NCAA | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Nothing Hokie About Latest Va. Tech Sponsorship…

Into the whole debate of paying college athletes or where the money goes from brands to the University came a pretty unique sponsorship pulled together by Virginia Tech as a way to use athletics to fund other programs; or at least those who teach other programs well outside of athletics.

Union First Market Bank has a coveted spot in the brand category for the Hokies, they are bank of choice for the athletic department, and with that get all the usual signage, radio sponsorship and broadcast spots that can help grow the bank’s visibility in a very crowded marketplace and they try to get a leg up with students looking to build out a financial portfolio in and around Blacksburg. The affinity with the school can be invaluable. However the institution, through the creative folks at IMG College, came up with a way to amplify the program way beyond athletics, and create good will and good opportunity all across the University, by taking some of the money to fund academic projects and research.

Junior faculty fellowships support the research and teaching of untenured assistant or associate professors who show remarkable potential. They encourage innovation in teaching and research and help the university retain its most promising junior faculty members. A percentage of the revenue produced by Union’s endowment (funds are invested for growth) will be deployed to fulfill the gift mission. Funds will be used by the Union Junior Faculty Fellow to advance research and education within the Pamplin College centered on entrepreneurship and small business development. Funds may also be used to support programming to include the business plan competition. The Junior Faculty Fellow may also participate in guest-lecture opportunities and conduct symposia. 

So while there will be lots of brand affinity for the bank by the thousands in person and on TV that will see the Union First Market logo and all that goes with the traditional spend, the spillover effect created by assisting in a non-traditional area will give an added boost, and hopefully grow a University platform not based on wins and losses.

Nice well thought-out spin for Va Tech as their partner banks on brand success that is both traditional and a little out of the ordinary.

“Football Passport” A Great Digital Addition As The Season Kicks Off…

Last spring our colleague Peter Casey launched an ambitious online tool where baseball fans could create a mosaic of all the great places they had seen games, and marry those events to a narrative that matched any fans passion for baseball. It followed a similar launch last winter for basketball fans. It was called “Hardball  Passport,” a first of its kind way to catalogue and track all the stadia where games have been played. No need for ticket stubs saved, “Hardball Passport” helped you bring back the memories in a virtual world just like “Basketball Passport” had done for hoops fans not just on the NBA level but on the college level as well.

This past week, as the NFL and college seasons began, Casey and his partners unveiled their latest tracking tool, one which might even be a bigger hit that its first two. It is “Football Passport,”  an easy-to-use web tool that lets football fans track every football game they’ve attended over the years.

“Football Passport” allows fans to find and log almost every game they’ve attended with simple search functionality. Leveraging a comprehensive games database that goes back several decades, the tool serves as a repository for game-going memories. Fans can share stories and ticket stubs, and upload photos to complement their game histories. As fans log their games, “Football  Passport” dishes out personalized stats – number of games attended, stadiums seen, best performances witnessed, and each team’s record for games fans personally attended – to compare year over year or even against other fans. “Football Passport” allows future-oriented fans to easily create and track their stadium bucket lists, plan road trips and compete in head-to-head stadium challenges. Fans that complete a stadium challenge or achieve game-specific accomplishments earn unique digital stamps for their Passport. Combined with active leaderboards for “Most Games Logged,” it  creates a friendly culture of competition among avid game goers.

Will it gain more traction than “Basketball Passport”  or “Hardball Passport” have done in season one? Hopefully. Football has less games which makes it easier to catalogue, and college football is all about passion and tribal following. Fantasy football is also massive now, so that can also play into more interest for football than hoops or baseball, both of which are being refined for the next go-round.

