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The Business of LeBron; From A Foundation Point of View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

High School Media Day Scores In Concept

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maui Jim Scores In Social

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

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

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

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

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

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

Djokovic Scores In China…

It was a good week to be Novak Djokovic. Historic Wimbledon run with great health, getting some rest before heading to the US to start the hardcourt season and the run up to the US Open. It’s also a good week to be a business partner. In addition to all the exposure  UNIQLO received for his patch on his pristine white uniform, his technology partnership with the PlaySight brand will get him a tracking system of his very own on his court in Monaco, and now he can tell everyone in China about it as well.

Djokovic whose popularity was immense in China because wins in the ATP  Shanghai Masters, and his fourth China Open in 2013 has been missing from the social media landscape because of the lack of access to Facebook and Twitter in the country. However this past week his partnership with social media agency the Mailman Group dropped him back on Weibo, ensures that his connection with his Chinese fans is maximized. Coming on the heels of Wimbledon the re-activation is key for some expanded ROI for his partners, and serves as a great entry point to the massive Chinese fan base.

It’s also a great win for tennis in China, which has grown in popularity with the success Li Na has enjoyed on the WTA Tour, and the increased marketing presence of both the ATP and the WTA across the country. Mailman’s proprietary technology, KAWO, gives brands digital access to China’s 618 million Internet users by repurposing and automating existing social media content onto Chinese channels. The effective use of the global social space by Djokovic, something not every elite athlete has, will be a boon to his growing brand popularity in key points in Asia as the hardcourt season kicks into gear, and tennis goes more front and center in the US. Novak has always been known for his timing on the court, and for his brand partners, re-engagement in China was perfect as well.

Best Practices: Amplifying The Message

The latest in Tanner Simkins q and a’s is with industry veteran Michael Neuman.

Michael Neuman is the Managing Partner of Scout Sports and Entertainment.  We recently caught up with the Amplify Sports and Entertainment for a discussion on career advice and developing trends.  Neuman’s brief bio is provided after the Q&A

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

Michael Neuman: I launched Scout Sports and Entertainment in 2010 as the in-house sports and entertainment consultancy at Horizon Media.  Horizon is the largest independently owned media agency in the world.  Our role is to provide strategic counsel to our clients who invest heavily in sports and entertainment content to develop deep, emotional bonds with their target audiences.  We sit at the intersection of sports media and sports marketing, a powerful and pivotal point where brand and consumers come together with frequent momentum

FCP: Why sports?

MN: The passion is unrivaled, people WANT to see and feel it live.  It’s the ultimate “must see” TV and live event programming.

FCP: Describe your leadership style?

MN:  Empowering, inclusive, incorporating, passionate, caring and invested

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

MN: Brand curated content and the use of social media to flame the fires of good work.  AB’s Up for Whatever campaign around the Super Bowl was simply brilliant

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

MN:  Doug Verb my first boss, hired me out of college.  Treat all people with upmost respect and understand what motivates them.  John Floegel when I worked on the McDonald’s business for teaching me the art of politics and Jonah Kaufman (McDonald’s owner operator) for teaching me the importance of metrics and speaking the language of your audience

 FCP: What is your biggest regret?

MN: I wouldn’t change my life at all, I’m doing exactly what I set out to do and have worked with some of the industry’s greatest people.

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

MN:  In athletics, the mental edge is the differentiator between good and great.  In business, start earlier.  Once you zero in a career, start building experience and a network base.  The industry is super competitive and amassing relevant experiences earlier will be the differentiator

 FCP: What was the last book you read?

MN: I’m reading “Leaders Eat Last” now

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

MN:  If you truly want to work in the business of sports, you must be 130% committed to do whatever it takes to catch your first break.  The hardest part is getting the shot, it’s no different than the career minor leaguer getting called up in September.  Most fans don’t know this player probably spent the last 10 years in the minors.  There must be an irreversible commitment to succeed and on your own team, you need everyone on board including family, friends and your entire network.  Persistence and determination are omnipotent

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Neuman is the Managing Partner of Scout Sports and Entertainment, a Division of Horizon Media, Inc. Prior to joining Horizon, he was cofounder and president of Amplify Sports and Entertainment, LLC, a marketing consulting agency created to help brands harness the power of strategic sponsorship and maximize the impact of athlete and celebrity driven campaigns. Prior to launching Amplify, Neuman was Senior Vice President, Group Account Director with STRATEGIC (formerly Strategic Sports Group), where he provided strategic consulting services for sports and entertainment partnerships. Neuman previously held senior positions with Paragon Marketing Group (HALO Sports), Arnold Communications, and Global Television Sports, Inc.

