As A Property, Competitive Robotics Continues To Grow…

This weekend in St, Louis at the Edward Jones Dome over 30,000 students, parents and coaches will gather for one of the most inspiring, creative and interactive team events that will be held in the Dome all year. It isn’t football or soccer, lacrosse or cricket or rugby. It is competitive robotics.  The U.S. FIRST is back for the fourth straight year, and is quickly becoming one of the most intriguing co-ed competitions of any “sport” out there.   It is entitled FIRST, standing for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology and was the brainchild of Segway PT inventor Dean Kamen 25 years ago with the goal of boosting science in the way that high schools glorify sports.

This past week President Obama got to see the interactive robots shoot hoops as he talked about science and sport growing with Americas children. Several thousand people showed up at New York’s Javitz Convention Center to see that City’s finals, replete with cheerleaders and blaring music.

The weekend long event is the culmination of work by middle and high school students from across the country, each team of whom had to first score well in regional tournaments to move on to the state events, with the winners moving on to the World Championships in St. Louis.

The competition is not your father’s Erector Set version of building a robot. Each team trains for weeks many using the LEGO Mind Storm system to have its robot perform a series of complex tasks in 2:30  against another table of robots. The tension will be palpable and the sense of team  very, very apparent.

However what is more amazing is the sense of fun, competition and creativity that each of the teams will have on throughout the event. From posters to mascots to elongated signs, the students and their supporters cheer with a fervor that would match any athletic event. Everyone who goes sees the best of what New Jersey has to offer…healthy competition with a mosaic of children from every ethnic and social background in a healthy competition devoid of many of the trappings that childhood events have these days. There may be some uber parents in the crowd, but most were there for good natured support both moral and emotional.

Club robotic competitions have propped up all around the country and are growing with each passing semester, from sixth grade through high school. There is no “Revenge of the Nerds” feeling at all. Most of the kids look fit, coordinated and ready to do battle in every form of athletics as well as a competition of the mind. Indeed, mind sports, from robotics to other activities like chess, bridge and even poker, are being seen more and more by organizations like the International Olympic Committee as a way to teach strategy that applies to traditional athletics and help grow the whole young person, combining a healthy mind with a healthy body. Also the rise of “Money Ball” in traditional athletics, where front office positions are being taken up by young people who understand business and strategy as well as athletic fundamentals, is also spurring a new generation where young people will take academics and team activities in the lab or the classroom as seriously as many take athletics. For a rising immigrant population that is more focused in many ways on academics but who is still trying to assimilate to American culture through athletics, activities like robotics provide a great balance. For young people who like athletics but are not into the ultra-competitive areas of Little League or Gymnastics, robotics and mind sports can also provide a balance, instilling that sense of team and competition while sating the mind and the skills they excel at as well.

For brands looking to activate against an audience that understands both team competition and gaming, robotics is also a unique answer for engagement. Now it is not to say that analytics and team competitions like robotics should be at the detriment of traditional sports. There is a place for both, and the two actually complement each other very well. However in a society today where young people are getting more and more technologically savvy, competitions like mind sports and robotics can fill a growing need, keeping young people active and involved and finding ways to stimulate the mind as well as the body.

Is it the start of a long term trend of cyber warriors, or a fad like crystal radios and rocketry was in the 1960?s or 1970?s? The jury is still out, but judging from the crowds, the engagement and the spirit of competition, the “sport” of competitive robotics is here to stay, and that is not a bad thing for a young group who wants to grow into a well-rounded and healthy adult.

Most importantly robotics takes kids interested in science, gaming and technology as well as sport, and puts them into a public setting where they have to actually interact with each other, a revolutionary idea in a world where “interaction” is done more by thumbs and keystrokes not by spoken words and actions as a group.

While not replacing traditional athletics in any way, robotics is becoming more and more intriguing, a well-intentioned and healthy type of “sport” whose time is definitely coming.

Set The Ground Rules, Save The Aggravation…

A little over 10 years ago, during a Davis Cup trip to Zimbabwe, the U.S. team passed a street in front of Robert Mugabe’s palace. In big letters there was a warning; “If you take a photo on this street you will be shot.” No one took pictures. Yes that is extreme, but it is a pretty clear way to set ground rules that all understood.

