A Galaxy Of PR Success…

From Landon Donovan’s farewell tour to the news that a rival club was leaving and another one was coming in to their completed “First To Five,” culminating with an extra time win over the New England Revolution in MLS Cup, it was a thrilling and sometimes exhausting ride for the Los Angeles Galaxy this past year. One who was there through all the creative twists and spins was their head of communications Brendan Hannan. A young veteran in the communications field, Hannan made the move out west after running communications for the Chicago Fire, a rarity amongst PR professionals in leading efforts with a team in two of the three largest media markets in the country. (We haven’t found anyone who has done so in New York as well, so if Hannan ever makes it to Gotham it could be a first for team sports PR).


We caught up with him in South America, where he was on an Herbalife tour not too long after winning the title,  to talk soccer, promotion and  the up’s and down’s of business in LA.
You have now spent time running communications in two of the three biggest markets for a team. What was the biggest difference between Chicago and LA?

Both Los Angeles and Chicago are very similar in a lot of respects. They are both major markets with no shortage of sports and entertainment options. The objective for communications and digital with the Chicago Fire and the LA Galaxy was to cut through the clutter and create a greater brand relevance within the local marketplace. Los Angeles is a slightly bigger market and the multitude of quality sports options combined with the appeal of the beach and the entertainment aspect of the city is the biggest difference.

How was it managing the Landon Donovan farewell tour? What were the best and toughest moments?

Managing Landon Donovan’s retirement has been one of the most fulfilling and humbling experiences of my young career. The entire process was a great collaboration between Donovan, his agent Richard Motzkin and the Galaxy. It was great to be able to work collectively with a number of local, national and international media members, large media outlets and with U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer to help share and admire Donovan’s impact on the sport of soccer in North American and his contributions to the growth of MLS.

The biggest challenge was ushering in Donovan’s final days while being cognizant of his time, his teammates and the fact that he was still competing for a championship. In the end, we found a healthy balance that allowed for him to be properly honored while staying true to the task at hand of winning a record sixth MLS Cup.

The best moments were many. Seeing the outpouring of support through the #ThanksLD hashtag was vital to the digital component of the campaign. His interaction with five different Make-A-Wish children over the course of his final five regular season games showed his character and compassion. However, the most memorable moments came in between interviews when you could see the genuine level of mutual respect between Donovan and the media members who had covered him for so many years.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to oversee the final days of the United States’ greatest soccer player.


You have always come up with unique partner promotions with the media. What has been your favorite or most effective thus far?

I have had a lot of really enjoyable experiences with unique activations. It’s hard to pick which one I’ve enjoyed working on most. I’ll narrow it down to two…

In 2013, while with the Chicago Fire, we created personalized bobble heads for over 250 local and national media members. We had done two unique direct to mail campaigns as part of the Fire’s partnership with Quaker. The first launched the jersey in a co-branded Quaker Oats canister with personalized jersey included. The second was an Austin Berry Rookie of the Year LIFE cereal box. To complete the set of three, we sent local and national media members a Fire/Quaker bobblehead in their own likeness. It had been a project three years in the making, so we were pleased that each media member had a positive response to receiving something so personal. It garnered a lot of publicity for the Fire and Quaker’s partnership and out of the box approach.

This year, the Galaxy collaborated with soccer magazine dudes, Howler to create a 20-page Galaxy specific magazine – The Angeleno’s Guide to the Galaxy – as our season ticket renewal collateral. The piece was sent to all of the Galaxy’s season ticket holder base and over 300 media members. The magazine features an article by George Vecsey, an in-depth look at the history of soccer in Los Angeles, a Landon Donovan paper doll and first-class illustrations. The Angeleno’s Guide to the Galaxy presented our brand in an innovative manner. It garnered media attention, created a social buzz and helped the club renew over 85% of its Season Ticket Members.

Soccer is obviously global as a sport, especially in a market like LA. How much time do you spend with multicultural media outreach?

