Strike A Pose: “Johnny Football” Delivers On Instagram

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

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

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

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

Brewing Up Some New Innovation On The Promo Front…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ivy Sports Symposium Returns To Its Princeton Roots

Every year for the past nine years in the middle of November the Ivy Sports Symposium brings together leaders in the sports industry as well as hundreds of students and rising professionals for a jam-packed day of thought leadership, advice and networking. Back in the Garden State this year after stops on the campuses of Harvard, Columbia and Penn the last three years, the Symposium is one of the few student-run large scale gatherings for sports business, and its speakers list is reflective of the prestigious schools the Ivy League represents worldwide. This year’s event is the first one off campus, moving to the Hyatt in Princeton after spending its first five years in and around the University. The move is more reflective of the growth of the event, as the anticipated 600 plus attendees and speakers are now of a size that only Palmer Stadium or Jadwyn Gym could hold. Growing pains may take away some of the intimacy of the event, but the impact will hopefully again be felt by all involved who make the trek from over 40 schools up and down the east coast.
 
It is no secret that sports business has grown to be a multi-billion dollar enterprise the world over, and with that the competition for jobs and experience has also grown exponentially. Right now in the U.S. alone, there are over 300 “sports management” programs at colleges and universities that are churning out degrees by the thousands. That doesn’t include the scores of students in other majors looking to delve into some form of the business once they get whatever degree they happen to receive, from business to anthropology in some cases.
 
How many of these programs provide practical experience and a skills set that will help a workforce find gainful employment is up for some debate. However the real value lies more outside of the classroom in elite events like the Ivy Symposium and a handful of others, the ability to share experience and meet successful individuals in a field where who you know is as important of not more important, than what you know sometimes.
 
Sports business for all its glitz and glamour remains very much a people business, and programmes like the one at Princeton and others at places like the University of Michigan, Northwestern University and MIT, provide young people with invaluable lessons you can’t always get in a book; a chance to hear and experience firsthand what the successes and failures have been for people who now fill the ownership chairs and the C Suite. While the college experience is important, the networking experience, which can lead to volunteerism, internships and even entry level jobs, not to mention lifelong relationships, is invaluable.
 
Friday’s event, like the previous eight events, will feature speakers from a wide range of backgrounds, from owners like the Minnesota Vikings Mark Wilf to team CEO’s like the Sixers and Devils Scott O’Neil and the Cleveland Indians President Mark Shapiro. The topics will range from entrepreneurship to philanthropy, marketing to sports law, minor league baseball to the NFL, all with a who’s who of successful businesspeople from around the world, not just around the country, leading the discussions. This year there will event be a Shark Tank, with three emerging businesses vying for exposure, along with a recognition of ten rising stars in the business, all under the age of 30.
 
Like many wide ranging one day events, some will say the Ivy Symposium tries to do too much in one day, but for those with interest and focus in sports business, it has always been a day well spent.
 
Like other years as the days close in the Symposium becomes a tough ticket, and this year is no exception. For those who aren’t on board yet, a waiting list does exist. But for those going on Friday, it should be a great day of networking, learning, and engagement, right in the middle of the corridor between New York and Philly, one of the most fertile areas for sports business anywhere.
 

For all the latest details on the Ivy Sports Symposium, check out  http://www.sportssymposium.org/ivy/2014-symposium/agenda/

“Up For Whatever” Scores Locally…

Last year during Super Bowl,  Bud Light’s “Up for Whatever” campaign scored huge marks for buzz, digital engagement and creativity, and the campaign continued to gain steam and eyeballs, and hopefully sales and brand awareness, throughout the year.

 
New elements have been introduced throughout the year to give the campaign more steam and re-engage consumers who liked the first go-round, and were interested in seeing what could be next for the characters of “Up For Whatever.”

 
However with such a buzz-worthy high end national platform, the question existed, could this become hyper-local as well? Could local distributors take the platform and drill it down with their own creative engagement in their local markets. Well if you are in Texas, the answer is yes.

