As NBA Season Tips, Three Ideas That Score…

As the NBA season gets going, here are three of the many best practices teams have put forth this past week, with many more to come.

Sixers, Media, Mix It up: The relationship between teams and media members is probably as cautious and contentious in some cases as it has ever been, but some teams and officials still do “get it,” and understand that there needs to be a co-existence as both professionals, and more importantly, as people. Case in point this past week was the Sixers hosting a pickup game for all their media with team staff. CEO Scott O’Neil loves to ball, and mixed in with media members big and small from all over the area.

It was a simple, fun way to connect with those who cover the team at every level, and certainly scores points with a little extra effort for when times will be tough for the Sixers, and most predict it will be a long rebuilding winter. In years past the Sixers were known for doing little things for the media that did not appear in print and online; extra snacks, making sure everyone got giveaways, birthday and holiday cards, things which years ago for most teams were seen as important but which have fallen by the wayside with slimmer budgets for many organizations.

Those little things go a long way in developing relationships which are more important today than ever before, as teams look to build their brands and access fans in every conceivable way.

Now maybe every team doesn’t have a CEO to go on court, but a little humanity; a note here, a card there, a question about one’s family here and there, certainly doesn’t hurt and should be the rule, not the exception, no matter how a team is doing on the field.

Warriors and Weibo: The Golden State Warriors continue to find ways to engage audiences outside their borders. The recently surpassed one million followers on Weibo the Chinese social media platform akin to a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter, and is one of China’s most popular websites.

With a fan base that can be largely Asian in the Bay area, and a growing global presence of the NBA in China, the effort makes great sense not just for Golden State but for all clubs looking to expand brand beyind their borders. There are little restrictions on engagement abroad in the social space by the NBA, and using content already in place to seed new markets is very smart, and a trend that should grow. It also gets the Warriors brand front and center with an audience that could pull in remote sponsors or find brands looking to engage for the first time in the States.

Now an engagement like this should not be taken lightly, and you need to understand censorship, culture and posting rules to be effective, but the Weibo Warriors work is a great example of a team casting its net a little wider and doing a little extra to engage in the digital space, with the rewards yet to come.

Clippers Let Fans Choose: Our friends at Sporttechie also found this little gem, with the LA Clippers scoring on a “first,” using a technology which lets fans choose replays being shown on video boards and then getting those fans the credit for selection on the board itself. It is a great way to keep fans even more focused and engaged during the game, provided that the mobile connectivity at Staples Center is up to snuff. The new engagement platform is also highly sponsorable, and can geo-target those engaging and send them push messages for promotions targeted only to them, as a reward for engagement.

As mobile connectivity improves in all arenas, push engagement and these type of fan-driven contests will grow pretty quickly, but Steve Ballmer seems to have found himself in a “first” for his first season as Clippers owner.

West Virginia’s Global Promo Scores Big Points…

The West Virginia University has some of the longest treks of any school in the country because of its far off affiliations with the largely Midwest and Southwest schools of the Big 12. It is a lot harder to build rivalries when you are no longer playing Pitt or Syracuse or even Maryland regularly. The level of competition is certainly steep, but so is the travel.

However the school took on a newer initiative on October 25, one which transcends every border thorough the digital space, and pulled together anyone with even a slight affinity to the Mountaineers from around the world.

The staged “Mountaineer Nation Day,” when fans were encouraged to show their pride and passion for WVU through 341 watch parties in 13 countries, including Mountaineer bashes in Canada, Colombia, Ireland, Germany, France, China, Malaysia and Aruba. With its global alumni base of 190,000+, the school has relied heavily on satellite events to encourage the wearing of blue and gold during one away football game each season as a sort of homecoming away from home. Working with their partners at IMG College and Collegiate Licensing, WVU carefully targeted and used every social platform available to build awareness and then affinity of the game with all the trappings included.

The social element this year included the creation of six Vine videos to share and post for the game against Oklahoma State. The short videos featured fans, students, The Pride of West Virginia Marching Band, The Mountaineer mascot, and school President Gordon Gee. The Vines posted twice a week during October, leading up to the matchup and were hosted on the WVU Sports Vine account and also found on

On game day, the site became a real time rallying point, with fans submitting photos to show their pride from around the world, with WVU targeting key groups who showed the most affinity to give away prizes like officially licensed jewelry, custom Mountaineer apparel, Mountaineer toys, and Mountaineer dog items.