We spend a lot of time with multicultural media outreach. The Spanish-language audience is a big one for the Galaxy and for the sport of soccer in Los Angeles. We have an established strategy and plan, in conjunction with our marketing group, to continue to build our brand and our players within the Spanish-language community. This is a day-to-day focus for us. As part of our communications team, Vicky Mercado leads the charge on our outreach and day-to-day interaction with key multicultural constituents.

The Galaxy have been able to really own the market because of the issues with Chivas USA. how do you think that will change with the new expansion team coming in?

We are excited for there to be competition in the Los Angeles market with another professional soccer team, however, we don’t see that changing our approach a whole lot. The Galaxy has been the elite club in Major League Soccer since the League’s inception in 1996. The club was the first to sign a Designated Player, the first to start a ULS PRO second team and the first to win five MLS Cups. The Galaxy’s goal is to lead by example and drive innovation throughout the entire league. A tradition of winning, an ardent fan base and one of the best professional soccer facilities in North America can’t be replicated. The Galaxy are LA’s team and we will continue to work to maintain that.

Where do you look for ideas?

Jeez, this answer is probably going to make me sound like some kid who got a creative writing degree at the University of Colorado – Boulder… I find a lot of inspiration in writing, art and music. My approach has always been to try and think differently about traditional sports communications and sports marketing.

That said, none of these ideas would be possible without buy-in from those above. It starts at the top. Galaxy President Chris Klein believes in the strategy we presented and is open to us coming up with different ideas to promote the LA Galaxy.

Most of the ideas we have come out of collaboration. Chris Thomas, our digital lead, Brad Saiki, our graphic designer, and Casey Leppanen, our Senior Director of Marketing are great people to bounce ideas off of. We all have different backgrounds and it makes for a productive and creative work environment.

What campaign have you been most proud of and why?

I’ve been really proud of all of the creative campaigns we’ve done over the years. I think I am most proud of the Quaker Fuels the Fire campaign that was put together in 2012. It was my first real opportunity to run a creative campaign from start to finish. We put together a plan that spread across numerous traditional and digital platforms, including co-branded Quaker Oats canister, a viral video and personalized jerseys for over 150 media members. The launch of the jersey partnership accrued over 597 placements and more than 580 million impressions.

It established that a different approach could be utilized and be an effective communications and digital strategy.

How important is it for communications and marketing to work closely? Whats the best example of a success story you have seen?

Collaboration between communications/digital and marketing is key to success within a successful organization. There has to be in intrinsic link between the two to properly communicate your brand to the world.

I think U.S. Soccer does a really nice job with this. Around the World Cup they were able to coordinate cool marketing concepts – watch parties in Grant Park, celebrity ambassadors (Will Ferrell, Lupe Fiasco, Hulk Hogan) and pre-match rallies – and drive content and communications placements around the build-up and through the 2014 World Cup.

With the Galaxy now having five titles, what will you be planning for the offseason from a communications standpoint?

We are excited. Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Galaxy and of MLS. We have a number of cool things planned. This is a great time to be working in soccer in North America. As a group, we hope to build on the success of this season and continue to drive innovation within the soccer space next year.