Big Ten, New Schools Win The Day, Look To The Future

The day came and went with fireworks and fanfare, music and lots of Scarlet and Terp Pride. Rutgers and the Big 10. Maryland and the Big 10. For the casual fan it had a bit of a wow factor, for the ardent supporter it had a bigger wow factor. For those selling the brand to the business and media world, it was a day of cautious optimism. Of you are counting dollars in the halls of the athletic department; it was a day of cautious optimism.

If you are the Big 10, you are officially, at least in name, slotted in the Capitol District and at least near Madison Avenue to do business every day.  If you are in the halls of academia, you hope that the promises and the flood of long term positive cash flows, as well as the chance to maybe partner with elite institutions on programs well beyond a playing field, makes your job more interesting and perhaps your research better funded. And somewhere in new Jersey as the World Cup is going on, if you are former Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti, now watching over another transitional franchise, this one coming into Major League Soccer in New York City Football Club, you are probably smiling at a job well done steering the Scarlet Knights into a Power Five conference against some steep odds.

So when the bands went away, the mascots went home and the smoke from the fireworks blew away, who won?  The jury for both schools is still out and will be for some time, but from a strategic position the real winner right now is the Big 10 itself. While it is easy to “say” you are part of the New  York business marketplace or the fabric of DC, as entities like NASCAR or even the Pac 12 have said for years with media events, sponsor activations or TV buys, having a physical presence where brand and media buyers can actually experience the look and feel of what you are selling 24/7 is required. You can talk and then fly someone to an event; NASCAR at Pocono for example, or taking brands on a junket to a football weekend in Tuscaloosa, but to be able to say on a Tuesday, hey come and see Michigan play Rutgers, or Ohio State is visiting College Park tomorrow bring your family, is a big difference. That experience is amplified even more because New York, and Washington to a large extent, are really professional sports towns by nature.  Yes there are thousands of fans and alumni from colleges who live and congregate for games on their own, but for the large part the media, especially in New York, and most of the population, live and die with those in the pros.  The massive offerings of the Big 10 as a whole and its member schools individually, now get tot take advantage of a regular physical presence in two major markets they have never had before, and that means a great deal when battling with brands for discretionary dollars. It’s not like the Big 10 is hurting in any way for dollars and exposure on a national level, but having those two schools as an entertainment and activation hub in those markets makes the business of college sports just that much easier.

So what does it mean for Rutgers especially? Maryland has never been a stranger to big time athletics with its presence in the ACC. But Rutgers has ebbed and flowed for years into the national conversation through its relationships in the American Athletic, the Big East and before that the Atlantic 10. Pernetti when he was at the Scarlet Knights helm, fought and won a steep stealth battle to get the school into the Big Ten, arguing the upgrade in the long run would change every piece of the University for the better. He succeeded, and despite his controversial departure from the school, has left a mark that current AD Julie Hermann and her staff will have to evolve with going forward, with cautious optimism. The argument is that win or lose, Rutgers will now be able to grab part of that Big Ten national spotlight for themselves, and will be able to cash in literally on the bigger crowds of say, Michigan State coming to Piscataway for football or hoops than  a Cincinnati or a Seton Hall would ever bring. The naysayers bring up the fact that the Big ten schools are better built and supported than what Rutgers has experienced, and the competitive climb for all sports will be very steep and may never be realized.  Those on the positive side say the ancillary sales aspects of having larger profile schools involved can bring bigger sponsor dollars even for individual events, while those on the negative side say that Rutgers is not New York, that the professional sports will still get the larger flow of cash.  The argument for looks at the massive revenue share that the schools will get from playing in a college football championship pool, the argument against says it’s nice to think that all will be equal but in reality the culture of big time athletics is ingrained and managed at schools like Ohio State and Indiana, and it is not part of the culture at a school lie Rutgers. Some academics see the switch as another huge dupe of the public, with dollars spent better going towards world class programs in chemistry or mathematics or communications, all of which have suffered in a challenged environment, while those for say that the association with Big 10 schools can further grant money and in the long run will raise the tide across the University.