From a business perspective, all have a nice upside. Brands can integrate perks into the platform for fans who engage regularly, and the model remains scalable to any sport, with probably soccer coming next. At some point as the platform expands you will also be able to share across sports, and with soccer, hopefully grow internationally. The biggest need however, especially to engage with millennials, is to have mobile capability and instant social media sharing. That still remains as a gap in the process, but one that is closing quickly. The download is easy, the work to be engaged is minimal, and the idea of being able to share memories and experiences is key for engagement. While not yet perfect, Casey’s “passports” are growing in popularity and make a nice addition as football kicks off. A great continue to watch idea for the digital sports space, “Football Passport” is worth the download.

USTA Makes A Splash With A Unique Challenge Of Its Own…

There is no doubt the simple act of the Ice Bucket Challenge surpassed the imagination and expectations of those golfers who originally launched the idea on July  15 to benefit ALS  (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  From kids to heads of state to celebrities to athletes, the challenge is still going strong with groups large and small. While some have said enough is enough and others have questioned the need for funds just to ALS for such a wide promo, the fact remains that the simplicity of the message made it a phenomenon unlike anything else the philanthropic world has seen since pink became the call to action for breast cancer.

The challenge certainly wasn’t lost in the tennis world, and now with the US Open in full swing the list of participants in grassroots challenge to the most elite players continues to grow. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, John McEnroe, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki are some of the pro stars who have shared videos, and even the USTA Florida Section got in on the action  challenging former Florida junior phenoms and now-retired pros Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick.

So is there a what’s next or a one up or another challenge with the bucket that might be noteworthy on a mass scale? Surely some organization will go for the world’s largest group or the world’s largest bucket at some point soon to try and cut through the clutter. However one of the most creative challenges has not come from a group or an individual, it came from, well, a bucket sort of. The day of the US Open draw last week, the USTA staff decided to make the trophy itself the challenge, dousing the Tiffany Silver Cup with ice and cold water of its own. The challenge was issued to? Other trophies, ranging from the Stanley Cup to the NASCAR Sprint Cup, The World Series Trophy and, of course, the smallest with the largest following, The World Cup.

While so far none of those organizations have taken the challenge to their respective hardware, it was a nice and fun attention grabber to change it up a little and give some buzz to a challenge that is, well, becoming a bit of a challenge to gain notoriety.  Hopefully some of the other sports and their large budgets take note and douse their trophies soon, it is all for a worthy cause and could get the Ice Bucket Challenge another jump start as the summer winds down, and the Open heats up.

College Kicks Off; Shows True Colors In Cool Promo…

Following William Morris Endeavor’s acquisition of IMG, there’s been talk of collaboration — using WME talent in IMG marketing. A great example of that collaboration came to light this week as college football kicks off.

With 12,000 US retailers supporting the event and promotion in full force, WME client BRAD PAISLEY has signed on as the face of the College Colors Day social media push. You will be seeing pictures and videos of Brad in his West Virginia gear as well as posts for other IMG schools this week. Paisley is also cutting 18 video snippets for schools — giving them a shout out for college colors day.

On his new album, Moonshine in the Trunk (People magazine’s #1 pick this week), in the song “Country Nation,” Brad gives a shout-out to 16 school mascots represented by IMG college licensing. Of course, as a passionate college football fan, Brad leads with his beloved Mountaineers.

College Colors Day has become one of the largest annual retail marketing platforms for college football, creating not only fan excitement for the kickoff of a new college football season, but also additional distribution and exposure for school gear in over 12,000 retail locations nationwide.   Retail highlights include a special college section at Walmart called “Saturday’s Best” running in 500 stores all thru September.; 962 doors at JC Penny, 492 doors at Kohl’s, 457 doors at Sam’s, 204 doors at Meijer, 162 doors at Target, 204 doors at Academy (all stores).

It’s a smart example of convergence and showing how properties can work together to amplify a platform.

Keeping It Simple: Why “The Ice Bucket Challenge” Works..

