ESPN | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

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.

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.

 

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.

Tailgating Gets More Customized…

It’s almost tailgate time on hundreds of colleges across the country, and a relatively new brand is ready to jump into the fray with a pretty unique contest.

Schwan’s is a one of the national brands IMG College has brought to multiple school properties, with some assistance from Learfield Sports in lining up key schools.  They are now kicking off a pretty cool online platform at  TailgateAtYourPlace.com  The contest highlights Schwan’s Consumer Brands’ Red Baron®, Freschetta® and Tony’s® pizzas….and has some compelling features for fans.  The new Web site is billed as a one-stop shop for all things tailgating this fall football season, including entertainment tips for hosting game-day tailgate festivities, unique college football content and trivia, recipes, contests and games with more than $150,000 in prizes. Additionally, Red Baron®, Freschetta® and Tony’s® pizza brands will have special promotional packaging tied to the sponsorship program, set to run from Aug. 1, 2014 through Jan. 10, 2015. 

The greatest part of the contest doesn’t stop with winning; the brand will customize the online tailgate to the loyalty of the winner. A Commodore in Knoxville wants no part of orange; that’s ok.  A Buckeye going to Ann Arbor? All your stuff is OSU styled, no Maize and Blue anywhere near. The attention to detail shows that the company is willing to go the extra mile to deliver not just any experience, but THE experience, to the winning consumer.

The universities included in Schwan’s Consumer Brands football sponsorship are Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio State.

TailgateAtYourPlace.com will offer pizza lovers timely tips as the football season kicks off, as well as content to get them in a college football spirit.  Fans encouraged via a full social platform to visit daily for chances to win prizes; more than $150,000 in daily and monthly grand prizes will be awarded. Prizes include five monthly sweepstakes of $10,000 cash, a home-entertainment makeover and a kitchen makeover.  Consumers earn sweepstakes entries by playing the Instant Win Game and earning bonus sweepstakes entries by visiting areas on the site.

Not a bad way to build loyalty and expose millions of casual fans to the brands’ newest investment; the ever-growing big business in and around college football.

“Hyper-Local” Gets Another Digital Shot…

It certainly wasn’t the greatest week for Gannett, with their news of the virtual shuttering of their long form national sports platform “Sports on Earth” and the spinning off of their newspapers. However for the local sports fan, a new offering on the digital Gannett platforms could provide a nice option for additional coverage of college, high school and special event sports throughout the state, an area which news 12 and Verizon Fios have covered to various levels of success on broadcast TV, bit one which has seen a loss of hyper local coverage with the loss of an entity like MSG Varsity.

The new offering is called “Jersey Sports Rant,” and it will be hosted by longtime area voice Joey Wahler, who consumers in New York may recognize from places like MSG Network and News 12, and have heard on WFAN and WCBS radio for years.  The digital offering  debuts Monday. Aug. 18, streaming live video Monday through Thursday from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. Wahler will host the show from the new Asbury Park Press newsroom in Neptune, bringing in personalities with Jersey ties via digital connection, and in some cases in person. The audience will be asked to interact with the show through social media platforms and by a live chat box on the screen. Consumers can access the show live or through a daily archive on Gannett’s five New Jersey newspaper websites: app.com (Asbury Park Press), mycentraljersey.com (Home News Tribune/Courier News), courierpostonline.com, dailyrecord.com and dailyjournal.com, giving some great added value to those news site’s subscribers, and helping to give the Gannett papers statewide a more unified presence in the local sports conversation.

The goal of “Jersey Sports Rant” is to provide a state-specific platform to discuss the sports news of the day; from Rutgers and the Big 10 to minor league baseball to the casino industry to high school sports, with a mix of coverage and discussion about the professional game as well. In addition to being a nice addition to the news sites, it can provide much-desired video that can drive traffic, and in theory, brands and dollars back to fund the project. This works in many smaller markets, can it work in a large market like New Jersey?