The Value of Visual Inspiration: Jeremy Lin, Marcus Mariota and Army-Navy

This past week’s Cynopsis sports media conference reminded us again how powerful storytelling; especially paired to compelling images can be. The ability to effectively communicate a message and build awareness through multiple forms of media; written, visual, spoken is what sets endorsers, brands, teams, leagues apart in the cluttered world of content. Those who are best at it invoke the passion of the end user and can inspire millions to engage, whether it is for a cause, an event, or a brand campaign.
The other key part of storytelling is authenticity. Many elite personalities and brands can build huge following but fall short on delivering results because their message is seen as contrived or non-authentic. Endorsing for the sake of endorsing may look nice and build a solid groups of likes on a platform, but if the endorsement flow does not seem natural, or becomes a wide-ranging disconnect from the person doing the outreach, the value is lost.
Three examples of authentic storytelling through video are worth noting. One of which has proven his brand value through effective use of video, the other two surfaced over the weekend as great endorsers to look at going forward.
The first is now Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. The University of Oregon, just minutes after he won the coveted trophy on Saturday, put forth an emotional video on the Hawaiian’s career, not just on the field but in the community, and how he has lived a life of inspiration. While many have read and watched Mariotta, the video invokes emotion and will inspire brands, and hopefully casual fans, to engage with the rising star no matter where he ends up in the NFL. While last year’s winner Johnny Manziel, has been about the flash and the dollar, Mariotta’s brand, as conveyed in the video, appears to be aspiring hire; hoping to inspire and lead as well as win, and that’s a great message for companies and casual fans who are looking for more than great selfies from athletes or celebrities.
The second video was the intro from Saturday’s Army-Navy game. While we have talked often about the undervalued resource that men and women who serve are for brands, the leaders who come out of the Academies are on another level. The video work but together shows commitment, inspiration, desire, passion and leadership that go well beyond a game, all qualities companies and fans should be looking for. Former Black Knight Mike Vitti’s story of walking the country for his fallen comrades is certainly the most emotional part of the tribute, but is certainly not the only part of the story. It is worth one’s time to take a look and embrace the power of the visual narrative.
Lastly is Jeremy Lin. Again our friends at MVP Index broke down the best in engagement by athletes in the social space, with YouTube being one of the key benchmarks. As you will see from the data below, the Los Angeles Lakers guard may be a few years removed from “Linansity,” but he is still an All-Star in the video world. Why? He picks his spots, tells stories away from the court and can use his personality to reach a global audience. He has quality over quantity, and takes the time to make sure every aspect of his engagement is real and effective for the audience he is trying to reach. While he may be away from the buzz every day, Jeremy Lin remains on the watch list of millions, and makes him worth a look for brands the world over.
From MVP Index…
Among active athletes, three YouTube channels stand out as the top contenders for the highest rated channel. Cristiano Ronaldo’s YouTube channel contains 44 total videos with over 40 million views. Blake Griffin posts videos at a ridiculous clip, boasting over 800 videos on his channel.
But the winner of this category is Jeremy Lin of the LA Lakers. While Lin may have only posted 18 videos to his YouTube channel, his channel boasts the most subscribers of any active athlete, outpacing Ronaldo by over 110 thousand subscribers and dwarfing Griffin by over 217 thousand. Lin’s average views/video is almost 2 million. That’s over 900 thousand more average views than Ronaldo and 1.957 million more per video than Blake Griffin.

The impressive thing about Lin’s YouTube channel is its personality. While the bulk of videos in the other channels mentioned are highlights and interviews, Lin’s channel showcases the his other side that fans wouldn’t otherwise get to see. Lin’s intelligence, heart and sense of humor shine through in every video he posts. Authenticity is key in building a strong social presence, and Jeremy Lin understands that in spades.


So as you go about your business and think of who the winners can be in sport and entertainment engagement; remember the athletes of the Academies, don’t forget about Jeremy Lin, and start making the list of Marcus Mariota; you will be seeing a lot of all of them hopefully in the near, and distant future.

Strike A Pose: “Johnny Football” Delivers On Instagram

It’s a good weekend to be “Johnny Football” or the brands that have engaged with him. He gets to play for one for the Cleveland Browns this week, and the folks at MVP Index did some work to show that of all the NFL athletes they track, no one is more engaging on Instagram. Now that’s engaging…and winning.

In terms of total followers, it doesn’t get much better than Vernon Davis, Colin Kaepernick and Johnny Manziel on Instagram. Manziel and Kaepernick lead the pack in the NFL with over 1.3 million each, and Davis isn’t far behind with over 1.2 million. Davis is prolific when it comes to posting photographs, with over 1,300 pictures on the platform to date. Kaepernick isn’t afraid to talk to the media through his Instagram and loves promoting his sponsors and event appearances through the platform.