While many schools do viewing parties on a regular basis, the fact that WVU was able to link their global network together and use the social space to have all those fans interact before, during and after the game was a great next step in fan engagement, and in many ways made the distance between Morgantown and those other Big 12 schools just a little bit closer, at least in the virtual space. It set a great example of how well schools can use remote locations to create a bigger community, because of the affinity people have with social media today.



Nice win on and off the field for the Mountaineers.

MLB Scores With Charitable World Series Execution…

For all the talk about baseball needing to catch up with the times, the traditions of how the game is played remain hallowed ground, and one of those traditional points of execution is the sacrifice; literally giving your chance at glory up to move a runner along. Sometimes as we focus on the glory of the big hit or the big strikeout, those little nuances get lost.
During the World Series, sacrifice is not only something that is part of the game on their field. As Commissioner Bud Selig puts a ribbon on his time as commissioner, he has helped lead the charge to do something few sports entities would ever do in the scramble to get out every last dollar; he had baseball, on each of the first four game of the World Series; sacrifice airtime that could be sold, to highlight four key causes. Now this is not to say that every sport doesn’t do its part with community programs; the NFL’s work with breast cancer awareness is seen front and center every October, and the NBA just completed a huge cross-league community service project. However for MLB to give up signage and large tracts of airtime for a cause in each of the first four games of the World Series was certainly different and worthy of a best practice shout out.
It reinforces the message, from the top, that sport, in this case baseball, has a mantra that should be much more about community and positive messaging than about commercialism, at least for a short time.
The four causes that drew the massive outreach on FOX and in stadium were: veterans and military families, ALS awareness, Cancer prevention and research and Youth outreach initiatives. The causes certainly are not unusual to sport at all, and all four are routinely highlighted and supported throughout the season locally and nationally in MLB. However the sport went above and beyond in driving attention and celebration to each of these four carefully-selected initiatives with events away from the field and then throughout the night during Games one to four. Players, young people, coaches, celebrities and broadcasters all took part in the constant celebration and call to action. Signage behind home plate and in broadcast, which is usually part of high impact sponsorships, were dedicated to the initiatives, each of which used the night as a culmination of all the activity that took place during the season.
Now baseball has a great deal of advantages in pulling off such events over other sports. The natural breaks in the game, the lack of a clock, and the ample time announcers can discuss the initiatives all play in baseball’s favor to carefully execute a wide-ranging plan throughout the course of a game. Trying to pull off such a multi-faceted activation in other sports which have constant action, like soccer or hoops or hockey, or another one with a clock and a full focus just on the field, like football, would be very difficult to do.
However even with that advantage, baseball took the time to carefully identify, then plan out and execute these community and charitable plans game by game, which scored tons of goodwill and positive reinforcement around the action itself. Are there drawbacks? Sure. The cynical will say the first four games are traditionally the lowest rated, and the lack of being able to predict any series going beyond four limits such a multi-level execution to just the first four games, but in the end, the planning and the placement is a wonderful execution for baseball, and puts a very positive cap on all that these four causes have done for the year.
Say what you want about late times and lower ratings, but from an execution standpoint it’s hard to argue that the charity initiatives hit a homer with MLB on a massive scale.

