ESPN | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maui Jim Scores In Social

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

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

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

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

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

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

Djokovic Scores In China…

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

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

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

Best Practices: Amplifying The Message

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

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

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

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

FCP: Why sports?

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

FCP: Describe your leadership style?

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

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

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

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

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

 FCP: What is your biggest regret?

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

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

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

 FCP: What was the last book you read?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biz of Baseball Tech: MLB.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

FCP: Describe your leadership style

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

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

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

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

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

FCP: What is your biggest regret?

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

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

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

FCP: What was the last book you read?

JM: Seal Team 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tennis Talk: Skip Gilbert and the US Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 FCP: Any creative packages you sell to tournament sponsors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Bayern and Boca; Soccer Marketing In The States Grows…

There is little doubt that soccer, from the grassroots through the World Cup, continues to have a growing presence in the mindset of the casual sports fan in the United States. While still not as embedded on the professional side as it is in the rest of the world, the sport is more buzzworthy and brandworthy than it has ever been in the States, and the scramble is on from Major League Soccer and its partners at Soccer United Marketing to many of the world’s elite clubs and brands to best figure out how to enhance and embrace this new love affair while the opportunity exists, and make sure that the right brands are associated with the consumer on all levels of soccer engagement.

We have seen recently how companies like Mondelez International have taken soccer partnerships to a new level with their consumer activation, and now a growing number of elite clubs and their partners are looking to step up even more to find their way into the marketplace, by taking up shop in and around Madison Avenue. For several years, clubs like Chelsea, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Manchester City (now with their co-ownership of NYCFC) have operated satellite offices and programs in and around New York’s business and marketing centers, finding ways to embrace both the grassroots (with youth programs) and the consumer (enhancing summer tours and exploring multi-level partnerships with American brands both in and out of season). Those efforts continue to pay off as soccer grows its footprint in the States and traditional American brands look to partner and activate on both sides of the Atlantic with established properties who have a true passionate  global following.

While to this point most of the clubs that have put down a stake in the US have been Barclays Premier League clubs, the best efforts are expanding. AS Roma and its American ownership group have made very big strides in creating a brand presence in the US, and both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have looked to capitalize on their massive audience to create momentum with brands in the States as well. The latest additions to the mix are also intriguing and may signal an even bigger push to follow the other elite clubs with their own presence.  Boca Juniors, arguably one of the biggest and most successful South American clubs, has started grassroots work in and around the States and has begun their own field marketing efforts to find new partners to activate both in the States and in Argentina, and Bayern Munich has now started to take their mega-brand and its partners to the US marketplace in advance of this summer’s Tour in America.

While Boca Juniors play is more on the grassroots side, establishing an Academy and growing a footprint from the ground up, Bayern is looking to establish itself in the commercial world through the Bundesliga’s new broadcast contract on American TV and by activating around the solid brand partnerships it already has with brands like Adidas, Allianz and tour title sponsor Audi. There is a long list of best practice activations the club has done in Germany that can be expanded into the US market, making the Bayern push much more than just a startup idea.

The club itself will make its first trip to the U.S. in 10 years this summer after having won its record 24th Bundesliga title and will take on Mexican club Club Deportivo Guadalajara at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., on July 31 before flying to the West Coast to play in the MLS All-Star Game in Portland on Aug. 6. That bicoastal presence will serve as a key launch point for the Bayern brand with soccer fans, and can help push long-term efforts forward. The club also has a nice historical boost with the American fan, with legend  (and ex- New York Cosmos star) Franz Beckenbauer as its international ambassador (valuable despite his recent issues with FIFA) and the presence of rising American Julian Green on its roster.

The push for Boca and Bayern into the U.S. is smart but won’t be easy or an overnight success.  Neither club has a track record of marketing or branding success in the States, and the largest broadcast marketing platforms for soccer are stacked with Premier League efforts and the clubs that have been marketing here for several years. There is a bit of a language barrier for both, although both are embracing English-language sites and marketing efforts to assist in their work, and despite their local strength, neither club plays in a league which has made an aggressive push into the US as a whole to date.  While clubs like Arsenal and even Fulham have expanded their supporter club programs across the United States to build fan following, the build for others like Bayern and Borussia Dortmund has been much slower and will take some time to build awareness amongst fans that are more than casual followers. That build is going to be very important for brands looking to activate, and for the club itself as it becomes more aggressive in competing in the marketplace with other clubs looking to do the same thing.

