NFL | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

The Audio Wars Kick Off…

Last year Beats By Dre turned the corner during the NFL Playoffs with a combination of strategic placement and a little bit of luck. Their two big rolls of the dice came with the Seahawks Richard Sherman and the 49ers Colin Kaepernick, both of whom took their games to the next level as the headset of choice skyrocketed through a grassroots campaign that went through the London Olympics a few years before and made sure they touched on every rising star in sports and popular culture. If you were in the limelight, Beats By Dre found their way to you, and that awareness went even more to mainstream when their breakthrough stars really exploded during the playoffs. The next jump came just a few months after the Seahawks Super Bowl, when Apple stepped to the table to buy out the company and bring it into the fold, making the sound systems even more mainstream, albeit still with an urban edge.

This fall as the NFL season kicks off, the gold standard for many years in consumer listening made their own push to get some street cred and establish their top of mind position with consumers. Bose, signed on as an official NFL partner, not only draping every coaches headset with their logo during every game, but going out to sign some marquee names to endorsements as well to combat Beats infiltration into the market. Richard Sherman’s edgy spots now have to battle Russell Wilson wearing noise cancelling devices, and Kapernick’s tune out of fans is balanced by promotions with Clay Matthews of the Packers. Factor in the use of the NFL shield and other official marks, as well as that constant sideline presence, and Bose seems to have found a way to combat the grassroots efforts with a big spend.

Now this is not to say that beats is going away. Johnny Manziel on his own sported beats Headphones this past Sunday, and countless other milennials and the players they follow in Madden and on their fantasy teams are part of the Beats legion of followers, preferring day-glo and unique styles to Bose’s conservative and always effective style.  Critics will line up on both sides for high end audio pluses and minuses, and consumers will to, depending on taste and frankly, the need to buy or not buy large headphones and other products when ear buds and other simpler lower end items exist. However for the audio and listening marketplace, the need for not just quality sound, but cool and hip aspirational wear will never go away. Will either achieve a crossover spot? Will baby Boomers flock to beats or young folks to the high fidelity of Bose? That remains to be seen, but both, in their own calculating fashion, have looked to athletes and specifically football this fall to drive the ship.

Can Bose score in hip and cool? Can “Beats” keep the beat going in the space? Remains to be seen, but it’s clear that a category battle is now fully underway. Who will win? Some say the limited market can support both and even some other sin the space since headphones of that nature are not and everyday purchase. However the issue is more in incremental marketplace exposure, a place where Beats By Dre clearly had been winning a battle for some time. Now it appears Bose is making more noise, riding a constant flow of exposure and the NFL as a partner. Maybe in the end the consumer wins, but for now the battle is getting louder with two mega-players looking to ride a soundwave of success.

Football And Finance…

With the NFL season here, Tanner Simkins spent some time talking the finance side of football with two industry leaders, Brian Friedman Chief Financial Officer, New York Jets and Adam Raiken Vice President Finance, MetLife Stadium.

Full Cout Press: For those looking to get into sport finance – What experiences fundamentally drove your careers?

Brian Friedman: For the most part it is typical finance and accounting experience. I have a broad range of experience mostly in the consumer product area but also in the services industry. I had always had a goal of getting into sports so when the opportunity presented itself I was very interested and it worked out.

Adam Raiken: My background is a little funky. I started college as chemical engineering major; I always wanted to go in business after and figured a technical background would be interesting and helpful. But I hated engineering so I figured why not just study business, so I specialized in accounting. I always loved sports and then landed a job with PWC, and [naturally] I found myself auditing the NBA, NFL, and baseball. When you are working on audits in sports teams the natural progression is to then work for a team. Who knows more about their company than auditors do? You are looking from at their financial statements top down, therefore it is typical for a finance department to call their auditors when looking for new hires. The Yankees called one day, I was recommended for the job – then I was working for the Yankees. Now, six years later, I am here at MetLife.

FCP: What has been the biggest challenge thus far as in your role? How have you overcome it?

BF: The biggest challenge for me was learning a new industry. I feel like I am still learning every day. Ultimately though all businesses operate in a similar manner. You generate revenue, you collect cash and you pay people and your bills. At the end of the day the first part better be larger than the last. As long as you stay focused on that, it is easy to overcome the challenges of a new industry.

AR: I think my biggest challenge here is working with two different organizations run this one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing, in fact I welcome the challenge. But the two teams have occasionally had different philosophies on things and bringing them together to one entity, to one stadium, is tough. The only way to overcome something like that is constant communication between both teams and all those involved.

