FIFA | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup - Part 2

Vice Becomes Nice…What’s Next?

For people of a certain age, seeing Marlboro or Virginia Slims or Winston associated with the biggest brands in American sport was commonplace. Big tobacco fueled bug sponsorships, especially when the Federal Government began curtailing cigarettes from their first large-scale media investment…television…in the late 1960’s.  Along with smokes, spirits also fueled the athletic coffers, turning out big time promos in print and TV and radio with stars like Joe Namath hawking their favorite alcoholic libation. No gambling of course, but everyone could drink and smoke.

Then came the FDA and the FTC and the push back and eventual ban on all vice advertising. With the ban went some moral clarity, but millions of dollars in revenue for teams and leagues. Cleaner, healthier but poorer. Now of course other categories arose to fill the void, and then the lottery became more en vogue and their advertising dollars began to fill a huge hole in sport, so the balance of vices kicked in yet again. Still even though legal federated gambling dollars, and then casino monies, were OK, still spirits were off limits. That all began to change in the last few years, as teams looked at the millions being left on the table for team sports and being channeled into boxing, MMA and other alternative options by the global spirit brands, who were more than willing to spend on international sport like soccer, rugby and cricket. There was certainly no issue with the way the brands were being sold at retail or in venues; it was a matter of perception.

Slowly but surely tests were being done to see what would pass the consumer and broadcast sniff test. Teams began adding luxury seating sections branded with spirits, brands like Captain Morgan would find experiential events to push to the sports consumer, and then TV and print advertising became OK again. Teams started to be able to sell to spirits in some very high level ways…lower targeted categories like malt liquor are still pretty much off the market…but high end brands for the high end consumer, bring it on. Most were regional partnerships, but the leagues certainly were aware of the spend, and the opportunity to grow partnerships, especially as sport looked to be more global than national.

So it is into that trend that this week the NBA launched their most comprehensive spirits partnership in history, one involving all forms of media as well as celebrity tied to teams. No active players as of yet, but lots of solid linkage to all things NBA. The deal is with Diageo as exclusive spirits sponsor, with Sean “Diddy” Combs and Diageo’s Ciroc premium vodka becoming “The Toast of the NBA.” Diageo will promote its Ciroc and Crown Royal brands across the NBA and NBA Development League while bringing Baileys Crème to a WNBA audience.  Although Bacardi was the league’s first official spirits sponsor in 2010 the multi-brand partnership with Diageo really ramps up the exposure and the messaging and the dollars for the NBA in spirits.

What does this mean about categories that were one taboo for pro sports in the US? Lots. In the search for more revenue and creative partnerships, the leagues need to go to new places. Lottery, once off-limits, is now a must have, and many teams have slowly started to introduce a form of “paid” fantasy, which certainly flies in the face of but does not yet cross the line with the world of online wagering and gaming.  A world where social issues are becoming more and more in the headlines could also lead to ways to introduce the uber-lucrative world of condoms and STD prevention to sport, which has easily accepted the dollars and significance of every form of ED medication under the sun. E-Cigarettes, although still unregulated and facing a lot of pushback, may also test the waters in sports like MMA and boxing first, but those may still be in the distance.

Then there is the elephant in the room, gambling, especially in the mobile space. While states like Delaware and New Jersey press on to fight the decades old federal law that prohibits sports gambling everywhere except Nevada, clubs and leagues around the world are making huge inroads with controlled and legal gaming and gambling platforms. While no league will publicly address the issue, all must be placing a watchful eye on the States because once a foothold is established, legal gambling could go the way of the other legal “vice” categories, and as a result will help push all forms of sponsorship up. It will not happen tomorrow, but it will come at some point, and those naysayers should easily look back on the history of spirits, and lottery and casinos to mark the process.

For now, the NBA and probably the rest of the leagues, can lift a glass and toast an ever-widening spirits category, one which is lucrative, interactive, well-modulated and certainly worth every dollar invested for all.   

“Movember” Grows

The gold standard by which charities are measured these days remains the pink campaigns of Breast Cancer Awareness month, led by the yeoman work of Susan G. Komen, even with its issues last year. However as we reach mid-November, it is worth a tip of the hat to the growing work for the “Movember” campaign, which supports cancer that strikes men, especially prostate cancer and early detection.