 
In and around the state, one of the most ultra-competitive beer markets in the country, distributors sought out an idea to take the buzz ad viral awareness of “Up For Whatever” tie it to an efficient and noteworthy micro-campaign of their own; one that would engage their local consumers and keep the beat going through local events. The result was a highly effective digital campaign, manufactured and executed by our friends at Huddle Productions, that brought all sorts of “Up For Whatever” messaging, branding and fun to the people of the Lone Star State.

 
The group highlighted eight high traffic events tied to sports and music; from the Bud Light Hotel at the Final Four to World Cup events to a Dallas Mavericks game to an MLB game with the Texas Rangers and others, and captured fans enjoying all elements of a Bud Light experience and sharing their thoughts and experiences on “Up For Whatever.” The crews encouraged fans to share videos and photos, drop in celebrity references and surprise appearances, and bring the noise, as well as the fun, of the national “Up for Whatever” campaign back to the local market. They tied it back with all elements of social and digital including the campaigns own microsite for fans to engage and share more content.

 
The result was impressive, especially for a controlled cost experience. Over 20 million social impressions, thousands of shared photos and videos and hours of good will and brand engagement for Bud Light and their local distributors that set them apart from their competitors and tied in very nicely to the mage-sized national campaign.

 
While there are scores of examples of brands activating locally around a national campaign, the low cost, high impact benefit that Bud Light got locally for their brand, and the awareness that was generated for a national campaign with a hyper-local effort, was impressive, and certainly worth a few cold ones for the media crew who pulled the effort together and for the execs who saw a unique way to engage locally and exploit a national viral trend.

 
Well done, well executed and a great best practice for the brand.

Gambling In Sport: Will Fantasy Bring Reality Soon?

Toward the end of the series finale of Boardwalk Empire, Nucky Thompson, played so well be the actor Steve Buscemi for these past few years, turns to a young man in his employ and makes a reference about sweeping the sand off the front porch. Thompson knows from his work as a youth in the hotel business that the sweeping is the same as trying to battle against the tide, inevitably you lose, as wind and sane and nature will have their way.

 
While not exactly the same, it is becoming more and more apparent that the fight for legalized sports betting in some way, shape or form, not just in New Jersey but across the country, is a battle that eventually will be regulated and won out, and will be a major, major revenue stream for sports teams and leagues down the line.

 
For now, State legislators continue to battle the Federal law prohibiting sports betting while states far and near grandfathered into the system, find ways to make a solid profit. This past week John Brennan, perhaps the best authority in the media on the sports betting fight, had an extensive piece on how Delaware has used its loophole to create a profitable sports wagering system that has boosted the coffers of small business that have worked the lottery system for years. One part of the story has stores setting up kiosks and tents OUTSIDE their stores on Sunday mornings to take advantage of blue laws prohibiting them to open before noon, because the demand for NFL (called “pro football” to get around an NFL trademark issue) is so high. Nevada continues to thrive on their sports betting operations, and other states have quietly assembled “gambling czars to work on horse racing, casino and other currently legal forms of sports gambling, while keeping an eye out for best practices that states can take advantage of as loopholes and opportunities open up for sports wagering. Be in position to strike quickly, the theory is.

 
Every week that passes there is another chink in the armor in the fight that states, especially New Jersey, are making in this battle for a revenue stream that is very fertile around the world. Two years ago the NCAA banned New Jersey colleges and university from hosting post-season events because of the State’s challenge to legalized sports betting, and that banishment was overturned last year. The New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia 76ers had two firsts in the space, first with an online poker sponsorship and then last month the Devils struck a first-ever team deal with New Jersey based Hot Box Sports to create a team pay fantasy game for the first time. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been the most vocal and bullish of all the major sports heads on the subject, stating in September that he supported legalized gambling and stating time and again that it will be inevitable and a big source of income for the leagues and the clubs if and when it does happen…with more stress on the when than the if.