FCP: Favorite part of your job?

BF: Easy. It is Sundays, specifically, Sundays when we play at home. I really enjoy being a part of something that tens of thousands of people feel so passionate about.

AR: I got a lot of favorite parts. I love my job, I really do. I love the interactions with people, everyone from those with us full-time, to game-day staff, and to part time employees. I love the game day and seeing what the fan is interested in. If I had to pick one favorite part, it would be the fan experience. There’s so much going on at a stadium like ours. I love that.

 FCP: Financially, how hard is it operating in a two-team stadium?

BF: It sometimes requires a bit more discussion but overall the benefits far outweigh any additional complexities.

AR: Honestly, it is no different than running a one-team stadium except there’s more people with more input. As long as you are doing everything you can for your fans and for the building, I would argue it’s not much different than running a single team stadium. Look at it this way, we still have to take the garbage out, we still have to turn the lights on, we still have to repair the building, etc. The difference comes down to capital budgeting projects where the Jets feel one way and the Giants may feel another

FCP: For many reasons there has been a lot of talks on either side…will the Super Bowl at MetLife be a success?

BF: Yes, it will be great.

AR: Were not going to let it fail. As the first open air cold weather stadium. If we have so many eyes on us and willing to help us because our success will open the doors for many other cities to have a subsequent Super Bowl. It’s going to work. What’s the worst that going to happen, it will snows and then we will move it next year?

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

BF: The sports landscape is changing. A continual improvement to the home experience continues to challenge all of us to produce more creative fan experiences beyond the game. Fans expect more than just admission to a game they expect to be entertained and have a great game to watch. I am also following the growth and expansion of the secondary market. Teams are no longer the only ones selling access; there is significant competition to sell that access.

AR: Buying and selling stock in athletes. It’s a neat trend, both good and bad; it has the potential to seriously change a lot of things.

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

BF: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

AR: The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

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

BF: Make sure you enjoy the job not just that it is in sports. It is important to enjoy what you are doing not just enjoy working for a sports entity.

AR: A lot of people think working hard is the most important thing and you do have to work hard. But in my opinion, it’s more important to work smart. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Not knowing doesn’t make you look bad.

Brian Friedman is the Chief Financial Officer of the New York Jets. He is responsible for all strategic and financial planning for the Jets, daily accounting operations for the team, and all internal and external reporting to the NFL and various other agencies.

Adam Raiken is Vice President Finance, MetLife Stadium.  Amidst many responsibilities, Raiken supervises financial operations for stadium and serves as an integral member of the senior management team

 

Twitter Me This, NFL

While only one aspect of the full digital picture, Twitter continues to be one of the best tools to look at engagement. So as the NFL season starts, Old Forge Media, took a look at their formula on how NFL teams stack up in the twitter verse. Their Old Forge Quality & Competence Rating (OFQCR) System  Management looked at issues like second-degree follower circles, follower-quality, follower-churn, tweet performance and many other other variables which are integral to observing Twitter performance.

Their belief is that because they  are not looking at the right metrics, most companies, athletes, celebrities and teams are only beginning to scratch the surface of their potential on Twitter. Here’s a look at NFL top to bottom on their Twitter-only engagement. You can find out more @OldForgeMedia 

#1 – @49ers QCScore = 23.1

#2 – @steelers QCScore = 21.7

#3 – @Patriots QCScore = 20.9

#4 – @Broncos QCScore = 19.9

#5 – @Seahawks QCScore = 17.9

#6 – @HoustonTexans QCScore = 15.6

#7 – @Browns QCScore = 15.3

#8 – @Giants QCScore = 12.9

#9 – @Colts QCScore = 12.8

#10 – @packers QCScore = 11.8

#11 – @Saints QCScore = 11.1

#12 – @RAIDERS QCScore = 10.8

#13 – @Vikings QCScore = 10.5

#14 – @AZCardinals QCScore = 10.5

#15 – @ChicagoBears QCScore = 10.2

#16 – @Ravens QCScore = 9.8

#17 – @Redskins QCScore = 9.6

#18 – @Jaguars QCScore = 9.4

#19 – @PanthersQCScore = 9.2

#20 – @MiamiDolphins QCScore = 8.9

#21 – @Eagles QCScore = 8.6

#22 – @Atlanta_Falcons QCScore = 8.6

#23 – @Chargers QCScore = 8.2

#24 – @KCChiefs QCScore = 7.4

#25 – @dallascowboys QCScore = 7.2

#26 – @Bengals QCScore = 6.8

#27 – @Lions QCScore = 6.7

#28 – @buffalobills QCScore = 6.7

#29 – @TennesseeTitans QCScore = 6.5

#30 – @TBBuccaneers QCScore = 6.0

#31 – @STLouisRams QCScore = 5.1

#32 – @nyjets QCScore = 3.4

@NFL has a QCScore of 33.7

To date the highest QCScore calculated is 80.1

“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.