All of the above is up for debate at this point. The one certainty is that change in college athletics seems to be constant, and if the current environment does not work for the five big conferences now, that more change may be in the offing, especially for those leagues that DO NOT now have solid boots on the ground in markets like New York and Washington and may need to change yet again. For Rutgers, from an athletic brand standpoint, the association with the Big 10 was an immediate buzz generator, and that buzz will continue into the fall. Success on the field will certainly raise the level of exposure and with it the dollars that can flow in.  Will either matter to a casual fan in the New York area? Maybe. But how far Rutgers can insert itself into a sports culture that is purely professional is still up for debate. Maryland has a better chance in the Washington area, but for the Scarlet Knights to be in the conversation consistently will take a great, great deal of time and effort and success. What is more important for bath is the internal sell. The convincing of alumni, passionate local supporters, brands and administrators and students that this move is consistent, positive and for the better for all. That won’t happen for everyone with a few football games. It will take a constant reinforcement with hard numbers and data and interest, and that sell is much more important than the one to those listening to ESPN radio in DC or WFAN in New York.

In the end who won with the conference shifts this week? Certainly the Big Ten did, as their schools and their sales and marketing forces now have a place to call home in addition to a satellite office near Madison Avenue.  If you believe change is good then Rutgers and Maryland also are winners right now, with the potential for bigger wins on the bottom line down the road. Nine of that is guaranteed for the long term and there will be some painful days and decisions coming as that transition occurs, but if you were betting on longer term health, it seems like being with the have’s if you are in those athletic administrations, projects better than being on the outside trying to climb in.

July 2014 certainly brought optimism and buzz across two campuses, especially the one in New Jersey. Maintaining that buzz and pulling in the dollars will be the tough task at hand, and certainly one to watch as the leaves turn not just this fall, but for years to come as college sports continues its evolutionary dance into the sports business stratosphere.

Biz of Baseball Tech: MLB.com

Here is the latest stop-by done by Columbia alum Tanner Simkins. This one os with a fellow program alum, Jim McCloud at MLB Advanced Media. Tanner take a few minutes with Jim to talk about the biz of BAM.

Jim McCloud serves as the Vice President of Sponsorship Sales MLB Advanced Media. We sat down with Jim for a discussion on digital, landscape trends, and more. (A detailed biography of Jim McCloud is provided after the Q&A)

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

Jim McCloud: I’m the Vice President, Sponsorship Sales at MLB.com.  I oversee the Midwest region selling nationally across MLB.com and all 30 club sites.  I also manage the relationships with the following clubs from a digital sales perspective the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, and Houston Astros.

FCP: What’s the largest obstacle when it comes to digital sales?

JM: The largest obstacle is the changing landscape of digital media.  The product we sell is a compelling product and we’re an innovative company which certainly makes my job easier.  However, with the shift in eye balls to mobile and people consuming our content in so many places we need to make sure that we are wherever the fan is whether that be on MLB.com, in our At Bat App, on social media, etc.  So we constantly need to monitor where the eyeballs are and make sure our strategy aligns with the consumption patterns of our fans.  What works today might not work tomorrow.

FCP: Describe your leadership style

JM: I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great mentors who have taught me a lot about leadership and grew up playing sports through college.  So for me it’s important to have a team environment, where everyone trusts one another and pushes each other to get better.  Good thing is I’ve been at MLB.com for five years and have held numerous positions so while I’m hands on, I also give my team the ability and freedom to make decisions and am there to support them as they work through certain situations and obstacles that arise.  Since I’ve faced many of their challenges during my time at BAM I’m able to help work through certain issues.

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

JM: Mobile continues to dominate the digital landscape as it’s become the first screen for users.  However, no one has truly figured out the best way to monetize the medium given the limited amount of space, so we’ve been working to develop different ways to create value for our partners.  It will also be interesting to follow the launch of iBeacons in MLB stadiums this year as it’s another new technology that we will be experimenting with.

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

JM:  Bob Bowman is someone who has been a great mentor to me.  He’s been instrumental in my development and someone who has led by example.  He’s truly an innovator and what he’s been able to build at MLB.com speaks for itself.  Bob has challenged me since the day I stepped foot into BAM and has pushed me to think outside the box and has taught me to always move forward and innovate.  I’ll forever be grateful to him for the amount of time he’s invested in me and the opportunities he’s provided me.

FCP: What is your biggest regret?

JM: There are no real regrets thus far in my career as I’ve worked for two great companies in CBS Sports and MLB.com.  The mistakes I’ve made have all contributed to the progression of my career and for that I don’t regret anything.

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

JM: If I could go back, I would tell myself to enjoy the moments from college and the time I spent with my teammates playing baseball.  Those are moments you take for granted and as you move on into the professional world and you have more personal and professional commitments, you think back to some of those days.  You don’t realize how much fun those days were and how valuable they were to shaping who you are.

