Gaming, Gambling and Engagement: Where Is It All Going?

This past Sunday, three of the most read stories in the New York Times involved the growing and ever-changing world of gaming and gambling. From competitive, professional e-gaming to lotteries now being devised to teach people about healthy savings to the continued troubles two of the biggest online games companies, Rovio and Zynga, are having, it is becoming more and more apparent that the digital and mobile gaming world is becoming more relevant, more fluid and in many ways more treacherous than ever before as brands and investors look to throw money good and bad into the space to see how to engage not just millennials, but a growing consumer base that wants to be more connected in the digital world than ever before.

Against that volatile and ever-changing mobile backdrop also came the final nail in the coffin for two of Atlantic City’s biggest resorts, the venerable Showboat and the quick to burn Revel, along with another massive employer going down the tubes in the coming weeks in the Trump Plaza. Put against that the massive marketing dollars being thrown about by arguably the two biggest players in the pay fantasy world, Draft Kings and Fan Duel, and the ongoing battle States are having to overturn federal law to bring relevance and dollars to sports gambling, and you have a virtual sports, gaming and gambling business that resembles the wild west, with huge investors trying to find answers as to how and where people want to engage in the gaming space, and what exactly they will, or won’t pay for.

Now the casino business is far from dead. Just looking at the companies lining up to open buildings in states like Massachusetts and New York and other states shows that sin is in, and those governments are more than willing to get their slice of the current pie. The problem is that the pie, at least as it exists today for boots on the ground casinos  is not growing. The goal for these new venues is to keep people home, and to find the right critical mass of players to keep the new casinos vibrant and healthy. That is the same challenge Atlantic City will now face; how many are too many for the clientele that make the trip down and across the Atlantic City Expressway, and what will keep bringing them back?

Some legislators feel that sports gambling, via mobile device or in person, will be the difference and could be a billion dollar federally regulated industry that will create new revenue streams for governments, for the casinos and for the leagues that would get a piece of each transaction. After all the sports gambling industry has flourished in Nevada for years, and is a growing multi-billion dollar business globally, with clubs like those in the Barclays Premier League aligned with legitimate legal betting houses for years. The theory is not if, but when, the legal gambling spigot gets turned on that the revenue, and the fan engagement, will rise all ships. Today that remains a theory though, as lobbyists on both sides battle back and forth to keep Nevada as the sole spot for sports gambling. Arguments of match and game fixing abound on one side; arguments of a tight federal system that works in many parts of the world fill the other side. When the stalemate will break is open for debate.

On the e-gaming side, insiders say the business is exploding, with million dollar tournament and some events drawing in excess of 10-12,000 fans, all millennials, watching tournaments both live and online, with brands lining up to engage and drop product in and around those games. Whether or not professional e-gaming is a massive sustainable business is up for debate though. Yes some players make huge sums and some brands have found healthy engagement and some tournaments draw big numbers. But what happens when those millennials turn to the next big thing and abandon the game they are so loyal to. Or what happens when they become a bit older and turn to more traditional discretionary spends; like sports or music or family or even school. Will they continue to turn out in massive numbers? The jury is still very much out. It is intriguing, but so are the X Games and the Dew Tour and the UFC and competitive surfing and Comic-con and any number of  platforms all battling for attention in a business environment that is becoming more targeted and much more competitive on a global scale with each passing week. Witness the issues Angry Birds has had in trying to stay engaged with an evolving and fickle audience, or the problems Zynga has had in keeping their massive scale with simple games.

Then there is the largest part of the population; those over 50. They are on fixed incomes in some cases and while they were the sweet spot of many casinos, they obviously don’t have the amount of discretionary income to keep all those brick and mortar casinos viable. They don’t really engage in e-gaming yet, but they do enjoy sports, so is there some type of hybrid that makes since in the digital world there that could cross over all platforms? They are avid lottery players, so the pay fantasy sports model could work for them, and the recent launch of effective savings programs tied to a lottery system seems to be hitting home not just with Baby Boomers but with a growing number of middle to lower income families who play traditional lottery in the hopes of hitting it big, but can now use an effective savings program that will help them get a chance at a bigger prize as well.

