The FXFL Is Here…Will It Stay?

The allure of minor league sports is very powerful. Doing the right thing, having a great experience with young people as they work their way up the ladder on and off the field, an affordable family experience, a year-round chance for brands both locally and nationally to engage all are great opportunities that happen in a host of professional sports in the United States, from hockey and soccer to hoops and baseball. It is a multi-million dollar cottage industry that has launched thousands of careers.
So into the mix the past few weeks comes the FXFL, the latest in a series of developmental leagues around American football. The premise is that the football talent pool is deep, there is a need to develop that talent, there are other jibs like coaching that need opportunities, and there are rules to be experimented in and brands that are looking to engage that can’t afford the prices of the NFL or are locked out of categories, and there is a whole lot of potential content to be had out there. There are also stadia looking for events, and presumably, there are investors looking to throw money into the dream of sports ownership at some level.
The premise works in other minor league sports, football is arguably the largest and most engaged sport in America, so there has to be a market for it. Right?
So welcome in the four team FXFL, which in two weeks proved what many thought; the talent on the field and in the coaching area is there for more room. They have found a TV home, so there is an interest in content, and they have facilities who want to host games. So that works. They also have set spending limits on talent and have played with rules to help grow the game, so all that makes sense.
The question is; is it a business that can return revenue at some point? That is very hard to say. Staging events, especially football, is a very, very expensive proposition, and gaining market share where money is coming in to justify cost, and investor ROI at some point, is also really really tricky once the buzz of initial exposure wears off and a grind of a season starts. It has been tried before in football, and has never worked, even with the NFL-owned properties a decade ago that tried to develop talent in a smaller setting. Arena football? Some limited success in a different model. The CFL? Much more successful in a culture and a style, and with a TV partner and national brands that have worked for decades. The FXFL in the fall? Tough to say.
Is it fun and engaging? Yes. Is there content to potentially go and do reality or digital programming which could generate interest? Sure. Is there potential as a viable business? Maybe. Will brands look at it, assuming there is a consistent broadcast package and effective and consistent local marketing and sales, to say we want to out our dollars here and activate against and with you? Maybe, but that has to be proven. Will investors step up and buy and operate teams in local markets with substantial capital for years at a time? Hard to say.
The biggest challenge with the FXFL and other parallels like minor league affiliated baseball, the DLeague and even minor league hockey and in some instances soccer now, is that the parent club, major league sports, spends a lot of the cash and in many instances absorbs the L in a P and L. Even in Independent baseball, the possibility exists for those teams, which run greater risk but have good talent, to sell contracts to MLB or MiLB or even Japan for a profit. The FXFL has none of that as a safety net to be innovative or creative and not always look at the bottom line. The NFL, as it has since the failure of the WLAF, watches with no risk and simply picks up the talent with no cost or effort. They are quietly supportive with n involvement, which is a great situation to be in.
Would it be great if the FXFL bucks the trend of minor league football, finds investors and cities willing to support with a media company diving in for a partnership akin to what the NHL and NBC had at one point? Sure. Would it be great for brands to come on board with fixed partnerships that involve cash to raise the bottom line? Yes. Success of the FXFL is a success for everyone involved in sport.
Will it work? It is great the investor group got the league up and running to prove concept. That already is ahead of scores of others who have just talked and spent and never saw the light of day. If it is long term and viable, we will see hopefully next fall and the one after that. Ideas and sports are great, but in the end bottom line is what matters in sports business. Time, and dollars, will tell.

Gordo’s Takes A Dip Into College Football, Scores A Brand TD…

It’s not like a cheese dip is always top of mind when tied to large scale and effective sponsorships, but one has found a niche through the world of college football this fall. Gordo’s Cheese Dip used not massive advertising, but old fashioned word of mouth and new age social media engagement to create a great deal of buzz and value add by attaching themselves OUTSIDE some of the biggest NCAA games this fall to find the ultimate tailgater, a natural connection to the snack product.
The search for the Gordo’s Ultimate Tailgater began on September 15, 2014 and continues through November 23, 2014. It includes some of the best college football teams including: Ole Miss vs. Boise State, Alabama vs. West Virginia, LSU vs. Auburn, Notre Dame vs. Florida State just to name a few.