But the honor of the number one NFL Instagram account goes to none other than Johnny Football. Manziel’s last 30 Instagram posts average over 81 thousand likes per post, which is over 1 thousand, more than the capacity of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Every time he posts. He holds 8 of the top ten and 31 of the top 100 posts in the NFL on Instagram for 2014.

Johnny Football understands how Instagram works. He constantly gives fans insight into his life, cheers on his alma mater and shows himself becoming a part of the Cleveland community. Johnny’s authenticity is what drives followers to engage. Nothing about his Instagram presence seems corporate, and since he’s been doing this since his college days, he’s an expert at showing fans what they want to see.

Brewing Up Some New Innovation On The Promo Front…

While many times media-types look to larger market teams as innovation leaders, especially in the digital and social space, the reality is that those in smaller markets are sometimes best at innovation. One of those leaders of the pack for Major League Baseball is the Milwaukee Brewers. No matter what happens on the field, the Brew Crew always seems to be finding new ways to engage their  fans year-round, and many of those innovations become best practices for other teams throughout professional sport.
One of those key people with a finger on the pulse of the Brewers digital brand is Director of New Media Caitlin Moyer. Moyer started working for the Brewers as an intern in the Corporate Marketing department in 2003 and has risen through the ranks, now helping lead the outreach in digital and social media and digital advertising. We caught up with Caitlin to hear more about how the Brewers do what they do, and what’s coming up next this winter.
The Brewers have really found ways to engage with fans in the offseason and make it fun; hiding gnomes and doing other unique engagement platforms. How have those non traditional ideas been received?

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

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

While there is something to be said about valuing tradition in the Midwest, Brewers fans are also always up for something new and exciting. They are the most passionate and loyal fans in all of baseball.
Anything new coming up this winter?
We just finished revealing our “#20in15” 20 All-Fan Giveaways slated for our 2015 promotional schedule. Over the course of a week on our social media platforms, we invited fans to play along and try to “Guess the Giveaway” as we released clues for each of our 20 items. Fans had the opportunity to win tickets to these games as well.

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

Fan Votes are great ways to listen to feedback and give fans exactly what they want, rather than us simply guessing what they want.
Who are some of the teams or outlets you look to to see what’s new and interesting in the digital space?
In my mind, the San Francisco Giants are the gold standard in the MLB. Aside from the fact that their digital efforts are headed up by the genius that is Bryan Srabian, they are in the fortunate position of being located right in the heart of the tech industry.

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

Sometimes people question the ROI for digital campaigns what have been some of the best examples you have seen where an idea turned into great business for the club?
Our Countdown to Opening Day campaign has been successful for the last two seasons. There is something special about Opening Day – especially in Milwaukee. Here in Milwaukee, Opening Day is treated like a holiday. Every year, without fail, 45,000+ fans take the day off work and pile into Miller Park to celebrate the return of Brewers Baseball. It is undoubtedly our most popular game of the season. Because of this, for the last number of years we have offered free Opening Day tickets as a major incentive to purchase a 10-Pack.
We attempted to accomplish two very distinct goals with our Countdown to Opening Day social campaign. First, we wanted to build excitement for the upcoming season. It is hard to imagine baseball season in the dead of winter when there is a foot of snow on the ground, so we wanted to find a way to stay relevant to our fans in the offseason and get them excited for the upcoming season. Secondly, we wanted to use this as a platform to promote our 10-Packs message and use the free Opening Day hook to drive 10-Pack sales.
In 2013, we had a very successful Countdown to Opening Day social campaign in which, beginning on January 1, we posted a different photo every day representing the number of days remaining until Opening Day. The campaign was so popular we decided to bring back the Countdown again in 2014, but this time, all of the images were fan-submitted.

