Yankees, Prudential Create A Great Senior Moment

We have talked from time to time about the lack of activation in sport for one of the most vibrant and engaged audiences out there; seniors and baby boomers. It is a segment of the population that has vast consumer experience, knows how to activate in groups, has defined spending habits and in many cases a large amount of disposable time and purchases more high ticket items, like cars, more than any other segment of the population. They influence spending habits, young people, voting patterns and public policy. Yet for all the time sports looks to engage the young and the first adopter, the larger group (albeit sometimes with less disposable income) still goes largely ignored.

However in the last few weeks one innovative brand in a major market has created an opportunity to engage that audience directly, in the sport which has one of the oldest demographic group in professional sport in North America. WFAN-AM (660), the Yankees Radio Network and their brand partner Prudential are offering an opportunity to bring an older audience a chance to create  ”chapter two” in their careers with  their “Play by Play Challenge” contest.

One lucky winner will call a recorded inning at the WFAN studios with Yankees broadcaster John Sterling. The winner will also receive a tour of the Yankee Radio Network broadcast booth, a meet and greet with Sterling and co-announcer Suzyn Waldman and a tour of CBS New York Studios.

The contest makes great sense for Prudential, a financial services firm which understands the spending power of seniors, and also understands the time and interests of the demo. While finding a new “young” voice has been done tine and again, rarely has a franchise gone looking for a distinctive older voice; one which  may not be a staple in broadcasting for decades to come, but one which may be distinctive fun and appreciative of the effort. Sometimes we forget the legacy of seniors and the stories they can tell, especially with the memory of a lifetime of sports experience. While there is no doubt that young people would cherish the opportunity to jump in with the voice of the Yankees, there could be even more appeal, and a better ROI for the investing brand, by looking to older.

Smart move by the Yankees and their media partner, and for their brand for finding a unique way to cut through the clutter.

The Business of LeBron; From A Foundation Point of View

The latest in Tanner Simkins interviews is with Michelle Campbell, Executive Director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, which has thrived whether the NBA star has been in Miami or Cleveland…

Michele Campbell is Executive Director of The LeBron James Family Foundation.  The organization helps at-risk youths progress from third grade to successful high school graduation. With LeBron’s vision in tact, Campbell has infused long-term commitment into the operation of The Foundation’s programs to combat low graduation rates in Akron, Ohio.  Concurrently, Campbell serves a Chief Operating Officer for LRMR Management Company, also run by LeBron.  We sat down with Campbell for a discussion on The LeBron James Family Foundation, the positive impact she’s had in the community, and more. (A detailed biography of Michele Campbell is provided after the Q&A)

Full Court Press: For those who may be unfamiliar tell us a little about yourself and The LeBron James Family Foundation [LJFF].

Michele Campbell: I am Executive Director of the Foundation. My day-to-day role, well I get to exercise LeBron’s vision for him. He is pretty busy with his day job. [laughs] He has a vision and I get to put it into action.

FCP: Tell us about Wheels For Education? What about I Promise?

MC: Prior to Wheels for Education, LeBron held an event called the Bikathon in Akron. Here we had churches, schools, and other groups get together for a community bike ride.  We had carnival like activities; we gave away bikes and helmets, and more. But after the event, we never heard from the kids or families again.  We never heard how they were or what they were doing. LeBron then decided to no longer be involved with what we now call one-and-done, or these single types of events.  Instead, we wanted to do something that really made a difference, particularly a long-term difference.

There was a lot of research on what LeBron could do. We held meetings with the city and other groups.  But after one meeting with Akron Public School System, [where LeBron went], we learned that high school dropout rate was 24%. This was definitely not where we wanted it to be.  To LeBron education is very important so we decided to take this problem and turn it into a program. This program had to have a long-term commitment for the children, to help them graduate, to see them through graduation, and help them through the ups and downs [of adolescence]. Between 2nd and 3rd grades, children are identified by Akron Public Schools as potentially at risk, and then they are invited to our program.  The only requirement is for the students to attend a two-week camp prior to the school year. LeBron established this as well. They must attend 8 out of the 10 camp days.  Here we teach [intervention tactics, technological skills, and more] so they feel equal or closer to their peers that may have a little more opportunity.

Once they complete camp, they are with Wheels for Education program. [Unlike a one-and-done] We closely follow the students’ progress and have a family reunion every year.  Its cool for the students to be a Wheels For Education Kid in elementary school but not for the 7th and 8th graders. As interests change at this age, we move them into the I Promise network.  Our initiatives here are designed for these older students.

The first question you asked about me, I answered very short, but when you get me talking about the program, I can talk all day.  I really love the work we are doing.

FCP: What is your most positive memory with The LeBron James Family Foundation?

MC: I also serve as COO for the business side of the house [LRMR] I do a lot of budgets, insurance, and legal work. So I see both sides.  The work I do with The Foundation is very rewarding. The letters I get, the calls I receive; they are all wonderful memories.  We invite parents and children to our advisory board meetings.  In a recent meeting we had a mother tell us that prior to our program her daughter couldn’t read and she didn’t want to go to school.  The mother was crying and said that now the daughter gets straight O’s [grade for ‘outstanding]. The help that she got from the program– and there are a million other stories. That’s the best part of my work with The LeBron Family Foundation.