The theme for “Movember” is to get primarily men (although women can help out with a fake one) to grow a mustache or not shave for the 30 days of the month, and then gain dollars through pledges for growing their ‘stache.  Given what we have seen with the Boston Red Sox and their epic beard growth (and subsequent sponsored shaving by Gillette), mustache growth is a natural follow-up as we transition into winter sports.

Major League Soccer has gone on board in a big way with Movember, with clubs throughout the League growing ‘Mo’s (moustaches).  Players, supporters, staff and partners are clean-shaven on November 1st and grow their moustaches throughout the month. Participants document  progress on their ‘MoSpace pages as part of the MLS Movember Network, on the Movember website. Women participated by becoming ‘Mo Sistas’ and created their own ‘MoSpaces to support the men they love.

In 2011, the first year of a League-wide Movember campaign, players, supporters and staff throughout the League joined together to raise approximately $45,000. In 2012, we raised $57,000 to support Movember.

The NHL has also been a long supporter, following on their yearly ritual of not shaving during the playoffs. The Washington Capitals Karl Alzner, the Canucks Roberto Luongo and a wide-ranging group from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment have all signed on for 2013.

Now “Movember” has its shortcomings; guys have to look a little unkempt in a month not known for vacations, and it is not as easy to activate such a program as it is with a “Wear Pink” campaign. Also other sports, especially Major League Baseball, do activate against prostate cancer with blue bats and other events around Father’s Day each year. Still “Movember” continues to have a great upside, with the potential of thousands of fake ‘staches being given out at games during the month, maybe even tied to Coaches vs. Cancer events in college hoops. The fake handouts are low cost and would make for great digital integration and TV. Still it does cost money to engage nationally or internationally, and the campaign is growing now with the NHL assisting. It is a fun and noteworthy push for awareness, one which hopefully can continue to gain steam in the coming years for a very noble cause or series of causes.

Red Bulls Make Strides On and Off The Pitch…

Maybe it was a combination of new leadership on the business side in the States, new leadership in the coaching ranks and a swift kick of reality by two other clubs…one on Long Island, the other not even in existence yet, but the New York Red Bulls brand made some solid strides on many levels this year.

Wednesday night’s loss to the Houston Dynamo prematurely ended the season for the team and its supporters, but the 2013 campaign seems to have brought an expansion of brand and a more positive future for a club that always seemed to be stuck on status quo.

On the field, the leadership and openness for homegrown coach Mike Petke was a refreshing change of pace, and his down to earth style and understanding of the business side of the club off the pitch, coupled with leading New York to its first-ever Supporters’ Shield for the best record in MLS, was a huge step forward in stability. The infectious play and personality of Tim Cahill gave New York star power on and off the field, and even Thierry Henry, in the twilight of his career but still bolstering the Red Bull attack on the field, broke from his standoffish mode with doing more press and promotions to help create more awareness and interest away from the game than at any time since he signed with the club.

The marketing push leading into their inaugural NASL season by the New York Cosmos certainly identified a growing legion of soccer-conscious fans willing to give the professional game a try if they were embraced more, and the announcement and hoopla in the spring of New York City Football Club’s arrival, and subsequent hiring of former Rutgers AD and longtime sports insider Tim Pernetti to run the club, again showed the growing interest in the sport and the void that the Red Bulls weren’t filling.

The result was an increased marketing and branding focus by the club; holding viewing parties in places like Brooklyn, expanding an ad campaign to areas like Fort Lee, a larger community presence on the grassroots side, and of course the success on the field. The results saw larger crowds as the season came to a conclusion, and although there were surprising swaths of empty seats in Red Bull Arena Wednesday night, the recognition by casual fans in the area of what the club has been doing was certainly felt more this fall than in previous years.