So where is all this e-gaming/gambling/traditional gaming business going? That is literally a billion dollar question. While right now all of these business seem to be working in legislative silos, the breakthrough success will come with more and more convergence down the line. Can e-game athletes mesh with traditional sports, and is there a pay system for consumers through a mobile, regulated environment that would bring revenue and excitement to consumers of all ages? Can federal regulators find a system where casinos now struggling as brick and mortar businesses battling for the same pie actually grow the pie and not just the pieces? Is some form of pay fantasy an answer in some way?

All has yet to play out, but thousands of brands are sitting on the sidelines waiting to see where all this nets out. For now, the collateral damage, especially in New Jersey, is pretty devastating in the form of lost jobs. Hopefully that is a temporary problem because one thing is for sure; the mobile digital gaming and gambling world is growing in interest on all fronts, and somehow, some way, the path to success needs to be carved.

“Football Passport” A Great Digital Addition As The Season Kicks Off…

Last spring our colleague Peter Casey launched an ambitious online tool where baseball fans could create a mosaic of all the great places they had seen games, and marry those events to a narrative that matched any fans passion for baseball. It followed a similar launch last winter for basketball fans. It was called “Hardball  Passport,” a first of its kind way to catalogue and track all the stadia where games have been played. No need for ticket stubs saved, “Hardball Passport” helped you bring back the memories in a virtual world just like “Basketball Passport” had done for hoops fans not just on the NBA level but on the college level as well.

This past week, as the NFL and college seasons began, Casey and his partners unveiled their latest tracking tool, one which might even be a bigger hit that its first two. It is “Football Passport,”  an easy-to-use web tool that lets football fans track every football game they’ve attended over the years.

“Football Passport” allows fans to find and log almost every game they’ve attended with simple search functionality. Leveraging a comprehensive games database that goes back several decades, the tool serves as a repository for game-going memories. Fans can share stories and ticket stubs, and upload photos to complement their game histories. As fans log their games, “Football  Passport” dishes out personalized stats – number of games attended, stadiums seen, best performances witnessed, and each team’s record for games fans personally attended – to compare year over year or even against other fans. “Football Passport” allows future-oriented fans to easily create and track their stadium bucket lists, plan road trips and compete in head-to-head stadium challenges. Fans that complete a stadium challenge or achieve game-specific accomplishments earn unique digital stamps for their Passport. Combined with active leaderboards for “Most Games Logged,” it  creates a friendly culture of competition among avid game goers.

Will it gain more traction than “Basketball Passport”  or “Hardball Passport” have done in season one? Hopefully. Football has less games which makes it easier to catalogue, and college football is all about passion and tribal following. Fantasy football is also massive now, so that can also play into more interest for football than hoops or baseball, both of which are being refined for the next go-round.

From a business perspective, all have a nice upside. Brands can integrate perks into the platform for fans who engage regularly, and the model remains scalable to any sport, with probably soccer coming next. At some point as the platform expands you will also be able to share across sports, and with soccer, hopefully grow internationally. The biggest need however, especially to engage with millennials, is to have mobile capability and instant social media sharing. That still remains as a gap in the process, but one that is closing quickly. The download is easy, the work to be engaged is minimal, and the idea of being able to share memories and experiences is key for engagement. While not yet perfect, Casey’s “passports” are growing in popularity and make a nice addition as football kicks off. A great continue to watch idea for the digital sports space, “Football Passport” is worth the download.

USTA Makes A Splash With A Unique Challenge Of Its Own…

There is no doubt the simple act of the Ice Bucket Challenge surpassed the imagination and expectations of those golfers who originally launched the idea on July  15 to benefit ALS  (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  From kids to heads of state to celebrities to athletes, the challenge is still going strong with groups large and small. While some have said enough is enough and others have questioned the need for funds just to ALS for such a wide promo, the fact remains that the simplicity of the message made it a phenomenon unlike anything else the philanthropic world has seen since pink became the call to action for breast cancer.

The challenge certainly wasn’t lost in the tennis world, and now with the US Open in full swing the list of participants in grassroots challenge to the most elite players continues to grow. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, John McEnroe, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki are some of the pro stars who have shared videos, and even the USTA Florida Section got in on the action  challenging former Florida junior phenoms and now-retired pros Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick.

So is there a what’s next or a one up or another challenge with the bucket that might be noteworthy on a mass scale? Surely some organization will go for the world’s largest group or the world’s largest bucket at some point soon to try and cut through the clutter. However one of the most creative challenges has not come from a group or an individual, it came from, well, a bucket sort of. The day of the US Open draw last week, the USTA staff decided to make the trophy itself the challenge, dousing the Tiffany Silver Cup with ice and cold water of its own. The challenge was issued to? Other trophies, ranging from the Stanley Cup to the NASCAR Sprint Cup, The World Series Trophy and, of course, the smallest with the largest following, The World Cup.