 
This week a good amount of focus fell on the political front, where pundits weighed in on whether the shift in power from the Republicans to the democrats in the Senate could affect the viability of the anti-sports betting lobby outside of Nevada. Senator-elect Cory Booker of New Jersey, a former football player himself, has yet to formally and fully engage in the subject, but his input now that he has a six year term could be very important as the issue grows more and more from a New Jersey issue to a national issue.

 
Is sports wagering inevitable, and is it the cash cow many predict? In a state like New Jersey it’s hard to say, but it does present great opportunity not as much for casinos but for the income a lottery-style taxed game can bring in to the state coffers. The loopholes with programs like pay fantasy football are becoming stronger and stronger and teams and leagues are seeing income from those streams become more and more a reality. The Brooklyn Nets just became the latest team to add a fantasy sports partner, and more will follow. The leagues and the NCAA will continue to monitor and keep the engine revving should laws change and continue to adjust. The NFL’s announcement this week of an expansion even more to games in London, along with the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady signing a sponsorship deal for a company called FantasyMVP, raise more questions about the validity of legalized gambling in sport. London has long carried NFL gaming lines, and there is no issue with patrons of legal betting parlours wagering on the games there, although the NFL has no affiliation and doesn’t yet profit in the take.

 
But why wouldn’t or shouldn’t the league profit from an industry that is global and currently unchecked in many places. The theory is that the leagues would make the money not on running betting entities but on the licensing and use of data and on each transaction. Given the fact that mobile usage and connectivity is growing daily in stadia, the amount of revenue leagues and teams could make…think of the amount of activity in a baseball game where every pitch, every swing could be a transaction…is something that could dwarf almost all other sources, except maybe live broadcast rights.

 
Other “vices,” lottery, hard liquor and spirits, casino advertising, fantasy sports, once taboo are now accepted by professional leagues as legitimate sources of income. Sports gambling will be the next, and maybe the greatest hurdle with the most upside. As the consumer clamors for more access and affordable prices, teams and leagues need to find new revenue sources, and gaming is the biggest one sitting out there to be had.

 
Are there issues and concerns about game fixing or an illegal element that could go on? Yes. But those concerns have been weighed and dealt with for every other questionable revenue stream, and federal acceptance and legislation can and will be a big step in legitimizing what will come. It will be smart, calculated, engaging and very profitable.

 
So as New Jersey politicians and track operators continue to wage a battle in the courts against the anti-sports gaming lobby, other states and companies who have found a way make their money; some boldly, some quietly. Many businesses small and large are following and hoping that the gamble The Garden State is taking will be an economic win for all in the long run.
Until that happens, all bets, legal ones outside of Nevada anyway, are off.

