Brewing Up Some New Innovation On The Promo Front…

While many times media-types look to larger market teams as innovation leaders, especially in the digital and social space, the reality is that those in smaller markets are sometimes best at innovation. One of those leaders of the pack for Major League Baseball is the Milwaukee Brewers. No matter what happens on the field, the Brew Crew always seems to be finding new ways to engage their  fans year-round, and many of those innovations become best practices for other teams throughout professional sport.

One of those key people with a finger on the pulse of the Brewers digital brand is Director of New Media Caitlin Moyer. Moyer started working for the Brewers as an intern in the Corporate Marketing department in 2003 and has risen through the ranks, now helping lead the outreach in digital and social media and digital advertising. We caught up with Caitlin to hear more about how the Brewers do what they do, and what’s coming up next this winter.

The Brewers have really found ways to engage with fans in the offseason and make it fun; hiding gnomes and doing other unique engagement platforms. How have those non traditional ideas been received?

Non-traditional ideas tend to be received very well by our fans, whether in the offseason or during the season.

Some of our ideas, such as the lawn gnome scavenger hunts and our balloon event, have taken place before sunrise and there’s always a great crowd on hand taking part.

While there is something to be said about valuing tradition in the Midwest, Brewers fans are also always up for something new and exciting. They are the most passionate and loyal fans in all of baseball.

Anything new coming up this winter?

We just finished revealing our “#20in15” 20 All-Fan Giveaways slated for our 2015 promotional schedule. Over the course of a week on our social media platforms, we invited fans to play along and try to “Guess the Giveaway” as we released clues for each of our 20 items. Fans had the opportunity to win tickets to these games as well.

Included in that reveal were two more opportunities for us to engage fans this offseason—1) This year, we’ll have 7 T-Shirt Friday dates where all fans in attendance will receive a free t-shirt, and this year, fans will have the chance to vote on the designs; and 2) We will have one Fan Vote Item, where fans will have a say in the final All-Fan Giveaway item of 2015.

Fan Votes are great ways to listen to feedback and give fans exactly what they want, rather than us simply guessing what they want.

Who are some of the teams or outlets you look to to see what’s new and interesting in the digital space?

In my mind, the San Francisco Giants are the gold standard in the MLB. Aside from the fact that their digital efforts are headed up by the genius that is Bryan Srabian, they are in the fortunate position of being located right in the heart of the tech industry.

Other than that, I consider it an important part of my role to keep up on industry news and trends. I subscribe to many newsletters and check in with certain websites daily to stay updated on the latest trends. Some of my favorites include Mashable, Hashtag Sports, Ad Age and Fast Company. Good ideas can come from anywhere.

Sometimes people question the ROI for digital campaigns what have been some of the best examples you have seen where an idea turned into great business for the club?

Our Countdown to Opening Day campaign has been successful for the last two seasons. There is something special about Opening Day – especially in Milwaukee. Here in Milwaukee, Opening Day is treated like a holiday. Every year, without fail, 45,000+ fans take the day off work and pile into Miller Park to celebrate the return of Brewers Baseball. It is undoubtedly our most popular game of the season. Because of this, for the last number of years we have offered free Opening Day tickets as a major incentive to purchase a 10-Pack.

We attempted to accomplish two very distinct goals with our Countdown to Opening Day social campaign. First, we wanted to build excitement for the upcoming season. It is hard to imagine baseball season in the dead of winter when there is a foot of snow on the ground, so we wanted to find a way to stay relevant to our fans in the offseason and get them excited for the upcoming season. Secondly, we wanted to use this as a platform to promote our 10-Packs message and use the free Opening Day hook to drive 10-Pack sales.

In 2013, we had a very successful Countdown to Opening Day social campaign in which, beginning on January 1, we posted a different photo every day representing the number of days remaining until Opening Day. The campaign was so popular we decided to bring back the Countdown again in 2014, but this time, all of the images were fan-submitted.

For 89 days, fans were encouraged to submit their photos showing how they were counting down to Opening Day. At the end of each day, our team would review all of the submissions and decide which photo would be posted across Brewers social media channels the next morning. Of course, we tried to tie in some sort of clever caption relating to the picture in every post. Every fan that had their image selected was entered into a drawing to win a pair of 10-Packs. Also, each post included a link to our 10-Packs landing page along with the hashtag #SeeUMarch31 and some variation of the message, “Opening Day is in XX days. Go for free with a 10-Pack.” And the end of the campaign, we included all 89 countdown graphics into one full-page Season Kickoff ad that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the day before to Opening Day.

Not only did this campaign help drive 10-Pack sales and create brand awareness during the offseason, it spawned increased excitement for OpeningDay and engaged our fan base.

We have also held several special one-day , online-only sales. The offers were promoted solely online and codes were disseminated via our various social media platforms. Through these types of offers, with little to no paid advertising, we’ve been successful in selling over 20,000 tickets on a single date.

The club has a number of players who like to engage in the digital space. Does the team help with such engagements and who are some of the players who have done a good job?

Looking back at 2011, I can name two players on our roster who were on Twitter. One was pitcher John Axford. We were fortunate in that he was a natural (and still is) at engaging with fans, and at the time, we were able to work with him to develop a special ticket offer that was quite successful.

Now we are seeing more and more players joining sites like Twitter and Instagram each year. As these athletes “grow up” with the technology and have an innate understanding of how to use it, they are more comfortable with the platforms and more open to working with us on specific initiatives and ideas.

On our current roster we have probably 15 players that are on social media in some way, shape or form, and they vary in levels of frequency and engagement. However, Carlos Gomez literally is the Brewers Most Valuable Tweeter because he does a great job of interacting with fans on both Twitter and Instagram.

In addition, this past season, one of my greatest successes was “helping” one of our veterans, Kyle Lohse, get on Twitter. Turns out he is a natural.

Obviously there has been some change in the marketplace with the Bucks new owners. Do you work with the other teams in the marketplace to share best practices and see how you can work together?

Absolutely. Especially in a market our size. We may not all get together and meet regularly, but I know all of my counterparts at the different sports organizations from collegiate to NBA and NFL.

For example, we hosted a “Social Media in Sports Night” at Miller Park in 2012 that brought together most of the teams and we have no problem reaching out to each other if an idea presents itself.

Which brands do you think do a great, innovative job of fan activation in general? Are there people outside of baseball that you follow and try to adapt ideas from?

I wouldn’t say there is one company, brand or person that is my go-to resource.