The premise for this search for the ultimate fan is simple. The Gordo’s Cheese Dip video crew will be at each of these games, looking for fans who have an overabundance of school spirit. These rabble rousers will be interviewed on camera and from these interviews, three contestants will be chosen each week. The hashtag for this contest is easy to remember. It’s #GordosUTG. Fans are given a chance to vote for a weekly winner. These weekly winners will be lavished with a fabulous tailgate rig which includes two chairs a cooler, speakers and umbrella.  Over the course of the season, Gordo’s is choosing eight winners and these fans will vie for the title of Big Cheese…the Gordo’s Ultimate Tailgater. Voting will continue for two weeks to determine which fan along with a companion gets to choose his/her favorite college bowl game to attend.
The video crew has hot the biggest strategic points, wandering parking lots looking for the best parties, many with no ties at all to the product until arrival. Some have been clued in by social media prompts beforehand, but the goal is to create an unabashed best practice scenario, with a great slice of tailgating from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa, from Tallahassee to South Carolina. The cost was minimal, the exposure very high as the crew concentrated on select southern markets with a payoff coming later this winter for winners. The win for Gordo’s is in the engagement of fans in a natural environment; they use viral video (over 8 million views to date) and photo walls to engage, and spend little on traditional advertising once the game starts. They take advantage of the wide open expanses of parking lots and the beauty of southern football, not to mention the he success of the SEC on the field this fall, to build affinity, awareness, and lots of fun. The product, and the campaign are not about major market spends. It is about finding ways to engage fans with an easy to understand product that fits their lifestyle.
The result is a low cost and highly effective win, even through mid-October. A well thought out and well executed program, with a little luck of the schedule thrown in for a smart snack brand.

Sponsorship Sailing Along On the High Seas…

It’s an unusual property with some unique brand partners, so we asked the folks at the Volvo Ocean race to break down the biz…

In 2012, the Volvo Ocean Race organizers announced a huge shift to a one-design boat that would be used by all entries. The idea was to lower the price – and barriers – to entry for any potential sponsors that wanted to be part of the around-the-world race that began life in 1973 as the Whitbread Round-The-World Race.

By going to a one-design race, cost for entering and running a campaign has been roughly cut in half from about $10-15 million – not including marketing or sponsorship activation which is entirely up to the individual sponsor. The rule change has also allowed late entries into the race by eliminating the development time for teams to design, test and build their own boats in the preceding 2-years. Lastly, it has leveled the playing field. No longer does a sponsor have to fear having a  “slow boat” at the start line, competing at a disadvantage the entire way around the ocean race track.

After declining participation over the past decade, the race has had an uptick in competitors to seven boats for the 2014-15 race, the race’s 12th edition. Considering that the last few races have had six different sponsors entering boats (in previous editions sponsors could enter two teams) this is certainly a step in the right direction – if a small one. But perhaps more impressive are the types of sponsors that have entered the race, including several global conglomerates. And this is perhaps the biggest statement yet of the future potential of the one-design rule.

Let’s take a quick snapshot of each of the seven sponsors behind the teams.

Team:                          Abu Dhabi Ocean Race

Country:                     United Arab Emirates

Skipper:                      Ian Walker (GBR)

Sponsor(s):                Abu Dhabi is sponsored by the Middle East emirate itself with the country’s logo and branding splashed across the boat. Abu Dhabi is also a sponsor of the race and hosts a stopover – the first city in the Middle East to host the race –giving Abu Dhabi multiple branding points. National airline Etihad has on-board branding, as does race sponsor IWC watches.

