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

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

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

 

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

DeVry Tries To Score With Baseball…

 

The age of online higher education of all levels continues to grow each year, and in a world that is increasingly more technologically savvy, the ability to study and earn a degree without ever setting foot in a classroom is becoming more and more commonplace.
Whether that is healthy, and whether the loss of actual human interaction and discussion is valuable is a big debate, but for the time challenged and the budget challenged, the for-profit online world of education can be seen on almost every bus shelter, infomercial and recruiting site out there. Some lager outfits, like the University of Phoenix, have sought to distance themselves from the competition, and others have sought to find marketing niches to set them apart in the conversation.
One of which is DeVry University, which last year found a unique niche by partnering with the United States Olympic Committee to provide online education and enhancement programs online to athletes with little time for formal and traditional education during their training and competing years. The partnership started with six Olympic athletes and has grown to about 200 enrolled today, including American gold medalist bobsledder Steven Holcomb, who was featured in DeVry ads during the games.
This year, DeVry will try another wide ranging partnership with a little more grassroots appeal, a partnership with Minor League Baseball that will give them exposure at all 160 minor league franchises ranging from rookie leagues to AAA and will include online promotions, signage and other events to drum up awareness to the millions who flock to games over the course of the summer.
However in addition to the wide-ranging consumer sponsorship, DeVry will institute a higher education program to assist minor leaguers interested in pursuing a degree, as well as providing 20 full-ride scholarships to minor league players, staff, alumni and other team and league employees, as well as reduced tuition for interested players and their spouses. Like the USOC partnership, the athletes become the advocates, and the success stories out of the partnership can be merchandised as equity for DeVry while providing a very unique service for those in MiLB who are in many cases just out of high school and thrust into the rigors of MLB without a fallback when their careers end. Even for those MiLB player who spend some time on the NCAA level, the ability to complete a degree, or help a spouse who has sacrificed for them, get their education is also appealing.
The DeVry partnership also falls in a pretty unique niche for minor league baseball, a category that is probably not over-sold locally throughout the minor league system, giving the program a real chance at success in markets big and small. The program will also make for a nice test case for other potential sponsorships, from the D-League to minor league hockey, using young athletes and those toiling at the lower levels as ambassadors not just for DeVry, but for online education as well.
Will it succeed? The USOC program seems to be taking hold, and while the experience at the minor league baseball level is sometimes more geared towards young people and giveaways, the ability to tell positive stories by engaging young athletes looking for a fallback when the time on the diamond becomes short is a good one, especially as you aggregate the stories across all levels of baseball and in a host of markets.

 

 

For MiLB it’s a smart partnership, and for DeVry it seems like an educated guess at success, with an RI that can drive brand, enrollment and good will. A hot could be in the making.

Big Fish, Small Sea: Pillow Promo Scores In South Dakota

How do you find a way to generate buzz in a small market? Break a record, any record. That’s what Super 8®, the world’s largest economy hotel chain, did in grand fashion last week, ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday on a usually slow news day. The chain used their 40th anniversary, and got the help of N SYNC pop star Joey Fatone to break the Guinness World Record for the largest pillow fight in of all places, South Dakota.
The brand went to South Dakota State University’s Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, the state where Super 8 originated, and pulled in 4,201 students, alumni, parents and fans to take part in a fun-filled pillow fight challenge the South Dakota Corn Showdown Series, the annual football meeting between South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota. The record breaking attempt occurred between the first and second quarter of the game and lasted for 60 seconds, per official Guinness rules. The effort broke the previous record of 4,200 participants, which was set earlier this year.
What made the move even smarter for the chain was a charitable giveaway, with all the participants ponying up their pillows to Feeding South Dakota. All of that was in addition to the usual giveaways for participants and the hoopla around a record breaker.
While some may say the attempt could have scored more buzz in a major market, going back to their roots, and playing off of the biggest event in a small market, gave the story a nice buildup and a better hook than just a random event. They pulled in some additional social media buzz by connecting with Fatone to kick the event off, and used an easy to understand and share event, a well branded pillow fight, to cut through the clutter. Throw in a philanthropic tie and the event scored some solid and cost-effective points for a national chain with a limited budget.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Story In College Football? How About Lehigh-Lafayette And 50K At Yankee Stadium