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.

Smart Like A Fox…

With the NFL season on the horizon, Tanner Simkins caught up with recent NFLPA President and current Harvard MBA President Domonique Foxworth to talk about the league and where he is today in Cambridge…

Domonique Foxworth, former NFL cornerback and NFLPA President, is now an MBA candidate at Harvard Business School. Recently, we caught up with Foxworth for a discussion on his NFLPA Presidency, his MBA progress at HBS, and more. (A detailed biography for Foxworth is provided after the Q&A). You can connect with Foxworth on Twitter.

Full Court Press: You helped shape the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, what was the biggest lesson you learned from that process?

Domonique Foxworth: I found myself in a room full of billionaires. Before the negotiations started, I had this impression that everyone in the room was out-of-this-world smart. After the first couple meetings, I realized that I am just as smart and just as capable as they are. This experience motivated me to attend business school.

FCP: What inspired you to run for NFLPA President?

DF: It wasn’t a snap decision. It was a process. It was important for me to take a larger role in the [governing] body that I belong to, and to me there was no better way than being President.

FCP: Now you’re getting your MBA. How has the transition into Harvard Business School been going?

DF: It’s been tough but I am no stranger to working very hard. It is definitely a different culture than one I was in before. But I am happy to be a part of it and I feel like I fit in well.

FCP: What’s more difficult playing an NFL season or a HBS semester?

DF: The NFL, hands down. No one is trying to hurt me when I am studying. Competing against a book or competing in the class for comments is much different than competing against super humans who are physically going after me on a weekly or daily basis. At Harvard they are super humans too, with their intelligence. But, everybody can win [in the classroom] and that’s the biggest difference. When there are confrontations here, [at HBS] we can all win – and that’s not how it works in sports.

FCP: What are your post-graduation plans?

DF: I am very interested in entrepreneurship and venture capitalism especially related to something in the sports arena.

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

DF: The sports industry is no different than any other. Technology can provide quality improvements. That’s what I am excited about. I’m already working with entrepreneurs and young companies to apply tech to improve the quality of life for athletes.

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

DF: Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss. Classic! [Foxworth has a toddler and baby at home.]

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

DF: The major tip I give to anyone who wants to get in sports is: know that your day-to-day job will have very little to do with the actual sport. If you want to get in to sports business because you love the game of football or basketball, you are going to be very disappointed because you’re so far removed from the game. (Unless you are a coach.) Evaluate why you want to be in sports. If you are crazy sports fan, you may be disappointed with the [minimal] access you receive.

Domonique Foxworth, a former NFL cornerback, is a respected leader and in March 2012 was elected by his peers to serve as the NFL Players Association President.

First elected to the NFLPA as a player representative in 2007, he became one of the youngest vice presidents ever to be voted onto the executive committee. Foxworth played a pivotal role in the NFL collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations in 2011 which resulted in: a longer off-season, allowing players time for recovery and academic pursuits; the elimination of two-a-day practices as a health and safety measure—several youth leagues followed suit; a minimum threshold for spending under the salary cap; and the creation of a “Legacy Fund” pension resource for former NFL players, among other things. During his tenure, the union has also instituted several new committees, composed of staff and players, to encourage greater involvement among members; established a unique 10-year $100 million partnership with Harvard Medical School to research new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent injuries and illness affecting football players; and created a lifecycle initiative for members which includes a series of resources and programs to help players excel during and after their NFL career. His current term as NFLPA President runs through 2014.

Foxworth was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2005, and played in the NFL over seven years for the Broncos, the Atlanta Falcons and his hometown Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos nominated Foxworth for the 2007 Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award for his work in the community which included: serving as spokesperson for “College and Colorado,” a nonprofit devoted to increasing enrollment and improving academic success of low income students; raising money to build a teen center in the name of slain teammate; and penning a weekly column for the Denver Post—the collection was later published as a book with proceeds befitting a Denver nonprofit.