Team:                          Dongfeng Race Team

Country:                     China

Skipper:                      Charles Caudrelier (FRA)

Sponsor: Dongfeng Race Team is sponsored by Chinese truck giant Dongfeng Trucks.

Team:                          Team Alvimedica

Country:                     Turkey/USA

Skipper:                      Charlie Enright (USA)

Sponsor: Turkish medical device company Alvimedica has sponsored this team taking the storyling of being the youngest team in the race with predominantly under-30 sailors – similar to Alvimedica’s positioning as a young medical company. The team made the smart decision to brand itself as a joint U.S./Turkish entry to increase media coverage in the U.S. around skipper Charlie Enright (29) from Bristol, RI.

Team:                          Team Brunel

Country:                     Holland

Skipper:                      Bouwe Bekking (NED)

Sponsor: Brunel might not be that well known in the U.S., but they are a global giant with 13,000 employees and offices in more than 40 countries offering professional staffing and project management services. Brunel has previously sponsored a team in the race and Holland’s seafaring heritage make this an interesting campaign.

Team:                          Team SCA

Country:                     Sweden

Skipper:                      Sam Davies (GBR)

Sponsor: You may have never heard of SCA but chances are you have used their products almost every day. SCA is a leading global hygiene and forest products company with brands like Tempo, Tork, Lotus and many others. You’ve likely dried your hands or wiped food using their napkins hundreds of times. There are sponsoring the race’s only all-female entry under the brand premise of women’s empowerment.

Team:                          MAPFRE

Country:                     Spain

Skipper:                      Iker Martinez (ESP)

Sponsor: MAPFRE is Spain’s leading insurance company, the fourth-largest insurer in the world, and also the No. 1 insurer in Latin America with offices in 47 countries and more than 36,000 employees. They were late to announce their sponsorship but their bright red boat with massive MAPFRE logo goes well with their corporate branding.

Team:                          Team Vestas Wind

Country:                     Denmark

Skipper:                      Chris Nicholson (AUS)

Sponsor: World largest wind turbine company is sponsoring a team in a race powered by the wind. We can’t thing of a better synergy in sports sponsorship – and its slogan – “Wind. It means the world to us.” – is quite pithy for the around-the-world race.

New York’s Longest Running Sports Talkshow Hits 40…

Monday night in New York there will be a celebration of 40 consecutive years of sportstalk radio on one station; a 50,000 watt college station poised in, below and at one point atop Keating Hall on the campus of Fordham University, a place as a student, alumnus and staff member for several years I know very well. The station is WFUV, and the show being celebrated is “One on One,” which continues to be New York’s longest running sports talkshow, heard now both online and on-air. While it might not seem like much to have a show on-air today in a time when anyone can do a podcast or be a part of blogtalk radio, the fact that the show, and the hundreds if not thousands of careers that have been launched and listeners that were developed, is something to behold. More importantly there has been a level of professionalism and consistency that “One on One” has had since it launched that the students today, and all of the alumni and its longtime programming head Bob Ahrens take great pride in.

The greatest part of “One on One” over the years has not been the content, but the people; students, callers and alumni who have engaged in discussion and debate with guests big and small the old fashioned way, through the spoken voice, a form of communication that sometimes gets overlooked in the type at breakneck speed we deal with today. The show and the station have also been about accountability. Sure there have been an occasional rant but for the most part the discussions on topics big and small are intelligent, fun and worthwhile, with more than a share of guests filtered in. The show is on public radio, so there are grants but not commercial breaks, and its original times, Saturday and Sunday nights starting at 11 is a distant memory, but that doesn’t mean that the Gehrig-like weekly streak over 40 years has ever ceased, or that the memories of those who have been behind that mic are any less robust.