FCP: What was the last book you read?

JM: Seal Team 6

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

JM: The biggest question is how do you plan to differentiate yourself from others?  Sports is a competitive field that many people want to work in and it’s those individuals that create their own luck that are the ones that break in and succeed. Networking, internships, and putting yourself in positions to display your skills, in my opinion are keys to getting an opportunity, then once your foot is in the door the rest is up to you.  The hardest part is breaking in so it’s those individuals that are resourceful and strategic that find a way in and succeed.

MLBAM (MLB Advanced Media) is a full service solutions provider delivering world-class digital experiences for over ten years and distributing content through all forms of interactive media. Our digital leadership and capabilities are a direct result of an appreciation for designing dynamic functionality for web, mobile applications, and connected devices while integrating live and on-demand multimedia, providing valuable products for millions of fans around the globe.

What’s Next In The U.S., “Brand Soccer”?

It’s kind of an interesting juxtaposition for team sports. As the four biggest American leagues all look to be more global, Major League Soccer looks to continue to better establish a global game in the United States, and their leverage continues to increase daily as not just the U.S. Men’s National Team continues its good work, but casual fans become more attuned to the ebb and flow of the global game of soccer through the World Cup.

Leveraging a global phenomenon in sports is certainly not new; women’s soccer tried with their success in the women’s World Cup, and Olympians big and small do the same to various degrees of success every two years, and other sports like Formula 1, Indy Car, America’s Cup even Beach Volleyball and now rugby and even cricket, try to take those unique windows where the consumer is entranced and stretch that window as wide as possible. Usually it ebbs and flows away, with few long term consistent results. Sometimes the telegenic break through; Michael Phelps, Brandi Chastain, Alex Morgan, Lolo Jones,  Keri Walsh; but often times it’s here today and on to the next thing tomorrow.

Soccer obviously is different for many reasons. It has built from the ground up over a long period of time for sport. It has had the unique opportunity to have its biggest global clubs infiltrate the US media market with brand activation and fan education platforms (which will continue this summer) and now it has success in front of an audience that is more primed for the game and more educated than ever before. It also has the benefit for the most part of being the sport of choice for the new immigrant, all of which helps rise the tide.

So when the sun sets on the American World Cup, or if the US goes through an improbable but still possible run through the knockout round now in Brazil, what’s next?  Sometimes athletes, sports, brands build to the moment or the key event, the event comes, and that is the pinnacle of exposure. For soccer in the US, the next step is even more important than the ones in the past or the ones now, and that’s where MLS seems to be best set up.

The league can certainly take a page from the NHL and its partners, who rode post-Olympic notoriety to solid numbers and brand exposure again this past winter. Stars were built, global stars, as they went back to their markets and all of hockey benefitted. Brands got more engaged, teams used social platforms to expand their reach, and NBC’s investment across all platforms made hockey overall more relevant in the casual sports landscape than it has ever been before.

Soccer, and MLS in particular, has used this quiet league time to be great ambassadors for the sport. Instead of spending all his time in Brazil, Commissioner Don Garber beat the media bushes here in the States, talking growth, partnerships and business with everyone who would listen. Bring scarves to Morning Joe? There was the comish. A late night talk? The comish was there. Leveraging ESPN (even though it is their last World Cup they are still invested in the game with partners) to the hilt, MLS officials are there. All smart ways to make sure the conversation is driven back to what could happen and what people will look to when the World Cup ends and discretionary dollars get allocated again. A lull in an MLS season did not mean a lull in brand activity; it has been just the opposite.

So coming out of Brazil, how does MLS keep the buzz going? Well it has the league and all its partner cities to make sure the flavor and the pageantry of what was seen by casual fans can be amplified to some extent. It has friendlies with some of the biggest clubs in the world coming to selected markets to again amplify the soccer experience and bring global soccer back to the US in some form. It has VERY eager brand partners to activate with who now see the engagement possibilities, and it has new potential partners who looked at World Cup and see potential in the States they may not have seen before.

Are there challenges? Absolutely. Hockey had the advantage of having most Olympic stars coming back to North America to play in the NHL. MLS does not have that, as even many of the most recognizable Americans re still pulling in big bucks abroad. That is changing, but it is a challenge. It is still very much an experiential sport and a sport of tradition vs a sport that is consistently strong in broadcast numbers in the US, but like hockey, the overall engagement across all platforms, especially for a younger soccer fan in the States, is more important than a Nielsen number. There is also the continuing challenge of converting the global fan of soccer to a fan of the American game and its MLS teams. That is a slow but evolving process, and one which the popularity of this World Cup will not change.