Starbucks is an amazing passion brand that carries that over well to digital, Oreo set a standard for “real-time marketing,” I really admire the stuff that Callaway Golf has done with drones. The #ShareACoke campaign was really creative, McDonald’s is taking an interesting approach to transparency….

Like I said, good ideas can come from anywhere. I definitely keep an eye on what’s happening outside of baseball and outside of sports, but there’s a bigger part of us that likes to be innovative and leaders on our own.

So much emphasis is on winning, how do the Brewers keep fans engaged when success on the field is not always there?
After the World Series, there are always 29 teams with disappointed fans. Whether a team doesn’t make the Postseason or comes within a game of winning the World Series,, our task remains the same: keep fans engaged in the offseason.

One of our primary goals in the offseason is building hope and excitement for the coming season. We focus on what we are doing to improve the team (trades, acquisitions, etc.) We remind them of the star talent already on the roster and of past triumphs. We focus on key series/matchups for the next season, we get fans excited with fun, new promotions, and we are out there in the community reconnecting with fans—whether it is a Thanksgiving Food Drive or our Fan Fest.

When Opening Day rolls around, you’re not selling tickets—you’re selling hope. Hope that this year will be your team’s year to win it all. That’s really all you can do, is give your fans a reason to hope and believe. Baseball is such a romantic sport when you think about it.

During the season, it can be a little tougher to keep fans engaged in a tough season. We went through a really tough time in 2013, and we made a concerted effort to reach out to our fans with several different “Fans First” initiatives. That didn’t come from social/digital. That message came from the top and was executed across the board. It takes an owner and team leaders committed to their fan base and a standard of excellence to pull you through those tough times.

How important is the mobile space for the club? Any new initiatives that you are following or the Brewers will be adapting in the winter or spring?

Mobile is a huge initiative for Major League Baseball in general ,and as a League, we’ve been a leader in this space. We work closely with the folks at MLBAM on the MLB At Bat and At the Ballpark Apps. This past year, we added iBeacons to Miller Park -fans receive special offers just from “checking in” at Miller Park-and we look to expand our use of them in 2015. There is a lot of potential there.

Can “Black Fives” Score As A Great Marketing/History Platform?

There has been a big push in recent years for professional sports in the United States to return to their roots and honor those who came first. MLB has done a tremendous job in and around all things Jackie Robinson and has worked to raise the profile of the Negro Leagues; the NFL recently helped honor their trailblazers with the film “Forgotten Four.” But what about basketball? While there are constant efforts by the NBA to look back at those who told the early stories of integration with the league, some feel the NBA has not fully embraced this history of players of color in the early stages of the sport.

One of those people pushing for more recognition is Claude Johnson, President and Executive Director of Black Fives. Johnson has worked tirelessly over the years to tell the story of some of the original, and most colorful (no pun intended) athletes in the early stages of when hoops became popular. (Claude’s bio follows the q and a)

We caught up with Claude to talk about those characters, his plans, and if the NBA can mix those great retro uniforms of clubs gone by into their marketing plans soon.

How did Black Fives come about as a property and what have you seen as your biggest success?
Our mission is to showcase and teach the pre-NBA history of African Americans in basketball, a period known as the Black Fives Era, as well as to honor those pioneers and their accomplishments. What started as a hobby that into a commercial business, Black Fives, Inc., which at first developed trademarks, then produced wholesale apparel including throwback jerseys, and finally sought licensing revenue from intellectual property and content. All the while, I spent a huge amount of time researching, documenting, and sharing this history with schools, descendants, and a growing number of online followers. This “side” activity is what I enjoyed the most, it was the most rewarding, and I felt it was making the biggest difference to others.

So in early 2013, I organized a public not-for-profit charity, the Black Fives Foundation to replace the old company, which I dissolved, and then donated all of its assets to the new foundation, including its entire portfolio of IP and its archive of historical artifacts. We got our tax exempt 501-c-3 status in August 2014, so we’re still fresh. Now there’s a better alignment between our org structure, our efforts, and our passion. I didn’t mind selling tee shirts, but dedication to a cause definitely resonates better with me.

For example, we believe we’re making the subject of history more interesting to certain students, which in its own small way helps close our country’s persistent academic achievement gap. We also include content and messaging that’s relevant today, in areas like leadership, teamwork, inclusion, business, problem solving, and finding common ground. Our slogan is “Make History Now.”

When reaching out to people to tell the story of the teams, what do you find most surprising that people don’t know?

People are probably most surprised to learn that dozens of African American basketball teams were playing well over 100 years ago. Those same people wonder– and some are even upset about it–why it’s taken so long for this history to “come out” … and conversely, why it was “kept hidden” for so long. All-black teams were playing all-white teams before 1910. The ball had laces. The basket was closed at the bottom. African American barnstorming teams had lucrative operations even during the Great Depression. There were 10 world championships in professional basketball before the NBA even began, with two all-black teams–the New York Rens and the Washington Bears–winning the first two titles. That’s just the beginning.

MLB and the NFL have done a great job of embracing their long-ago history. How do you feel the NBA has done in that regard?

The NBA has not done much if anything with this history. Yet. When the Barclays Center celebrated its opening by permanently installing a compilation of six mural-sized vintage Brooklyn-related African American basketball images that we provided to them, when the Mayor’s Office declared February 10, 2013, as “Black Fives Day” for the City of New York with a special proclamation, and when this year the New-York Historical Society borrowed over 200 artifacts from our historical archive to stage the first-ever Black Fives museum exhibition in their Civil Rights Gallery, with the tremendous media coverage that these milestones received, it truly made this history come to life. The NBA and its licensees now have a great opportunity to capitalize on this new virtually untapped vintage sports genre. I hope they consider it. The timing seems to be right.

Has there been any talk of the teams being recognized with throwback jerseys during NBA games?

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told me that he went to see the Black Fives exhibit at New-York Historical and that it was terrific, which was profound considering this was right after the Donald Sterling drama. I expressed to Adam how great it would be if the Knicks wore Rens jerseys one day, to commemorate this history, and for other NBA teams to follow suit with the jerseys of Black Fives Era teams that overlapped in their cities. He said that that was a wonderful idea. Of course the Knicks would have to agree. And so would Adidas, which makes the official NBA uniforms. We see this starting off as perhaps a small, organic initiative that focuses on students, educational achievement, and community building in local NBA markets.

One of the most unique partnerships could be between the New York Rens and the Knicks or the Nets, especially with the Renaissance Ballroom now slated for destruction. Have either team embraced the idea recently?