FCP: What is one challenge you had to overcome in your current role?  What have you learned from that?

MC: LeBron is popular and well-known world wide, naturally people hear about the program.  I am contacted all the time by people asking to bring the program to Seattle, Detroit, Chicago, etc. The program works because of the authenticity and connection LeBron and our Foundation shares with the community of Akron.  What I tell them is if you have someone in your community who is an influencer like LeBron is in Akron; then we can help tailor fit a program around that.  But, our exact model can’t be picked up and used in any city; we work very hard to be authentic to the community. We aren’t trying to spread this foundation to 20 different locations. I always try and explain that.

Also, it is challenging for a growing program to attract sponsors. Many potential sponsors aren’t interested in Akron, Ohio. It’s a challenge when we have the high goals that we do to only lean on LeBron and fundraising to fuel everything.  We simply need more funds to activate our goals [scholarships, etc]

What I learned is that if you stay genuine and authentic to LeBron, his vision, and what we have done; then people truly connect. LeBron has made a promise to these kids.  He wears his I Promise band everyday. People ask what its for, they make their own promise, and the mFCPion is spread from there. These are sold for 1$ and these funds do help dramatically.

FCP: Following the class until graduation, the open updates from LeBron to the kids, or any of the other unique approaches LJFF has taken — How did these ideas originate?

MC: LeBron’s ultimate goal was to promote education.  This was important. Especially after identifying very low graduation rates.  He wanted to fix that.  We have three different advisory boards of experts [education, youths, other]. We rely on them to say what specific efforts will help.  LeBron created the vision and the drive.  His personality is highly evident as well.

FCP: Is there a negative development or trend with youths that you find most alarming?  Do you have a potential solution?

MC: For us, it is key to understand individual circumstances.  One of the things I’ve honed in on is the perspective of a parent. For the single parent, with two jobs and three kids, it is a challenge to be at everything at once. Parents and caregivers like this take the brunt of it.  [With our events] I always think about time of day and small things like that with the parent in mind to help alleviate the struggle.

FCP: Shifting gears a bit, what is your favorite book?

MC: Little Women. When I was young I wouldn’t really read in my free time, and if I did I wouldn’t have chose this one.  Having said that, it was the first book that I can remember thoroughly. I enjoyed reading and talking about it with my mom. The special memories attached to this always stuck out.

Right now, I am reading The Story of Greater Akron. It is really thrilling if you’re not from Akron, Ohio. It helps me learn more about the city and its intricacies.  I look forward to using this to help influence our program.

FCP: Lastly, do you have advice or tips for young people? This could be in general or in the philanthropy space

MC: Make good decisions and get help.  It’s all about working hard without giving into outside pressures. In a nutshell, that’s my best advice.

 Michele Campbell  – Chief Operating Officer, LRMR Management Company and Executive Director, LeBron James Family Foundation

Michele Campbell has spent many years pursuing her passion in the education sector. The Akron native attained her education from Ohio institutions including a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Ashland University, a Master’s degree from Kent State University’s Higher Education Administration, and a Doctorate from the University of Akron as a Doctor of Education. Following her own educational achievements, Campbell went to work at the University of Akron to help others pursue theirs. Beginning in 1993, Campbell served on several posts at the University including Coordinator of Greek Affairs, Associate Director of the Student Union, Interim Director of the Student Union, and finishing her service as the Assistant Dean for Student Life.

In 2006, Campbell set her educational sights on a new vision as the Chief Operating Officer of LRMR Management Company and the Executive Director of the LeBron James Family Foundation. Through the Foundation, which aims to positive affect the lives of children and young adults through education and co-curricular educational initiatives, Campbell brings LeBron’s vision to create positive and lasting change in his hometown of Akron to life through real, executable initiatives. Under Campbell’s direction, in 2011 the LeBron James Family Foundation began working on the high school dropout crisis facing the Akron community and launched its “Wheels for Education” program in partnership with the Akron Public Schools. This groundbreaking initiative targets third graders and provides them with the programs, support and mentors they need for success in school, following them all the way through graduation. Now in year three of the program, Campbell’s guidance has helped grow this thoughtful, research-based, and powerful program to more than 700 students, and will continue to expand as it takes on a new class of third graders each year. Capitalizing on the positive influence of LeBron and executing with the help of Akron community and educational leaders, the Foundation has successfully engaged and encouraged students to create positive change in their lives. With Campbell at the helm, the Foundation has taken this initiative nationwide to reach others passionate about personal and social responsibility through the I PROMISE network.

Campbell’s work with the LeBron James Family Foundation has allowed her to take her passion for education and extend it to children and families who need it most. Under LeBron’s direction, Campbell has successfully transformed the Foundation from a charity to a lifelong commitment whose impacts will be felt for generations to come.

 

High School Media Day Scores In Concept

The overall potential for high school sports properties regionally and nationally remains a hot button for media and marketers, with many bullish on the future as national brands seek hyper local activity, cash strapped school districts look for ways to bring in revenue and media use cost-efficient tools to tell very worthy stories and capture the drama of high school athletics both on a local and national stage. While some have criticized the commercialization and added media attention for national elite high school programs, the fact remains that local media coverage and brand engagement for programs has existed for as long as high school sports have been around. The local hero and legendary coach have always been there; there is more of a means to tell the story to a larger audience now.