So while all about World Cup has been great for American partners in soccer, the biggest evolution and step is yet to come. The challenges exist, but the opportunity is great, and the MLS leadership, and the leadership of USA Soccer, looks from their actions ready to keep the buzz going and the brand building once the sun sets in Brazil, and rises to a bold “what’s next” back in the States.

Tennis Talk: Skip Gilbert and the US Open

With Wimbledon here we dip into the tennis q and a archives with Tanner Simkins and his “Full Court Press” profiles. this one is with Skip Gilbert of the USTA talking tennis as the US hardcourt season approaches after the grasscourt season ends with the Hall of Fame event in Newport, Rhode Island after Wimbledon finishes…

We caught up with Skip Gilbert, US Open Tournament Manager, and Managing Director of Professional Tennis Operations for the USTA.  Gilbert has left a lasting impact on every organization he has been a part of.  Whether as a NCAA first team All American soccer goalkeeper, a professional athlete, or his time in executive roles with US Soccer, USA Swimming, USA Triathlon, the Arena League and more, we learned Gilbert is on a similar trajectory of growth and success with the USTA and the US Open. A detailed biography for Skip Gilbert is provided after the Q&A. Connect with Skip on LinkedIn.

 Full Court Press: “Nothing beats being here”, a very appropriate slogan for the US Open – what does it mean, as tournament manager, to be involved in such a marquee international event?

Skip Gilbert: Throughout my career I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of sport properties that create events, large and small.  Each has in common a passionate fan base, unbelievable competitors and a unique environment to that respective sport which makes it special.  The US Open is similar to those other events with the exception that it is the world’s largest sporting event being showcased on the world’s largest stage, New York.  So you have fans, athletes, officials, media, staff, medical and other critical groups that are all integrated throughout the footprint of the venue.  Of course there are many, many more of them to handle.  When you do it well at the US Open, there is simply a sense of pride of accomplishment unlike any other annual event.

 FCP: Walk us through the week leading up to the Open? Chaotic or finalized?

SG: The week before the US Open brings to close a year of solid planning.  At the end of every tournament we ask each member of our team: full-time, seasonal and volunteers, to complete a comprehensive after-action report.  We add to it player and partner surveys.  A good part of the year is developing solutions to all of the issues raised to help make the subsequent US Open even better than the last.

FCP: How do you effectively bring together so many areas of the tournament – facilities, marketing, ticket sales, PR, hospitality, etc, to lead a successful event?

SG: Communication is critical.  Nobody likes surprises so we bring all of the departments together on a regular basis starting months before the tournament to provide status reports, share ideas and concerns and basically put everything on the table.  They are large, time consuming meetings but worth it

 FCP: What is the most satisfying part of your role with USTA and specifically with the Open?

SG: David Baker, my former Commissioner at the Arena Football League, used to say that those of us who had the privilege of working in sport are in the business of “making dreams come true”.  You can’t find a bigger canvas to paint those dreams than the US Open.  So when it’s over and you think about the impact you helped to have on so many different people that underscores why we do these jobs and why they bring such an immense level of satisfaction.

FCP: What initiatives do you lead through the Open to push the USTA’s not-for profit mission?

SG: The mission of the USTA is to promote and develop the game of tennis.  So we push that through everything we do.  Offering free admission to watch our US Open qualification tournament provides people the opportunity to experience world-class tennis.  Arthur Ashe Kids Day (Saturday before the US Open start) opens our facility to twenty thousand kids (and their parents) to enjoy the largest single-day, grassroots tennis and entertainment event in the world.  The US Open, the world’s largest annual sporting event, allows us to continue to develop the best American tennis player and promote the game to millions of people in the US alone.  And finally, adding the Junior and Wheelchair competitions within the US Open shows the width and depth of our efforts to push our mission.

 FCP: What is your fondest US Open memory as a fan and now as tournament manager?

SG: I spent almost twelve years with The Sporting News and each year we had series packages to entertain our advertisers at the US Open.  So I saw many great matches, but the one that stands out is the 1991 Semi-Final match with Jimmy Connors.  His run that year at 39 (his last) ended in the Semis, but he put on a great show, even in defeat.

 FCP: Any negative experiences or extenuating circumstances surrounding your time with the Open?  How did you overcome or deal with it?