Is it all perfect? Not yet. The Red Bull domination on the marketing side is a blessing for those who activate and enjoy the brand, but it puts a hindrance on adding brand partners who can co-market the club through other partnerships. The lack of baseball success in the area during the fall led to some advanced media opportunities, but the lack of radio in English (even at a time when NYCFC has already signed WFAN as their English language radio home two years from now) or even streaming is still a loss for exposure.  The club has rising and established international stars, but adding a top flight and marketable American to the mix would also do wonders. The ramped up work on MSG Network…the only live sporting programs all summer on the channel…is certainly a help as well but more integrated and expanded broadcast coverage can certainly be a plus going forward. There was growth on the grassroots side, but a look around the malls of New Jersey still sees young people wearing more Real Madrid or Chelsea apparel than a Red Bulls kit. The Red Bulls supporters are growing, but still more needs to be done to tell their stories and expand the brand. Red Bull Arena remains one of the gems of stadium builds in the area in recent years, but its Spartan appearance inside still leaves it feeling cold and without a great deal of character and personality, and the ongoing parking issues around the stadium remain a work in progress.

In the end, the club’s March to the best record and their increased presence in the marketplace was a huge step forward, and going into a World Cup year can only help accelerate the growth of the Red Bulls brand, especially with an anticipated marketing and branding pitch coming from across the river as NYCFC finds its home and solidifies its presence.  The season fell short of a title, but it was a season of growth for New Jersey’s soccer club, one which was very much welcomed and should be noticed not just now, but in the years to come.

Samsung, NBA Start “Brand Everywhere”

If you have a tablet around an NBA team, it better be a Samsung. TV’s, Galaxies, flat screen monitors, get out of the way Apple and Microsoft, one of the world’s biggest investors in sports marketing just got deeper in the pool last week. Samsung Electronics will be wall to wall on  NBA broadcasts and events, from Las Vegas Summer League through the Finals. Every referee will get a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet for rewatching plays at halftime and between games, and the league will use Samsung technology for reviewing calls courtside during games.

Now what does all that mean other than a mega-TV buy? Will we see Greg Popovich or Tom Thibodeau reaching for the tablet instead of the clipboard to pull real time video married to stats soon? Not likely but it’s a big bold start to partner with a league that has thrust itself into the forefront in data analytics use in the last few months, from adding biomechanical devices to measure athletic output to putting motion sensitive cameras around key arenas to collect even more data married to performance. But holograms replacing clipboards during a time out? Not yet. In many ways the deal is not dissimilar from the ones cut by Microsoft with the NFL and MLS this past summer. Those involve more signage and sport-specific spots highlighting athlete personalities and brands than technology thus far, especially since the Microsoft phone is nowhere near the penetration level of the American consumer that Apple or Samsung are to date.

The other big issue is connectivity. While the technology exists, and MLB uses behind the scenes with some partners, to marry data and video together almost in real time, the signal levels in most arenas are still in the dark ages, and to be able to use courtside wireless technology during play, both sides have to have equal consistent signals and the signal has to be consistent in every arena throughout the league. Many arenas are updating and adding better download speed not just for teams but for consumer engagement, but consistency is still years away.

For now, the initial goal is to make the Samsung brand ubiquitous with the global NBA brand. Get the tablets and phones in the hands, reinforce it with some low hanging practical engagement, even if the engagement is hard wired vs. wireless, and then continue to activate and promote to the millions of NBA fans around the world that Samsung is the “Must have” for basketball engagement.    

This new Samsung barrage is not the first, but it is easily the most extensive partnership for the brand and the NBA. Last year, Jesse Williams popped up on ABC with a microphone in one hand and a Galaxy smartphone in the other, telling viewers to check out his sideline pictures. During halftime of Game five, they aired a three-minute ad to tease its release of Jay-Z’s new album and have steadily incorporated players into their promotions as one-off’s.

The biggest opportunity outside of sales will be in mobile engagement down the road. As teams look to improve the in-game experience and engage with fans minute by minute as they are at a game or crowd-source the likes/dislikes of a particular section, or fill distressed seats at a moment’s notice, Samsung can help provide the solution. As teams use more technology to evaluate talent, Samsung should be the answer. As TV’s themselves become more data-friendly, Samsung units can provide advanced analytics and promotions during NBA Games that competitors will not be able to.

So yes, right now the goal is Samsung brand everywhere in the traditional sense…signage and advertising and promotions. In the near future, it will be more about portability, mobility and analytics. Is it a gamble? For the short term not really, and it serves as a preemptive strike to lock down hoops while competitors focus elsewhere. The NBA’s ability to transcend borders also gives Samsung a strategic global leg up as well against other sports, and helps support in some ways what they do in other sports like soccer around the world. The calculated rick lies in the next step…can arenas align properly, can teams get coaches to engage, and will fans migrate to a Samsung device after years of apple happiness.