D-League Grows At Tip Off…

Next week the NBA season will tip off, with LeBron’s return to Cleveland, Phil Jackson reshaping New York, Miami revamping itself, Kobe coming back to action in LA and the Spurs looking to defend. However shortly after the NBA gets rolling, the NBA D-League will kick off its season, with perhaps the best strategic positioning the league has ever had.
D-League as a viable business platform? A few years ago the thought of a D-League franchise sent marketers and owners running for cover. The League was a business loss leader, with no real hope of marketing or business success. However under then-commissioner Dan Reed, and with a new approach and additional time investment by clubs, the D-League changed and has transformed more into what was the original vision of then-Commissioner David Stern; to be a great testing and proving ground both national for basketball and locally for clubs. A growing number of teams now have used their own partially or wholly owned D-League clubs not just to develop and mold their on-court talent, but to grow their sports business and media groups as well, and along the way have increased their fan development side like baseball, and in some ways hockey have done for years. Teams like the Golden State Warriors have a D-League club in Santa Cruz that has the look and feel of their parent club, while at the same time bringing in several million dollars in sponsorship and promotional dollars. The Sixers have their team in nearby Wilmington, using those assets for fan development in an area where the assets of the parent club could not always focus. The Detroit Pistons are making a bigger effort to market to a wider audience through their new affiliation with the Grand Rapids Drive, once a hotbed of minor league hoops. The Knicks will use their new White Plains-based team to test new marketing initiatives and bring a little more of their team-branded feel back to the county where so many fans reside but may not make it into the City for games all the time, in an area not far from their practice facility in Greenburgh. All of the parent teams can use these D-League clubs as a way to hone new programs with brands that may not be able to engage with the lofty dollars associated with an NBA partnership but still crave an association with pro hoops.
For the NBA itself, the D-League becomes a great test market for new rules, coaching changes and even sponsorship with things like branded patches on uniforms and ways to engage in wearable tech devices, all of which can be tried out in real time in solid markets without infringing on the sanctity of the NBA. It also makes more sense for the teams themselves to have more control of D-League franchises from a personnel standpoint, using their D-League to craft and mold players not yet ready while keeping them close to home to watch that development in person. The Lakers D-League team for example, plays and practices in their practice facility, a model which Phil Jackson will have with his club now in New York (although their games will be not that far away at the Westchester County Center).
So what does this mean for other markets, even a state like New Jersey? With Philly and the Knicks having much closer relationships, the once-New Jersey and now Brooklyn Nets have aligned themselves with a team in Springfield, Mass for now. Wouldn’t it make sense, given the affluent and basketball-crazed environment in The Garden State, to pursue a relationship closer by to develop and rekindle some marketing and brand affiliation in New Jersey? While the Prudential and Izod Centers are too big for a D-League budget, college arenas like the one at Monmouth University on the affluent and commuter-friendly Jersey Shore could make sense, along with a place like Jersey City, which has the Yanitelli Center at St. Peter’s College not that far from the Barclays Center. The Nets organization also has an ongoing relationship with Nassau Coliseum which will now be targeted for redevelopment, but their focus for Long Island is to rope fans into Brooklyn more. New Jersey as a state has found become very fertile ground during the summer months for minor league baseball, with clubs like the Lakewood Blue Claws doing very well as businesses. The winter months, not so great these days, with no minor league hockey anywhere in the State today. So why not the D-League? It has become a burgeoning business, and the state has the facilities and the fan base, not to mention the local businesses who love to engage in sport.
It is an interesting proposition to look at as fans try and find affordable spends for their discretionary dollars across a long winter.

Brand Re-Launch For Smith Brothers Nothing To Sneeze At…

If you are of certain age you remember The Smith Brothers Cough Drop. With their signature bearded brothers and shiny box, the cherry-flavored drops were not only around when you had a cough or a sore throat, but often times were used as candy when other items weren’t around. However in the uber competitive, high spend marketing world of cold products, Smith Brothers disappeared from the marketplace in favor of brands like Hall’s, and Cold-eeze, and Ricolah, many of whom spent big time in the sports space.

However as a story by Danny Ecker in Crains Chicago pointed out this week, because of some sports ties, The Smith Brothers, with some new found equity money and some ties to the ice, are making a comeback.

The tie was through the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that under President John McDonough has undergone quite a brand revival of its own even without its pair of Stanley Cups. The key link between hockey and the cough drops was the beard. A longtime staple of superstition in the NHL postseason, the beard growing has morphed in recent years into a cause celebre’ for fans and for charities looking to engage in hockey playoff fever, with Beard-A-Thins popping up in almost every NHL market. The unshorn, rough and tumble look as also been embraced in other sports for the postseason, especially baseball, where the Red Sox beards were the stuff of legend during their second World Series run. However hockey and beards are really where it started, and those bearded cough drop-promoting brothers came along at the right time last winter.
With little traditional marketing spent, Smith Brothers staged a call to action last winter in Chicago with Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, and had over 1,000 fans turned out at of all places a Walgreens for the brand coming out party, albeit one with the Stanley Cup. They repeated the promo, actually a co-promotion with Walgreens with the Hawks Duncan Keith, and again turned out a solid crowd on a busy day. The affinity with the Blackhawks served as a great entrée for the brand in its home market.