A good example of the power and reach of the high school platform took place this past week in Seattle. MaxPreps, along with USA Football and the Seattle Seahawks, hosted the inaugural High School Media Day, inviting some of the area’s elite athletes and coaches to the practice facility of the reigning Super Bowl champs for a day of interaction amongst themselves and assembled media from across the region. It also served as a great opportunity for USA Football to unveil its latest best practice programs for proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting and to introduce to Heads Up Football® tackling fundamentals to both the athletes and to the media in attendance.

The concept served many purposes and will probably be set forth as a best practice for areas where football especially is king, and basketball is a close second . The event gave a wide swath of media a chance to talk to coaches and players they will be covering in an efficient time window, as opposed to the usual practice of tracking down coaches one at a time on the phone for several weeks. It also gave media the opportunity to learn more some additional coaches and student-athletes they might not get a chance to interact with once practice starts and schedules tighten, and exposed all more to the human side of sport rather than just the numbers or the video media may see during a hectic fall season. For MaxPreps, the day was also a great opportunity to gather regional content and place their brand front and center as one of the key sources for creative coverage of high school football.

For the coaches and student-athletes, the day served as an opportunity for them to get a feel for what the limelight can possibly be like going forward, when college or other opportunities come calling for many of the participants. For some it may be the only time they ever see such bright lights as well, and gives them an interesting time getting some deserved recognition.  The Seahawks media team stepped in prior to the sessions to do some prep work with the students and the coaches, face time that can be invaluable going forward when media come calling and there is no seasoned communications professional around to lend an opinion or assist in making sure an interview goes well.

Is there any downside to such an event on a regional level? Some may say doing this in July again increases the window for student-athletes when they should be away from the spotlight, but in reality it actually lessens distractions when camp starts and gives the coaches a chance to get comfortable with the media before the pressure of winning is out on more squarely.  Some may say casting the national shadow of MaxPreps on more local kids is undue pressure, but in reality the exposure with social and digital media is there regardless of this type of event, and the media day streamlines and organizes the process and makes it more well-rounded for all the schools in the area.  The cooperation of the local NFL team also creates even additional goodwill in the region, not to mention some memories for the athletes that will last a lifetime.

In the end, the high school media day really served as proof  concept for MaxPreps and for USA Football, and can probably be a revenue generator in partnership for the local district going forward should a sponsor be found that makes sense. It is an event that can be replicated in key geographic areas, and brings a level of professionalism (in a good way) to the media process surrounding high school athletics. It looks good, it sounds good and it takes pressure off of student-athletes and coaches which would have been applied once practice starts. The day was a help to the media in advancing and telling stories, and was a strong-cost efficient best practice for the coverage of high school sports, a hot platform that is growing by the week.

As Training Camp Opens, Giants Others Start Their “Quest” At Home…

It used to be a rite of summer as the local NFL team headed off to some far-off  college for several weeks of hardnosed, secretive out of the way training camp that as conducted without distractions. Fans had to travel to find you, media was restricted, and the business of football went on its merry way.

Today, only 12 of the NFL clubs venture beyond their home boundaries, and with millions spent on practice facilities and brands partners looking for more ROI, the home-grown training camp makes more and more sense, although it is still left up to the football side to determine what is best to set the tone for the season. Still, as teams sell their naming rights and try to find more ways to engage high end season subscribers, turning to home to get things started is becoming more the norm than traditions of the past.

One such team is the New York Giants, who will mark the first full year of a new title sponsorship for their training facility later this month, and will be home hard by Route 3 in east Rutherford as opposed to following their stadium partner, the New York Jets, out of town for training camp this week.

The new naming rights partner is Quest Diagnostics, the biggest provider of diagnostic information services in the world with $7.4 billion in revenue in 2013. Quest became the partner not just of the 20-acre facility late last summer. They will  work with the team in an effort to expand its new sports diagnostic business. The goal in year one has been simple; to become the leader in developing tests related to sports. This could lead to new information on how performance is affected by variables such as diet and hydration, led not just by Quest, but with the teams’ medical and training staff, led Ronnie Barnes, the team’s senior vice president of medical services.

For Quest, a publicly traded but conservative company, the move was a bold one. They are not a commercial  brand, so now one driving down Route 3 is going to run to a store and ask to buy Quest products, In many ways the consumer only knows the company when they have to take a medical procedure, and the doctor or health worker gives them a quest kit for some kind of test, so the relationship to consumer may even be an unpleasant one at first thought. There are benefits for Quest clients for sure, like hospitality and ticketing, and the association with an elite franchise like the Giants is a plus when discussing  business with salespeople and doctors. Maybe that gets Quest some added sales and visibility in a crowded medical marketplace, but the real benefit, if done right, is not now, but in the future.

Teams are constantly looking for more ROI on their dollar investment in their players, and a living and breathing partnership with Quest in athlete care and development puts the brand at the forefront of a very hot topic.  Breakthroughs with elite athletes can also morph into the private sector in healthcare as well. There is also an education factor involved with the consumer on health and well-being,  so clinics and other programs that Quest can partner with using Giants current and former players and staff to talk health and wellness in the community also makes great sense, and can have ancillary benefits as well.