If you are going to out a stake in the ground in pro sports, especially winter sports, hoops is the right place, and for the NBA and Samsung, it seems like a smart partnership that can grow and lift both brands.     

NFL Brings More “There” Over There…But Why? Some Thoughts…

The NFL continues to amp up its marketing agenda both domestically and abroad from mandating elite teams participate in “Hard Knocks” to expanding the number of games in London going forward, and making sure that elite teams like the Dallas Cowboys (next year) help augment the sometimes iffy matchups served up by longtime stakeholder the Jacksonville Jaguars and others. Strong record or not, the Cowboys presence abroad draws interest, much like other elite global brands like the New York Giants would.

It is all a smart amplification of NFL business, putting the pedal to the medal while things are going well as opposed to riding out the good years and hoping no bad comes about that can’t be overcome.  The look to become more “global” as a sport makes great sense from a brand standpoint vs. an actual permanent team boots on the ground position, as the digital world shrinks boundaries of the way casual fans can engage either consistently or from time to time with the gridiron.

So does all this London play really mean a franchise is going to go across the pond permanently? Not necessarily. The cost of putting just one franchise in Europe, or anywhere outside North America is a huge challenge, especially for a sport like American football that does not have huge grassroots ties abroad. American expats, casual followers, brands looking to engage in American sport. Sure. But football is not basketball or soccer or even hockey, with thousands of club teams and youth programs already engaged. It’s not even baseball, who has made some stronger forays into not just Latin America and Asia but into Europe (countries like Italy, Germany and the Netherlands) and will now have a larger test in Australia to start 2014. But it is just a test, and a brand activation platform, much like the London games are really for the NFL. Now sure the NFL, like soccer, has a distinct advantage over other team sports in that the games are once a week and an argument could be made that travel is no worse these days than a cross country flight from Miami to Seattle for a weekend.  Still the tax implications, differing workman’s compensation rules, the extra few hours of broadcast time all play against a solo franchise abroad.

Where is the benefit? Branding for one. The NFL and its merchandise and licensees are global and a steady foothold to point to every year in London gives a destination to market around every year, much like brands do with the US Open in the States. Knowing the time and location every year makes for great long-term planning.

Another key move is the introduction of new brands to the NFL and American sports culture. By having a more steady presence abroad, there are a host of brands from across the world who can safely sample the American sports landscape in their own back yard before dipping in whole hog. Want to touch and feel American football in a great setting before travelling across the world, then the NFL London stop, in a regular season game, is the place to give it a shot.

For the Jacksonville Jaguars, whose owner Shahid Khan now also owns Fulham of the Barclays Premier League, the consistent presence in London each year is both a fan cultivation and business cross-pollination tool. Jacksonville is not a major market with tons of major brands, even in successful years for the team. Exposure not just to London, but to other business on the continent, can help out ancillary income short and long term into the Jags coffers, in addition to boosting all sales of the NFL.  Sharing healthy best practices between EPL teams looking to market more aggressively, and the masters of marketing in the US at the NFL, and with the new Jags front office, also makes great sense. It beats struggling to fill an eighth home game in North Florida.

There is also another unspoken but interesting opportunity that will come more into focus as a revenue stream in the coming years, and that is the testing of sports wagering on the NFL. While taboo still to be looked at in the States, gambling rules the roost in the UK. Could the NFL strike some bookmaker deals for solid revenue for games being played in the UK to test the waters for when gambling becomes legal on sport at some point in the US? It would make for a very good litmus test to see the level of interest, and revenue, that would be brought to the table.

There are also other brand tests that could occur for brand NFL beyond the shores of North America.  Could the NFL London games test a uniform patch for a new exclusive partner, could those games also test on field advertising of elite brands to see what will and won’t work.  Are there broadcasters…a Netflix, an Al Jazeera, a Google…who would take the Europe games as their first foray as a live sports partner maybe not as a US broadcaster but as a digital or non-US test?