Their “Bring Back the Beards” slogan has also been a big help, as has their use of two actors bringing the brothers to life to participate in the promos, all again, without the mega-spending of many of their new-found competitors in the market. The expansion of the program will see “Beard Nights” at the United Center and a branded “Beard Cam” in the building, as well as probably an expansion of the Walgreens co-promotional partnership.

There is also talk, according to the story, of bearded brand extensions into hockey-solid markets like Boston and New York, also solid Walgreens areas, pulling in players like Zdeno Chara and Henrik Lundqvist into the mix, which should lead to a natural extension of the program when the beards really come out in hockey next spring, maybe even tied to existing charity programs, with a natural affinity to the health and wellness category.

But how about outside of hockey? How about tying to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s ever-growing beard with the Houston Texans, or Brett Keisel with the Pittsburgh Steelers? The crossover into the NFL would be a much bigger spend than for the NHL marks, but who knows what natural affinity could grow (no pun intended) out of the beard promotion and beard awareness that seems to spiral into every sport not on a track or a pool these days.

The Smith Brothers logo, and its story, also extends to those 40 and above who recall the brand from their youth, which could help ease the company into more homes without a massive relaunch at first. Then again, it looks like the Blackhawks have gotten them back in the game.
Now make no mistake, cute and smart local viral promotions, even in a major market, don’t translate into national sales and success overnight, especially when there is private equity money involved which is looking for immediate ROI and low spending to get there and you are going up the massive marketing programs of big pharma.

Even with those obstacles, it’s nice once again to see a brand that found a way to engage with the right partner at the right time and is leveraging its initial success into a much larger play. Certainly nothing to sneeze…or cough…at.

Little School, Little Budget, Tries To Make A Bigger Splash…

The biggest college sports business news in the New Jersey this fall thus far has come from Piscataway obviously, where the Scarlet Knights are finding their way through their first year in the Big Ten across the board in sports large and small, with the loudest noise coming with their upset of Michigan two weeks ago. Whether the move to the Big 10 will benefit the conference, which touts New Brunswick as being just outside New York with every chance they get, or to the University (who should get a bigger cut of the financial pie not just for athletics but for academic programs as well, as the story goes) is up for some debate, but from a buzz and brand story the change seems to be off to a good start.

However Rutgers isn’t the only University in New Jersey with a shot at a sports business bounce. Monmouth and its football move to the Big South Conference should continue to increase its early fall presence, and its place in a vibrant community during basketball season should also continue to help its brand grow during the winter for hoops. Seton Hall’s ever-challenging position in The Big East, along with playing almost all of its games at the cavernous Prudential Center away from campus can be both a blessing in good years and a huge challenge in others, while a school like Rider can find ways to engage in the Trenton-area with business and a community that likes to support its own. Same with St. peters in Jersey City, a mid-major in the MAAC that has done well at times in drawing from the community and the ever-changing makeup around the Yanitelli Center

One program which could be on the upswing as a brand is Fairleigh Dickinson University. Spread out across several campuses, the University’s Division I sports are housed in Teaneck, with hoops playing at the Rothman center, just seconds from a slew of businesses and commuters off of Route 4. Under personable men’s basketball coach Greg Herenda, the school made some nice noise early last year by knocking off both Rutgers and Seton Hall in the same week, a rare double, but went on to have just a 10-21 record for the season. With a slew of new players, FDU should continue to improve on the court, and if so could be in a position from a brand standpoint to make some sports business noise as well.