It’s cheap, it’s simple, and it’s simple to understand. Those are some of the most forgotten goals for brand and marketing and PR campaigns in a world where we are all about multi-layer, multi-level complex engagement. That’s really why the Ice Bucket Challenge has worked, and helped really advance the cause and the funding for  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a motor neuron disease that causes nerve cells to break down and die. There is no treatment or cure for what many know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and it robs thousands every year of basic life skills, and then of life itself (including our old friend Dick Kelley, the longtime Boston College Sports Information Director who passed away earlier this year after a long and gallant fight with ALS).

In a recent piece in Inc. Magazine, Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour provided some simple tips for success. Some are probably to general and simplistic to really always be effective, bit one aligns itself well with the Ice Bucket Challenge success story. Do one thing and do it well.

The Challenge is a great example of a simple idea, forged out of chance, that has gone bigger than ever hoped. While millions have seen the Gatorade baths that coaches have gotten for years on winning sidelines, few had ever thought to take the concept and pass it along through a grassroots effort that made everyone who was involved a little colder, but winners regardless. And while the challenge has existed for several years with other charities, it was through golf of all places that this challenge was launched and got its legs for ALS.

According to several reports, on July 15, golfer Chris Kennedy did the ice-bucket challenge and challenged his cousin Jeanette Senerchia of Pelham, N.Y., whose husband, Anthony, has had ALS for 11 years. A day later she did the challenge while her 6-year-old daughter filmed her in front of their house. From there through a Facebook connection 29-year-old former Boston College baseball player Paul Frates connected to the challenge, and his friends and supporters ramped it up. It has expanded well beyond sport, but with sport as the rallying point, hundreds of athletes have taken or passed it along on all levels, and once the Kennedy Family did the challenge, Henrik Lundqvist challenged John McEnroe who challenged Novak Djokovic, and it got to LeBron James who challenged President Obama, the race was on.

The beauty is in its simplicity. There is no “portions of” donation made, all monies goes to ALS from the consumer. There is no having to buy or wear a color to support. There is no third party vendor. There is no real obligation or pressure to be involved; it takes seconds to do and it is an experience that is communal and knows no boundaries other than your own circle of friends. If you don’t want to do the challenge, or haven’t even been challenged, just make a donation to be part of the group. And by the way, donate to wherever you like, it is not limited just to ALS research. You do it, you get it, you move on in seconds.

Most importantly the millions raised, compounded by the awareness, will someday save a life, and will today give hope to millions where there may only be despair. That is the real success story; not in a “me too” viral video, but in the long-term battle for a dreaded and deadly disease.

Now can this simple program spiral to the point where it becomes white noise? Sure. Will someone go to far and create an issue for someone who does not want to do the challenge? maybe. Will there be some scammer collecting money by throwing water on people? Hopefully not. Will there be copycats trying to promise millions of dollars and vies? For sure, and hopefully at least one is successful. However before that happens maybe a corporation can join the individuals…hello Gatorade or a similar action drink? To make a massive donation or do a massive one-time 100 pct. funded maybe even without logos, to put the drive over the top before the weather gets too cool.

In the meantime, the Ice Bucket Challenge lives on by keeping it simple and by doing one thing well; a clear message in a time of complexity is a winner both in and out of sports.

Bleacher Report had a good summary of all the challenges connected to pro sports as well.

Smaller School Tries To Make Bigger Impact…

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

Tailgating Gets More Customized…

It’s almost tailgate time on hundreds of colleges across the country, and a relatively new brand is ready to jump into the fray with a pretty unique contest.

Schwan’s is a one of the national brands IMG College has brought to multiple school properties, with some assistance from Learfield Sports in lining up key schools.  They are now kicking off a pretty cool online platform at  TailgateAtYourPlace.com  The contest highlights Schwan’s Consumer Brands’ Red Baron®, Freschetta® and Tony’s® pizzas….and has some compelling features for fans.  The new Web site is billed as a one-stop shop for all things tailgating this fall football season, including entertainment tips for hosting game-day tailgate festivities, unique college football content and trivia, recipes, contests and games with more than $150,000 in prizes. Additionally, Red Baron®, Freschetta® and Tony’s® pizza brands will have special promotional packaging tied to the sponsorship program, set to run from Aug. 1, 2014 through Jan. 10, 2015. 