All the London activity also doesn’t mean that American football is the must-see for sports fans across the continent. You don’t see Cologne, which had one of the stronger entries in NFL Europe, rising up for a franchise, or Barcelona, or The Hague or even Berlin.  What NFL London has become is a very strong business beachhead with great possibilities as a destination for all partners and fans. When it was one preseason game it was a curiosity, when it was a regular season game it became a branding event, when the Jags threw consistency in it became a consistent business play, now with multiple games it becomes a series with economies of scale and consistency for the fall. All of which makes great sense and has nothing but a solid business upside.

In the end, will there be NFL teams in Europe? The reality is that the best chance of global clubs still rests with soccer, which could have elite clubs…at least two in the U.S., which is now a more mature soccer market than ever before. Its schedule lends to it and the culture of soccer, at least for elite clubs, now exists in the States where the NFL does not have that solid culture abroad.

Can NFL every week work across The Atlantic? Tough to say, but it’s not really needed if the brand business proposition as it is now structured continues to grow. Football in Europe is still all things soccer, and changing that culture or finding a stranglehold on a critical mass around soccer or even rugby and cricket, is a huge mountain to climb. Does it have to be climbed to be a success? No. It’s just a matter of defining the role and expanding the niche incrementally, and that’s what the NFL has done.

Smart business by some of the smartest in the game.  

Beach Games A New One To Watch…

Two things the world has enough of are sand and water, and more than enough resorts and beaches to try and lure tourists. So it was not a great deal of surprise that this week SportAccord announced that it will be the creator of the World Beach Games at a predetermined location starting in 2015.

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

Now the concept is not altogether new, as  Asia has been hosting Beach Games since 2008, the last of which took place in Chinese resort Haiyang last year. The initial contests were a great success and incorporated events like wakeboarding and dragon boat racing which have long tried for Olympic inclusion but could never find success. They are not huge on attendance numbers, do not need large stadia, and fit a demo that Olympic sports crave (young and athletic) and are ripe for made for TV and digital, in the same way that the America’s Cup captured the tech space with their innovative broadcasts this past September.

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

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

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

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

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

Sport Becomes More Global: TCS and The NYC Marathon

There is no event more New York than the New York City Marathon. There is also no event in New York that annually draws a global participant base than the Marathon as well. So it should come as no surprise that the new title sponsor of the Marathon will be an Indian technology company, whose CEO is an avid runner.

What is impressive is where yet another multibillion dollar global company will go next as it enters the American sports business marketplace more formally.  Now Tata Consultancy Services, or TCS, is not a newbie in the running space. It has held a sponsorship on a lower level with the Marathon, and with the Chicago and Boston Marathons as well, developing apps for the race and engaging with the millions who have used tech to engage with friends and family around road race events.

However this move represents a bold new step for the company, one that brings added opportunity, and added attention not just in the running space but in the sports and lifestyle space for the consumer.   The $12 billion company employs 280,000 people around the world, with 50% of its business derived in the U.S. right now, and a platform like the Marathon, which will bring exposure and opportunity not just race weekend but virtually all year round with the scores of events the New York Roadrunners hold and the aggressive marketing stance the organization takes.

The running and lifestyle space is an interesting one for tech companies whose audience matches well with those who engage in participatory activities as well. It is the platform that ING Direct aggressively engaged in road running and cycling as it pushed into the crowded online banking space in the States over a decade ago, with the plan to continue to use active first adopters as their key to growth. Unfortunately the shift in the global economy along with a change in leadership wreaked havoc with that plan, and ING has gone on to focus on more traditional ad buys and sponsorship of events like Formula 1 to re-engage with high level consumers vs. those who may take time to cultivate at the grassroots though participatory sports.

So if TCS is taking the road of marathoning, will it open doors for forward-facing brands activations in the exploding endurance space, with triathlons and circuits like Tough Mudder, Muddy Buddy, Rock N Roll marathon, US Roadsports and others that are very aggressive in their growth? Cycling has also had a huge exit from brands, but it is a sport that remains key for growth amongst consumers who are active…is there a spot there for TCS as well?

Then there is the oath that other global brands have taken to engage with American consumers. Turkish Airways, Lenovo, Ethiad Airways, Emirates Airways and several others have looked to tennis, golf, even soccer and horse racing, as entry points before going into the big spend, big reward area of the professional leagues in the States. Will TCS follow those playbooks and use road running as the key way into the minds and pocketbooks of the American business consumer?