A few weeks ago one of our Columbia classes taught by Neal Pilson had an open invite for staff, alumni, current students and potential students to come in and listen to a q and a with ESPN President John Skipper. The room was filled to listen to Skipper talk about his days in publishing, the challenges of having launched ESPN.com, and a host of anecdotes about life, sports business, broadcasting and the like. Lots of little tidbits that could have made their way out of the room. Nothing overtly controversial, but very insightful from a man who is usually frank and direct but willing to give of his time. As the room filled to capacity, several young socially engaged students prepped their mobile devices for a tweet or two. After all, this is the era of information, and Skipper and Pilson were ready to share. However to the disappointment of some at least, the ground rules were very carefully planned out. No tweeting, posting or recording could take place, in order to keep the session for those invited guests. The result? An open, frank discussion that respected the speakers wishes and a solid time was had by all. The ground rules were set, and the respect was in place.

Juxtapose that discussion, where the rules were set, to a pair of other recent incidents, one involving the Boston Red Sox and President Barack Obama and the other involving Rutgers Athletic Director Julie Hermann. In the first case, POTUS and David Ortiz willingly posed for a selfie that one of Ortiz’s sponsors, Samsung, turned into a marketing push without the consent of the President in any way. Then the Newark Star Ledger broke a story where Hermann was quoted while speaking to a student group at Rutgers as saying she hoped the paper, which had just gone through massive layoffs and is perhaps the media outlet that covers activities on the campus, would essentially go out of business. Whether it was meant sarcastically, or was even taken slightly out of context, it created a firestorm again with the media around the Scarlet Knights. The result? More brand damage and distraction for Rutgers.

What do all four anecdotes show? Pretty simple. We live in an age where media of all kinds is available for consumption willingly or unwillingly, and unless one takes the proper steps to guard against public-facing statements or information, as Skipper did, then anyone is fair game. Was the selfie with Ortiz innocent on the part of the President and Big Papi? Probably. Was there someone on the savvy marketing side waiting or planning to take advantage of the innocent moment? Seems so. In Hermann’s case, was she trying to make news in a frank discussion with students? Probably not. Did she set herself up for an issue by not setting ground rules prior, as happened at Columbia. Looks like that is the case. Now this is not to say setting ground rules can always lead to people acting honorably or responsibly. The thought of embargoes on news stories seem to be more and more a thing of the past, with media outlets scrambling to break news on any platform willing to sometimes ask forgiveness now more than permission, and a tweet, no matter how innocent, just seconds before a story breaks can have career implications for all involved.  Does the Ortiz incident mean that events at White House or other official gatherings will now be like some elite weddings or courtrooms, where any mobile devices need to be confiscated to avoid potential conflict? Could be. We did live in a world not too long ago where images were not captured on phones, they were done by cameras on film and then shared by those who wanted those images distributed and we all seemed fine with it. Taking temptation away can have its benefits in such cases, as can very clear ground rules. The more you think and know your audience, the better off all will be. Image creation and media consumption are great, and by no means should the free flow of ideas be curtailed in most cases. However the higher the image the higher the risk, as we saw again this week, both in DC and New Brunswick. Without setting the rules going in, all bets are off coming out and a news cycle, no matter how innocent or unintentional begins and creates even more distractions for the parties involved.  

Kobe Sets The New Screen…

The opportunity for athletes, teams and coaches to engage with fans seems to ratchet up with each passing week. What was once doable only by going to a game or an autograph sessions or “sports night,” has elevated from “influencer parties” to chat rooms to text messaging to customized and targeted voice and email to tweet ups to text chats to Facebook engagements to message boards, where fans from around the world can communicate in real time with their willing sports and entertainment figure of choice.

The most recent flavor of the month is of course, twitter, where fans can follow and interact with their engaged athlete in short bursts. Into the twitter mix in a big way the last few weeks was the LA Lakers Kobe Bryant, who went from silent to carefully engaged in the platform I a matter of days. This week Bryant took his engagement one innovative step further, offering to watch and then tweet in real time his thoughts and responses to the replay of his 81 point game on NBA TV.  The response to Bryant’s outreach was very strong, and it got the NBA some tremendous buzz while opening up a whole world of engagement possibilities on twitter for any athlete or performer looking back on a memorable event. President Obama reliving his thoughts at the inauguration? Why not. Lady Gaga reviewing an HBO special with her fans to tell her thoughts about the process? Why not. The events are taped, the thoughts can be poignant and the fan would enjoy the give and take.