The biggest reason is Herenda as the face of the program. A basketball lifer, the Jersey City native is one of the most respected and well known faces on the college scene, especially in the Northeast. He has used his personality to up the talent pool, but has also hit the business and student recruiting trail, hosting a weekly radio show on the schools well-listened to public radio station, WFDU on Sundays. His show has had a nice list of guests ranging from Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun to Charlotte Bobcats mentor Steve Clifford and Kentucky’s John Calipari, and no doubt the list will grow over the winter. It creates a niche, especially in the digital space, that can give the Knights a bit of an edge. Then there is the Rothman Center and the community itself. Sitting just a few miles from one of the most vibrant business corridors in the Northeast, the facility is an under-marketed sports gem for casual fans or for brands to activate against, and for families to check out hoops. Finding new and innovative ways to get the players, both men’s and women’s teams, more into the community for events and to use Herenda’s charm to get businesses and local programs to come out and support the Knights is a challenge, but also now presents a great opportunity. The sponsorships may not bring in huge dollars at first, but effective in-kind partnerships with any and all mall employees and businesses in the area can certainly raise brand awareness and can lift the profile and the opportunity of all involved. FDU also has a growing sports marketing program with tis students that could also generate even more awareness in Bergen County, perhaps the most populous county in the Northeast, if not the country, without a pro sports team to support and call its own. So why not the Knights?

Of course there remain challenges. FDU is limited on its marketing budget and staff, and Bergen County presents lots of challenges as well as opportunity to cut through the clutter. The school is still much more known as a commuter school so catching student attention to stay for games without a tradition of winning is also a challenge. However from a brand standpoint, the opportunity appears to be rising for FDU to strike. Families in the burbs are looking more and more for hyper-local affordable entertainment; brands are looking to draw more and more from a local consumer base, the digital space has created more opportunity for fan engagement, and it appears FDU has a coach willing to market and grow as well as achieve success on the court. While it’s not the Big 10, it is still a major market sports business opportunity, one which the Knights can try and seize to get their piece of the pie.

Let’s see if they can score with it this winter.

The FXFL Is Here…Will It Stay?

The allure of minor league sports is very powerful. Doing the right thing, having a great experience with young people as they work their way up the ladder on and off the field, an affordable family experience, a year-round chance for brands both locally and nationally to engage all are great opportunities that happen in a host of professional sports in the United States, from hockey and soccer to hoops and baseball. It is a multi-million dollar cottage industry that has launched thousands of careers.
So into the mix the past few weeks comes the FXFL, the latest in a series of developmental leagues around American football. The premise is that the football talent pool is deep, there is a need to develop that talent, there are other jibs like coaching that need opportunities, and there are rules to be experimented in and brands that are looking to engage that can’t afford the prices of the NFL or are locked out of categories, and there is a whole lot of potential content to be had out there. There are also stadia looking for events, and presumably, there are investors looking to throw money into the dream of sports ownership at some level.
The premise works in other minor league sports, football is arguably the largest and most engaged sport in America, so there has to be a market for it. Right?
So welcome in the four team FXFL, which in two weeks proved what many thought; the talent on the field and in the coaching area is there for more room. They have found a TV home, so there is an interest in content, and they have facilities who want to host games. So that works. They also have set spending limits on talent and have played with rules to help grow the game, so all that makes sense.
The question is; is it a business that can return revenue at some point? That is very hard to say. Staging events, especially football, is a very, very expensive proposition, and gaining market share where money is coming in to justify cost, and investor ROI at some point, is also really really tricky once the buzz of initial exposure wears off and a grind of a season starts. It has been tried before in football, and has never worked, even with the NFL-owned properties a decade ago that tried to develop talent in a smaller setting. Arena football? Some limited success in a different model. The CFL? Much more successful in a culture and a style, and with a TV partner and national brands that have worked for decades. The FXFL in the fall? Tough to say.
Is it fun and engaging? Yes. Is there content to potentially go and do reality or digital programming which could generate interest? Sure. Is there potential as a viable business? Maybe. Will brands look at it, assuming there is a consistent broadcast package and effective and consistent local marketing and sales, to say we want to out our dollars here and activate against and with you? Maybe, but that has to be proven. Will investors step up and buy and operate teams in local markets with substantial capital for years at a time? Hard to say.
The biggest challenge with the FXFL and other parallels like minor league affiliated baseball, the DLeague and even minor league hockey and in some instances soccer now, is that the parent club, major league sports, spends a lot of the cash and in many instances absorbs the L in a P and L. Even in Independent baseball, the possibility exists for those teams, which run greater risk but have good talent, to sell contracts to MLB or MiLB or even Japan for a profit. The FXFL has none of that as a safety net to be innovative or creative and not always look at the bottom line. The NFL, as it has since the failure of the WLAF, watches with no risk and simply picks up the talent with no cost or effort. They are quietly supportive with n involvement, which is a great situation to be in.
Would it be great if the FXFL bucks the trend of minor league football, finds investors and cities willing to support with a media company diving in for a partnership akin to what the NHL and NBC had at one point? Sure. Would it be great for brands to come on board with fixed partnerships that involve cash to raise the bottom line? Yes. Success of the FXFL is a success for everyone involved in sport.
Will it work? It is great the investor group got the league up and running to prove concept. That already is ahead of scores of others who have just talked and spent and never saw the light of day. If it is long term and viable, we will see hopefully next fall and the one after that. Ideas and sports are great, but in the end bottom line is what matters in sports business. Time, and dollars, will tell.