Then there is the association with a BRIC-based company and where that can go. India, like China, is a prime growth area for sports like basketball, so is there an opportunity for TCS to dance with the NBA? Maybe not in the US first but in their work in those countries as a tech partner? Also what does this mean for more established tech support companies that have been in American sports, like IBM, in the future? The scuttlebutt is that TCS spend was larger than anything else the Marathon has ever had. Does that mean that they now become a player for key events outside of running as well, like the US Open for tennis and golf, or even bowl games in college football?

At the end of the day the TCS, NYRR marriage is an interesting one for many reasons. It introduces a newer brand in American sports business, but it comes because the CEO is an engaged runner  who has sampled and enjoyed the space. It unites a solutions company with a sport that has opportunities in tech solutions, since timing and logistics in a marathon is key. It uses a b to b play that can build equity much more than a consumer play despite the impressions TCS will get. It’s not like every day someone is running out looking for a new tech solutions company, but this partnership, for those who do engage in that space, will push TCS to be more top of mind for those who run, or even the casual followers of the marathon. It also shows the continued evolution of sponsor branding for elite, high profile events. While consumer brands can use events and partnerships to directly show how their bottom line is impacted, a partnership like this will be much more of a long term fit in the overall strategy of the company, with ROI taking time to develop as people get more educated about what TCS is doing.

Regardless it’s another example of sport becoming more global, and global brands finding ways to engage with an American audience. Well times, and one worth watching for sure.

Cutting Through The Pharma Brand Mix…

If you are a large scale player in the healthcare field these days, it certainly is not easy trying to set yourself apart.  Trying to find a niche, delivering your message, and most importantly effectively and efficiently serving the needs of the consumer are all major challenges as the field goes through a constant ebb and flow of rules and regulations from the federal and state side, and insurance companies play a game of cat and mouse with what can and what can’t be covered.

New Jersey, being the home of big pharma and sitting between the major markets of New York and Philadelphia is especially ripe for competition, so finding ways to effectively cut through, do good, be a solid brand and serve stakeholders is even more challenging.  One of the ways a myriad of health related companies have found ways to tell their story is through sports marketing, a sometimes tricky but consistent way, if used properly to reach not just the masses but to communicate on down that your company, your services, and your brand are aligned in a proper way in the community and are delivering quality and best in class care.

Most recently we saw Quest Diagnostics start to take this route with a wide-ranging partnership with the New York Giants that goes way beyond just slapping a logo on top of the team’s training center along Route 3 in New Jersey. The Jets have a similar partnership with Atlantic Health Systems, and virtually every team in the corridor has found a link to a healthcare provider, a medical group or a series of specialists linked to a hospital or chain of healthcare providers. Some are large scale branding programs, some more subtle, but all deliver the message of quality aligned with an elite partner, a pro sports franchise.

So it is into that mix  that Barnabas Health launched their latest program extension, one which is not tied directly to a franchise but one which has long term positive repercussions for athletes on every level, and sends messages that the system understands both the big picture of the healthy athlete and how that translates down to the grassroots.

Their Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes (MJM), expanded its program statewide to offers young athletes access to free and low cost cardiac screenings and baseline concussion testing through satellite centers at all six Barnabas Health facilities throughout New Jersey.

At the announcement Tuesday,  Barnabas Health executives were joined by Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Chair, Senate Education Committee and MJM spokespeople David Diehl, two-time Super Bowl champion, NY Giants, and Joetta Clark Diggs, four-time Olympian and 2013 NJ Hall of Fame inductee, in announcing the expansion with a simple message… keep kids safe.

What does the program do? It provides life-saving cardiac screenings; baseline concussion testing; medical evaluation and treatment for sports injuries; and education for student athletes, parents, school districts and recreational sports administrators. Since 2010, MJM has conducted more than 7,000 cardiac and concussion screenings for young athletes.  MJM has provided these screenings, educational programing and medical expertise to communities, recreation departments and several high schools throughout the state in Essex, Monmouth and Ocean counties. In addition, Barnabas Health has a mobile unit that travels throughout the state to conduct screenings, making it easier for young athletes to receive proper care.