While so far none of those organizations have taken the challenge to their respective hardware, it was a nice and fun attention grabber to change it up a little and give some buzz to a challenge that is, well, becoming a bit of a challenge to gain notoriety.  Hopefully some of the other sports and their large budgets take note and douse their trophies soon, it is all for a worthy cause and could get the Ice Bucket Challenge another jump start as the summer winds down, and the Open heats up.

College Kicks Off; Shows True Colors In Cool Promo…

Following William Morris Endeavor’s acquisition of IMG, there’s been talk of collaboration — using WME talent in IMG marketing. A great example of that collaboration came to light this week as college football kicks off.

With 12,000 US retailers supporting the event and promotion in full force, WME client BRAD PAISLEY has signed on as the face of the College Colors Day social media push. You will be seeing pictures and videos of Brad in his West Virginia gear as well as posts for other IMG schools this week. Paisley is also cutting 18 video snippets for schools — giving them a shout out for college colors day.

On his new album, Moonshine in the Trunk (People magazine’s #1 pick this week), in the song “Country Nation,” Brad gives a shout-out to 16 school mascots represented by IMG college licensing. Of course, as a passionate college football fan, Brad leads with his beloved Mountaineers.

College Colors Day has become one of the largest annual retail marketing platforms for college football, creating not only fan excitement for the kickoff of a new college football season, but also additional distribution and exposure for school gear in over 12,000 retail locations nationwide.   Retail highlights include a special college section at Walmart called “Saturday’s Best” running in 500 stores all thru September.; 962 doors at JC Penny, 492 doors at Kohl’s, 457 doors at Sam’s, 204 doors at Meijer, 162 doors at Target, 204 doors at Academy (all stores).

It’s a smart example of convergence and showing how properties can work together to amplify a platform.

Golf, Tennis Take Their Annual Bite Of The Apple…

The perception is, if you want to succeed on Madison Avenue fully, then you need to bring the game to those making the decision. Every team sport, as well as air racing, triathlons, hot dog eating, even surfing, have tried to show the value of their product by coming as perilously close to Gotham as possible at least every few years. Formula 1 will try it again in a few years…NASCAR, for its mega success, still scratches its head with the closest race a few hours away at “The Tricky Triangle” at Pocono, and the same goes for Indy Car. You can bring the personalities, the drivers, the noise for special events, but to experience the event, you still have to go just that much further, and that much further makes a big difference for a distracted media and advertising and brand activation business that sometimes doesn’t like to leave the confines of the Big Apple. We really like you, but until you can come to our house we can’t really have a full relationship.

That’s why tennis’ biggest event, The US Open, with its most widespread brand activation platform, kicks off within eyeshot of Broadway, at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. Meanwhile a huge event for golf, the annual Barclays, took its turn this past weekend with Manhattan as the backdrop at Ridgewood Country Club in nearby Paramus.  Ridgewood served as a not too subtle reminder for the PGA that big brands and even bigger dollars lurk just across the Hudson, and it is a very easy ride to bring those who spend the dollars of brands to see the stars.

For sure, elite courses like Trump National and Bethpage Black and Winged Foot have served golf very well from a business perspective. It is a once a year stop that can bring golf close to the office, and while decision makers visit over the weekend, can serve as a reminder to how close all the activation opportunities that come with the golfing clientele can come to Manhattan. It is a strategy that can and will work well as a marketing tool for the sport; one that other sports who aren’t so close to New York City can try to replicate, but still may fall short. Yes you can do junkets to close in and far off events to capture the experience of the live event but having the event so close to home makes it just that more memorable, and provides just that more of an opportunity for brands to cozy up and spend those large discretionary dollars.

It is a model the USTA has played so well for years, using their two week window to raise millions to fund the game across the country at the grassroots level, and although this short week at The Barclays won’t be the huge windfall that the US Open is for tennis in the same location every year, it sure goes a long way in helping grow the game of golf on the corporate level, and with that growth comes a spillover to help the game expand. That is smart business, and why The Barclays gives golf a strategic advantage that didn’t exist just a few years ago, bringing the game as close to the seat of business as it ever has been.  That value, in a time when ROI is placed at a higher value than ever before, is immeasurable, and helps the perception of success for the business of golf, become much more of a reality for all involved.