He completed high school in 3.5 years, enrolled early at the University of Maryland, and began training with the school’s football team. Foxworth graduated from Maryland with an B.A. in American Studies in 2004 and was awarded as Maryland Student Athlete of the Year. He will matriculate at Harvard Business School in fall 2013.

A student of the civil right movement, Foxworth collects artifacts and historical treasures from African American history in his spare time.

 

Mixing Sports and Broadway…

Below is the latest q and a by Tanner Simkins, this one with sports marketing legend Tony Ponturo (who I have had the honor to personally work with on four projects in recent years).

We sat down with sports marketing legend, Tony Ponturo, to discuss his role as producing partner for Broadway productions like Bronx Bombers, Lombardi and Magic/Bird and how theater and his longtime career in sports marketing play together. He and producing partner Fran Kirmser also recently acquired the rights to the life story of Joe Louis for film and stage, and have numerous other projects in the pipeline, including bringing Lombardi to the screen in the next few years.

Full Court Press: After a heralded sports business career, how was the transition from marketing executive to Broadway producer?

Tony Ponturo: I graduated with an economics degree but quickly realized that wasn’t for me.  I always wanted something that had both a creative and business dynamic.  I gravitated to sports marketing because it quenched both the creative and business side.  Just like how marketing is the business of sports, producing is very much the business of entertainment.  After building credibility with my sports marketing career, the transition into Broadway was natural.

FCP: Any crossover between the two?

TP: It’s really no different than how we did it at [Anheuser-Busch], but this time it’s a show.  The important question to answer is how to use the mark.  For example with Bronx Bombers, using the Yankee logos, official uniforms, etc added necessary value to the production.  Without this authenticity, consumers can easily see through it and lose interest.

FCP: Any development or trends you are closely watching?

TP: I am intrigued by the growth of fantasy sports.  It has created a new dialogue away from following your local sports team.  Now there is interest and passion at many levels for many reasons.  There will be continued efforts to capture this revenue in new and creative ways.

FCP: Any tips or advice for the aspiring sports professional?

TP: Reputation and trust are big things in business that get overlooked. Always keep those in mind while getting experience. Don’t have a high bar; get in anywhere as along as there is a focused path.  Impatience is the biggest barrier; don’t overlook a sense of direction & foundation.  Good people rise to the top wherever they are.

FCP: What is your favorite book?

TP: I enjoy reading historical biographies like of the Kennedy family for example.  I appreciate these real life stories and their practicality.

Sports and marketing executive Tony Ponturo’s name and reputation have been synonymous with quality, innovation and attention to brand detail for over 30 years. First in the advertising world, then in a landmark career at Anheuser-Busch, Tony Ponturo has been responsible for some of the most influential partnerships that have shaped the sports and entertainment landscape as we know it today.

Following a six year stint in the New York advertising business, Ponturo spent 26 years at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, MFCPouri, leading a team that built one of the most iconic sports and event marketing brands in the world. He joined AB in 1991, and until his departure in 2008, served as the President and CEO of Busch Media Group and the Vice President of Global Media, Sports and Entertainment Marketing of Anheuser-Busch Inc. Ponturo managed over $700mm in media, sports and entertainment properties per annum and oversaw broadcast exclusives for the Super Bowl and the FIFA World Cup, as well as multifaceted relationships with the United States and International Olympic Committees. He helped vastly expand Anheuser-Busch’s leadership stake in the sports business, carving official beer sponsorships with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and NASCAR in North America, as well as landmark international deals with Formula One Racing and the English Premier League in soccer. Anheuser-Busch also increased its position in the local and regional areas of sports sponsorship, securing scores of team and event partnerships during this time as well. Brand growth was also not limited to sports, as the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards all became key activation and sponsorship elements of the Anheuser- Busch family. As a member of the Anheuser-Busch Strategy Committee, Ponturo also served on the Board of Directors of both Anheuser-Busch, Inc. and Anheuser-Busch International, Inc, playing an integral role in developing the brand’s successful corporate media and sports structure.

His latest ventures have him balancing his passions in both sports and entertainment. He is a producer of Broadway hits and Tony Award winning shows such as the 2009 revival of “Hair” and the original musical “Memphis,” which opened in the fall of 2009. Along with the creative vision of entrepreneur and Producing Partner Fran Kirmser, together Tony and Fran negotiated the first time ever NFL and NBA marketing partnership deals for Broadway for productions Lombardi and Magic Bird. Both the NFL and the NBA trusted Kirmser Ponturo with their trademarks and provided, in addition to marketing support, an authentication to the creative process.

 

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.