The greatest part of the contest doesn’t stop with winning; the brand will customize the online tailgate to the loyalty of the winner. A Commodore in Knoxville wants no part of orange; that’s ok.  A Buckeye going to Ann Arbor? All your stuff is OSU styled, no Maize and Blue anywhere near. The attention to detail shows that the company is willing to go the extra mile to deliver not just any experience, but THE experience, to the winning consumer.

The universities included in Schwan’s Consumer Brands football sponsorship are Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio State.

TailgateAtYourPlace.com will offer pizza lovers timely tips as the football season kicks off, as well as content to get them in a college football spirit.  Fans encouraged via a full social platform to visit daily for chances to win prizes; more than $150,000 in daily and monthly grand prizes will be awarded. Prizes include five monthly sweepstakes of $10,000 cash, a home-entertainment makeover and a kitchen makeover.  Consumers earn sweepstakes entries by playing the Instant Win Game and earning bonus sweepstakes entries by visiting areas on the site.

Not a bad way to build loyalty and expose millions of casual fans to the brands’ newest investment; the ever-growing big business in and around college football.

“Hyper-Local” Gets Another Digital Shot…

It certainly wasn’t the greatest week for Gannett, with their news of the virtual shuttering of their long form national sports platform “Sports on Earth” and the spinning off of their newspapers. However for the local sports fan, a new offering on the digital Gannett platforms could provide a nice option for additional coverage of college, high school and special event sports throughout the state, an area which news 12 and Verizon Fios have covered to various levels of success on broadcast TV, bit one which has seen a loss of hyper local coverage with the loss of an entity like MSG Varsity.

The new offering is called “Jersey Sports Rant,” and it will be hosted by longtime area voice Joey Wahler, who consumers in New York may recognize from places like MSG Network and News 12, and have heard on WFAN and WCBS radio for years.  The digital offering  debuts Monday. Aug. 18, streaming live video Monday through Thursday from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. Wahler will host the show from the new Asbury Park Press newsroom in Neptune, bringing in personalities with Jersey ties via digital connection, and in some cases in person. The audience will be asked to interact with the show through social media platforms and by a live chat box on the screen. Consumers can access the show live or through a daily archive on Gannett’s five New Jersey newspaper websites: app.com (Asbury Park Press), mycentraljersey.com (Home News Tribune/Courier News), courierpostonline.com, dailyrecord.com and dailyjournal.com, giving some great added value to those news site’s subscribers, and helping to give the Gannett papers statewide a more unified presence in the local sports conversation.

The goal of “Jersey Sports Rant” is to provide a state-specific platform to discuss the sports news of the day; from Rutgers and the Big 10 to minor league baseball to the casino industry to high school sports, with a mix of coverage and discussion about the professional game as well. In addition to being a nice addition to the news sites, it can provide much-desired video that can drive traffic, and in theory, brands and dollars back to fund the project. This works in many smaller markets, can it work in a large market like New Jersey?

While not venturing outside the studio at first, the show will look to spread its wings with event content and news of the day as well; making it much more than a stagnant “talking head” with calls just coming in. Video and guests can drive conversation and engagement, something which sometimes gets lost in New Jersey sports as the talk is controlled by the professional sports across the rivers in Philadelphia and New York.

Will “Sports Rant” find an audience to make it viable and desirable to advertisers? That will take time to build, but studies do show that the consumer today loves hyper-local engagement and unique content. In this crowded environment it may be a challenge, but it is one that Gannett looks like it is willing to take on as it tries to find new ways to engage its subscribers and grow its base.

Let the story pitching begin.

Yogurt Takes A Dip Into Colleges; Hummus Next?

Hummus and Yogurt, smart brand fits for the college marketplace, and both now have really started their engagement through athletic branding.