When preliminary testing to identify serious cardiac problems is provided to young athletes, sudden cardiac arrest and tragic deaths may be avoided. Nearly 90 percent of sudden cardiac deaths in young athletes occur during or after athletic activities, and hidden heart conditions are often the cause. Cardiac screenings include a baseline EKG and evaluating blood pressure and vitals along with a thorough review of medical history and EKG interpretation by a pediatric cardiologist, who can recommend further testing or intervention as needed.

 A concussion baseline study (ImPACT) is a non-invasive test that tracks information such as memory, reaction time, speed and concentration that can help identify potential issues for young athletes. If an athlete is believed to have suffered a head injury, this screening test may be used to evaluate the severity of the injury and determine when it is safe to return to play. Concussion screenings are offered to young athletes ages 12 to 18, and cardiac screenings are offered to young athletes ages 6 to 18.

By expanding the program and using high profile athletes as their spokespeople, Barnabas accomplishes a host of initiatives at the same time. It shows that their program has a gold standard, one that can put the young athlete care on a par with the professional. It sends the message that the system works to assist youth, many of whom may have a passion for a healthy lifestyle but could have undetected issues that could be problematic, and Barnabas will help them in correcting those issues so they continue to lead healthy lives. It also shows that the company is willing to bring the programs to the people, not have those with busy lifestyles have to come to them. It also shows that Barnabas is taking the time to re-invest in the community not just by taking ads in game programs at the Meadowlands or the Prudential Center or advertising in Yankees broadcasts; it is supporting the grassroots by working with kids and their families in the community. 

The program can have some amazing effects not just for Barnabas as a brand but for young people as well who may be at unknowing risk while they passionately pursue the sport of choice. Down the line someone will be saved, and although that story may not be able to be told directly through Barnabas, the pass-along effect of that story by a parent or by a media member can supersede millions of dollars in hard advertising. Real life examples, real life results, isn’t that what healthcare marketing should always be about?

Now this is not to say that all other programs are just about the big dollars and the big spend. Most are very effective for the brands and their partners, but this one ties together so many objectives that is certainly noteworthy, especially in the crowded New Jersey corridor. A nice job by Barnabas Health to tie an expanded and effective program together, from the grassroots to the highest level of athlete and community care.

Can E-Cigs Find A Sports Niche?

They are unregulated by the FDA, claim to be safer than the regular brands, are environmentally friendly, have started to sign u celebrity endorsers and have the large budgets for marketing that could all be part of a new category on the rise, especially amongst a younger demo. So will E-cigarettes find their way into the sports sponsorship mix?

With endorsement deals that include Jenny McCarthy and Courtney Love, photos with Leonardo DiCaprio and Charlie Sheen and flavors like chocolate and “cherry crush,” and a wide ranging radio campaign and print and digital to match, e-cigs are definitely becoming a tempting play for media salespeople starved for new revenue sources. Online gambling is still in the distance, some hard liquor is still questionable, condoms have not yet taken ahold in the sports and action space, so e-cigs could fill the massive void of vices that are not yet regulated. Smokeless tobacco still has its spot in some fight sports and other places, so the e-cig route could be a natural.

Now for sure the top American sports leagues, and probably circuits like golf and tennis, are going to take a long hard look at e-cigs before taking the money that is growing in the sponsorship pool. Recent reports have also shown E-cigarette use has doubled among middle- and high-school kids — and experts fear the devices are creating a new generation of smokers rather than helping people kick the habit. Factor in that ten percent of US high-schoolers admitted having tried e-cigs last year, up from 4.7 percent in 2011, according to a survey by the National Youth Tobacco Survey, and the number of middle-school students who tried them also doubled, rising from 1.4 percent in 2011 to 2.7 percent last year.

Even with the team market probably off limits for now, fight sports, maybe even auto racing could embrace the big dollars of the e-cigarette market, one which appeals to a less traditional and sometimes a bit edgier marketplace. While the UFC or Bellator might not let e-cigs in the cage, there is room for on-site offers and other promotions that could be tied to athletes, much like they are now tied to a rising list of celebrities. And while athletes have shunned, or been forced to shun, direct endorsements of tobacco products for years, that has not stopped athletes and celebs from cigar ads and promotions, and e-cigs could fall into that slightly less addictive area where cigars reside to this day. There also remains a huge global event audience, which could draw eyeballs in the plethora of broadcast offerings now out there, where e-cig promotions could also pop up. Formula 1 could also be a natural for the new devices which are growing in popularity.