We previously had reached out to Knicks and Adidas execs, as well as to the Brooklyn Nets, but that was prior to the foundation and these new developments. What is so interesting in life is that sometimes everything could be right about a situation, but the timing so wrong. Or vice versa. When it all comes together, that’s a beautiful thing. We’ve since reached out again, because we feel these ideas are at least worth a discussion to explore the what-ifs, to see if the timing is right, and to consider possible next steps.

What organizations or brands have been most supportive of your work?

In 2006, we had a solid but very short-lived licensing partnership with Nike and Converse. That’s how they roll and we were happy to partner with them. More recently, Barclays Center has been tremendously supportive with their murals and coverage. The New-York Historical Society with their unprecedented exhibition of our artifacts, for which I was invited be their guest curator. Now the Brooklyn Nets have asked us to develop an educational program for them, which will take a graphic panel version of our museum exhibition into some of their local schools, along with a short film, actual artifacts for show & tell, and a presentation followed by discussion. Another development, so recent it’s not yet formally announced, is that we have joined into a long term licensing partnership with the popular youth-oriented lifestyle apparel company ’47 Brand, f.k.a. Twins. They are an existing NBA licensee, which indirectly brings us closer to the league, and their first collections of team-identified merchandise will drop at retail in May 2015. Although there is so much room to expand in this landscape, our DNA as a brand right now is to proceed always in an organic, authentic way.

Hollywood has embraced the stories of pioneers like Jackie Robinson, have there been any plans to tell the stories of the teams and their personalities?

None yet, partly because our bandwidth is so full. But as you can imagine there are vast numbers of stories from which to choose … a quick look at the array of articles in our blog will illustrate that.

What is the next big step your forsee for Black Fives as a business/foundation?

We see the Brooklyn Nets educational program as pilot that might expand into more Brooklyn schools next year as well as potentially to schools in other NBA cities. Adding an academic curriculum would be logical, and would give a generous underwriting corporate sponsor some very meaningful community visibility.

Another big project for us is that we are planning to launch a community-based campaign in Pittsburgh seeking to enshrine local native Cumberland Posey, Jr. in the Basketball Hall of Fame. During the 1910s he was one of the greatest basketball players of his time, black or white, and he later owned the Homestead Grays baseball team, perennial Negro National League champions, earning him a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame. We believe he would be the first individual enshrined in both Cooperstown and Springfield. Depending on how it goes, we hope to apply that same grass roots model to other Black Fives Era pioneers who are deserving candidates for enshrinement.

We just got our official tax exemption in August 2014, so we will be applying to grant-making institutions for funding for the first time, which if successful will allow us to add much-needed basic staffing, such as more interns, an administrative assistant, and a development resource.

Finally, next week we will be launching our first-ever annual fundraising campaign! Anyone wishing to contribute could visit

Claude Johnson, an author and a historian, is President & Executive Director of the Black Fives Foundation, a public 501(c)3 charity whose mission is to use the pre-1950 history of African-American basketball to engage, teach, and inspire youth, while honoring its pioneers and their descendants.

Claude enjoyed a 20-year corporate career with best-in-class brands including IBM, American Express, NBA Properties, Nike, Phat Farm, and Benetton Sportsystem, gaining extensive experience in sports marketing, sports licensing, and apparel merchandising, before launching Black Fives, Inc., the commercial predecessor to the Foundation.

He is the author of “Black Fives: The Alpha Physical Culture Club,” the history of a pioneering early 20th century all-black basketball team, and is working on his second book. Editorial coverage of Claude and the Black Fives Foundation includes The New York Times, AP News, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Jay Z’s Life+Times, The Root, The New York Daily News, New York Newsday, Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated for Kids, ESPN, and in many others. A former regular columnist with the Greenwich (CT) Post, he also has been published in SLAM Magazine, Bounce Magazine, and on

Claude was born in Vienna, Austria. His father is African American, from the South Side of Chicago, and his mother was German, from the Römerstadt section of Frankfurt am Main. He lived in the Republic of the Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) before moving to the USA with his parents at age six, attending public schools outside Boston and then in Cincinnati. Claude has a BS in Civil Engineering and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, and an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.

He is a former trustee of the Greenwich Public Library, a former candidate for the Connecticut State House of Representatives, a hobby photographer, and a volunteer youth football coach.

Claude lives with his wife and their three boys in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Best Story In College Football? How About Lehigh-Lafayette And 50K At Yankee Stadium

Say what you want about big time college football, the power conferences, computer rankings, even major rivalry week, one of the best stories in the game will take place not in Boston, where Harvard will meet Yale for the Ivy league title and ESPN College GameDay will be on hand, or in LA when USC meet UCLA or when Mississippi and Mississippi State meet for the Egg Bowl, or even when Auburn meets Alabama. Those will be great matchups will fill stadia and lots of media coverage. But try drawing 50,000 for almost ANY college football game to Yankee Stadium (which had a little more than half of that total for UConn and Army last week), and then try doing it with two Patriot League schools with losing records.
Fantasy correct? Nope. Reality. That’s what will happen Saturday when Lehigh and Lafayette meet for the 150th time, the longest rivalry in college football. This one, for only the second time ever, will be at a neutral site (the 1891 game was played in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania) and it will be a draw beyond anyone’s imagination.
Now this was not something that the folks in The Bronx dreamed up on their own, like has happened with other matchups and the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. All of those games have served as a great addition and revenue driver for the Stadium, with each one having tis own marketing and P and L. This game? Stand alone, baby. No marketing from the Pinstripe folks, minimal advertising.
It was all driven, with not a huge amount of corporate support by the enterprising athletic directors at the two schools and their staffs, who conceived of the idea five years ago, way back when Twitter was just getting going if people can think back that far, especially in the get it done now world of college and professional sports.
Joe Sterrett of Lehigh and Bruce McCutcheon of Lafayette, both of whom have been leaders in finding ways to market and grow the bottom line at their respective schools over the years, took it upon themselves to sell the idea not just as a buzz worthy event, but as a revenue-generator for the programs, a one-time event worthy of a big stage. Initial goals, according to most reports, were a break-even of around 20,000 seats, priced moderately between $6 and $35. The suites would also be available at a price, with the Stadium working together to control costs and see whatever the upside would be. The two AD’s got long-term buy in from every level of their respective universities to make this the must-attend event for anyone involved in the two schools or in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas, events began to line up the night prior and the night following, touting development, marketing and alumni. Fraternal groups rallied to help make the event a cause celebre’ for the future. Students, as always, would still get in free.
The hoopla even extended to Wall Street, where the presidents of both schools set up fundraising events and will get to ring the closing bell at the NYSE. Others came up with the idea to get the Empire State Building done in school colors on Saturday night. The buzz built over five years, and the result is an event that surpassed expectations, and according to many reporters, will generate over seven times the revenue for the two schools that their regular on-campus meeting, which always is a big draw in the 10-15 k range as it rotates between the two eastern Pennsylvania campuses.
Is the huge draw an anomaly in the usual daily calendar of sports, especially on the college level? More than likely. Another outlier has been Cornell hockey which has packed Madison Square Garden several times around the Thanksgiving weekend, while other collegiate hockey events draw a fraction of the bodies and the eyeballs. Once again, it was self-marketed for the long-term by the school as a rallying point for all things Cornell, and in this case it worked. Harvard-Yale hockey has done a similar job at MSG last year and this, but other events haven’t come close, and college football and hoops for a large part do OK but not outstanding, even with a much larger marketing and business activation spend in major arenas. For sure there will be programs that will look at Lehigh-Lafayette this weekend and say hey we can do at least 2/3 of that for our rivalry game, but many times the expectations fall flat for a number of reasons, from time to TV to weather to the matter of disposable income.