For 89 days, fans were encouraged to submit their photos showing how they were counting down to Opening Day. At the end of each day, our team would review all of the submissions and decide which photo would be posted across Brewers social media channels the next morning. Of course, we tried to tie in some sort of clever caption relating to the picture in every post. Every fan that had their image selected was entered into a drawing to win a pair of 10-Packs. Also, each post included a link to our 10-Packs landing page along with the hashtag #SeeUMarch31 and some variation of the message, “Opening Day is in XX days. Go for free with a 10-Pack.” And the end of the campaign, we included all 89 countdown graphics into one full-page Season Kickoff ad that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the day before to Opening Day.
Not only did this campaign help drive 10-Pack sales and create brand awareness during the offseason, it spawned increased excitement for OpeningDay and engaged our fan base.
We have also held several special one-day , online-only sales. The offers were promoted solely online and codes were disseminated via our various social media platforms. Through these types of offers, with little to no paid advertising, we’ve been successful in selling over 20,000 tickets on a single date.
The club has a number of players who like to engage in the digital space. Does the team help with such engagements and who are some of the players who have done a good job?
Looking back at 2011, I can name two players on our roster who were on Twitter. One was pitcher John Axford. We were fortunate in that he was a natural (and still is) at engaging with fans, and at the time, we were able to work with him to develop a special ticket offer that was quite successful.

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

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

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

Obviously there has been some change in the marketplace with the Bucks new owners. Do you work with the other teams in the marketplace to share best practices and see how you can work together?
Absolutely. Especially in a market our size. We may not all get together and meet regularly, but I know all of my counterparts at the different sports organizations from collegiate to NBA and NFL.

For example, we hosted a “Social Media in Sports Night” at Miller Park in 2012 that brought together most of the teams and we have no problem reaching out to each other if an idea presents itself.
Which brands do you think do a great, innovative job of fan activation in general? Are there people outside of baseball that you follow and try to adapt ideas from?
I wouldn’t say there is one company, brand or person that is my go-to resource.

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

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

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

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

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

During the season, it can be a little tougher to keep fans engaged in a tough season. We went through a really tough time in 2013, and we made a concerted effort to reach out to our fans with several different “Fans First” initiatives. That didn’t come from social/digital. That message came from the top and was executed across the board. It takes an owner and team leaders committed to their fan base and a standard of excellence to pull you through those tough times.
How important is the mobile space for the club? Any new initiatives that you are following or the Brewers will be adapting in the winter or spring?
Mobile is a huge initiative for Major League Baseball in general ,and as a League, we’ve been a leader in this space. We work closely with the folks at MLBAM on the MLB At Bat and At the Ballpark Apps. This past year, we added iBeacons to Miller Park -fans receive special offers just from “checking in” at Miller Park-and we look to expand our use of them in 2015. There is a lot of potential there.

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

There has been a big push in recent years for professional sports in the United States to return to their roots and honor those who came first. MLB has done a tremendous job in and around all things Jackie Robinson and has worked to raise the profile of the Negro Leagues; the NFL recently helped honor their trailblazers with the film “Forgotten Four.” But what about basketball? While there are constant efforts by the NBA to look back at those who told the early stories of integration with the league, some feel the NBA has not fully embraced this history of players of color in the early stages of the sport.
One of those people pushing for more recognition is Claude Johnson, President and Executive Director of Black Fives. Johnson has worked tirelessly over the years to tell the story of some of the original, and most colorful (no pun intended) athletes in the early stages of when hoops became popular. (Claude’s bio follows the q and a)
We caught up with Claude to talk about those characters, his plans, and if the NBA can mix those great retro uniforms of clubs gone by into their marketing plans soon.
How did Black Fives come about as a property and what have you seen as your biggest success?
Our mission is to showcase and teach the pre-NBA history of African Americans in basketball, a period known as the Black Fives Era, as well as to honor those pioneers and their accomplishments. What started as a hobby that into a commercial business, Black Fives, Inc., which at first developed trademarks, then produced wholesale apparel including throwback jerseys, and finally sought licensing revenue from intellectual property and content. All the while, I spent a huge amount of time researching, documenting, and sharing this history with schools, descendants, and a growing number of online followers. This “side” activity is what I enjoyed the most, it was the most rewarding, and I felt it was making the biggest difference to others.
So in early 2013, I organized a public not-for-profit charity, the Black Fives Foundation to replace the old company, which I dissolved, and then donated all of its assets to the new foundation, including its entire portfolio of IP and its archive of historical artifacts. We got our tax exempt 501-c-3 status in August 2014, so we’re still fresh. Now there’s a better alignment between our org structure, our efforts, and our passion. I didn’t mind selling tee shirts, but dedication to a cause definitely resonates better with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, next week we will be launching our first-ever annual fundraising campaign! Anyone wishing to contribute could visit http://www.blackfives.org/donations/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons From A Lifer At ESPN…