The great opportunity for a club like Bayern is that they are first to market in the States for a Bundesliga club, and they certainly have the name recognition amongst casual and ardent soccer followers, an audience that is growing. Their success in building partnerships in arguably the healthiest economy in Europe is also a great selling point, and their story, although kind of understood by soccer supporters, is still an untold one in the US sports business landscape. American brands love new combined with successful stories, and the club appears to have all that, along with its strong history of success on the pitch.

As World Cup fever in the States builds the next few weeks, brands will be looking for a “what’s next” as a way to capitalize on all the excitement and buzz and translate that excitement into a long term viable strategy. Certainly MLS presents a great and expanding option. However for some brands looking more global, the elite clubs of the world now marketing in the States are also very interesting, and now it appears that one of not two, of those elite names are presenting a unique and sustainable new option in the mix.

The business of “The Beautiful Game” in the States keeps getting more interesting.

#PassTheLove Starts To Score With Consumers…

Last fall Mondelez International and Soccer United Marketing announced a wide ranging partnership across some of the biggest brands in the consumer space, which, the goal (no pun intended), was to bring soccer touch points to almost anyone cruising an aisle in a food store.  The Mondelez brands, which include Oreo and Chips Ahoy cookies, Ritz and Wheat Thins crackers, Trident and Stride gums, and Sour Patch Kids and Cadbury candies, aligned with the U.S, men’s and women’s soccer teams and some of its biggest personalities (Clint Dempsey of the Seattle Sounders, Omar Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Galaxy, and Alex Morgan, an Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League) as well as with MLS clubs and Club Deportivo Guadalajara, and sponsor of all Chivas occasional matches the team plays in the United States. It made  the brands the official snacks of the women’s and men’s United States national soccer teams.

Because of the timing, the rare cross-gender professional athlete partnership,  the outreach on Multi-cultural, and the wide digital components, as well as the traditional spends, the program could be a game changer for soccer.

With World Cup now here, the program is ready to get started much more formally.

A ceremony at NASDAQ  a few weeks ago  was just the latest way the Official Snacks of U.S. Soccer (iconic brands like OREO, Ritz, Trident, Honey Maid and Sour Patch Kids) have rallied attention around soccer. This summer, they kick off a campaign called #PassTheLove, which inspires fans everywhere to share the spirit of soccer as the U.S. prepared for Brazil. It’s the largest multi-brand program for the company to date.

The Coast to coast retail presence now includes 40 million specially marked packs and 17,000 displays. A nationwide, socially powered promotion appearing on more than 40 million custom designed packs inviting consumers to share why they love soccer using #PassTheLove in exchange for the chance to win a “Game of Your Life” soccer experience that captures the excitement of a major competition, or other instant win giveaways.

There is a new mobile game, Free Kick Fury, which is an instant messaging-based online soccer experience which gives users the chance to test their soccer skills with penalty kicks while connecting with an online community. Perhaps the biggest win can come in the multicultural space, where Mondelez will speak directly to a core Hispanic audience who may love soccer bit not follow MLS or the Women’s National team yet. The program will better introduce those stars, as well as the elite players with Hispanic ties, to a casual audience as well, all at retail and in Spanish.

The battle for brand awareness for soccer in the United States has been a long one, with little wins building along the way. Sometimes it’s not massive and flashy but it has been effective, and the World Cup now provides a huge stage for the sport, and hopefully for American soccer. However what’s most important, win or lose, is that soccer continue to leverage its position in the marketplace well after the games in Brazil are done. This partnership with Mondelez, now with tangible results, may be one of the biggest, and brightest touch points for “Brand Soccer” with all levels of consumers going forward. It scores on multiple layers, and will build momentum and awareness for what should be another great bump in the States for “The Beautiful Game.”