However for this one year, Lehigh-Lafayette caught lightening in a bottle, which combined with a dedicated and passionate and visionary administration, and some long term vision in a short term world, really made the Saturday matchup a classic not for what happens on the field, but for what it has become as a special event. Kudos Leopards and Mountain Hawk leadership on a job well done.


Lessons From A Lifer At ESPN…

When we were lucky enough to be asked to update our text “Sports Publicity” in 2013, we called on several of those in the media industry who have been around the evolving world of communications for a while, and asked them what they have seen in terms of changes and how they have been able to adapt to the changing world and remain successful.
The sampling of sports communications execs ranged from those at media companies like NBC and Sports Illustrated to agencies like Taylor and leagues like the NBA. However one of the stories that struck is the most was the narrative told by ESPN, and its longtime communications head Chris LaPlaca. LaPlaca, one of a handful of original employees at “The Worldwide Leader,” has always looked to find ways to learn, and encourages his staff to do the same. By doing so, ESPN has taken a unique and aggressive approach to communications, teaching everyone on the staff to be “360 degree communicators;” using every medium possible to make sure that the story behind the ESPN story is being told. The staff learns how to use video, audio and every form of digital device to capture the unique goings-on behind the scenes, and make it into a communications experience in addition to what major story is being covered.
We were able to more clearly document the practice in 2013 with a blog post  so today we caught up with LaPlaca to ask him more about his thoughts on the industry today, where it’s going, and what he is most proud of with all the time he has logged in Bristol (his bio follows the story).



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

Information flow these days begins at warp speed and accelerates from there, often bringing a lack of context and at worst, complete misinformation along for the ride. All you can do is be savvy about which issues are worth the time spent and then use all the tools you have at your disposal to insert your point of view.

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

I learned work ethic and integrity from my dad, how to communicate in writing from a variety of professors at St. Bonaventure University, how to be a member of a team from my high school football and basketball coaches, how to hustle from Joe Goldstein, and the intricacies of corporate communications from Tom McElroy, Hank Rieger and especially Rosa Gatti, who took a shot on me right out of college and then again, nine months later, when we both joined ESPN within its first year. I am still learning today from tons of people who have no idea I am stealing from them.

What are you most proud of from a work perspective?

I’m proud to be among a dwindling group of ESPN folks working here who joined the company in its first year…clearly, I was just a kid then! None of us spend much time looking back when the present is so fun and challenging and the future is bright…but when we do, we quietly express pride and gratitude for having started from scratch and contributed to what we’ve built, brick by brick, over 35 years. The reason we’re still here isn’t because we signed a lifetime contract: it’s because we learned how to adapt, evolve, get in front and work like challengers to stay there.

Who do you learn the most from today?

The way this industry is evolving, I learn something new every day. And it can come from anywhere if you are open to it.

What has been your biggest disappointment?

I don’t spend much time on “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” It’s over, I can’t change it and I’ve already deposited whatever I’ve processed from any disappointments. I much prefer to channel whatever emotional energy I have into the present and future. If pressed, I would likely say Game 6 of the ’86 World Series…..but the Red Sox have won three Series since so I’ve let that go.

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

It’s really difficult to condense 35 jam-packed, fun years to answer that question. I love my current team, for example, some of whom were kids when I got to Bristol and some of whom weren’t even born. That’s simultaneously scary and wonderful. If pressed, I would say those of us who were here in the very early days will always have a special bond. When we run into one another – those still here or those who have retired – there’s an unspoken but palpable and very special connection.

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

Speed’s impact on veracity and context from a journalistic perspective. From a business perspective, I’m confident about ESPN’s future in a rapidly changing environment. We used to be the toy department…, live sports is arguably the most powerful entertainment genre in this country.

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

I have three: Mobility in consuming content. The ability to personalize. Sports as a preeminent genre. There has never been a better time to be a sports fan.

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

I’ve been blessed with a “glass half-full” outlook no matter my circumstance. Sometimes I have to spend a lot of energy to get to half-full, but it’s always worth it. That said, my wife and I have two little girls at home, ages 6.5 and 8, and to be able to see the world through their eyes at this stage of my life is a wonderful gift. They make me laugh every day.
Chris LaPlaca was named ESPN, Inc.’s senior vice president, corporate communications in June 2008. He is responsible for the Company’s worldwide internal, public and media relations strategies, including oversight of consumer, corporate and employee communications for ESPN’s 50 business units. He also oversees the company’s day-to-day working relationship with The Walt Disney Company’s corporate communications and investor relations groups.

LaPlaca, a 34-year veteran of ESPN, had been senior vice president, communications (2006-08), overseeing public and media relations. Prior to that he was senior vice president, consumer communications (2003-06), overseeing consumer media and public relations efforts for domestic services ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic, ESPN and ESPN2 HD,, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Radio, Mobile ESPN, and several other brand extensions. He is based in ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. headquarters.
Prior to joining ESPN, LaPlaca worked for one year (1979 80) as assistant sports information director at Brown University.
LaPlaca received a bachelor of arts degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University in 1979, and remains active in support of the University’s Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
ESPN’s Communications team has earned many accolades over the years, including PR Week’s “Team of the Year” for large corporations in 2005, and CableFAX Magazine’s “Team of the Year” for 2012.
LaPlaca was honored by his alma mater in 1995 with the Jandoli School’s Alumnus of the Year Award, given to a graduate who exemplifies the highest professional standards and for service to the journalism program at St. Bonaventure. In April 2003, LaPlaca became the seventh alum in the program’s 54-year history to be inducted onto the J/MC school’s “wall of fame,” which includes five Pulitzer Prize winners.
LaPlaca is active within the industry and the community. He is a member of the NCTA’s Public Affairs Committee, and co-chaired the Association for Cable Communicators’ annual conference in 2013. In 2010, he was a keynote speaker at the PR News annual Media Relations Forum, and presented at the Conference for Corporate Communication at Notre Dame in 2013.