As NBA Season Tips, Three Ideas That Score…

As the NBA season gets going, here are three of the many best practices teams have put forth this past week, with many more to come.
Sixers, Media, Mix It up: The relationship between teams and media members is probably as cautious and contentious in some cases as it has ever been, but some teams and officials still do “get it,” and understand that there needs to be a co-existence as both professionals, and more importantly, as people. Case in point this past week was the Sixers hosting a pickup game for all their media with team staff. CEO Scott O’Neil loves to ball, and mixed in with media members big and small from all over the area.
It was a simple, fun way to connect with those who cover the team at every level, and certainly scores points with a little extra effort for when times will be tough for the Sixers, and most predict it will be a long rebuilding winter. In years past the Sixers were known for doing little things for the media that did not appear in print and online; extra snacks, making sure everyone got giveaways, birthday and holiday cards, things which years ago for most teams were seen as important but which have fallen by the wayside with slimmer budgets for many organizations.
Those little things go a long way in developing relationships which are more important today than ever before, as teams look to build their brands and access fans in every conceivable way.
Now maybe every team doesn’t have a CEO to go on court, but a little humanity; a note here, a card there, a question about one’s family here and there, certainly doesn’t hurt and should be the rule, not the exception, no matter how a team is doing on the field.
Warriors and Weibo: The Golden State Warriors continue to find ways to engage audiences outside their borders. The recently surpassed one million followers on Weibo the Chinese social media platform akin to a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter, and is one of China’s most popular websites.
With a fan base that can be largely Asian in the Bay area, and a growing global presence of the NBA in China, the effort makes great sense not just for Golden State but for all clubs looking to expand brand beyind their borders. There are little restrictions on engagement abroad in the social space by the NBA, and using content already in place to seed new markets is very smart, and a trend that should grow. It also gets the Warriors brand front and center with an audience that could pull in remote sponsors or find brands looking to engage for the first time in the States.
Now an engagement like this should not be taken lightly, and you need to understand censorship, culture and posting rules to be effective, but the Weibo Warriors work is a great example of a team casting its net a little wider and doing a little extra to engage in the digital space, with the rewards yet to come.
Clippers Let Fans Choose: Our friends at Sporttechie also found this little gem, with the LA Clippers scoring on a “first,” using a technology which lets fans choose replays being shown on video boards and then getting those fans the credit for selection on the board itself. It is a great way to keep fans even more focused and engaged during the game, provided that the mobile connectivity at Staples Center is up to snuff. The new engagement platform is also highly sponsorable, and can geo-target those engaging and send them push messages for promotions targeted only to them, as a reward for engagement.
As mobile connectivity improves in all arenas, push engagement and these type of fan-driven contests will grow pretty quickly, but Steve Ballmer seems to have found himself in a “first” for his first season as Clippers owner.

The FXFL Is Here…Will It Stay?

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

Oyo Boyo, A Simple Idea Keeps Getting Bigger…

Several years ago when I was with the New York Knicks we were planning a promotion around Allan Houston, and as part of the plan, were going to send out to interested media the LEGO figure that had been made of our-then star, as a way to keep him top of mind when award voting season came along. It was quick, easy to mail and very unique amongst collectables. Did it really look like Allan? Not really but it was official and had his number, so it made sense. We found a way through the NBA to get 50 little Allan’s and off they went. As a collector of the unique, as well as a longtime supporter of LEGO, I had been interested in the possibilities of the product to engage sports kids, and somewhere in our basement, not passed on to my son Andrew, a master builder if there ever was one, are the original NBA-licensed sets as well as some hockey and extreme sports sets as well. They are now all collectors’ items, as the patients, and LEGO’s interest in sports, stagnated after a few years and the patents lapsed.

The problem then was that the Danish company didn’t really “get” the sports market in the States, and the risk of getting the wrong LEGO figures to market, they could not produce every player, far outweighed the rewards. In an era before short form video, 3D printing, and high speed molds, let alone self-generated content, LEGO was probably ahead of its time.

That was then, and to the delight of millions, another US-based company has taken LEGO’s seed, and their lapsed patents, and injected digital media and state of the art engineering into and opportunity. Welcome OYO Toys.

Boston based and now Boston-area manufactured, OYO has taken the old LEGO-licensed idea and brought it into the next decade. They have licenses to manufacture products for MLB, NFL, NHL and MLS, with more coming not just in the US, but internationally as well (how many kids in the States will now buy Messi figures who would not have a few years ago, thanks to soccer’s expansion in the media here?). Their system allows for custom printing and design of almost ANY player they have a license for that people can order, with delivery taking only a few days.

More importantly, OYO has used video, data and technology to bring the figures to life in short form video with self-created “stadia,” which thousands of young people with an interest in sport AND film (along with their dads and older siblings) can have fun with in re0creation scenarios, much like LEGO has done with the Star Wars themes line.  Even better, the figures are compatible with LEGO blocks, so parents don’t have to discard those mounds of blocks sitting around the basement. The kids can build stadia, or other scenarios, and use the OYO sports figurines as well.