This week, Chobani announced a 17 school partnership through IMG College to engage with colleges through athletics on a broad platform; from digital and game promotions to health awareness campaigns, sampling and access to athletes. The launch schools include Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas, UCLA and several others, and more comes at a great time since the NCAA’s rule change allowing universities to serve student-athletes unlimited meals.  Yogurt as a healthy choice makes great sense, and Chobani taking the broadest activation platform with some large programs is a great next step. It certainly won’t be the mega-deal for income that beer will be as more schools start opening up the taps at games, but from a messaging and branding standpoint the yogurt play hits on many levels.

Then there is  hummus, growing as fast as any in the snack food category. Major brands are investing millions in the chick pea snack, combined with their own crackers and pretzel brands that fans are accustomed to, and dropping in various flavors to make hummus as appealing and healthier than your standard nachos or other dips on game day.  The growth at retail in large ethnically diverse metropolitan areas has been tremendous, and now the key hummus brands are looking to extend more into sport by dipping crackers into various partnerships. Last winter Olympian Tim Morehouse and his quest to bring of all sports, worked with the Sabra brand to create a “Fencing In The Cities” program as a way to promote active lives for young people in urban areas, and Sabra was a great fit. The brand has also partnered with the NFL to be the official dip of the league, but investing and activating at the level to break through with one of the most elite platforms on the planet can have its challenges. So how about hummus on the college level?

Like yogurt, hummus plays well on college campuses as a snack alternative. It can fit really well with student-athletes at the training table and can have much more of a cost-effective activation at mid-major schools. Maybe not Michigan, but how about Harvard-Yale to start?  For schools looking for great messaging and healthy lifestyles with brands looking to break through in snacks, hummus could match yogurt as a great fit.

Let the healthy dipping begin.

Oregon Gives Their Fans The Sweet Smell Of…Buns

If you are a fan, no matter what, your team is going to stink at some point. It’s part of the ups and downs of the game; you win some, you lose some. However if you are a fan of the University of Oregon Ducks this year, every time you pick up a hard ticket for a football game, you will be reminded of a smell of a different kind.

In an era where hard tickets are becoming a thing of the past, and collecting stubs has become a quaint hobby rather than a rite of passage for sports fans, the Ducks took a fun and sponsored turn with their football tickets this fall.   Oregon IMG Sports Marketing GM Brian Movalson’s and his cohort on the ticketing side, Jason Harris, came up with an idea to add a little scratch and sniff to their hard tickets as a way of providing some extra buzz and value to the Ducks fan experience.

Now it’s not like the folks in Eugene have been quietly sitting back with regard to enhancements in and around the athletic teams. From 30 foot long Heisman banners in New York to funky uniforms to court design to palatial facilities, Oregon has become a hub for driving ROI and innovation just like their friends and benefactors down the road at Nike have been for years. But scratch and sniff tickets? Why not.

The team at UO looked at everything that could make sense within the realm, literally, of good taste.  “We looked at the scents and they had everything from blueberry, strawberry, chocolate, cheeseburgers, and a fresh bread scent,” Movalson says.  Their choice? “Knowing Carls Jr. had a current marketing campaign focused on ‘fresh baked buns’, he called in AE Nicole Aliotti and asked, “What do you think about this for Carls Jr?”

The IMG team then went to the burger chain, and a deal was hatched, or scratched. This fall’s tickets smell like fresh baked buns. The school has over 20,000 season ticket accounts, which gives Carls Jr  shot at making an impression over 140,000 should a season sub take a scratch. Not a bad reminder for the brand, and something which can easily be turned into a promo in and around home games for those looking for some tailgating or pre and postgame snacks.

Some may say the idea is a waste in a time when people want virtual tickets more and more, but Oregon and IMG College found a way to fill a need for hard ticket costs while providing a very unique ROI to a brand in a competitive marketplace, something which can probably be replicated with different scents and partners down the line and across the country. If scratch and sniff works, can a little sample tasting be that far away.

Nice score for the lemon and emerald and their sports biz partners.