Say what you want about big time college football, the power conferences, computer rankings, even major rivalry week, one of the best stories in the game will take place not in Boston, where Harvard will meet Yale for the Ivy league title and ESPN College GameDay will be on hand, or in LA when USC meet UCLA or when Mississippi and Mississippi State meet for the Egg Bowl, or even when Auburn meets Alabama. Those will be great matchups will fill stadia and lots of media coverage. But try drawing 50,000 for almost ANY college football game to Yankee Stadium (which had a little more than half of that total for UConn and Army last week), and then try doing it with two Patriot League schools with losing records.
Fantasy correct? Nope. Reality. That’s what will happen Saturday when Lehigh and Lafayette meet for the 150th time, the longest rivalry in college football. This one, for only the second time ever, will be at a neutral site (the 1891 game was played in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania) and it will be a draw beyond anyone’s imagination.
Now this was not something that the folks in The Bronx dreamed up on their own, like has happened with other matchups and the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. All of those games have served as a great addition and revenue driver for the Stadium, with each one having tis own marketing and P and L. This game? Stand alone, baby. No marketing from the Pinstripe folks, minimal advertising.
It was all driven, with not a huge amount of corporate support by the enterprising athletic directors at the two schools and their staffs, who conceived of the idea five years ago, way back when Twitter was just getting going if people can think back that far, especially in the get it done now world of college and professional sports.
Joe Sterrett of Lehigh and Bruce McCutcheon of Lafayette, both of whom have been leaders in finding ways to market and grow the bottom line at their respective schools over the years, took it upon themselves to sell the idea not just as a buzz worthy event, but as a revenue-generator for the programs, a one-time event worthy of a big stage. Initial goals, according to most reports, were a break-even of around 20,000 seats, priced moderately between $6 and $35. The suites would also be available at a price, with the Stadium working together to control costs and see whatever the upside would be. The two AD’s got long-term buy in from every level of their respective universities to make this the must-attend event for anyone involved in the two schools or in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas, events began to line up the night prior and the night following, touting development, marketing and alumni. Fraternal groups rallied to help make the event a cause celebre’ for the future. Students, as always, would still get in free.
The hoopla even extended to Wall Street, where the presidents of both schools set up fundraising events and will get to ring the closing bell at the NYSE. Others came up with the idea to get the Empire State Building done in school colors on Saturday night. The buzz built over five years, and the result is an event that surpassed expectations, and according to many reporters, will generate over seven times the revenue for the two schools that their regular on-campus meeting, which always is a big draw in the 10-15 k range as it rotates between the two eastern Pennsylvania campuses.
Is the huge draw an anomaly in the usual daily calendar of sports, especially on the college level? More than likely. Another outlier has been Cornell hockey which has packed Madison Square Garden several times around the Thanksgiving weekend, while other collegiate hockey events draw a fraction of the bodies and the eyeballs. Once again, it was self-marketed for the long-term by the school as a rallying point for all things Cornell, and in this case it worked. Harvard-Yale hockey has done a similar job at MSG last year and this, but other events haven’t come close, and college football and hoops for a large part do OK but not outstanding, even with a much larger marketing and business activation spend in major arenas. For sure there will be programs that will look at Lehigh-Lafayette this weekend and say hey we can do at least 2/3 of that for our rivalry game, but many times the expectations fall flat for a number of reasons, from time to TV to weather to the matter of disposable income.

 

 

However for this one year, Lehigh-Lafayette caught lightening in a bottle, which combined with a dedicated and passionate and visionary administration, and some long term vision in a short term world, really made the Saturday matchup a classic not for what happens on the field, but for what it has become as a special event. Kudos Leopards and Mountain Hawk leadership on a job well done.

 

The Largest College “Conference” In The U.S. Looks To Grow…

For those not of a certain age, or not involved in college athletics, you probably don’t know how powerful the Eastern College Athletic Conference, or ECAC, was, or how big it remains today. Made up of hundreds of schools, many now on the Division II or III level, the ECAC is still the largest group of colleges that work together in athletics in the United States. At one point, before the current conference structure really took hold in the Eastern United States, the ECAC was it, controlling not just smaller college athletic governance but the biggest schools as well, especially in basketball. While all that has changed, the ECAC has reorganized and now stands at a place where it can better present itself to brands than at any point in its history, with thousands of student-athletes, and hundreds of schools, under its guidance.