The best part about OYO’s potential is that it again seeks to marry what were once divergent worlds for young people. Like robotics, LEGO were once thought to be nerdy and not for “sports” kids. Same with film and full motion video, or even photography. Now OYO can help merge those world’s, and make the arts and building good for “sports” kids, especially on rainy days, and can probably help the kids once thought to be a bit “nerdy” and not engaged in sports find a common ground as well. That merging doesn’t just help at home, it will help in the classroom, as suddenly science and technology, and even engineering, may seem just a bit more cooler to kids who might have been bored with sports. It also doesn’t hurt that media companies like Nickelodeon and Marvel are looking to find ways to pull sports into entertainment, and OYO’s analytics, video, and interchangeable parts can also play right into their plans as well.

Are there some limitations? Sure. Making the figures as life-like as possible is a challenge, and there is probably a limit as to how many figures the company can customize for now. However the upside and potential for OYO in any host of sports, even on the NCAA level, is very bright, and certainly makes their business one to watch. The Boston Globe had a piece the last few days on how the company came about and its new infusion of cash from Mandalay Entertainment, which is certainly worth a read.

Keep building OYO, and we will keep watching. What was a rare fail for LEGO is an opportunity for you.

Diamondbacks Science Promo Is A Big Winner…

It hasn’t been the greatest of baseball years in the Valley of Sun, but that doesn’t mean the Arizona Diamondbacks haven’t continued to make an impact on the lives of young people through programs on and off the field. One that will bring classroom work together with a baseball club will take place this weekend, when the DBacks become one of the first professional sports teams to tie baseball together with the key core teaching curriculum of  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

The team will host 14,000  students and their families, and give  3,000 students and teachers a chance to take part in a pregame STEM parade on the field and receive a D-backs Science of Baseball t-shirt. Combined with their naming rights partner, Chase and the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation, 10 different STEM clubs with a $2,500 grant for their work, especially in the growing field of competitive robotics, and a host of other teams from schools will be able to present their projects throughout the stadium during the night for the other fans in attendance.

While a great way to fill distressed seats and celebrate community, the DBacks work goes far beyond just one special night for kids and teachers who may rarely get recognized in an athletic setting. It is part of a growing trend to tie analytics and science to give kids an added boost and create more fun in academics, much like “Schoolhouse Rock” did with music for a previous generation. The program in Arizona was started in 2013 by Science of Baseball Founder, and University of Arizona Professor, Ricardo Valerdi, and his engineering students to keep the kids engaged by using curriculums that include classroom activities, athletic activities, and take-home activities. It has grown vastly since then, and should be replicated not just by baseball, but by every sport going forward as a way to link onfield and offfield activities. An event, and a program like this, is also highly sponsorable and can open new areas for brands who were not originally involved in sports but can use science and technology as a key area of ROI on their own businesses. For financial services firms like Chase, a tie to a sports-related STEM program further enhances their brand affiliation with sports, and also gets them connected to a younger demo which they crave but have probably not been able to hit with during a traditional signage and advertising campaign.

There is no doubt that the growing field of analytics in all areas of sport has become a hot button. On the field, teams are looking to get the extra edge through analysis like never before, while in recreation sports wearable tech and geolocation have created a new and fast growing industry. Lop on to all that the fast-expanding field of pay fantasy and e-gaming and you have a whole slew of new business opportunities tied to science and technology through sport that did not exist even a few years ago. In order to enhance and grow that field, and its future workforce who can be loyal followers and consumers of professional sport, or even college sport, teams big and small should look to the DBacks program as a way to tie in and get younger people interested and engaged through science, while at the same time taking “sports” kids and showing cool and interesting ways that science can engage with sports.

The program, and programs like it, have a very long tail for growth going forward, and should be embraced as a best practice. They tie to community, sponsorship, education, and on field performance like few others.

A big win for Arizona with this one on all fronts, and a best practice that should be copied across the board and around the world.

(Hat tip to our friends at sporttechie for pointing this out)

Mind Sports Continue To Grow…

As the fall sports now get into full swing we see analytics, gaming and pay fantasy becoming more and more a factor in the decisions of American sport. Into that mix later this fall will be another combination of all of those efforts, the latest, most robust installment of the World Mind Sports Championships, which will be held in Beijing .  The bi-annual event grows in stature and acceptance every year, and now comes with a growing list of brands looking to activate in and around the space much like they do in traditional sports.