In the end, the move seems to have been gradually fruitful in year one, with the most public-facing part of the partnership just starting with this training camp where thousands will flock to watch Big Blue practice and see those big Quest logos all around the field and the training center. While that decision to support a large partner was not the only one that factors into where a team does their preseason, it certainly doesn’t hurt a fledgling partnership, and is another example of why teams are increasingly staying home to get things started, as opposed to venturing out to places like Cortland, NY and Latrobe, Pa., settings which in the past made good football and business sense, but in today’s environment are becoming less of a necessity and more of a niche in the big business of the NFL.

Best Practices, Team PR: Josh Rawitch

As we have mentioned before we would like to highlight some of the best of the best in communications and marketing more regularly with a short q and a. We start it off with Arizona Diamondbacks SVP, Josh Rawitch.

One of the most respected team communications executives in professional sports, Josh Rawitch is entering his 20th season in Major League Baseball and third as Sr. Vice President of Communications with the D-backs. In this role, he is responsible for the internal and external communication efforts of the organization, including baseball and business public relations, media relations, publications, social media, photography and fan feedback.

During his tenure with the D-backs, the team has garnered increased attention locally, nationally and internationally, as it has been featured in outlets such as Yahoo!, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Bloomberg and the New York Times as well as dozens of outlets during goodwill tours of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Rawitch joined the D-backs following 15 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he was most recently the Vice President of Communications. At various points with the Dodgers, he oversaw the broadcasting and community relations departments. An early advocate of social media, the Dodgers became the first in Major League Baseball to create a program in which independent bloggers received media credentials and access to cover the team. Rawitch joined the Dodgers in 1995 in the Advertising and Special Events Department and spent parts of five seasons in the team’s marketing department before moving over to Public Relations in 2000. He left the organization for two seasons and helped to integrate MLB.com, the league’s official website, from an independently operated site to a profitable venture that now receives hundreds of millions of visits per season. During his time with MLB Advanced Media, Rawitch served as a daily beat reporter, covering the Dodgers (2001) and Giants (2002). He was the lone American journalist to cover the Caribbean Series, All-Star Game, League Division Series, LCS and World Series in 2002.

The Los Angeles native attended Indiana University, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Marketing and Management with a minor in Business. He currently teaches Strategic Sports Communications at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and was previously an adjunct professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication for two years.

What is the biggest challenge you see in the communications business today, and how is it best overcome?

The biggest challenge I think we face is the oversaturation of messaging, which makes it hard for any message to carry the weight needed to truly stick or have an impact. The speed of the news cycle is incredibly fast and therefore, more and more mistakes are made because there just isn’t the time to fully report it – an issue with which many of my journalist friends admit they often struggle. The best way to overcome the first issue, I think, is getting creative in the way we share the message so that it has a stickiness that wasn’t required 10 years ago. As for the latter issue, I’m not sure how to fix other than being honest with those who share the news and accepting that mistakes are going to be made given the nature of the news cycle. Just being human and recognizing that we work with other humans is probably a big step toward overcoming any issue.

Who is the person you learned the most from in your career and why?

Due to the high turnover during my years at the Dodgers (and MLB.com), fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), I’ve had almost 20 different bosses in 20 years in baseball, which is almost unfathomable. I’ve also worked under five different ownership groups, 10 managers and 8 General Managers, which has allowed me to learn the good and the bad from so many different people, it would be impossible to pick just one. That doesn’t even count some of my mentors in other departments and at other teams that I’ve leaned on for guidance. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I try to learn at least one thing from every person I come across – even if it’s something really minor.

What are you most proud of from a work perspective?

I’d like to believe that those I work for will say that I’m loyal and calm, even under difficult circumstances. I also believe that we were able to recognize early on the value of directly interacting with our fans/audience and utilizing newer platforms to do so (blogs, social media, etc.). But I think the thing I’m most proud of is the work the 30 MLB teams have done to raise more than $250,000 for Stand Up to Cancer in the last two years after seeing several of our colleagues affected by the disease.

Who do you learn the most from today?

Our President & CEO, Derrick Hall, has been a great mentor to me from my earliest days as an intern and just by watching him on a daily basis, I see what it takes to be a dynamic leader. He’s created a corporate culture that is extremely unique and I truly love working at the D-backs every day.

What has been your biggest disappointment?

I don’t really have any professional regrets, but I’ll continue to be disappointed until the day we win a World Series. Even though I may not have anything to do with how we play on the field, I watch it every year and truly want to know what it’s like to have that feeling that your franchise came out on top.

Who were a few of the people you enjoyed working with the most and why?

Most people I could name would not mean anything to those reading this, as they’re front office colleagues over the years that work hard and don’t really get much recognition. But of those high-profile people, I’d say that growing up listening to Vin Scully for my entire childhood (and now adulthood) and then working with him on a daily basis for so many years was a huge highlight because of his humility. The same goes for Joe Torre, whose baseball camp I attended as a kid and who understands people better than just about anyone I’ve met. Steve Sax was my favorite player growing up, so having him as a coach for a year with the D-backs and getting to know him was pretty cool. Luis Gonzalez is the best athlete I’ve ever worked with (and had him at both at the Dodgers and D-backs) but there are dozens of players who have come along, too, who treat everyone the same way regardless of their status and I’ve enjoyed each of those people quite a bit.