While not venturing outside the studio at first, the show will look to spread its wings with event content and news of the day as well; making it much more than a stagnant “talking head” with calls just coming in. Video and guests can drive conversation and engagement, something which sometimes gets lost in New Jersey sports as the talk is controlled by the professional sports across the rivers in Philadelphia and New York.

Will “Sports Rant” find an audience to make it viable and desirable to advertisers? That will take time to build, but studies do show that the consumer today loves hyper-local engagement and unique content. In this crowded environment it may be a challenge, but it is one that Gannett looks like it is willing to take on as it tries to find new ways to engage its subscribers and grow its base.

Let the story pitching begin.

A Hall Of An Opportunity In Springfield

If you are fan of inductions, then late July and August is your time. Two weeks ago the Baseball Hall of Fame had one of their biggest weekends ever with massive attendance and media exposure. Last weekend the Pro Football Hall of Fame served as the unofficial kickoff of the NFL season with their Hall of Fame weekend, and in just a few weeks the College Football Hall of Fame will open its doors in Atlanta for the first time. While all these Halls celebrate great largely American sports heroes, this weekend the one Hall in North America that is truly global will do its induction, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

The 2014 class is no less notable than those going in baseball or football the past few weeks; it  includes David Stern, and former players Alonzo Mourning,  Sarunas Marciulonis and Mitch Richmond, along with NCAA championship-winning coaches Nolan Richardson and Gary Williams and the pioneering women’s  team from Immaculata University. A great mix of stars from almost every corner of the U.S. and around the world. The Hall is located in Springfield, hard by one of the busiest corridors in the U.S. and not that far from Boston or New York. Yet for its location and its global designation, the Hoop Hall seems to get lost in the mix at this time of year; making it a great opportunity for brands and partners looking to maybe find a little diamond in the rough for promotion in a long, hot and busy summer.

Maybe it’s because the Hall is not tied to an actual time of year when hoops is top of mind; like baseball or football are. Maybe it’s because it is August and even those who are passionate about seeing such inductions may be suffering from a nostalgic hangover, for whatever the reason, it seems like there is missed opportunity abounding in Springfield. Basketball is the second-most popular game in the world; the All-Star cast going in is certainly worthy of large media coverage, and those returning to the Hall each years for its ceremony rival the returnees in any sport. The NBA and the national wires will do their part to get the stories told, but in terms of buzz and glitz and glamor basketball on the rarest of rare occasions misses the boat this weekend.

Can there be more that could be done? Sure. While none of the Halls are officially aligned with their respective pro leagues, their support is always welcomed and appreciated, so bringing more social media presence and technology to the induction in Springfield through the NBA and even FIBA partners would help. Maybe there should be more of an in-market presence for the inductees to take the Hall experience more on the road; Team USA just finished up its practice sessions with more to come, could Springfield have been a place where they came around the induction weekend? Does the ceremony have to be at a time of year when hoops is so far off in the distance? All of those questions have probably been addressed and answered by the powers that be, but the Basketball Hall of Fame weekend should be a must attend for media, brands interested in the game and fans, much like baseball and football induction weekends are.  The building is a grand tribute to a great game, as are its inductees. Finding the best way to shine a brighter light on the weekend is the challenge, one which companies should be looking at probably closer than they have in the past as a great entrée into basketball.

In The Social Space, The Heat Remain Hot…

Before any trade movement happened, the entirety of the NBA waited with baited breath on one event: the decision of LeBron James. Everyone in the sports world knew that once LeBron picked his destination, that the shakeout would be swift and violent. Now that the smoke has cleared, what did it all mean in terms of NBA Teams’ social media presence? Our colleagues at MVP Index took a look, and while the Cavs gained, the demise of the Heat seems greatly exaggerated thus far. Are the Heat in retreat?

In short: no. Miami still reigns supreme in the MVP Index’s rankings of NBA teams. They maintained their seat atop the social media mountain by staying the course and by having built such a solid global following that has stayed loyal, which is great, but probably not surprising news, for brands and partners in South Florida. Since LeBron vacated his throne in Miami, the Heat’s Facebook likes and Twitter followers have increased by over 413K and 28K respectively. If you’re wondering what those numbers look like compared to the rest of the league; the Heat gained the most Facebook likes in the entire NBA followed by Chicago, Cleveland, LA Lakers and San Antonio. Twitter, however, is an entirely different story. The Cleveland Cavaliers hold the title for the most Twitter followers gained since Decision II with over 75K. The next four teams in that category are the Lakers, Bulls, Heat and Knicks.