Another Simple Idea “Kicks” In…

The beauty of the Ice Bucket Challenge came out of its simplicity, combined with its viral nature. An easy to understand, uncomplicated act that everyone “gets,” tied to a charity. No need for tools, signups, pledges or pink shorts; 100 percent goes right to the charity.

So with that in mind we came across another idea gaining some steam for September. A simple game of kickball. While not as easy as dumping an ice bucket, kickball, like a simple game of catch (another idea which has been used to grow charity initiatives in minor league baseball in recent years), kickball is simple, easy to play, can have some great viral moments and requires little outside of a ball and some friends. Play it in a park, on a street, a schoolyard, wherever. Young and old can play for hours or minutes.

So with September being National Hunger Awareness Month, the ShopRite supermarket chain and some of its employees have looked to kickball to take a slap at hunger. Local stores are organizing simple kickball games with employees, families and friends, with each participant dropping a few dollars or some product from ShopRite toward the cause.  The money raised goes right to Shoprite for product that goes right to homeless shelters and food pantries at a time when it is needed most, as those places usually go bare when people donating go away for the summer, and kids return to start school and need that boost more than ever.

Every year during September — National Hunger Awareness Month — employees of the ShopRite try to raise money for the company’s Partners in Caring Program, a hunger-fighting initiative that supports more than 1,700 charities. Since the program began, ShopRite has donated more than $29 million to food banks to help feed the hungry. This year’s goal is to raise $1.5 million for food pantries.

The great piece of the pie that ShopRite can also bring to the front for such campaigns are through their co-op programs with brands. Expanding a simple kickball game to include product pulled in from brands in stores through their co-op programs gets more people involved, and can target national products in much-needed categories to fill the shelves as well. Those distributors can also pull in more employees to participate and grow the pool as well.

Gain the beauty of kickball is its simplicity; there are no master skills or a special field needed, and a ball gets everyone involved. Heck, impromptu games can even pop up in supermarket parking lots for a few minutes right after work, and in a cell-phone happy world, videos from fun to impressive can pop up pretty quickly.

Will kickball catch on like bucket dumping? Probably not as big or as viral, but it’s a great effort for the chain to raise product and awareness for yet another worthy cause.

Smart Like A Fox…

With the NFL season on the horizon, Tanner Simkins caught up with recent NFLPA President and current Harvard MBA President Domonique Foxworth to talk about the league and where he is today in Cambridge…

Domonique Foxworth, former NFL cornerback and NFLPA President, is now an MBA candidate at Harvard Business School. Recently, we caught up with Foxworth for a discussion on his NFLPA Presidency, his MBA progress at HBS, and more. (A detailed biography for Foxworth is provided after the Q&A). You can connect with Foxworth on Twitter.

Full Court Press: You helped shape the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, what was the biggest lesson you learned from that process?

Domonique Foxworth: I found myself in a room full of billionaires. Before the negotiations started, I had this impression that everyone in the room was out-of-this-world smart. After the first couple meetings, I realized that I am just as smart and just as capable as they are. This experience motivated me to attend business school.

FCP: What inspired you to run for NFLPA President?

DF: It wasn’t a snap decision. It was a process. It was important for me to take a larger role in the [governing] body that I belong to, and to me there was no better way than being President.

FCP: Now you’re getting your MBA. How has the transition into Harvard Business School been going?

DF: It’s been tough but I am no stranger to working very hard. It is definitely a different culture than one I was in before. But I am happy to be a part of it and I feel like I fit in well.

FCP: What’s more difficult playing an NFL season or a HBS semester?

DF: The NFL, hands down. No one is trying to hurt me when I am studying. Competing against a book or competing in the class for comments is much different than competing against super humans who are physically going after me on a weekly or daily basis. At Harvard they are super humans too, with their intelligence. But, everybody can win [in the classroom] and that’s the biggest difference. When there are confrontations here, [at HBS] we can all win – and that’s not how it works in sports.

FCP: What are your post-graduation plans?

DF: I am very interested in entrepreneurship and venture capitalism especially related to something in the sports arena.

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

DF: The sports industry is no different than any other. Technology can provide quality improvements. That’s what I am excited about. I’m already working with entrepreneurs and young companies to apply tech to improve the quality of life for athletes.