The Largest College “Conference” In The U.S. Looks To Grow…

For those not of a certain age, or not involved in college athletics, you probably don’t know how powerful the Eastern College Athletic Conference, or ECAC, was, or how big it remains today. Made up of hundreds of schools, many now on the Division II or III level, the ECAC is still the largest group of colleges that work together in athletics in the United States. At one point, before the current conference structure really took hold in the Eastern United States, the ECAC was it, controlling not just smaller college athletic governance but the biggest schools as well, especially in basketball. While all that has changed, the ECAC has reorganized and now stands at a place where it can better present itself to brands than at any point in its history, with thousands of student-athletes, and hundreds of schools, under its guidance.

It also has a progressive, forward-thinking leader in place in Dr. Kevin McGinniss, who is looking to take the ECAC to places it hasn’t been in years. We caught up with Dr. McGinniss to talk about the challenges, and opportunities that exist for the ECAC today (his bio follows the q and a:


You are now just over a year into the job, what have been the biggest surprises thus far?
I am pleasantly surprised at the progress we have made in the previous 15 months. With almost an entirely new staff we have been able to put forth some wonderful new initiatives along with a major relocation of the Conference Headquarters, which has been remarkably embraced by the State of Connecticut to the tune of $400,000 in grants and forgivable loans.
If you are a brand, how do you describe the value of the ECAC?
The value comes in to play when members take full advantage of all the services we offer, and associate their brand with the history and prestige of the ECAC’s brand – an enhanced brand we bring forward.
You have gone in with a plan to try and find economies of scale to market what is essentially the nation’s largest group of colleges, what has been the response from such a diverse level of schools?
Similar to the previous question, with such a large and diverse number of institutions, they can recognize the value of membership and strength in numbers. Being affiliated with the ECAC brand gives incredible visibility to each institution in a footprint it might not otherwise be able to access and at the same time, by working with so many schools together, combined they can enhance the student-athlete experience to an even greater degree.
What is the biggest opportunity the ECAC has?
The landscape of intercollegiate athletics has obviously changed over the years and will continue to do so. Therefore, we need to constantly evolve as well, in a way reinvent ourselves and get in front of those changes while still sticking to our core values and core competencies as we embark on a new five-year strategic planning process.
Of all the schools you work with, are there any examples you can cite already of schools buying in to the program you are trying to create?
All of our member institutions are so unique and are incredible partners in bringing the best services to their athletics programs and student-athletes. Since we came on board, we’ve added a number of new members such as Pace University, the College of New Rochelle, Newberry College, and Geneva College, just to name a few. They’ve already begun taking advantage of our full program of services, especially our championship opportunities and awards program. Likewise, long time members such as Stevenson University, Lebanon Valley College, and Endicott College, again to name just a few, continue to realize the value of membership and they can be seen participating in a number of championships this weekend.
On the men’s side hockey is the most viable property the ECAC works with, what are the others you would like to elevate?

We want to continue elevating each of our sports along with looking at emerging sports such as field hockey, lacrosse, and opportunities for students with disabilities. We have some great affiliate partners as well that we’d like to elevate such as rowing and the IC4A.
So much is made of “big time” Division I sports for brands, how do you describe the value that the Division II and III schools can bring to brands?

It’s all about relationships no matter what the division or level. Every institution and athletics program is unique and has something valuable to offer. An athletics program can bring great exposure and visibility to just about any brand in any community. Athletics is often the front porch to the entire institution, even at DII and DIII.

What are the next steps people should be looking for this winter from the ECAC?

This is a pivotal time for the ECAC. We just finished celebrating 75 years of the organization and now we are about to embark on a new strategic plan to take us into the next chapter. Our membership will play a key role in shaping the vision for the future of the ECAC.
Dr. Kevin T. McGinniss became the eighth Commissioner in the history of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) on July 1, 2013. As part of the organization’s overall restructuring that began in 2013-14, the ECAC Board of Directors voted in August 2014 to change the title of Commissioner to President and CEO to better reflect the unique identity and mission of the ECAC.
Since taking the reigns McGinniss has led the nation’s largest and only multi-divisional athletics conference through a progressive transition to enhance the intercollegiate athletics experience for ECAC student-athletes, coaches, administrators and institutions.
McGinniss came to the ECAC from the role of Associate Director of Athletics for Development at the University of Rhode Island where he began in 2007. McGinniss owns a strong educational and professional background which includes more than 30 years of experience as an educator, author, coach, athletics administrator and athlete.
In his role at URI, McGinniss directed all aspects of fundraising for the athletics department. After his arrival at URI athletics fundraising achieved record levels. In his first four years at the Kingston campus he led the athletics component of URI’s $100 million “Making a Difference” capital campaign, securing more than $12 million in total operational, capital project and endowment support for URI Athletics, surpassing the campaign goal for Athletics by more than 20%.
Under his watch, URI Athletics procured almost $5 million in philanthropic support for capital improvements inclusive of major upgrades to the baseball facility, eight new tennis courts and the soon-to-be-constructed state-of-the-art strength, conditioning and performance center. McGinniss also served as the Athletics Department’s liaison to the URI Foundation and URI Alumni Association.
Before arriving in Kingston, McGinniss served as director of athletics at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. In recognition of his efforts, he was nominated to receive the 2007 National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Division II Athletics Director of the Year Award.
From 2001-05, McGinniss served as the director of athletics development at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. He was responsible for coordinating all fundraising for athletics, including a major component of the New Millennium Campaign – $25 million for a state-of-the-art athletics center.
McGinniss’ experience in higher education administration also includes serving Southern Connecticut State University as its director of athletics development and director of alumni affairs. He has also served as the director of athletics and recreation at Lehman College, The City University of New York. In addition, McGinniss was the director of athletics development and executive director of the Blue & Gray Club at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y.
A former men’s basketball coach, McGinniss was the head coach at Lehman College and in only his second year as head coach led a program with just a combined eight wins over the previous four years to the CUNYAC North Division title and an ECAC post-season tournament bid. He also served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, helping lead Southern Connecticut State University to a 20-win season and a postseason berth in 1992.
Active in professional organizations both locally and on the national level, McGinniss has served as Vice-Chair for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District I Board of Directors, is a member of the National Association of Athletic Development Directors, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and the National Association of Basketball Coaches Research Committee. In addition, Dr. McGinniss serves on the Sport Management Advisory Board and is an Associate Faculty member for The Malcolm Baldrige School of Business at Post University.
McGinniss earned his bachelor’s degree in health, his master’s degree in physical education/ athletics administration and a sixth year professional diploma of advanced graduate studies in educational leadership all from Southern Connecticut State University. He received his doctorate in education from the Teachers College Department of Health and Behavior Studies at Columbia University. Dr. McGinniss and his wife, Amy, have a son, Kyle, and daughter, Kelly.