So while we won’t suddenly see e-cig promotions in the manner of Joe Camel or The Marlboro man tied to game promotions or signage for the foreseeable future, the lucrative e-cig market will test the waters to see what the response will be from sports business partners always looking for acceptable marketing dollars. Those producers’ pockets are deep and creative, and with some celebs now on board, the push to ask athletes will not be very far behind.

As Sport Becomes More Global, Sponsor Issues Arise…

This past week an issue arose in Australian cricket that is one worth watching as the American professional sports landscape, and its fans become more comfortable and engaged with the issue of uniform commercial branding…namely, putting sponsors on jerseys.

The talk for the last several years is that the U.S. professional sports will join MLS, the WNBA and most of the rest of the world with a measured and very lucrative campaign at some point in the next few years. The NHL, the NBA and the NFL now allow a patch on practice uniforms with little push-back, and MLS’ sponsor program has proved that there is acceptance from a fan base in the States. More importantly, the global push of soccer brands to market in the States has not been met with any resistance, and you would be hard pressed to walk through any park in a major market and not see a Chelsea or Manchester United or Real Madrid or FC Barcelona or AS Roma kit on a young person, all adorned with the key sponsor at the time of purchase.  Sponsors have also been well accepted in NASCAR, and in some controlled levels in golf and tennis for years, so the progression is continuing.

However as sport become more global, and lucrative areas like spirits and gambling become more acceptable as brand partners, there is a bit of a cautionary tale to consider. Fawad Ahmed,  one of two Australian Muslims to play on the ”VB Tour of England”… a man who fled Pakistan in 2009, sought asylum in Australia in 2010 and gained citizenship in July…was granted dispensation from wearing an alcohol brand on his uniform because of his religious beliefs. It is an isolated but not singular case, as Papiss Cisse, a Muslim, recently refused on religious grounds to wear his Newcastle team shirt featuring a sponsor, whose business is to offer short-term loans and South African cricketer Hashim Amla, also a Muslim, was exempted from wearing a beer brand logo on his shirt.

The issue of objections to brands on religious or even social reasons could become messy in the States and is something that will have to be taken in account as the jersey sponsor comes to reality. Several WNBA teams have casinos for example…could a player object who is against gambling? What if a devout Mormon objects to wearing Coca-Cola or Pepsi, some prime national jersey sponsors, because his religion forbids the use of caffeine?  Could a player who has had a drinking problem in the past turn his back on Budweiser? Would it come down to dollars and how would the brand that is spending millions for a large scale opportunity react? There were no provisions in cricketers’ contracts for objections to sponsors’ logos, and the club and the federation made the decision to allow the no logo shirt as a one-off without penalty and they consulted with the sponsor. Would every brand be as understanding? While most would not want a public fight with a high level athlete over an issue of faith, it is something that will need to be addressed.

In women’s tennis, the large scale patch program has been fraught with problems for years. Players who have a Nike or adidas deal have been grandfathered into not wearing patches of sponsors and have done other programs to support the Tour’s marketing efforts, like community or digital programs. However there really haven’t been many objections on religious or social grounds, because most Tour sponsors have been in areas like technology, not gambling or beer or spirits. The difference between team and individual sports is that the decisions on brand support are left to the player much more than the league or the circuit. For example, Rafael Nadal wears a gambling-sponsored patch even in markets where online gambling is not yet legal. The patch fits the requirements of the ATP, so it is allowed for him. Should that deal be set with the ATP or the PGA or the WTA as a whole, it could be very lucrative but would probably be met with a great deal of push-back by players who object to gambling or don’t want to be associated with online gambling commercially.  The individual has much more say than if he or she was part of a team sport.

Like gambling and spirits, and even other aggressive platforms like e-cigarettes and condoms, leagues and teams will have large scale financial decisions to make on what is acceptable and what is not, and as sport becomes more global, a wide range of factors like religious and social beliefs may have to be factored in more and more. The cricket case is an interesting one, and one that bears considerable thought as discretionary dollars become more competitive and the sport world becomes more as one.

Certainly a case to follow.