a rugby player from Beijing going to school in Vancouver), Alexa Simpson (a lacrosse player and swimmer from Connecticut with her eyes on Clemson University), Marvin Pusung-Zita, (an 18 year old rising senior and football player from the Bay Area), and Patrick Craig, our senior member, a 19 year old from Loomis Chaffee Prep heading to Kenyon College as a freshman pitcher. They gave their time to teach us, and hopefully we all learned.
ON MEDIA: While a handful of students admit to reading a newspaper, at least a hard copy, all get their information from a mobile device, delivered to them, and it is all highlights first. Bleacher Report and ESPN.com still rule the day, but Twitter as a news source, a curated news source, has quickly become the go-to. While we think that attention spans are short, all of our podcasters admit to easily spending 20 minutes at least watching curated video highlights.
THE POWER OF THE STOOL: One of the constant debates in both classes was around Barstool Sports, which continues to garner millions of eyeballs despite its edgy content that maybe doesn’t sit well with mainstream fans and advertisers. While one podcaster went into the class thinking Barstool was “Curated by douchebag guys” the more she got past the front wall content, the more she saw that the videos were funny, the content edgy and the podcasts were actually insightful. It has become clear that Barstool is becoming an even bigger force because of community and lifestyle as a comedy brand, a place where young fans are going for satirical content, and that is what gives them the edgy edge.
COMMUNITY IS KEY: That sense of community is more important today to rising high schoolers than ever before. The uncertainty of the real world has made them rightfully question things, and has brought them together for a common cause, and many times that bonding comes through sport. Their communities are more organized and more globally than ever before, because they can share thoughts and contribute to a discussion globally with the use of social media.
INFLUENCER MARKETING STILL KEY: No matter what part of the globe they were from, influencer marketing still has a great effect, but it has to be sincere. Christiano talked about the power that the Golden State Warriors Klay Thompson had in China, not because he was just a star, it was because when he visited China he tried unique foods and created videos which had him missing dunks and having fun, vs. just all boost and hype. Others who have had an impact? Troy Polamalu was a big influence on Alexa, because of the way he supported causes and played football, even though she was a Giants fan; and the crossover between authentic cause and elute athlete crossed paths again for Patrick, as he talked about Tigers prospect Daniel Norris, who lived in his car in the offseason and overcame health problems to still pursue his dream.
THE SHEEP CONSUMER: One term that Patrick raised was that he felt he, and his peers, were what he called “Sheep Consumers.” Meaning that influencer marketing can work if the brand is tied to the authentic athlete or influencer that they believe in. they will follow him or her, so long as he or she stays brand central and on message. “If I understand and believe in what LeBron does off the court as well as on, and he endorses a show, I will follow him, but he has to continue to stay true to his values.”
How important is both authenticity and celebrity? Very strong. If an athlete runs afoul of the law, or is disrespectful or is blatantly about showing then the money, the buzz, and the brand impact is much less, and would make them go elsewhere.” I love the buzz, but if it’s clear that these guys don’t care about what they are wearing or selling, I can go elsewhere,” Marvin, clad in a Nike t-shirt, added.
WILL THEY PAY? YES. While the thought is that millennials or Gen X’ers won’t pay for things like content, the response was decidedly the opposite. All agreed that if there is a news source that is unique and has value to them, they would always consider a micro payment. (The Athletic, take note)
WHAT OLDER GENERATIONS DON’T GET: Another popular subject was what the decision makers don’t understand about their younger community. From the use of Bitmoji’s, GIF’s are much more effective according to the group, to the need to not have everything choreographed at events (let things happen, we don’t need to be entertained every minute) the advice given for those in power was pretty worthwhile.
INJURIES ARE ACCEPTED: many of the students in both classes were elite athletes or at least highly competitive, so the factor of playing through injuries was brought up. Almost all admitted they had had some form of injury, from shoulders to knees to concussions and elbows. Would it slow them down? No. Was it accepted? Yes. Are issues like concussions in pro sports making them play or watch less? Surprisingly, no. the reason: Camaraderie. Sports for these students remain a central part of the bonding and life experience, and even with what Patrick and Marvin called “The Grind,” the elation and the memories outweighed the issues, at least at their age.
ESPORTS? NOT YET FOR THIS GROUP: While almost all of the students admitted to playing some form of game, the amount who played competitive esports was almost zero. The reason? Time. Console gaming for young people who are active is an issue, and while it is growing and there is an awareness, an hour or so with madden or FIFA is what they enjoy. They understand the esports community and see it as something that they are watching grow, but for them at least, the action is on a mobile phone or with their classmates and teammates, not on a screen. That was true for all of the students not just from the US, but from around the world as well.
INTERESTED VS. COMMITTED: Lastly, one of the points worth noting towards the end of this long run was the difference the students had when asked about Interest vs. Commitment. They admitted almost universally that the media they are exposed to makes them interested in a wide range of topics, but it takes a great deal of engagement, and it has to be value related, for them to be committed to a cause, a brand, or an athlete for the long term. They study a great deal of what is being thrown at them and they are not passive at all in their willingness to engage in a conversation. But for them to stay engaged, the conversation has to speak to them and their peers. It is a longer term commitment that is required to build, which amazingly flies in the face of what many think, that here today, gone tomorrow works. The brands that these students love and stay with, are not fleeting. They speak to what is important to them, and as a result they are constantly building for the long term.
Some other key phrases that resonated with the group came in through our diverse guests, and we felt listing some would make sense as well. They included:
“Passion. Purpose. Patience. Persistence.” Peter Robert Casey, Five Star Basketball
“Entrepreneurship is to use creativity, innovation and risk to change how people see the world.” Mandy Antoniacci, business leader and Inc columnist
“If the people you deal with at the end of the day like you, the deal gets done.” Isiah Thomas, President, New York Liberty and NBA Hall of Famer
“It takes a Risk Taker to demonstrate leadership. “ Wayne Edwards, Emmy-winning sports film producer
“Don’t Think About Just the Money; Think About Your Position In The Future,” Jeffrey Eisenband, The Postgame
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Ben Franklin from Mandy Antoniacci’s presentation
“Ask for directions. People like to help.” Rich Petriccione
“Humility is always important, no matter how successful you are.” Ray Katz, co-CEO ROI Sports
Thanks to all…and keep learning!