Beach Games Moving Ahead…

While the US continues to look for a potential bid city for the 2024 Olympics, another property, one outside of the Olympic window but with a huge upside for a younger and more engaged global audience, this week got the OK to go ahead. Welcome to the calendar, The World Beach Games, which received formal approval from the Association of National Olympic Committees and Sport Accord this past week. The Asian beach Games were recently completed to great success, showing the amazing potential of sand and water sports as both a TV and a digital property going forward.

Sand castle building? Not quite. What the WBG will be is the X Games of the water, with some of the most popular existing Olympic sports like beach volleyball, and one popular Olympic wannabe, beach soccer, thrown in (along with beach tennis and some other hybrids).

Now the concept is not altogether new, but the initial contests were a great success and incorporated events like wakeboarding and dragon boat racing which have long tried for Olympic inclusion but could never find success. They are not huge on attendance numbers, do not need large stadia, and fit a demo that Olympic sports crave (young and athletic) and are ripe for made for TV and digital, in the same way that the America’s Cup captured the tech space with their innovative broadcasts last year.

Events like these are also a great draw for off-season resort locations which maybe could never attract world class international events before. The Bahamas, for example has made a big push into college sports with basketball and football, and a Beach games international competition in months where the resorts need to draw attention are a great fit.

Now there are some natural drawbacks. Even temporary stadia and facilities are costly, as organizations like the AVP found out when running their tour. You can’t just use any sand for high level beach competition; it needs to be pristine, and in many instances had to be trucked in from other locales. Building even temporary venues can also be a logistical nightmare, and you are also subject to the unpredictable wind, rain and currents that will crop up, not to mention having to stage many of the events at a time when there is daylight, as night or twilight competitions may look beautiful but can be very challenging. There is also a limitation on venues, but even staging games on massive lakes are an option (Chicago or Lake Victoria anyone?)

The opportunities far outweigh the drawbacks though. The IOC has long wanted to bring in new sports, and the ones on the water pose an opportunity, one that is lower cost than most large scale team events. The water and sand, albeit pricey to set up in some cases, is still a natural existing setting, and the ability for new sponsor dollars to flow in, as well as countries looking to host, are very wide. New faces, in many cases with lots of athletic skin to show, can present a very enticing package for broadcasters and corporations looking to find a breakthrough niche in global sport at a reasonable cost could gravitate to a competition that is sure to draw both core fans and a solid casual audience.



If you had to draw a line in the sand on whether the Beach Games will succeed as an emerging, hip, fan friendly property, now with an international backing, it would be fair to give it a fighting chance, much in the way the recently staged “Combat Games” have worked for fight sports and the “Urban Games” can work for the innercity.

Sand and water can bring lots of fun and new stars to global sport, making The Beach Games experiment one to follow.

The Changing Landscape of College Sports Business…

The college sports landscape is undergoing as much change from the business side as it is on the fields of play. Issues like the rights of student-athletes, the cost-benefit of massive programs, the role athletics should play in the college environment and how the digital and social world can help or hinder business, continue to churn.

Into the mix comes some interesting “attacker” companies to try and solve those issues, one of which is Virginia-based Rockbridge Sports, Media and Entertainment. We caught up with Rich Klein – Co-Founder and Principal, to get his take on the environment and what his relatively new company is doing to help rearrange the status quo. (His bio follows)

What is the paradigm that has shifted for Rockbridge to come into being, and how is your offer different from the much larger competitors in the college space?

Collegiate multimedia rights over the last dozen years have seen a flawed model take root. For the most part, outsourced deals were being struck that simply were not financially sustainable and were creating rifts between rights holders and the Athletic Departments and we believed that this speculation game was not healthy for the industry in the long run. That is why we started Rockbridge. We felt there was a better way. Everything we thought was going to happen, is starting to happen. Consolidation of companies that were financially forced to because they were highly leveraged – and the further positioning of those companies not to succeed on the ground but to be rolled up and sold – did not and still currently do not create a transparent, mutually beneficial model that offers the control a University should have. In a recent poll, over 90% over Athletic Departments said they did not have a good relationship with their multimedia rights partner. That is because rights holders are asking for financial relief, more rights, more inventory and less restrictions on types of companies that can sponsor the Athletics Department and quite frankly it is hard to blame them because these companies are looking for more and more ways to mitigate their financial losses. The problem is that a lot of what they define they are asking for runs counter to a University’s mission. Our approach is not to “own” or “control” the sponsorship and multimedia rights at a University, but rather to deliver targeted strategic, financial, creative and personnel resources and services to the athletic department so as to drive significant incremental revenue, maximize program resources, and grow the University brand. This “insourcing partnership” model provides the University the greatest degree of institutional control of its brand and assets, while still providing the resources, expertise and leadership necessary to build a world class corporate partnership program that is custom designed for that institution – one that allows the University to rise above its competitors – not be homogenized among them.

You have started with several smaller schools, is the value proposition for them more personal business management or a greater exploitation of local assets they couldn’t do themselves?

It is both. Our revenue generation system is built around intense preparation, passionate execution and servant leadership and it does not matter what size the school when you execute the system. It is our commitment to transparency and to doing the work on the front end, in partnership with the University, that sets us apart. We help our clients understand how the business operates on their campus – from local staffing and commission schedules to media production costs to the sources of incremental revenue growth. This approach creates a credible and mutually understood belief and commitment to a growth strategy and plan that is unique to that institution – not a national or homogenized plug and play approach that is unique to a rights holder. And when you select good partners that believe in their growth and in the strategy and are working in good faith up front to build something together, it becomes easy to structure the right business terms and lay a foundation for mutual success. I should also note that we also have a solid track record of success at the Power Conference Schools, and it is only a matter of time before we before we will again.

Is the high school space something you see as becoming more viable as well?