Gordo’s Takes A Dip Into College Football, Scores A Brand TD…

It’s not like a cheese dip is always top of mind when tied to large scale and effective sponsorships, but one has found a niche through the world of college football this fall. Gordo’s Cheese Dip used not massive advertising, but old fashioned word of mouth and new age social media engagement to create a great deal of buzz and value add by attaching themselves OUTSIDE some of the biggest NCAA games this fall to find the ultimate tailgater, a natural connection to the snack product.
The search for the Gordo’s Ultimate Tailgater began on September 15, 2014 and continues through November 23, 2014. It includes some of the best college football teams including: Ole Miss vs. Boise State, Alabama vs. West Virginia, LSU vs. Auburn, Notre Dame vs. Florida State just to name a few.

The premise for this search for the ultimate fan is simple. The Gordo’s Cheese Dip video crew will be at each of these games, looking for fans who have an overabundance of school spirit. These rabble rousers will be interviewed on camera and from these interviews, three contestants will be chosen each week. The hashtag for this contest is easy to remember. It’s #GordosUTG. Fans are given a chance to vote for a weekly winner. These weekly winners will be lavished with a fabulous tailgate rig which includes two chairs a cooler, speakers and umbrella.  Over the course of the season, Gordo’s is choosing eight winners and these fans will vie for the title of Big Cheese…the Gordo’s Ultimate Tailgater. Voting will continue for two weeks to determine which fan along with a companion gets to choose his/her favorite college bowl game to attend.
The video crew has hot the biggest strategic points, wandering parking lots looking for the best parties, many with no ties at all to the product until arrival. Some have been clued in by social media prompts beforehand, but the goal is to create an unabashed best practice scenario, with a great slice of tailgating from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa, from Tallahassee to South Carolina. The cost was minimal, the exposure very high as the crew concentrated on select southern markets with a payoff coming later this winter for winners. The win for Gordo’s is in the engagement of fans in a natural environment; they use viral video (over 8 million views to date) and photo walls to engage, and spend little on traditional advertising once the game starts. They take advantage of the wide open expanses of parking lots and the beauty of southern football, not to mention the he success of the SEC on the field this fall, to build affinity, awareness, and lots of fun. The product, and the campaign are not about major market spends. It is about finding ways to engage fans with an easy to understand product that fits their lifestyle.
The result is a low cost and highly effective win, even through mid-October. A well thought out and well executed program, with a little luck of the schedule thrown in for a smart snack brand.