 Are all these events some sort of rise of “nerds” into competitive events to try and steal the thunder from the die-hard sports fans and jocks for media and social attention? No. What these events signify is actually a melding of entertainment and gaming worlds to hopefully form a partnership of healthy mind, healthy body which can appeal to millions and even attract some amazing brands to a more diverse audience.

Mind Sports have been around for thousands of years, and many, especially chess, have been used by world leaders to teach strategy for ages, that is certainly no secret. Most have always operated in a vacuum and away from the casual public eye. The advent of competitive poker on television, as well as an elite champion like a Bobby Fischer, have helped to gradually raise the image of some Mind Sports over time. However in more recent times, as science comes to understand more about the stimulation of the brain to combat issues such as ADHD and Alzheimer’s Disease, the value of all mind sports has grown. Factor in the ever-growing popularity of gaming, both casual and competitive, and the case for unifying the millions who play mind sports together for a country by country competition and celebration makes great sense, and has endless possibilities. The strength will be in the numbers.

Similar to the mind sports opportunity, robotics is growing in popularity amongst young people. A culture that has grown up with gaming tied to advances in technology gives robotics on a competitive level a wide audience that can connect across any boundary via the digital world, as well as in person to person traditional competitions. The competitions teach the same skills…teamwork, strategy, attention to detail…as traditional sports do and help to also stimulate the mind.

So what does this all mean to traditional sports?

First, the simple connection is to analytics and strategy. Coaches of any level, as well as elite athletes are constantly looking for a competitive edge, and the lessons taught by mind sports or even robotics, can satisfy another dimension for both strategy that applies to athletics and for an alternative way of thinking and expanding the ability to think quickly and effectively while competing. The world of traditional sports is also becoming more and more digitized, whether that is in scouting, analyzing skills, communicating or even watching events. Robotics and mind sports can also help provide a bridge of understanding into a high tech world by applying tools and technical elements to athletes and coaches. Then there is gaming. Perhaps the fastest growing segment of competition globally is competitive and casual gaming, whether you are considered a jock or a techie. Everyone enjoys games from Angry Birds to Madden ’14, and gaming provides another key common ground between mind sports and competitive traditional athletics. There is also the jobs marketplace. More and more we are seeing professional and collegiate athletics look outside traditional circles for leadership, and those with an understanding of the tech, strategic and business world are getting more and more opportunities. The competition in mind sports could help bring another employment dimension for those versed in both convention athletics and the expanded use of competitive mind sports and gaming.

There is also the projection of the complete individual, one that marries healthy mind and healthy body. First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative has inspired thousands to get up and get active physically, and balancing that physical aspect with a healthy and active strategic mind fits very well, so a mix of competitive athletics with mind sports is a great balance.

If you are a brand what does all of this mean? Lots. Those brands of all sizes involved in traditional sport are always looking to get more bang and get access to a larger, wider demo. Activities like mind sports and robotics provide that wider audience. Tech brands are always looking to access a more mainstream audience that is becoming more savvy, and traditional sports provide that mix. Does it mean we may see Nike or Under Armour sponsoring robotics or the U.S. chess team somewhere down the line? It is actually a possibility. Does it mean that you may see more athletes paying attention to bridge or more poker players throwing a baseball, or watching rugby? That’s already happening. For 2014 brands like Rado, Renault Nissan and Samsung are already on board to activate around the games and against the thousands who will follow online or watch in person.

Mind Sports continue to grow as an intriguing alternative to the traditional engagement,  one without many of the controversies and issues of traditional sport with lots of the gamification and strategies built in for a global audience of all ages. While it will always be a niche, it is a niche that is growing, as evidenced by media partners and brands in engaging in an organized fashion, which makes the property an intriguing one to watch this fall.