As a long term multimedia rights partner for two of the more progressive high state associations in Arizona and Michigan, we are seeing firsthand the value they can deliver for corporate sponsors. With every day that passes, the marketplace is understanding more and more that this space is growing and is where the college market was about 20 years ago. High School State Associations are under increasingly more pressure to generate revenue while at the same time ensuring that their core values are kept intact which is why we believe our system fits their approach. Opportunities for corporate partners to directly enhance the high school student experience is not only a noble community pursuit, but is a viable and valuable part of a their marketing efforts which is being proven as we sign up more prestigious brands. There are few properties that reach across every community in a state and to the intimate level that high school does and brands want to be part of that.

What are the areas of opportunity in the multimedia rights space area?

Opportunities will continue to exist within traditional rights and in the growth of digital assets. Those medians whereby sports brands can deliver value to their sponsors will always be viable, but sports properties will have to continue to look at doing things differently, not just better. For instance, we have helped build along with the Western Athletic Conference, the WAC Sports Digital Network which runs on multiple platforms and is an asset that the WAC owns outright. That means they control their own content, delivery and can offer ownership opportunities that were only offered heretofore through outsourcing to ESPN 3 and others in the space. Once we determined we could produce, distribute and market quality content directly to WAC fans, we decided that we would retain our valuable data and sponsor able inventory much like the ownership professional teams have with their regional television and digital networks.

Colleges with massive football and basketball programs seem to be more ties to quick change then even most professional teams these days. Is the bottom line so fragile at the college level that a large school needs to act quickly so as to keep their constituents happy?

State funding is increasingly harder to rely on and even with lucrative long term revenue positions of conference television deals, there is still such pressure to continue to grow your revenue streams. Donors and students through student fees are a critical part of that stream (in addition to multimedia revenue) so you have to stress customer service to those groups in addition to athletic success. Football and basketball programs obviously drive this but the recent change of Michigan’s Athletic Director is a prime example of how this extends beyond coaches of the two main sports. It is a tough balancing act to generate incremental revenue, succeed at your sports and keep the mission and the traditions of the University at the forefront of all that you do.

There has been talk in some places of an overvaluation of college rights. Is the marketplace set for a correction?

It depends on the property and the deal in place. Is it fair and sustainable or is it deal that is part of the speculation bubble (an unprofitable deal but betting that the property will garner more value when they sell the asset to a suitor in the future)? There are enough of the latter that if I am a University President and/ or an Athletic Director, I would begin to dig in and prepare for ‘Correction” day when I might have to bring it back in house and understand what that means. Furthermore, if you are not in the “top 35”then that proactive planning should begin now so that you are organized even if you are 2 or even 3 years away from your mmr rights deals expiring.

For schools outside of the power conferences, what are the biggest opportunities you see that have not yet been exploited fully?

Those schools and even some schools in those power conferences really need to begin focusing on how they need to build a real battle worthy sponsorship program – one where you can drive significant incremental revenues and deliver real value to your sponsors all within the core values of your University. Those programs that are outside the power conferences are in a tough spot because if those schools have partnerships with bigger mmr companies, they might not be getting the attention they should be getting to maximize their revenues and if they do it in house, they likely do not have the expertise to build a sponsor program that can truly maximize output. But they have to start doing something or they will get left even further behind – status quo is not an option.

As you look forward into the landscape, are there sports that you see on the collegiate level or the amateur level as being the next big opportunity? and is so what are they and why?

Certain Olympic Sports at the collegiate level like soccer and lacrosse are starting to grow into a revenue producing proposition or at least begin to be net neutral. Sports like this are growing in numbers and their demographics for sport specific sponsors are attractive. We also see the potential of multi-sport events like an authentic (non AAU or made for television event) national high school competition being something that can generate significant interest and value – and we are looking at those type of possibilities today.


About Rich Klein…
Prior to co-founding Rockbridge, Rich worked for CBS Collegiate Sports Properties for 15 years, following a successful career in Higher Education publishing sales with McGraw-Hill. Rich began his time with CBS as the sponsorship sales lead for the state of the art Schottenstein Center at The Ohio State University and afterward was the General Manager at Cavalier Sports Marketing at The University of Virginia for five years.

During his time as a Vice President of Collegiate Properties, Rich has been responsible for the acquisition, start-up and direct oversight of numerous collegiate multi-media and media properties for CBS including LSU, University of Virginia, University of Maryland, and University of Utah. His creative inventory concepts have become standard within the collegiate marketplace, generating over 200 million dollars in sponsorship sales throughout his career. The son of a college basketball coach, Rich has excelled in creating the culture, structure and team necessary to generate significant and incremental revenue growth.

Rich is also committed to his family and community. Throughout his four children’s formative years, Rich has supported their activities in both athletic and cultural organizations as a coach and volunteer. He continues today as a member of The Board of Advancement at The Covenant School in Charlottesville, VA and as part of a mission team that travels to the barrios of Grenada, Nicaragua. Klein earned his BSBA from East Carolina University in 1988.

Ivy Sports Symposium Returns To Its Princeton Roots

Every year for the past nine years in the middle of November the Ivy Sports Symposium brings together leaders in the sports industry as well as hundreds of students and rising professionals for a jam-packed day of thought leadership, advice and networking. Back in the Garden State this year after stops on the campuses of Harvard, Columbia and Penn the last three years, the Symposium is one of the few student-run large scale gatherings for sports business, and its speakers list is reflective of the prestigious schools the Ivy League represents worldwide. This year’s event is the first one off campus, moving to the Hyatt in Princeton after spending its first five years in and around the University. The move is more reflective of the growth of the event, as the anticipated 600 plus attendees and speakers are now of a size that only Palmer Stadium or Jadwyn Gym could hold. Growing pains may take away some of the intimacy of the event, but the impact will hopefully again be felt by all involved who make the trek from over 40 schools up and down the east coast.
It is no secret that sports business has grown to be a multi-billion dollar enterprise the world over, and with that the competition for jobs and experience has also grown exponentially. Right now in the U.S. alone, there are over 300 “sports management” programs at colleges and universities that are churning out degrees by the thousands. That doesn’t include the scores of students in other majors looking to delve into some form of the business once they get whatever degree they happen to receive, from business to anthropology in some cases.
How many of these programs provide practical experience and a skills set that will help a workforce find gainful employment is up for some debate. However the real value lies more outside of the classroom in elite events like the Ivy Symposium and a handful of others, the ability to share experience and meet successful individuals in a field where who you know is as important of not more important, than what you know sometimes.
Sports business for all its glitz and glamour remains very much a people business, and programmes like the one at Princeton and others at places like the University of Michigan, Northwestern University and MIT, provide young people with invaluable lessons you can’t always get in a book; a chance to hear and experience firsthand what the successes and failures have been for people who now fill the ownership chairs and the C Suite. While the college experience is important, the networking experience, which can lead to volunteerism, internships and even entry level jobs, not to mention lifelong relationships, is invaluable.
Friday’s event, like the previous eight events, will feature speakers from a wide range of backgrounds, from owners like the Minnesota Vikings Mark Wilf to team CEO’s like the Sixers and Devils Scott O’Neil and the Cleveland Indians President Mark Shapiro. The topics will range from entrepreneurship to philanthropy, marketing to sports law, minor league baseball to the NFL, all with a who’s who of successful businesspeople from around the world, not just around the country, leading the discussions. This year there will event be a Shark Tank, with three emerging businesses vying for exposure, along with a recognition of ten rising stars in the business, all under the age of 30.
Like many wide ranging one day events, some will say the Ivy Symposium tries to do too much in one day, but for those with interest and focus in sports business, it has always been a day well spent.
Like other years as the days close in the Symposium becomes a tough ticket, and this year is no exception. For those who aren’t on board yet, a waiting list does exist. But for those going on Friday, it should be a great day of networking, learning, and engagement, right in the middle of the corridor between New York and Philly, one of the most fertile areas for sports business anywhere.