It also has a progressive, forward-thinking leader in place in Dr. Kevin McGinniss, who is looking to take the ECAC to places it hasn’t been in years. We caught up with Dr. McGinniss to talk about the challenges, and opportunities that exist for the ECAC today (his bio follows the q and a:

 

You are now just over a year into the job, what have been the biggest surprises thus far?
I am pleasantly surprised at the progress we have made in the previous 15 months. With almost an entirely new staff we have been able to put forth some wonderful new initiatives along with a major relocation of the Conference Headquarters, which has been remarkably embraced by the State of Connecticut to the tune of $400,000 in grants and forgivable loans.
If you are a brand, how do you describe the value of the ECAC?
The value comes in to play when members take full advantage of all the services we offer, and associate their brand with the history and prestige of the ECAC’s brand – an enhanced brand we bring forward.
You have gone in with a plan to try and find economies of scale to market what is essentially the nation’s largest group of colleges, what has been the response from such a diverse level of schools?
Similar to the previous question, with such a large and diverse number of institutions, they can recognize the value of membership and strength in numbers. Being affiliated with the ECAC brand gives incredible visibility to each institution in a footprint it might not otherwise be able to access and at the same time, by working with so many schools together, combined they can enhance the student-athlete experience to an even greater degree.
What is the biggest opportunity the ECAC has?
The landscape of intercollegiate athletics has obviously changed over the years and will continue to do so. Therefore, we need to constantly evolve as well, in a way reinvent ourselves and get in front of those changes while still sticking to our core values and core competencies as we embark on a new five-year strategic planning process.
Of all the schools you work with, are there any examples you can cite already of schools buying in to the program you are trying to create?
All of our member institutions are so unique and are incredible partners in bringing the best services to their athletics programs and student-athletes. Since we came on board, we’ve added a number of new members such as Pace University, the College of New Rochelle, Newberry College, and Geneva College, just to name a few. They’ve already begun taking advantage of our full program of services, especially our championship opportunities and awards program. Likewise, long time members such as Stevenson University, Lebanon Valley College, and Endicott College, again to name just a few, continue to realize the value of membership and they can be seen participating in a number of championships this weekend.
On the men’s side hockey is the most viable property the ECAC works with, what are the others you would like to elevate?

We want to continue elevating each of our sports along with looking at emerging sports such as field hockey, lacrosse, and opportunities for students with disabilities. We have some great affiliate partners as well that we’d like to elevate such as rowing and the IC4A.
So much is made of “big time” Division I sports for brands, how do you describe the value that the Division II and III schools can bring to brands?

It’s all about relationships no matter what the division or level. Every institution and athletics program is unique and has something valuable to offer. An athletics program can bring great exposure and visibility to just about any brand in any community. Athletics is often the front porch to the entire institution, even at DII and DIII.

What are the next steps people should be looking for this winter from the ECAC?

This is a pivotal time for the ECAC. We just finished celebrating 75 years of the organization and now we are about to embark on a new strategic plan to take us into the next chapter. Our membership will play a key role in shaping the vision for the future of the ECAC.
Dr. Kevin T. McGinniss became the eighth Commissioner in the history of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) on July 1, 2013. As part of the organization’s overall restructuring that began in 2013-14, the ECAC Board of Directors voted in August 2014 to change the title of Commissioner to President and CEO to better reflect the unique identity and mission of the ECAC.
Since taking the reigns McGinniss has led the nation’s largest and only multi-divisional athletics conference through a progressive transition to enhance the intercollegiate athletics experience for ECAC student-athletes, coaches, administrators and institutions.
McGinniss came to the ECAC from the role of Associate Director of Athletics for Development at the University of Rhode Island where he began in 2007. McGinniss owns a strong educational and professional background which includes more than 30 years of experience as an educator, author, coach, athletics administrator and athlete.
In his role at URI, McGinniss directed all aspects of fundraising for the athletics department. After his arrival at URI athletics fundraising achieved record levels. In his first four years at the Kingston campus he led the athletics component of URI’s $100 million “Making a Difference” capital campaign, securing more than $12 million in total operational, capital project and endowment support for URI Athletics, surpassing the campaign goal for Athletics by more than 20%.
Under his watch, URI Athletics procured almost $5 million in philanthropic support for capital improvements inclusive of major upgrades to the baseball facility, eight new tennis courts and the soon-to-be-constructed state-of-the-art strength, conditioning and performance center. McGinniss also served as the Athletics Department’s liaison to the URI Foundation and URI Alumni Association.
Before arriving in Kingston, McGinniss served as director of athletics at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. In recognition of his efforts, he was nominated to receive the 2007 National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Division II Athletics Director of the Year Award.
From 2001-05, McGinniss served as the director of athletics development at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. He was responsible for coordinating all fundraising for athletics, including a major component of the New Millennium Campaign – $25 million for a state-of-the-art athletics center.
McGinniss’ experience in higher education administration also includes serving Southern Connecticut State University as its director of athletics development and director of alumni affairs. He has also served as the director of athletics and recreation at Lehman College, The City University of New York. In addition, McGinniss was the director of athletics development and executive director of the Blue & Gray Club at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y.
A former men’s basketball coach, McGinniss was the head coach at Lehman College and in only his second year as head coach led a program with just a combined eight wins over the previous four years to the CUNYAC North Division title and an ECAC post-season tournament bid. He also served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, helping lead Southern Connecticut State University to a 20-win season and a postseason berth in 1992.
Active in professional organizations both locally and on the national level, McGinniss has served as Vice-Chair for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District I Board of Directors, is a member of the National Association of Athletic Development Directors, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and the National Association of Basketball Coaches Research Committee. In addition, Dr. McGinniss serves on the Sport Management Advisory Board and is an Associate Faculty member for The Malcolm Baldrige School of Business at Post University.
McGinniss earned his bachelor’s degree in health, his master’s degree in physical education/ athletics administration and a sixth year professional diploma of advanced graduate studies in educational leadership all from Southern Connecticut State University. He received his doctorate in education from the Teachers College Department of Health and Behavior Studies at Columbia University. Dr. McGinniss and his wife, Amy, have a son, Kyle, and daughter, Kelly.