SG: With only one Open under my belt, there really aren’t any negative experiences of note to date.  Perhaps the only real negative experience has been when it rains.  We’ll overcome it in the future by building a roof on Arthur Ashe.

 FCP: How has your past experiences either at the AFL, Times-7 or elsewhere, helped with managing the US Open?

SG: That sounds like an interview question!  Every step throughout my career has provided a tremendous base to be able to step in help manage the US Open and oversee Professional Tennis Operations throughout the US.  Having an experience mix of advertising/sponsorship sales, organizational marketing and being a CEO of a growing NGB has given me a wide background to handle almost any issue.

 FCP: In addition to the Open, you manage the Cincinnati, New Haven, and Atlanta tournaments –how does your approach change when overseeing these other tournaments?

SG: We are a majority owner in Cincinnati, a minority owner in Atlanta and a partner in New Haven.  With those tournaments, the staffs in place each are incredible and do amazing things to showcase tennis within their community.  So the major difference is that instead of being hands-on as with the US Open, we become a source of information, a supportive resource for the Tournament Director and staff in each city.

 FCP: Any creative packages you sell to tournament sponsors?

SG: Our sponsorship platforms are unique to each company given the size and scope of the US Open.  Each of our partners brings a unique program to the tournament that helps to drive awareness and relevance to our fans.  We have a very talented partnership team that spends the year working with each sponsor to map out what they want to accomplish and how they can do that on our grounds. For example, American Express has an interactive Pavilion that allows Cardmembers to literally “touch” the game while also providing devices so fans can listen to the radio broadcasts of the matches.

FCP: What are some innovative ways you embrace new media and the digital realm?

SG: Our New Media team has created a Social Media Wall, a 50’ x 8’ video wall, which will display social feeds from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  This is just one example of many different initiatives to integrate the wonders of the digital world into the sport of tennis.

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

SG: The issue of childhood obesity is a significant one that every National Governing Body (NGB) should be monitoring.  If the pool of tennis players gets smaller due to fewer kids playing the sport, the number of competitive players will ultimately decrease.  This would hurt our ability to develop world class champions.  With childhood obesity, this is not just a tennis problem but an overall sport and society issue.

 FCP: What’s the future hold for the US Open? For the USTA?

SG: The future for the USTA and the US Open is incredibly bright.  The major news impacting the US Open is the $550m renovation of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.  The design calls for two new stadium courts, better public access to our five practice courts, increased fan capacity with our field courts and we will install a roof on Arthur Ashe, the world’s large tennis stadium.

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

SG: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.   It really has been a valuable resource for me. It shows how great companies are run by leaders who are humble, but driven to do what’s best for the organization.  I’ve used often throughout my career his bus theory.  Get the right people on the bus, then figure out where to go.

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

SG: The level of business professionalism throughout the sports industry has grown significantly stronger over the years.  So for anyone really interested in working in the sports industry, the best advice is to come to the interview prepared.  Do your homework about the organizations strengths and weaknesses.  Show how you will have a positive impact by utilizing your unique skills and/or experience.  And finally, don’t say you are a “fan”.  Most of us could care less if you are a fan.  Ultimately that’s nice but it won’t help you do your job.

 Skip Gilbert brings over 25-years of sales, marketing and managerial experience from various sport organizations to his role as the Managing Director of Professional Tennis Operations and US Open Tournament Manager with the United States Tennis Association.  Previous to the USTA, Skip joined USA Triathlon (USAT) as its CEO and guided that governing body through one of its most explosive periods of growth in its 30-year history.  USAT under his leadership grew membership from 52,000 members to over 135,000, increased the organizational budget from $5.5m to over $11.5m per year and elevated their investment account from $1.5m to over $6.5m in just six years. 

 

While at USAT, Skip was elected Chairman of the NGB Council, comprised of CEO’s and volunteer Presidents representing the interests of the 47 sport governing bodies within the Olympic Family and Chairman of the Association of the Chief Executives of Sport, membership trade association for 65 National Governing Bodies in and outside of the Olympic Movement.  Prior to USAT, Skip worked in various sales and marketing roles for USA Swimming, US Soccer, the Arena Football League as well as with sport publications such as the Sporting News, Outside and Tennis magazines.

 

Skip graduated from the University of Vermont, attended the prestigious Lawrenceville School and was a soccer goalkeeper for the Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) before joining the business community.

 

Skip currently lives in Ridgefield, CT with his wife Jenifer and their three children Fritz, Austin and Greta.