Who do you read or listen to regularly?

Admittedly, I’m addicted to my Twitter feed and probably read 10 articles a day from there on any number of topics. I try to read SportsBusiness Journal thoroughly each month and the Daily as often as possible. There are lots of sportswriters I like and respect and mostly I read biographies of accomplished people when it comes to books. I’ve got Sirius/XM in the car, so I listen mostly to news channels, the MLB channel and tons of music of every kind.

What is your biggest concern with the business of media and entertainment?

The fact that controversy and negativity is what generates clicks and drives the news cycle is definitely concerning, as I think there are far too many great stories out there that never get told because they’re seemingly not as attractive to a mass audience, but I’m guessing people in my shoes have been saying that for 25 years. I’d also say that the 24/7 nature of the industry makes it a challenge to achieve a semblance of work-life balance, but I think those of us in the industry knew what we were getting into and both accept and appreciate the lifestyle that goes along with it.

What’s the most positive change you have seen recently in business?

The access to information in real time is extremely exciting while the ability to watch/listen/read whatever you want, whenever you want, is obviously changing everything about the way we consume media and information.

What’s the thing that makes you stay focused and positive in your life?

My family is the most important thing and always keeps me grounded and happy, regardless of what may be happening professionally. Recognizing how fortunate I am to work in baseball and for this organization definitely keeps me focused, as I’m very aware that I get paid to do what tens of millions of people pay to do. I’ve always strived to be the best at whatever it was I was doing and I’ve known that if I slack off, there will be someone right there to take away this dream job and career.

Investing In a Heartbeat; q and a with Fantex

The latest in Tanner Simkins sitdowns with key executives is with Fantex CEO Buck French and their unique, and controversial, approach to literally investing in athletes…

Buck French is Co-Founder and CEO of Fantex Holdings, a company that offers investable securities linked to the performance of athlete entertainer brands. French, who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS from West Point, has been building successful businesses for nearly 20 years.  We recently caught up with French for a discussion on Fantex and more. A brief bio of French follows the Q&A.

 Full Court Press: For those who may be unfamiliar tell us a little about yourself and Fantex Holdings.

Buck French: I am cofounder and CEO of Fantex. I’ve spent close to 20 years as entrepreneur building tech companies. I built a tech company called OnLink Technology and sold that for $609M to Siebel Systems. I then built a $200M side of Siebel Systems into the largest eCommerce business in the world at the time. I built a network security turnaround company called build Securify which turned into Secure Computing. Basically, I’ve been building companies for 20 years.  The idea behind Fantex was to change the approach of building an athlete entertainer brand [in two main ways].  One, You can apply additional brand marketing techniques to athletes entertainer. And two, you have the ability to develop a security linked to the value and performance of the athlete brand. [The idea is] that these would lead to a level of advocacy out in the marketplace. If you were able to sell a security to the general public and they had an ownership interest…we felt one day that would marry well with social media and advocacy to help build the brands into the post-career.

FCP: How did the idea originate?

BF: Dave Bur, my fellow cofounder, came up with original idea. He was working with john Elway, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretsky on a company called MVP.com. Dave, also was one of the leading partners at Benchmark Capital, a leading silicon valley VC firm. [Benchmark Capital] was involved with eBay and companies like that. Dave noticed that these athlete brands had unique attributes. And it wasn’t that they were the greatest to have ever played the position. That didn’t mean you had a consumable brand like Elway, Jordan, Gretsky.  [Identifying those that do] really became the nexus to start investigating this concept.  Again maybe you do not obtain this level of brand status as a Jordan or Elway but [brands] are about creating audiences of various sizes. Dave felt there was an approach where we could ultimately do that. That was really the genesis. [Prior] Dave brought me into Securify where he was on the board. After we sold that company he approached me and said ‘are you interested in building this company [Fantex]?’ That was the start.

FCP: Tell us about the business model

BF: Our business model is to increase the branding associated with athlete entertainers. Ultimately everyone’s interests are aligned. If we can generate awareness and interest with the brand then the brand can activate on that awareness.  This turns into income, which then flows into Fantex. This is all positive for everyone.

FCP: Thus far, what is the greatest success at Fantex?

BF: Milestone is better word in my opinion. The best milestone is happening right now: our ability to actually offer shares in an IPO to the general public.  This security is linked to the value and performance of the athlete’s brand. This is a tremendous milestone that we worked 2 years to achieve.

FCP: What is one challenge you had to overcome?  What have you learned from that?

BF: To generate enough awareness and education where someone feels comfortable investing dollars into Fantex. Approximately 10 shares of Fantex Vernon Davis cost the same as a jersey; but there is a mental barrier. It is crucial to build up the level of trust and awareness and that’s what are building right now

FCP: What qualities do you look for with the athletes?

BF: We have a defined methodology for the athlete brands that we are interested in working in. They have to have a high degree of character, and their brand has to be multidimensional. They’re not just great athletes because you can’t really build a sustainable brand on that. Therefore, we look for multidimensional aspects that many of these athletes and entertainers do have, but we as the general public aren’t exposed to this. We look for character, a multidimensional aspect, interesting, articulate; those are the key big bucket items. We are not looking to work with everyone – it doesn’t fit everyone. But there is a large pool out there where this does fit, and we want to work with as many of them as possible.