So yes the sports airwaves of WFUV have produced Michael Kay and Jack Curry and John Giannone and  Chris Carrino and Mike Breen and Bob Papa and Paul Dottino, who paint the scenery for sports fans on TV and radio in NY. But the school and the station have also given rise to a host of professionals young and old, who used the opportunity as a way to get started in the media capital of the world, and have passed that legacy on to those now on air. From MLB Marketing head Tim Brosnan, to over a dozen voices on Sirius/XM (like Ed Randall and Andrew Bogush), to the man who keeps the Mets on the air every night, producer Chris Majkowski, to the guy who helped build the X Games at ESPN, Rick Allesandri, to the voice of the Washington Nationals Charlie Slowes and Good Morning America’s Tony Reali, as well as others like Elias Sports Bureau head Steve Hirdt, and Malcolm Moran, currently the Director of the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University, and so many others in public relations, sports marketing, sales, production and broadcasting, WFUV Sports and “One on One,” was where it all began.

Why Fordham? It has a 50,000 watt radio station sitting in the New York area, a great journalism tradition that includes Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur Daley, Basketball Hall of Fame broadcaster John Andariese, and the legendary Vin Scully, and the ability to create entry level spots for hardworking young people through its alumni base, a group that cares and engages with others coming through the program. WFUV is also unique in that it is the ONLY voice for Fordham sports; there is no commercial entity to push the public station broadcast to the back burner. While that is probably not good from a marketing standpoint for the school, it is invaluable in the level of professionalism that the students bring to the job, and that is reflected in the careers of so many. Saying that Fordham is really dominant in the business of sports is no slight to the Newhouse School at Syracuse or the Medill School at the Northwestern. What it is is a positive point toward a small Jesuit school which has a niche and has cultivated it over time. While a sports talkshow may not seem like a big deal today, 40 years of sports talk without a break is quite a deal in a world where five minutes is sometimes too long.

Hail Men (and women) of Fordham hail for such a great job for those who work and follow sports. WFUV and “One on One,” is a great symbol of the collective success of so many for so long, and here’s to making sure it gets its due.

We Are The World; Global Sports Convergence Grows

Sunday morning thousands of soccer fans in the US will turn on Barclays Premier matches on NBC while others will watch the Ryder Cup live from Scotland. Then later it will be the Dolphins and the Raiders playing…in Wembley Stadium. Across the pond a growing number of fans will be watching NFL games as their day turns into night, and others will be engaging on NBA.com as training camp updates come flooding in. In Latin America baseball fans will be tuning in this afternoon watching Derek Jeter’s last game at Fenway Park.  Not too long ago each of these events would have been news, covered by media as a special happening, an unusual event. Now they are happenstance met with no fanfare at all. The digital world, and the growth of global sponsorship has changed live viewing habits in sport around the world, and has made sport more global than ever before, with Sunday being a great example.

There are many factors that play into why we see sports on a global scale as less unusual than ever before. The growth of soccer in the US, not just MLS but the fact that the new immigrant has taken his club loyalties and brought them here, as well as the marketing efforts of the elite clubs of the world to gain recognition amongst a grassroots following of young people that follow Chelsea or Manchester City on TV and engage on EA’s FIFA2014 as much as other generations would have put their loyalties in the Texas Rangers or Philadelphia Phillies, is a big reason for our global comfort these days. The consistent outward-bound marketing of the professional sports leagues to a more global audience, not just with merchandise but with games that are not just exhibitions (like the NFL in London) but count in the standings (MLB in Australia last spring was another big step forward) is another massive factor. Traditional broadcast media, especially the efforts of ESPN, NBC Sports and FOX to take global sporting events and find windows to broadcast and promote (not just soccer but Formula 1 and soon rugby as well) have changed viewing habits and grown the footprint of casual fans who now follow and watch at off-hours where sports was not normally seen on the east coast and Midwest. Then there is a digital engagement for sport that never existed, where fans anywhere can engage and interact with their clubs or athletes without having to be in stadium or even in country. That timeless involvement has helped bring the world together for sport 24/7, and has grown sports brands and athletes that were once regional into international powerhouses.