For all the latest details on the Ivy Sports Symposium, check out

“Up For Whatever” Scores Locally…

Last year during Super Bowl,  Bud Light’s “Up for Whatever” campaign scored huge marks for buzz, digital engagement and creativity, and the campaign continued to gain steam and eyeballs, and hopefully sales and brand awareness, throughout the year.

New elements have been introduced throughout the year to give the campaign more steam and re-engage consumers who liked the first go-round, and were interested in seeing what could be next for the characters of “Up For Whatever.”

However with such a buzz-worthy high end national platform, the question existed, could this become hyper-local as well? Could local distributors take the platform and drill it down with their own creative engagement in their local markets. Well if you are in Texas, the answer is yes.

In and around the state, one of the most ultra-competitive beer markets in the country, distributors sought out an idea to take the buzz ad viral awareness of “Up For Whatever” tie it to an efficient and noteworthy micro-campaign of their own; one that would engage their local consumers and keep the beat going through local events. The result was a highly effective digital campaign, manufactured and executed by our friends at Huddle Productions, that brought all sorts of “Up For Whatever” messaging, branding and fun to the people of the Lone Star State.

The group highlighted eight high traffic events tied to sports and music; from the Bud Light Hotel at the Final Four to World Cup events to a Dallas Mavericks game to an MLB game with the Texas Rangers and others, and captured fans enjoying all elements of a Bud Light experience and sharing their thoughts and experiences on “Up For Whatever.” The crews encouraged fans to share videos and photos, drop in celebrity references and surprise appearances, and bring the noise, as well as the fun, of the national “Up for Whatever” campaign back to the local market. They tied it back with all elements of social and digital including the campaigns own microsite for fans to engage and share more content.

The result was impressive, especially for a controlled cost experience. Over 20 million social impressions, thousands of shared photos and videos and hours of good will and brand engagement for Bud Light and their local distributors that set them apart from their competitors and tied in very nicely to the mage-sized national campaign.

While there are scores of examples of brands activating locally around a national campaign, the low cost, high impact benefit that Bud Light got locally for their brand, and the awareness that was generated for a national campaign with a hyper-local effort, was impressive, and certainly worth a few cold ones for the media crew who pulled the effort together and for the execs who saw a unique way to engage locally and exploit a national viral trend.

Well done, well executed and a great best practice for the brand.

The Most Loyal of Fans; The Military, Start To Get Their Due…

The “Salute To Troops” initiative the NFL staged this week, along with all the efforts that MLB put on in and around the World Series and NASCAR and others have done is beyond praise for the men and women who not only do so much to keep us safe, but who are amongst the most passionate and biggest supporters of sport on the planet. They are also the most loyal, remembering what brands, teams and leagues gave them hope when they needed it, and repaying that loyalty tenfold not just today, but down the line as well.
For years the military families were amongst the most underserved constituents and consumers tied to sport, and as Veteran’s Day arrives, it is nice to see them get their due.
One area that is sometimes over looked in terms of loyalty is on the college side. Putting the Service Academies and a few select Universities aside, the engagement of local military families is sometimes forgotten as a key marketing and engagement strategy by colleges. However that too is changing.
IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions and college football fans this year are joining to say “thank you” to those who sacrifice so much for our country more than ever before. Through a growing IMGLTS program, fans this year were encouraged to purchase tickets to a Military Appreciation game. The seats were then donated to active or retired military members. This year, 22 schools participated – double last year’s number – donating more than 21,000 tickets to our Armed Forces. Many of the active service members and veterans receiving free tickets had previously never attended a college football game.
The participating schools were and are: Penn State, which began the program in 2012 and donated more than 5,000 tickets, Akron, Arkansas, Auburn, Boston College, Colorado, Duke, Florida, Georgia State, NC State, New Mexico. Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, South Carolina, Southern Miss, Temple, Tulsa, USF, UTSA, Utah State, West Virginia and Wyoming.


A note from an Air Force veteran was like hundreds of others sent from thankful military members: “It was very special for me and my family to be able to attend such a high-profile event and to see the fellow veterans at the game enjoying themselves. It really touched my spirit and made me proud of the fact that someone took the time to think of us. I am truly proud to be a U.S. veteran. May God continue to bless you and the United States of America!”
While the effort by these elite schools on football is great, the outreach should extend down to the smallest schools with distressed tickets looking to do good as well. Military families big and small are in every community, and the positive spin coming off such an activation will pay dividends and should be a “must do” vs. an alternate opportunity. Many of these families of returning young veterans have young kids who can become instant fans of a local school they knew little about; heroes can be made of stent-athletes and coaches who connect with the vets and their families right away, and those bonds can grow over time, with a spillover effect that won’t just put butts in seats, it can lead to jobs, life lessons and even sponsorship as these new vets get back on their feet and work with growing businesses in the community. The effort shouldn’t stop just on the college level either. High schools, now seen by many as the next great marketing frontier, especially in the digital space and with hyper local sponsorships, should also look to engage their local military vets, and fond ways again to make these heroes even bigger heroes through sport.
We have come a long way on every level in recognizing and engaging the military to say thank you through sport, but we still have a great way to go away from the brightest of lights on NFL Sundays and during the World Series. That start has been amazing, the next steps can be even greater, and the payoff both in loyalty and brand value, will continue to be immeasurable.