FCP: Where do you see Fantex in 5 years?

BF: Today’s the first step and the process of getting the first offering out the door. In 5 years, hopefully there’s a lot [Fantex users] across the world of sport and entertainment. Its been tried before in different flavors people have not been able to achieve it. At the end the day competitors just tell you have a good idea. I welcome it I jump on in and the waters warm

FCP: Are you working on any other projects we should know about?

BF: No, all I work on is Fantex.  If you’ve never done an early stage business, if you get distracted on iota, you have it give it your all everything you got. And that’s what I’m doing. That’s paid good dividends in the past and I expect it to do so in the future. Everyone here, the entire team, is focused on building a great company that helps build great brands out in the marketplace. Hopefully, the plan is to make everyone successful. That’s the only thing I’m doing. [laughs] And occasionally I see my family, that’s my hobby.

FCP: What are some industry trends or developments that you are closely following?  

BF: The major one is what we are partaking in, the ongoing development of athlete brands beyond just there on field performance. I think Fantex is just the next step on what social media started, which was giving the athlete brand a voice. That was step 1. This next step is the brand development that Fantex is providing. I think that is a natural trend. The team brands will always sustain and be out there. But as you see this fragmentation of media, which we are living through, pools of hyper localized audiences will be created. Athlete entertainer brands will be much more granularly applied to that audience. We’re just one piece of what a larger overall trend of athlete brands that can potentially drive an audience. 

FCP: What is your favorite book?

BF: Unbroken.  If you are going to be an entrepreneur read that book. Its not about being an entrepreneur. It’s about perseverance, strength of will, dedication, never giving up, and belief, all core attributes you need to be successful as an entrepreneur. Its an amazing story.

FCP: Lastly, do you have advice or tips for young people? This could be general or related to finance, sports business, etc

BF: The best tip I can give anyone is to know your passion.  Don’t follow the paycheck. That will come if you follow your passion and what you are really truly deep down in your core interested in. Don’t say I got to pay my student loan or pay my bill; those are short term. If you go after what you are passionate about, whatever it is, you will be great at it because you will love it.  If you are great at it you will be paid for it. …I love what I do every day its awesome. I get to build a company and work with great people. …You got to love it or you will be average and who wants to be average. I don’t.

Buck serves as our Chief Executive Officer and a Co-Founder of Fantex Holdings. Buck brings to Fantex Holdings his extensive management, business development, financial and strategic planning experience. Previously, Buck founded and served as CEO of OnLink, which sold to Siebel systems. He then built and ran Siebel Systems eCommerce business unit. He was also CEO & Chairman of Securify and led its sale to Secure Computing. Buck holds an MBA from Harvard University and a BS in Economics and General Engineering from West Point.

 

Laying Down The Law; Sports-Style

Here is the latest interview our Tanner Simkins did with some elite professionals in sports business; this one with Columbia profesor and sports law leader Carla Varriale

 

Carla Varriale is a leading sports lawyer with a honed focus on venue litigation.  We recently sat down with the HRRV partner for a reflection on her career and commentary on the changing sports law landscape.  Varriale’s brief bio is provided after the Q&A

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Full Court Press: For those who may be unfamiliar, tell us about yourself and your work?

Carla Varriale: I am a Partner in a law firm I founded with several other lawyers about ten years ago. It is one New York’s few female-owned law firms—we own sixty percent of the equity in the firm.  My law practice is mostly litigation (spectator injuries/security issues are a specialty within that specialty).  I do some contract drafting and review– I like to create waivers of liability! I work with some local sports teams and clients who are in the fitness and recreation industries. I also teach Sports Law and Ethics at Columbia. This summer, I will lead the summer project and study the controversial sport of Mixed Martial Arts (“MMA”) and efforts to bring it back to New York where it has been banned since 1997. We will study the arguments for and against sanctioning the sport, analyze why the legislation to allow it here has failed and  how the sport could be regulated to address some of its detractor’s concerns if it is sanctioned. We may be the first class to study MMA in the country.

 FCP: Why sports?

CV: I was not a sports fan (but the Nets are changing that) but I am a fan of the business of sports. Sports law is an amalgam of tort, contract, antitrust , discrimination and constitutional law. And more! I am weaving in more criminal law cases in my Sports Law and Ethics class  in recent years because criminal issues seem to be coming into focus more and more. Sports law is a tapestry woven from several disciplines that I like and found interesting. There is always something in the news with this industry and it certainly ignites people’s passions. What lawyer would not want to work against that sort of backdrop?

 FCP: Describe your leadership style?

CV: Direct. I practice transparency. Although I am naturally a collaborative person, I prefer strong central management versus diffused authority and decision making. Otherwise things never get done. For management purposes, I think I am a benevolent dictator.

 FCP: What are some industry trends or developments that you are closely following?

CV:  I jokingly refer to the NCAA as sports law’s gift that keeps on giving—I think the rights of student-athletes (or student-employees) will be at the forefront of our discussions. Between the O’Bannon and Jenkins cases and the recent efforts by the Northwestern football team to unionize, I think we may see a seismic shift in what it means to be a student-athlete and the rights of college athletes in general.

 FCP: Who is someone you learned the most from? What did they teach you?