Then there are the brands themselves doing promotions. Years ago Emirates Airways or TATA (title sponsor of the NYC Marathon) would have been an outlier partnering with American sport. Same with American brands like Subway or even Chevrolet spending big dollars on European soccer. Now they are happenstance and growing, as non-American companies figure out how to activate with US fans, and American brands use sports and its global reach to engage more and more with fans around the world. Brands understand now more than ever how to think globally but activate locally and fit into the way local fans engage. The missteps of American brands doing a cookie cutter approach to working with fans in Tallahassee the same way as they would in Monaco are gone. It is now a stylized approach that brings ROI to all, using a combination of traditional media (since there are American fans now watching global sport, TV is still king), as well as digital and grassroots activation to make it all work.

So what does it all mean? Does it mean that suddenly somewhere we well have New York playing Moscow in some regular league in basketball or hockey or even rugby or soccer or cricket? Will The Jacksonville Jaguars work in London lead to an NFL team there? Still very hard to say if that will ever work, as time, tax laws, workman’s compensation and other factors still are big challenges. However the days of soccer friendlies in the States being a spectacle are more and more in the rear view mirror, and the same with US football in the UK or even baseball or hoops in the Far reaches of the globe. They are still special events locally, but are more happenstance on a global sports scale. That doesn’t mean they are less important, and there are still parts of the world for sport to still engage as a “first” (who gets India first from an American sport perspective; will Africa play host to baseball down the line are still areas to be explored).

However because of new media, aggressive marketing, and the ways we now engage sport is coming together nicely as a 24/7 live occurrence. We are becoming more one as a business, and that’s good news for all.

We are them, and they are us.

Patterson Award Hits 10 Years Of Goodwill…

It certainly has been a topsy-turvy week for sports; from the Derek Jeter swan song and Rutgers starting their Big 10 life to the off-field mess that continues to plague the NFL, both good and bad have taken over the headlines in various degrees.

So into that mix in the Garden State this past week on the good side was the official 10 year announcement of the winners of the Steve Patterson Award by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Patterson Award was established in 2005 by the RWJF in honor of the late Steve Patterson, the former UCLA basketball star, NBA player and Arizona State basketball coach. Patterson’s belief in the practice of using the power of sports philanthropy to make a difference in various communities inspired the creation of this award.

This year’s winners were the Tiger Woods Foundation, Jays Care Foundation and Harlem RBI and were honored at a September 18 ceremony at RWJF in Princeton, N.J. With the two baseball-related winners in Jays Care Foundation and Harlem RBI, no other sport has received more Patterson Awards than baseball.

Some facts on the three winners:

The Jays Care Foundation is the charitable arm of Canada’s only MLB team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Established in 1992, the foundation has grown exponentially from a regional focus in Toronto to investing in children and communities from coast-to-coast. Their mission is to create equal opportunities for kids in need across Canada by removing barriers to sport and education. Foundation programs such as Field of Dreams and Grand Slam Grant provide funds to children and their communities to learn and play in a safe environment as well lead happy and healthy lives. Other foundation programs include Rookie League, Home Run Scholars and Jays Care Community Clubhouse.

Harlem RBI: Harlem RBI’s goal is to provide inner-city youth with opportunities to play, learn and grow. They use the influence of teams to impact and inspire children to recognize their potential and realize their dreams. Harlem RBI has grown to aid more than 1,500 boys and girls annually since its founding in 1991. The program provides youth with year-round sports, educational and enrichment activities. Youth are first exposed to Harlem RBI through its summer baseball program. Program components include Rookie League, REAL Kids, TeamBuilders, TeamWorks, Legends and Social Work. When they graduate from the program, Harlem RBI youth are expected to be resilient young adults and embody DreamList attributes, which include being physically healthy, high school graduates, college graduates, work-ready, teammates and more. Since 2005, 97 percent of Harlem RBI seniors have graduated high school and 94 percent have matriculated at college.