FCP: What’s your favorite book, sports business or otherwise?

DF: Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss. Classic! [Foxworth has a toddler and baby at home.]

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

DF: The major tip I give to anyone who wants to get in sports is: know that your day-to-day job will have very little to do with the actual sport. If you want to get in to sports business because you love the game of football or basketball, you are going to be very disappointed because you’re so far removed from the game. (Unless you are a coach.) Evaluate why you want to be in sports. If you are crazy sports fan, you may be disappointed with the [minimal] access you receive.

Domonique Foxworth, a former NFL cornerback, is a respected leader and in March 2012 was elected by his peers to serve as the NFL Players Association President.

First elected to the NFLPA as a player representative in 2007, he became one of the youngest vice presidents ever to be voted onto the executive committee. Foxworth played a pivotal role in the NFL collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations in 2011 which resulted in: a longer off-season, allowing players time for recovery and academic pursuits; the elimination of two-a-day practices as a health and safety measure—several youth leagues followed suit; a minimum threshold for spending under the salary cap; and the creation of a “Legacy Fund” pension resource for former NFL players, among other things. During his tenure, the union has also instituted several new committees, composed of staff and players, to encourage greater involvement among members; established a unique 10-year $100 million partnership with Harvard Medical School to research new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent injuries and illness affecting football players; and created a lifecycle initiative for members which includes a series of resources and programs to help players excel during and after their NFL career. His current term as NFLPA President runs through 2014.

Foxworth was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2005, and played in the NFL over seven years for the Broncos, the Atlanta Falcons and his hometown Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos nominated Foxworth for the 2007 Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award for his work in the community which included: serving as spokesperson for “College and Colorado,” a nonprofit devoted to increasing enrollment and improving academic success of low income students; raising money to build a teen center in the name of slain teammate; and penning a weekly column for the Denver Post—the collection was later published as a book with proceeds befitting a Denver nonprofit.

He completed high school in 3.5 years, enrolled early at the University of Maryland, and began training with the school’s football team. Foxworth graduated from Maryland with an B.A. in American Studies in 2004 and was awarded as Maryland Student Athlete of the Year. He will matriculate at Harvard Business School in fall 2013.

A student of the civil right movement, Foxworth collects artifacts and historical treasures from African American history in his spare time.

 

Mixing Sports and Broadway…

Below is the latest q and a by Tanner Simkins, this one with sports marketing legend Tony Ponturo (who I have had the honor to personally work with on four projects in recent years).

We sat down with sports marketing legend, Tony Ponturo, to discuss his role as producing partner for Broadway productions like Bronx Bombers, Lombardi and Magic/Bird and how theater and his longtime career in sports marketing play together. He and producing partner Fran Kirmser also recently acquired the rights to the life story of Joe Louis for film and stage, and have numerous other projects in the pipeline, including bringing Lombardi to the screen in the next few years.

Full Court Press: After a heralded sports business career, how was the transition from marketing executive to Broadway producer?

Tony Ponturo: I graduated with an economics degree but quickly realized that wasn’t for me.  I always wanted something that had both a creative and business dynamic.  I gravitated to sports marketing because it quenched both the creative and business side.  Just like how marketing is the business of sports, producing is very much the business of entertainment.  After building credibility with my sports marketing career, the transition into Broadway was natural.

FCP: Any crossover between the two?

TP: It’s really no different than how we did it at [Anheuser-Busch], but this time it’s a show.  The important question to answer is how to use the mark.  For example with Bronx Bombers, using the Yankee logos, official uniforms, etc added necessary value to the production.  Without this authenticity, consumers can easily see through it and lose interest.

FCP: Any development or trends you are closely watching?

TP: I am intrigued by the growth of fantasy sports.  It has created a new dialogue away from following your local sports team.  Now there is interest and passion at many levels for many reasons.  There will be continued efforts to capture this revenue in new and creative ways.

FCP: Any tips or advice for the aspiring sports professional?

TP: Reputation and trust are big things in business that get overlooked. Always keep those in mind while getting experience. Don’t have a high bar; get in anywhere as along as there is a focused path.  Impatience is the biggest barrier; don’t overlook a sense of direction & foundation.  Good people rise to the top wherever they are.

FCP: What is your favorite book?

TP: I enjoy reading historical biographies like of the Kennedy family for example.  I appreciate these real life stories and their practicality.