CV:  I had (and still have) a wonderful mentor that I met at my prior firm named Stanley Kolber. He was a senior lawyer and counsel to my first firm out  of law school.  Even though we worked in different departments, he took an interest in my professional development. He is retired now and a noted nature photographer, but we are in touch and he remains a trusted advisor. When I was a young lawyer, he gave me no-nonsense, unvarnished  feedback—sometimes it was difficult to hear but that is the difference between a mentor and a cheerleader. However,  I appreciated his vantage point and knew that he was pushing me to be my best self personally and professionally. One of his  things he said was that not every horse takes the bit—I took the bit.  He also encouraged me to develop hobbies and interests outside of work—lawyers, like many professionals, can easily work all the time and that’s just not desirable. Stanley used to say “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” I am only now realizing how true that is.

FCP:  What is your biggest regret?

CV: I do not believe in regrets, it’s just not part of my DNA, but  do believe in lessons. And I have learned plenty.

I had insomnia for years, it was self-driven. It now seems so unnecessary that I did  that to myself.

FCP: If you go back, what would you tell you?

CV: It’s going to be alright, lighten up.

 FCP: What was the last book you read?

CV: I am a  passionate reader and I always have three books going at the same time. I just read Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides and it was fantastic-I stayed up late every night until I finished it. Right now, I am reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. She is a journalist who writes beautifully about inhabitants of the worst slums on earth.  I love history and I am trying to finish Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Anyone who is interested in management and leadership would do well to read that book—it is breathtaking.

 FCP: Any tips for aspiring sports professionals who may be reading this?

CV: Lend a hand to those before you and those after you—it is important to try to help someone on his or her career path. It is part of your professional development as well. Volunteer your time, get involved in alumni activities, write for industry publications, mentor someone formally or informally. This is my idea of networking.

And keep on top of the news—by that I do not necessarily mean blogs or the sports pages—read The Wall Street Journal, industry publications, keep on top of the Supreme Court decisions. I subscribe to Twitter feeds for a variety of sports  industry professionals and law professors to help me digest the vast amount of information about developments in antitrust, labor, risk management.    Now you know why I have to make time to sleep!

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Carla Varriale is an attorney with Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale, LLP, and has litigated cases for Major League Baseball teams and players, minor league teams, and various clients in the recreation and sports industries. Varriale has won dispositive motion victories in cases involving injuries arising out of promotional activities at sporting venues. She writes and lectures on issues of interest to sports, recreation, and entertainment venues. In her practice, she counsels entities with self-insured retentions regarding methods to minimize exposure and the development of successful risk management and litigation strategies, with a focus on security issues.

Want A Piece of The Cavs? Invest In the Bench…

With all the LeBron James news and the talk of skyrocketing ticket prices, ample TV appearances, out of control franchise valuations and all else round the Cavaliers, it will be interesting to see who the smart, calm head identify as key engagement opportunities around the LeBron return. Will brands try and tie up Kyrie Irving even more? How about Anderson Varejao, there flamboyant, international star soon to be a free agent?  Do you roll with the ever-improving Tristan Thompson, or a rookie like Andrew Wiggins, with lots of upside? They all will surely get their fair share.

However a guy who could be an even better bet for brand stability is someone who won’t even put on a uniform. New head coach David Blatt.  The skeptical may say Blatt is being thrown into a pressure cooker which could quickly spit him out, with wasted time and wasted money for brands.  Very, very doubtful. Blatt, for the right brands, would be the safest investment this side of LeBron. Why? Teams now are investing more and more in the long term culture of an organization more than the quick fix. Blatt comes to the Cavs before LeBron as a global commodity; a successful basketball lifer who has a reputation for getting the respect of his players around the world, and one who gives that respect back. He is multi-lingual, multi-national and has turned very turbulent situations around in places like Russia and Israel, all the while keeping strong ties and respect with the hierarchy of NBA coaching circles. While Erik Spoelstra was somewhat of an unknown quantity outside of coaching circles when he took over the Miami Heat and gained LeBron, Blatt is a known international commodity who could become a coaching star regardless of the performance of his returning superstar now.

So what type of brands invest in a coach new to the NBA? Some will depend on his level of comfort doing things outside of his given duties. The goal is to win with the Cavs and focus there, but that doesn’t mean opportunities can’t arise. The low hanging fruit are apparel companies who can dress Blatt as he becomes a TV fixture during games. There are international brands on the business side like law firms and even law and tax firms that now spend dollars against having a key spokesperson with little public effort; it would be much more behind the scenes entertaining and talking hoops. Educational businesses could benefit from a well-traveled American who speaks several languages, and that is just the start. Yes, the choices have to be wise and incremental, with a look to the future as the team evolves.

The future should include a carefully picked coach as well as his superstar players,  and if you are a brand looking to find a spot in the hubbub, grabbing its affordable rising star on the bench, might be a safer bet than grabbing one on the floor.

Cavs Win In Social With LeBron, But Heat Haven’t Lost…

We went to the folks at MVP Index to take a look at the LeBron effect is early on in social, and to debunk the myth that Heat fans evaporated…here ya go

What impact can one man have on a brand? Ask the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James’ decision to pick his first team over the Miami Heat seems to have had an invigorating effect on a sleepy sports brand in social media.