MVP INDEX TOP 10 NBA TEAMS

Miami Heat

Los Angeles Lakers

Boston Celtics

Chicago Bulls

San Antonio Spurs

Oklahoma City Thunder

Golden State Warriors

New York Knicks

Portland Trail Blazers

Los Angeles Clippers

 

TRENDING UP

Sacramento Kings + 5

Cleveland Cavaliers +4

Portland Trail Blazers +3

Memphis Grizzlies +3

Los Angeles Lakers +2

Chicago Bulls +2

Denver Nuggets +2

Minnesota Timberwolves +2

Golden State Warriors +1

Dallas Mavericks +1

Socially, Cleveland has made some serious strides. In addition to those over 75K new Twitter followers, the Cavs also gained over 240K Facebook likes. Additionally, they gained the most followers of any NBA team on Instagram at over 91K. They also more than doubled their monthly Facebook shares with an increase of over 13K. Overall, the Cavs moved up 4 spots on the MVP index to the 12th slot. In just over 3 weeks after the decision, that’s some significant movement. It will be interesting to watch the rest of the league to see how social strategies change and how fans react to see who will end up with the top spot as deals like the one for Kevin Love play out, and more importantly, how teams perform once training camp gets started in October.

One thing that is pretty clear though; social followings, unless there is something catastrophically negative occurring; remain tough to rock once built, and are still challenging to grow unless the social space is combined with real time results in games. That combination remains king; for LeBron and everyone else.

Yogurt Takes A Dip Into Colleges; Hummus Next?

Hummus and Yogurt, smart brand fits for the college marketplace, and both now have really started their engagement through athletic branding.

This week, Chobani announced a 17 school partnership through IMG College to engage with colleges through athletics on a broad platform; from digital and game promotions to health awareness campaigns, sampling and access to athletes. The launch schools include Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas, UCLA and several others, and more comes at a great time since the NCAA’s rule change allowing universities to serve student-athletes unlimited meals.  Yogurt as a healthy choice makes great sense, and Chobani taking the broadest activation platform with some large programs is a great next step. It certainly won’t be the mega-deal for income that beer will be as more schools start opening up the taps at games, but from a messaging and branding standpoint the yogurt play hits on many levels.

Then there is  hummus, growing as fast as any in the snack food category. Major brands are investing millions in the chick pea snack, combined with their own crackers and pretzel brands that fans are accustomed to, and dropping in various flavors to make hummus as appealing and healthier than your standard nachos or other dips on game day.  The growth at retail in large ethnically diverse metropolitan areas has been tremendous, and now the key hummus brands are looking to extend more into sport by dipping crackers into various partnerships. Last winter Olympian Tim Morehouse and his quest to bring of all sports, worked with the Sabra brand to create a “Fencing In The Cities” program as a way to promote active lives for young people in urban areas, and Sabra was a great fit. The brand has also partnered with the NFL to be the official dip of the league, but investing and activating at the level to break through with one of the most elite platforms on the planet can have its challenges. So how about hummus on the college level?

Like yogurt, hummus plays well on college campuses as a snack alternative. It can fit really well with student-athletes at the training table and can have much more of a cost-effective activation at mid-major schools. Maybe not Michigan, but how about Harvard-Yale to start?  For schools looking for great messaging and healthy lifestyles with brands looking to break through in snacks, hummus could match yogurt as a great fit.

Let the healthy dipping begin.