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



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

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

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

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

What are you most proud of from a work perspective?

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

Who do you learn the most from today?

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

What has been your biggest disappointment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach Games Moving Ahead…

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

The Changing Landscape of College Sports Business…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Learn And Grow In A Digital World: Lessons From Rising Star Peter Casey

Peter Robert Casey builds and grows online sports communities.

Over the past five years, he’s held community strategy and management roles – both agency and client-side – for some of the biggest brand names in sports: Nike Basketball, Nike Baseball, Nike Athletic Training, the New York Knicks and Five-Star Basketball, where he currently helms the company’s digital efforts.

A self-confessed hoops junkie, Peter was the first media-credentialed microblogger in college and NBA history – a story covered in the New York Times, ESPN, Mashable, and Sports Illustrated – and last fall attended “30 games in 30 days” at every NBA arena to launch his Basketball Passport website.

He survived to tell his story, and happily resides in the northwest corner of the Bronx with his wife Martina. We caught up with Pete so that he could give us some tips on how he has built a reputation as a go-to guy for smart thought, especially in and around hoops.

You have had what can be described as a nice entrepreneurial run, what has been your proudest moment professionally?

For every sports property that I’ve worked for full-time – the New York Knicks, Five-Star Basketball and Team Epiphany (on the Nike Basketball account) – I’ve been able to continue working with them in a freelance or project-based capacity after leaving. It’s not a moment, per se, but it’s a testament to repeatedly over-delivering on expectations, building solid relationships and doing the right thing. I’m most proud of that.

What was the toughest time where didn’t think you were going to be able to make the next step?

There have been some scary times – watching our bank account dwindle to $200 at one point and covering a mortgage and rent in two different states – but I never doubted making the next step. I owe a lot of that to faith, but self-belief is crucial to conquering your comfort zone.

Who is the person, professionally, that you look to the most for inspiration?

It’s a tie. Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin. They’re constantly shipping and sharing advice, and they always stay true to their DNA.

The Passport platform has gotten great buzz, what’s the best anecdote you have heard from people who have used it thus far?

A few fathers told me they’ve created accounts for their young sons so they can track their journeys and preserve their memories together. I thought that was pretty special.

When you went on your “30 Games, 30 day” run, what was the biggest surprise?

The biggest surprise was seeing how generous people are. On Sunday, December 1, I showed up in Los Angeles with two bags and no tickets, and had two games to attend that day: A Clippers-Pacers matinee matchup and Lakers-Blazers evening tilt.

A buddy of mine was flying out from NYC to attend both games with me and rightfully assumed I had the ticket situation all taken care of; well, I didn’t. So I went into scramble mode. A friend-of-a-friend of Matt Barnes’ barber [don’t ask] was able to score a last-minute pair from Matt himself, who showed up to the arena late as a DNP [retinal tear in his left eye]. Result? Fifth row from the floor.

Later that afternoon, while sipping coffee and sharing stories with local hoops bloggers, I started panicking about Lakers tickets. Then my phone vibrated. It was a surprise email from the owner of VIPTickets.com, who had read about my journey online, and wanted to *donate* a very special pair of tickets for me. I’ll let these photos sum up the rest of the story.