The Tiger Woods Foundation : Founded by Tiger Woods and his father, Earl, the Tiger Woods Foundation has affected millions of students by providing advanced educational opportunities with a focus on STEM education. Of the foundation’s numerous initiatives, one of its flagship programs, the Tiger Woods Learning Center, provides scholars in grades 5-12 with college-access programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math. Interactive classes allow these students to identify the importance of attending college and exploring potential careers. Through the Earl Woods Scholarship Program, students receive a $5,000 scholarship, which is renewable for up to four years, as well as a dedicated mentor. Specialized internships are available to students in the program, which help prepare them for life after college. Since 2005, the foundation has distributed more than $80 million and an astounding 100 percent of Earl Woods scholars have graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

While other years have shown maybe a little more diversity in winners, pairing groups like Tony Hawk and the San Francisco 49ers, the results do not diminish with baseball leading the way for the 10th year of the awards. All have the same focus; use sport as a tool to better society, no matter what the price tag. That message is amplified even more by the dollars that RWJF puts behind the program annually, a key part of giving back not just to sport but to the positive messages it sends across the state in calls home. After all that is probably the best way philanthropy can be used tied to sport, an overlay of international, national and local partnerships, marrying legacy programs to those that youth can relate to today. All those efforts were summed up on a nice September day in the heart of Big Pharma country, with the results resonating far beyond Princeton. Beautiful program, beautiful effort, beautiful rewards, and a beautiful legacy for all involved to show how winning in sport goes way beyond the playing field. Role models like these are the ones we need.

Making Tailgating History…

One of the more documented stories going onto the college football season was the dilemma many colleges were having in engaging their students throughout the mega-experience of Saturday Game days. Millennials don’t take well to five hour long rituals for the most part, they would rather games, and all around it, be fast and easy. Still for its issues, the college game day experience remains a tradition that now alumni of a certain age are engaging their kids with; a little less drinking, a little more throwing the ball around and mixing with friends who also may have kids. A good way to spend a Saturday. Looking to build on that tradition, and engage those families, are a whole host of brands who may seem unconventional to the experience but nonetheless want to hit families who may be less die hard and more casual supporters of alma mater.

One of those new partnerships is with the HISTORY, not exactly your dyed in the wool college football Saturday brand partner. HISTORY this week announced a partnership with IMG to bring the All-American Tailgate Tour to six university campuses. The cross-country tour is big on big, so don’t expect them this year at Colgate or Oberlin. The Tour will stop at Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan and Texas, bringing the “Ultimate Smoker and Grill,” an 80-foot long grill serving up special HISTORY BBQ delicacies. Fans will also get the chance to screen HISTORY TV content from hit series such as Top Gear, American Pickers® and Swamp People and take home HISTORY merchandise. They will also look to partner with brands who engage across their shows and who may also desire that affinity with families on the college map, doing on-campus sampling events with KEURIG and other partners who are a natural fit. Less Jack Daniels, more Jack Daniels barbeque sauce. Less Girls Gone Wild, and more of Moms Feeding The Kids.

The cross promotion makes good sense to build brand loyalty for programs that young families may want to follow when they leave the parking lot, and it ties those programs not just to the families, but even to alma mater as well. It is a great way to engage in and around the game day experience and have a little leave-behind afterwards as well. What else could be added in down the road? Celebrity drop-ins, live activation programs around the shows for families who had engaged during the tailgates, and of course lots and lots of video and good clean fun. It makes great sense for HISTORY, and helps build another tradition around college football for those with disposable income and some time to slide along on a Saturday, especially when some millenials may be heading back to the dorm at halftime.

Nice brand extension for the channel, and a smart use of new resources for the schools.

Golf, Tennis Take Their Annual Bite Of The Apple…

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

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

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

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

Mixing Sports and Broadway…

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

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

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

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

FCP: Any crossover between the two?

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

FCP: Any development or trends you are closely watching?

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

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

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

FCP: What is your favorite book?

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

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

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

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

 

Smaller School Tries To Make Bigger Impact…

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