Beach Games Moving Ahead…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

The Changing Landscape of College Sports Business…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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/

The Most Loyal of Fans; The Military, Start To Get Their Due…

The “Salute To Troops” initiative the NFL staged this week, along with all the efforts that MLB put on in and around the World Series and NASCAR and others have done is beyond praise for the men and women who not only do so much to keep us safe, but who are amongst the most passionate and biggest supporters of sport on the planet. They are also the most loyal, remembering what brands, teams and leagues gave them hope when they needed it, and repaying that loyalty tenfold not just today, but down the line as well.
For years the military families were amongst the most underserved constituents and consumers tied to sport, and as Veteran’s Day arrives, it is nice to see them get their due.
One area that is sometimes over looked in terms of loyalty is on the college side. Putting the Service Academies and a few select Universities aside, the engagement of local military families is sometimes forgotten as a key marketing and engagement strategy by colleges. However that too is changing.
IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions and college football fans this year are joining to say “thank you” to those who sacrifice so much for our country more than ever before. Through a growing IMGLTS program, fans this year were encouraged to purchase tickets to a Military Appreciation game. The seats were then donated to active or retired military members. This year, 22 schools participated – double last year’s number – donating more than 21,000 tickets to our Armed Forces. Many of the active service members and veterans receiving free tickets had previously never attended a college football game.
The participating schools were and are: Penn State, which began the program in 2012 and donated more than 5,000 tickets, Akron, Arkansas, Auburn, Boston College, Colorado, Duke, Florida, Georgia State, NC State, New Mexico. Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, South Carolina, Southern Miss, Temple, Tulsa, USF, UTSA, Utah State, West Virginia and Wyoming.

 

A note from an Air Force veteran was like hundreds of others sent from thankful military members: “It was very special for me and my family to be able to attend such a high-profile event and to see the fellow veterans at the game enjoying themselves. It really touched my spirit and made me proud of the fact that someone took the time to think of us. I am truly proud to be a U.S. veteran. May God continue to bless you and the United States of America!”
While the effort by these elite schools on football is great, the outreach should extend down to the smallest schools with distressed tickets looking to do good as well. Military families big and small are in every community, and the positive spin coming off such an activation will pay dividends and should be a “must do” vs. an alternate opportunity. Many of these families of returning young veterans have young kids who can become instant fans of a local school they knew little about; heroes can be made of stent-athletes and coaches who connect with the vets and their families right away, and those bonds can grow over time, with a spillover effect that won’t just put butts in seats, it can lead to jobs, life lessons and even sponsorship as these new vets get back on their feet and work with growing businesses in the community. The effort shouldn’t stop just on the college level either. High schools, now seen by many as the next great marketing frontier, especially in the digital space and with hyper local sponsorships, should also look to engage their local military vets, and fond ways again to make these heroes even bigger heroes through sport.
We have come a long way on every level in recognizing and engaging the military to say thank you through sport, but we still have a great way to go away from the brightest of lights on NFL Sundays and during the World Series. That start has been amazing, the next steps can be even greater, and the payoff both in loyalty and brand value, will continue to be immeasurable.