Warriors Tweedia Day Scores Again…

Now it’s not like teams haven’t figured out the need for use of social media or the power it now has in engaging fans. Still, harnessing that power into some centralized events is sometime a challenge. Then again you have the Golden State Warriors, who continue to refine the aggregated space and recently staged one of the best engagement platforms any team does; Tweedia Day.
Now in its fifth season, Tweedia Day follows the Warriors usual media day open house, the team when every player lines up to get done the wide variety of tasks from community relations, marketing and general media that can be housed and used throughout the year. Want to hear players doing promos in Chinese for the NBA? Media day is for you. It is very insular and usually pretty predictable, with now NBA TV dropping in for some live sessions for fans. But fan interaction? Nah, it’s all business.
For Tweedia Day, the Warriors give fans, through several platforms but especially though twitter, the ability to connect with players in real time. Factor in some live contests and some special added value areas for season subs, and Tweedia Day has become a must opt in for fans in the Bay Area and around the world. It is a nice aggregation of every member of the Warriors staff in a pretty simple but very effective format that most teams do as one-off’s but rarely as one full session. It takes time sure, but it leaves a lasting impression on all those who can join in. And of course, it is sponsorable.
Of course it’s not the only element of digital engagement that the Warriors do to build marketshare. From blogger media day to innovative video work, Silicon Valley’s team always seems to be fast and first in innovative engagement. Once again, a nice score for Golden State.

Oyo Boyo, A Simple Idea Keeps Getting Bigger…

Several years ago when I was with the New York Knicks we were planning a promotion around Allan Houston, and as part of the plan, were going to send out to interested media the LEGO figure that had been made of our-then star, as a way to keep him top of mind when award voting season came along. It was quick, easy to mail and very unique amongst collectables. Did it really look like Allan? Not really but it was official and had his number, so it made sense. We found a way through the NBA to get 50 little Allan’s and off they went. As a collector of the unique, as well as a longtime supporter of LEGO, I had been interested in the possibilities of the product to engage sports kids, and somewhere in our basement, not passed on to my son Andrew, a master builder if there ever was one, are the original NBA-licensed sets as well as some hockey and extreme sports sets as well. They are now all collectors’ items, as the patients, and LEGO’s interest in sports, stagnated after a few years and the patents lapsed.

The problem then was that the Danish company didn’t really “get” the sports market in the States, and the risk of getting the wrong LEGO figures to market, they could not produce every player, far outweighed the rewards. In an era before short form video, 3D printing, and high speed molds, let alone self-generated content, LEGO was probably ahead of its time.

That was then, and to the delight of millions, another US-based company has taken LEGO’s seed, and their lapsed patents, and injected digital media and state of the art engineering into and opportunity. Welcome OYO Toys.

Boston based and now Boston-area manufactured, OYO has taken the old LEGO-licensed idea and brought it into the next decade. They have licenses to manufacture products for MLB, NFL, NHL and MLS, with more coming not just in the US, but internationally as well (how many kids in the States will now buy Messi figures who would not have a few years ago, thanks to soccer’s expansion in the media here?). Their system allows for custom printing and design of almost ANY player they have a license for that people can order, with delivery taking only a few days.

More importantly, OYO has used video, data and technology to bring the figures to life in short form video with self-created “stadia,” which thousands of young people with an interest in sport AND film (along with their dads and older siblings) can have fun with in re0creation scenarios, much like LEGO has done with the Star Wars themes line.  Even better, the figures are compatible with LEGO blocks, so parents don’t have to discard those mounds of blocks sitting around the basement. The kids can build stadia, or other scenarios, and use the OYO sports figurines as well.

The best part about OYO’s potential is that it again seeks to marry what were once divergent worlds for young people. Like robotics, LEGO were once thought to be nerdy and not for “sports” kids. Same with film and full motion video, or even photography. Now OYO can help merge those world’s, and make the arts and building good for “sports” kids, especially on rainy days, and can probably help the kids once thought to be a bit “nerdy” and not engaged in sports find a common ground as well. That merging doesn’t just help at home, it will help in the classroom, as suddenly science and technology, and even engineering, may seem just a bit more cooler to kids who might have been bored with sports. It also doesn’t hurt that media companies like Nickelodeon and Marvel are looking to find ways to pull sports into entertainment, and OYO’s analytics, video, and interchangeable parts can also play right into their plans as well.

Are there some limitations? Sure. Making the figures as life-like as possible is a challenge, and there is probably a limit as to how many figures the company can customize for now. However the upside and potential for OYO in any host of sports, even on the NCAA level, is very bright, and certainly makes their business one to watch. The Boston Globe had a piece the last few days on how the company came about and its new infusion of cash from Mandalay Entertainment, which is certainly worth a read.

Keep building OYO, and we will keep watching. What was a rare fail for LEGO is an opportunity for you.