Soccer In New York; The Strategic Battle Builds

In most cases around New York “the battle” for supremacy amongst pro sports rivals is often more fizzle than sizzle. The Nets have never been at peak performance as the same time as the Knicks; few years have the Jets and Giants in the playoffs at the same time; save for 2000, the Mets and Yankees rarely top the standings at the same point. It is only in hockey, where the devils and Rangers have recently produced some memorable matchups where a “subway series” seems to pit two rivals at top time against each other. So early next spring we will have a new battle, this one on the soccer pitch; as the incumbent Red Bulls will meet expansion New York City Soccer Club for the first time. Could this be the rivalry that fuels some fire in and around Gotham?

Right now NYCFC is adding veteran pieces while the Red Bulls make a playoff run, so where the two will stack up in their first meetings at Red Bull Arena or Yankee Stadium remains to be seen. However in the hype and strategy area, NYCFC has certainly taken their pre-play time to find ways to eat into the psyche of the New York casual sports fan, with strategic blitzes, brand building and announcements that have given them more headlines than any team in the market before they take the field for the first time.

NYCFC has used the deep pockets of  Manchester City and the New York Yankees, as well as their two iconic brand names, to bolster support. They have built a strong social campaign and a smart supporter club project to keep fans engaged, have used their time expanding grassroots support with every soccer club that will hear them speak and be part of their launch. They sent clear messages about culture by sending their soccer heads, Claudio Reyna and Jason Kreis, to learn the system they will use by embedding themselves in Man City football. They have secured local TV and even radio deals well in advance of their start, and they take every second they can to engage fans on all things football in the digital space. They sell tickets without games, sponsorship without a goal being scored. They are all about inclusion in something special. While most teams would use the power of Manhattan to introduce stars, NYCFC has taken to the streets, creating kids clinics in Brooklyn around the announcement of English star Frank Lampard, and Thursday will bring another solid name, David Villa, to a clinic with kids in the Bronx. Can Staten Island and Queens be far behind with the next announcements? The message is very clear; NYCFC aims to look across the city and east to build its following, areas that the Red Bulls have had limited success in engaging in throughout their history. New Jersey? Who knows.

The real star for NYCFC now is the idea of bring in on the ground floor of something special. Without results, the possibilities for now are endless. Now is the strategy glossing over issues for the long term? Somewhat. There is still no long term announced stadium plan and no entrenched practice facility. Brands for the most part are in the announce stage but there is no doubt that NYCFC has put down roots that are growing and ones that have engaged the casual fan for now. Whether that changes once the product hits the field is also another matter; it is a startup, and while the stories of the team, led by a star in Lampard who has said all the right things about investing in American soccer and wanting to be in New York (while other stars in soccer have come to new York in recent years and shunned the media attention and spotlight).

For their part, the Red Bulls right now are the mature brand taking on the challenger. They have looked to capitalize on the World Cup hype by putting quality on the field, involving some of their World Cu veterans in key promotions. They have invested in more grassroots programs in and around New Jersey and have held supporters meetings into the Manhattan and Brooklyn, albeit without some of the splash and dash that NYCFC’s hype has been lately. Right now they have a team and a brand that is supported in the market; while NYCFC has lots of potential.

Will the two clubs blossom into the rivalry that MLS has seen in places like Seattle and Portland? Tough to say at this point. New York is a fickle market where the brightest shine through, and the jury is still out on the fact that the City, albeit a soccer city, is really an MLS city. Kids in the area are still more apt to don a Manchester United or Real Madrid jersey as they will an MLS shirt, and with elite established clubs like Bayern Munich, AS Roma, Liverpool and Chelsea making marketing inroads on Madison Avenue, the attackers of MLS may be challenged for discretionary dollars. However both NYCFC and the Red Bulls will have something that all the TV dollars and marketing of the world’s elite clubs will not have; consistent match and athlete presence in the market. While we think that TV and digital can fill a void, the fact remains that the live experience is still king, and if the local clubs put on quality performances, they will help fill the seats as well as the hype meters.

Will the mega-busk of their owners and the strategic planning of the management team propel NYCFC to prominence overall in New York sport and ahead of the Red Bulls in the eyes of soccer cognoscenti? We shall see. For now, on the hype and buzz meter, it’s a very good race, without a goal being scored.

The Business of LeBron; From A Foundation Point of View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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