While the twitter engagement is nice, it really only scratches the surface of what may be coming to take this type of interaction to another level. For example. Google has had some success with Google hangouts for over a year…a way for anyone to engage via streaming video in real time with friends or bold face names. It has the power of one of the greatest promotional platforms behind it, and can pull in big numbers of people from around the world to talk to whoever the subject is.

So why not take Bryant’s interaction on twitter and overlay the live video component to it with an engagement tool like Google hangouts for a taped event. It could even be housed through the NBA’s home site on NBA.com, or even on multiple sites to help drive traffic. Better yet, how about taking a live game and dropping former stars or coaches into the hangout to give fans an insider’s view as to what is going on in a game. Both instances bring a sponsorable, unique real-time overlay to an event and create additional value that a fan cannot get with a primary screen.

Would it work for every game? No. Sometimes without the right “star” the chats can become silly and mundane and a distraction to what the consumer is watching. You don’t want someone to miss something going on in a game because they were focused on a mobile device or a laptop. Yu want to add to the experience, whether it is a live event or a memorable night being replayed. It also lends well to some events where there are natural breaks n the game like soccer, baseball, cricket and even football more than the fast paced environment of hockey for example.

Sure the idea of the second screen has been tried for years to some extent. However the speed of technology and live video today has made the opportunity for broader engagement more possible and less obtrusive than ever before without detracting from the overall experience.

Bryant’s massive tweet experiment this week showed the value of stars with that platform, now it’s time to make video the next part of such an engagement…cleanly, effectively and globally. It certainly isn’t live tweeting or micro cameras with reactions as the game is going on, but with the right experts involved…retired players, injured players, former coaches…the ability to keep growing the fan experience will continue to rise.

Nice score this week by Kobe and his team, let’s see what comes with the next shot.

The Dickey Brand Grows…

As we near the Presidential election I keep waiting for President Obama or Governor Romney to invoke the name of R.A. Dickey as they search to find metaphors to engage casual voters in their narrative. They have used various platforms to gain support tied to sport…Olympics, NASCAR, hoops, golf, some baseball…but not yet the knuckleballing Cy Young Award candidate for the New York Mets. Why would they be interested in the Dickey story? Let’s see. he is a thirtysomething white male who has overcome great adversity to find an entreprenurial way to succeed in his field against great odds. He is an Olympic athlete, an All-American, a father, a success story on the largest of stages, a great positive example of the American Dream. He has string ties to the south but works in the most urban of environs, he is not flashy or overstated, he doesn’t look or act like an elite athlete…he goes to work and gets his job done. Sound like a good story to bring up on the campaign trail? It’s also why the brand of R.A. Dickey may be the best brand to come out of another exciting season of the business of baseball

I am a little biased being a Mets fan and also having worked on the “Knuckleball” film project the past few months. However it is because of that exposure that the Dickey brand looks ripe to be engaged. Here are some other thoughts as to why.

By luck and determination, the multi-media side of Dickey is already accessible to anyone who wants it anywhere. This past spring, Dickey’s life story was written by Wayne Coffey, detailing not just his on-field experiences but his struggle to overcome family and personal issues and his belief in using his fame, which was limited at the time, for a great good. Then you have the fortutious opening of the documentary “Knuckleball,” which tells the story of Dickey and the other knuckleballers BEFORE all the hype and success arrived this year. It gives anyone a chance to see these players and their stories really unvarnished and in many cases away from the limelight. It is not a forced rush to production to capitalize on Dickey’s run this year…it all takes place BEFORE, giving his appeal even more universality.

With all due respect to Gio Gonzalez and the Washington Nationals, Dickey has achieved his success this year in the biggest media market with a team that is greatly challenged to win. He does not have the support of the Nationals hitters and he does have the brightest of lights shone on him…that makes his success this year all the more marketable. That potential 20th win and a potential Cy Young Award also is great for brand baseball. Like it or not, winning in New York helps lift the tide of the sport.