Sports and marketing executive Tony Ponturo’s name and reputation have been synonymous with quality, innovation and attention to brand detail for over 30 years. First in the advertising world, then in a landmark career at Anheuser-Busch, Tony Ponturo has been responsible for some of the most influential partnerships that have shaped the sports and entertainment landscape as we know it today.

Following a six year stint in the New York advertising business, Ponturo spent 26 years at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, MFCPouri, leading a team that built one of the most iconic sports and event marketing brands in the world. He joined AB in 1991, and until his departure in 2008, served as the President and CEO of Busch Media Group and the Vice President of Global Media, Sports and Entertainment Marketing of Anheuser-Busch Inc. Ponturo managed over $700mm in media, sports and entertainment properties per annum and oversaw broadcast exclusives for the Super Bowl and the FIFA World Cup, as well as multifaceted relationships with the United States and International Olympic Committees. He helped vastly expand Anheuser-Busch’s leadership stake in the sports business, carving official beer sponsorships with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and NASCAR in North America, as well as landmark international deals with Formula One Racing and the English Premier League in soccer. Anheuser-Busch also increased its position in the local and regional areas of sports sponsorship, securing scores of team and event partnerships during this time as well. Brand growth was also not limited to sports, as the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards all became key activation and sponsorship elements of the Anheuser- Busch family. As a member of the Anheuser-Busch Strategy Committee, Ponturo also served on the Board of Directors of both Anheuser-Busch, Inc. and Anheuser-Busch International, Inc, playing an integral role in developing the brand’s successful corporate media and sports structure.

His latest ventures have him balancing his passions in both sports and entertainment. He is a producer of Broadway hits and Tony Award winning shows such as the 2009 revival of “Hair” and the original musical “Memphis,” which opened in the fall of 2009. Along with the creative vision of entrepreneur and Producing Partner Fran Kirmser, together Tony and Fran negotiated the first time ever NFL and NBA marketing partnership deals for Broadway for productions Lombardi and Magic Bird. Both the NFL and the NBA trusted Kirmser Ponturo with their trademarks and provided, in addition to marketing support, an authentication to the creative process.

 

Keeping It Simple: Why “The Ice Bucket Challenge” Works..

It’s cheap, it’s simple, and it’s simple to understand. Those are some of the most forgotten goals for brand and marketing and PR campaigns in a world where we are all about multi-layer, multi-level complex engagement. That’s really why the Ice Bucket Challenge has worked, and helped really advance the cause and the funding for  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a motor neuron disease that causes nerve cells to break down and die. There is no treatment or cure for what many know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and it robs thousands every year of basic life skills, and then of life itself (including our old friend Dick Kelley, the longtime Boston College Sports Information Director who passed away earlier this year after a long and gallant fight with ALS).

In a recent piece in Inc. Magazine, Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour provided some simple tips for success. Some are probably to general and simplistic to really always be effective, bit one aligns itself well with the Ice Bucket Challenge success story. Do one thing and do it well.

The Challenge is a great example of a simple idea, forged out of chance, that has gone bigger than ever hoped. While millions have seen the Gatorade baths that coaches have gotten for years on winning sidelines, few had ever thought to take the concept and pass it along through a grassroots effort that made everyone who was involved a little colder, but winners regardless. And while the challenge has existed for several years with other charities, it was through golf of all places that this challenge was launched and got its legs for ALS.

According to several reports, on July 15, golfer Chris Kennedy did the ice-bucket challenge and challenged his cousin Jeanette Senerchia of Pelham, N.Y., whose husband, Anthony, has had ALS for 11 years. A day later she did the challenge while her 6-year-old daughter filmed her in front of their house. From there through a Facebook connection 29-year-old former Boston College baseball player Paul Frates connected to the challenge, and his friends and supporters ramped it up. It has expanded well beyond sport, but with sport as the rallying point, hundreds of athletes have taken or passed it along on all levels, and once the Kennedy Family did the challenge, Henrik Lundqvist challenged John McEnroe who challenged Novak Djokovic, and it got to LeBron James who challenged President Obama, the race was on.

The beauty is in its simplicity. There is no “portions of” donation made, all monies goes to ALS from the consumer. There is no having to buy or wear a color to support. There is no third party vendor. There is no real obligation or pressure to be involved; it takes seconds to do and it is an experience that is communal and knows no boundaries other than your own circle of friends. If you don’t want to do the challenge, or haven’t even been challenged, just make a donation to be part of the group. And by the way, donate to wherever you like, it is not limited just to ALS research. You do it, you get it, you move on in seconds.