Have you stayed in touch with many of the people you met along the way, and who has been the most loyal supporter?

There are too many kind people to single out just one, but I’ll say the folks from the Warriors, Timberwolves, Suns, Bucks, Cavs and Celtics took generosity and support to a whole ‘nother level.

You are now part of the senior leadership at Five Star, where do you think the brand has its best chance for success?

Staying true to Five-Star’s roots – delivering the best basketball instruction and inspiration – but doing it in a way that resonates with the next generation of players: On-court, on mobile, and on social.

Now that you have started several businesses, what do you think is the biggest barrier for success for people on their own?

Fear. Fear of criticism and fear of being judged. That probably holds back over 90% of people from ever starting. After starting, the biggest barriers are not focusing on cash flow and quitting before you get where you want to be.

Who gave you the best advice?

There’s an old Steve Jobs/Apple Computer saying: “Real artists ship.” I wish I got it directly from Steve.

Looking back, what is the one thing you would do differently in the path you had so far?

I would’ve taken more risks sooner.

“Movember” Gets More Skin In The Game…

As the calendar turns from the mega-awareness month for Breast Cancer and the amazing viral phenomenon of the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS in the past, we can applaud the work the ever-growing (no pun intended) groups for Movember are doing specially tied to Prostate Cancer Awareness.

Originally launched in Australia, the theme for “Movember” is to get primarily men (although women can help out with a fake one) to grow a mustache or not shave for the 30 days of the month, and then gain dollars through pledges for growing their ‘stache. Given the always intriguing Beard-A-Thons that happen in the spring, and around the MLB post-season, Movember has been a natural fit, and now it has gained even more traction from previous years, with some new corporate sponsors as well.

Last year Major League Soccer was on board in a big way with Movember, with clubs throughout the League growing ‘Mo’s (moustaches). Players, supporters, staff and partners were clean-shaven on November 1st and grew their moustaches throughout the month. Participants document progress on their ‘MoSpace pages as part of the MLS Movember Network, on the Movember website. Women participated by becoming ‘Mo Sistas’ and created their own ‘MoSpaces to support the men they love.
The NHL has also been a long supporter, following on their yearly ritual of not shaving during the playoffs. The Washington Capitals Karl Alzner, the then-Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo and a wide-ranging group from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment all signed on for 2013.
This year a host of new sports brands on both sides of the Atlantic have come on board to support the initiative. One big one was adidas, who through the NFL ties enlisted the support of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins), wide receiver Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), linebacker Von Miller (Denver Broncos) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (Buffalo Bills) to join in and encourage others to do the same.
In the UK, Mitre and the Football League have teamed up to support the Movember charity campaign, turning out their new ball with a “Mo” all of its own.
The new ball was be provided to all 72 Football League clubs for their first matches of Movember and will feature in the 34 Sky Bet Football League matches that kicked-off on Saturday including Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Birmingham City and AFC Bournemouth vs Brighton & Hove Albion, both broadcast live on Sky Sports.
McLaren Formula One drivers, as well as all 12 English Premiership Rugby clubs have also joined in more this year than ever, and brands like Gillette, Toms and Playstation have also been key parts of the expanded call to action.
Now “Movember” has some shortcomings still; guys have to look a little unkempt in a month not known for vacations, and it is not as easy to activate such a program as it is with a “Wear Pink” campaign. Also other sports, especially Major League Baseball, do activate against prostate cancer with blue bats and other events around Father’s Day each year. Still “Movember” continues to have a great upside, with the potential of thousands of fake ‘staches being given out at games during the month, maybe even tied to Coaches vs. Cancer events in college hoops. The fake handouts are low cost and would make for great digital integration and TV. Still it does cost money to engage nationally or internationally, but with the increased interest in social media, the campaign and its awareness keeps growing and new partners onboard will amplify the message around the world.
A simple idea gaining steam year over year, with an excellent cause behind it.