While he pitches in new York, it is also of great appeal that Dickey is not just a New Yorker. He has strong ties to Tennessee, and to the many stops where he has left his mark across the country. That means that brands don’t have to worry about his appeal being just to Madison Avenue. his workman like approach and his surprising success can make him interesting to everything from tool companies to media brands…he is well spoken with a solid social media following as well. His appeal to faith-based programs will also make him very appealing on the speaking circuit and could even tie him to other brands (Chick-Fil-A anyone?) and his interest in young people and education will also give his upcoming children’s book (another gift of great timing) another bounce when it comes out.And for the video game generation? The knuckleball is tailor-made for all the nuances of online engagement and fun.

Sure there may be a worry that Dickey’s amazing year may be just that…a one trick pony. However a 20 game win season does have long-term brand value no matter what comes next, and a Cy Young Award will help to double down on any brand looking to hitch on very soon. There is also a feeling that throwing a knuckleball at 37 will give Dickey another strong set of years ahead of him, as the pitch doesn’t destroy the arm or diminish with age. There is always risk with athletes, but with someone like R.A. Dickey, it seems the reward can outweigh the risk. By the way, Dickey himself  also has to buy-in to the hype and support the brands who want to support him as well, an element that still has to be examined, but one that should be able to be overcome.

There are many splashy and sexy stars who have emerged from this season… the great Trout of the Angels, Harper and Strasburg of the Nats, the ever-interesting cast of the Giants, the Tigers’ Verlander and on and on. However when the dust settles, and if he can get umber 20, R.A. dickey’s everyman story may trump them all for the year and may just be the one that brand marketers will talk about as the all-encompassing pone that is a great across the board fit not just for 2012, but for a few years going forward.

Ready to climb aboard as well candidates? Don’t miss the story.

 

President Obama, ESPN Go Gaming…

More and more it is becoming about the games. Not the ones on the field but the ones in your living room, on your handheld device, on your laptop. As marketers scramble more and more to engage young people in a setting where they congregate, they are becoming all about live gaming integration.

Earlier this year the Philadelphia Eagles announced a partnership to drop their birds into Angry Birds, something that probably won’t yield dollars but could make the brand a little more interesting to casual fans when they play the wildly popular game. We have seen the frenzy around Madden and college football games and more and more dollars are being pumped into finding ways to make sports games more realistic and integrated as live play continues.

This week there were two more sure signals that tradition is now trying to find more ways to grab the non-traditional sports fan. First, the Obama campaign announced that they will drop live ads into Electronic Arts games, including the new Madden NFL 13, in the key Electoral College-tilting states of Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Virginia. The ads are aimed at encouraging the gaming demographic to take advantage of early voting in these states. The ads will try and engage a young, sometimes election agnostic fan, while they try and get their team into the End Zone. It is the second time the President has gone the gaming route. In 2008 his team tapped EA to run virtual signage ads looking to encourage early voting in states like Florida and North Carolina in 18 games, including Burnout Paradise and Need for Speed. The message is targeted, direct, and creates the perception that the campaign knows what the casual fan wants and knows where to reach him.

Then this week ESPN announced a partnership with the publisher of  Assassin’s Creed and other titles to develop new content for their ESPN Sports Connection. It is the first but not the last attempt The “Worldwide Leader” will make into engaging young people obsessed with console gaming.  What does it mean? Those playing non-traditional sports games will be able to pull in ESPN-related content if they choose, and Ubisoft can build out elements that are attached to the ESPN brand in a series of console games already in production. The ESPN brand is now served up to younger audiences who may not be watching “SportsCenter” but will find ESPN related content where they are engaging in activity…in their gaming environment.

What’s the reason for going more to the gamers whether you are a mega-brand or running for office? Simple. The players are engaged, loyal and want whoever is interested in a dialogue to understand their interests and where they congregate, and today that congregation is as much in a virtual online live world than it is at a live actual event like a game or a concert. That virtual engagement also transcends physical boundaries and allows the message to be targeted directly to thousands at the well placed push of a button. It is a smart move for both ESPN and the Obama campaign, two leaders in fishing where the fish are, especially the younger ones.