 The Cavs, with a Twitter amplification rate of 0.86, could definitely use a boost. That boost was provided in earnest when  James took his talents and his 213.27 amplification rate to Cleveland. On the day Sports Illustrated dropped the story of James’ return home, Cleveland’s mentions went from 15  per hour on July 8 to a staggering 3,118 mentions per hour on the day of Decision II. An even larger change is seen in their retweet rate. On July 8, the Cavs were seeing a retweet rate of 14.54 retweets per hour, and on the day of the decision their hourly retweet rate reached 6,202.35 per hour.

The changes weren’t just on Twitter, either. The Cavaliers’ Facebook account also experienced some dramatic changes. 23,259 more people were “talking about” the Cavaliers on July 12 than they were on July 11. That is a 96% increase in people interacting with the Cavaliers’ Facebook account in one day. They also experienced positive changes in their comment rate (307%), Like Rate (77%), and Share Rate (75%) over the same time period.

What about their reach? Before his decision on July 11, the Cavaliers’ Twitter account 336,967 followers. As of July 12, the Cav’s have 370,421, a 9.92% increase in their followers. On Facebook, the Cavs had 1,700245 likes before the decision, and on July 12 they stand at 1,773,792 likes. The Cavaliers gained 73,547 likes in just over one day due to the decision.

How do fans react when their star leaves? We can’t speak for everyone, but it’s widely assumed that the Miami Heat fans are “bandwaggoners.” An account named NBA Legion stated that the Miami Heat had lost 300,000 followers in a tweet that earned 29,585 retweets. That’s a really interesting story, and were it true, we would have seen some real data that backed up the bandwaggoner claim. It’s just not true. The Heat actually have increased their following by a marginal 1,393 people, bringing their Twitter fan base to 2,671,454.

The Cavaliers can gain more than just NBA Titles with the reacquisition of LeBron James, they now have an opportunity to resurrect their brand in social media. The immediate impact LeBron James has on a brand is impressive, but what will really be interesting to watch is Cleveland’s ability to continue growing and engaging with their fans at a steady clip. With LeBron’s added reach and influence, they can capitalize on their revitalized fan base and win sponsorships, move merchandise, and increase ticket sales.

Maui Jim Scores In Social

The eyeglass market is not an easy one to cut through in sports. Oakley, Ray Ban and others spend millions marketing, signing athletes and then creating custom product to engage fans and gain market share. However there are brands that can disrupt and find ways to cut through the clutter with some unique platforms.

Maui Jim is one. Named after the pet parrot belonging to one of the founders, with a bird  for the company’s mascot, the American-based manufacturer is certainly not a small spender or newcomer in the space, but they have found a way using lifestyle through select sports ties to engage and grow brand, especially in the past few years. Known for their UV-Ray blocking polarized lenses with an oceanic, sporty theme, the company has not looked to celebrity to spread their word in sport, they have gone to the power of the social engagement at large events away from professional sports.

Maui Jim sponsors the Rock-n-Roll Marathon series and then takes a deep dive not into sponsoring elite runners, but with the fans engaged along the route. They interact online with people at the race, set up a big screen TV with Tagboard and post photos live at the event using the hashtag #mauijim and then create video content to showcase the event and the runners. The result is that the Tagboard becomes am hourly destination not just for people on site, but for thousands following online from remote locations who can engage with those in and around the race. There are passionate runners, but also friends and family who follow along and build loyalty to the site for its information and its photos, an ultimately for the brand. Occasional promotions are factored in, but more importantly, Maui Jim becomes synonymous with the fun and the healthy lifestyle surrounding the massive road races and their party-like atmosphere.

 A similar trial was put forth this year at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. College baseball is often overlooked as a property with value, but the College World Series is a crown jewel, a destination every year for thousands not just from the participating schools but from around the country looking for a warm weather celebration of the collegiate game. During the College World Series, Louisville Slugger Bats partnered with Maui Jim to put a Louisville Slugger bat at their booth and had fans try and find the bat via a scavenger hunt. The result was a win for both brands; it linked a longtime NCAA partner to a social consumer brand, and also gave Maui Jim a boost in awareness from fans who know the bat name but might not have known the lower key sunglass brand. The tags on the photowall doubled, and it unleashed the potential for a brand that knows the viral space to work with a bigger brand that is not competitive in the space to increase its bandwidth. While many large apparel brands do have lifestyle lines that include sunglasses, a beverage line could be ripe for a future partnership, much like Louisville Slugger was at the CWS.

So what does this show?  Smart nontraditional, cost effective thinking by Maui Jim does work to grow their brand awareness in a tight space. It doesn’t spend millions, but it can at least get ROI on millions of impressions that can resonate well away from their sponsored events. Their promotions are fun, interactive, have shelf life and can be shared, and that sharing, along with a database that is built when fans engage, can be just as valuable to their strategy as an elite athlete could. It is not a throw stuff against the “social” wall and see what works strategy; it is well thought out and reflects what the brand would like to achieve through engagement; awareness first, sales and loyalty second.

Somewhere down the line could there be a bigger Maui Jim push into sports? Maybe, but mainstream masses are not their market. They are quality, niche and lifestyle, and their programs, approach and execution reflect that, smart targeted spends to draw the buzz and the eyeballs, albeit ones behind some slick shades.