Most importantly the millions raised, compounded by the awareness, will someday save a life, and will today give hope to millions where there may only be despair. That is the real success story; not in a “me too” viral video, but in the long-term battle for a dreaded and deadly disease.

Now can this simple program spiral to the point where it becomes white noise? Sure. Will someone go to far and create an issue for someone who does not want to do the challenge? maybe. Will there be some scammer collecting money by throwing water on people? Hopefully not. Will there be copycats trying to promise millions of dollars and vies? For sure, and hopefully at least one is successful. However before that happens maybe a corporation can join the individuals…hello Gatorade or a similar action drink? To make a massive donation or do a massive one-time 100 pct. funded maybe even without logos, to put the drive over the top before the weather gets too cool.

In the meantime, the Ice Bucket Challenge lives on by keeping it simple and by doing one thing well; a clear message in a time of complexity is a winner both in and out of sports.

Bleacher Report had a good summary of all the challenges connected to pro sports as well.

Smaller School Tries To Make Bigger Impact…

It certainly doesn’t have all the grandeur and expectations that Rutgers move to the Big 10 this fall has, but another New Jersey school with bigger aspirations for its brand, and its football team, will make a “Big’ move this fall. Monmouth University will make the switch in football from the Northeast Conference to the Big South Conference in the hopes that more eyes, more scholarship dollars and hopefully more donations and other ancillary benefits, come upon the mid-major Jersey Shore school.
Now there was a time when the only football talked about in West Long Branch was the Giants; who trained at the school for a brief period of time. Fall afternoons were spent more on a soccer pitch and football was a distant memory; not something the school had room or reason to do. However that all changed in 1993 when coach Kevin Callahan arrived with the goal of starting football from scratch, and the plan has evolved over the years to the point where the school can now look bigger for its gridiron glory.
Monmouth’s home stadium, 3,100-seat Kessler Field will undergo a $15 million renovation and expansion that is supposed to start after this season and be ready for 2015, as the school adjusts to football life against larger scholarship schools that play in the Big South and are amongst the best on the FCS level. Coastal Carolina, with head coach Joe Moglia pouring a good deal of his own money into the program from when he was head of TD Ameritrade, has become a national power on the FCS scene, and other schools like Liberty University are not that far behind. The league brings bigger expectations, more scholarships and perhaps more of a national identity for Monmouth as college football continues to get bigger and bigger from a sports business perspective.
Now the move to the Big South won’t suddenly push the Hawks into the College Football Championship game in a few years. That usually isn’t the goal with an upgrade like this, especially in the crowded media corridor in the Northeast. Few private schools ever find bright like success at the highest levels of college football; where state schools and their larger budgets and followings rule the roost. What this move does is make Monmouth highly competitive (with additional scholarships to recruit) on the level that they want to be at. It probably also opens the door for some ancillary sponsor opportunities, hopefully some additional ticket revenue and buzz around the school, and the ability to showcase its school brand for general students in a wider area in some key states where population is growing and Monmouth may not yet be a household name. There is also the payday specter down the line for more elite FCS schools. Better recruits and a better league mean that top tier schools; even a Rutgers; could look your way when doing scheduling out of conference. Those chances to play up to a higher level rarely result in wins, but they do result in a nice guarantee check coming back to help balance the overall athletic budget, and once again gets the school some great brand exposure.
Does this move to the Big South for football come with some risk? Sure. There is cost in upgrades and travel which were less of an issue when staying in the smaller and cost controlled Northeast Conference, but the benefits of playing in the local league vs. one with higher aspirations were also limited. There is also the question of what, if any, the other Big South schools have in common on the academic or even the social side with Monmouth. That is probably less of an issue since the move is only for football, which means the core sports for the school remain with their local rivalries.
In the end, the buzz and hopefully the dollars and even the media exposure seem like a good gamble for the West Long Branch school. There has always been some solid local support on all levels for the Hawks and the program they have continued to grow, a growth which has matched well with how the school has evolved on all levels. This fall, it kicks off a new challenge on the gridiron; one which has a nice upside as their coaches, alumni and student-athletes dream bigger and try to stake their own slightly expanded claim in the growing business of college football.