Giving Blood, Getting Votes, Soccer Clubs’ Unique Searches For Kit Sposnors

The challenge to find unique, promotable, and sometimes profitable brand partners for second division soccer clubs can be daunting sometimes, especially when those above you grab some of the biggest lights, and with it the grandest brands. However here are two unique kit sponsorships…one that worked, one that didn’t that were definitely worth a spot for ingenuity.

F.C. New York plays its games in and around various venues in the New York area, playing in the National Premier Soccer League, a lower level developmental league that has few players of various stages of developing talent to MLS and other clubs around the world. Finding sponsors in the minors of hockey and baseball has its challenges for sure, minor league soccer sponsors in a crowded market for a team that seems to always be moving from place to place, so when a sponsor comes to a club with a unique promo and kit sponsor, the club should listen, right? When the sponsor is a national “brand,” they should listen even more…when that “brand” is running for the Oval Office, the sponsor has the chance to bring the club some national attention as well.

So it was with great excitement that F.C. NEW YORK announced that an anonymous donor had purchased the front of their kit for messaging from Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The donor was not revealed, but only said in a statement  “I love futbol, I love America, I am a proud Latino- American who believes Mitt Romney needs to be our next president.”

The club produced the jerseys with Governor Romney’s “Believe in America” slogan on the front, and were prepared to debut them in a match vs. Red Bull at Long Island’s at the Mitchel Field athletic Complex. It was a very unique platform to draw attention and with it some controversy. After all, teams rarely get involved in public political tussles, so could this be a new trend for donors, and new ground for the political field? Well…not really.

Unfortunately, the club was informed by FIFA that political statements were prohibited from kit sponsorships, so the uniforms were a no go.  However it didn’t diminish the creativity for a club struggling to get attention, and maybe the anonymous donor can find other ways to get his message out through a club looking to break through in the marketplace.

Then you have Vitória, a second-division Brazilian football club, who came up with a kit idea that could also be game changing, and life changing for some. The club,  which plays with red and black uniforms, announced they will start their new season in black jerseys with horizontal white stripes, a departure for sure for a club that calls themselves the “Red and Blacks.” However the club is not straying from their red color, they are building toward it. In order to promote blood donation in the region, the club will fill in their white stripes with red every match as the season progresses, which would be reflective of the amount of blood donated by club followers. With every goal reached, every stripe will go from white to red until all four stripes are filled.

Now this isn’t a sacrifice most clubs who sell their kits for millions will make, but it is an enterprising one off for some team sports throughout the season, especially teams who are focused on one-off jerseys for special events and promotions.  Could there be some sort of pink rise for breast cancer awareness, extra blue that goes up week to week for autism? The opportunities are interesting, especially if the stripe filling produces solid results.

Sometimes the best ideas, or at least the most creative, come from those away from the brightest lights.

POTUS Starts To Play The Sports Card…

It is almost time for President Obama to start ramping up the engines for the run to November. As the Republicans twist back and forth between Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and other challengers, the Democrats have stood on the sidelines waiting their turn to start moving against whomever is on the other side.

This week there were two interesting little events that may have shown that things are starting to accelerate with the casual voter. First came the announcement that the NFL would play its first-ever Wednesday night game to open the season in September. The reason? that first Thursday in November will be The President’s acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination, and neither side wanted a conflict, especially for a leader who has been such a friend of the game. The second, on Thursday came Bill Simmons sitdown for his podcast with President Obama. Now it’s not really clear what is more significant, that the interviewed showed that podcasts themselves are powerful tools now more accepted by the media and the general public, or that ESPN could get a place at the table with the leader of the free world that many news and political networks couldn’t get. However one thing is clear. The President’s team is again going to play the sports card it used so effectively to engage the casual fan come election time. It worked four years ago, and it will help again this time.

Four years ago in January, Sports Illustrated ran a back of the book story by Scott Price, who had the chance to play then-candidate Barack Obama in a game of basketball. The story showed casual sports fans, who many times are also politics averse, a side of the candidate that they did not know about. That story of course was the first of many where sports and now-President Obama crossed paths on his way to the White House. While it probably pales in comparison to all the other initiatives the Obama camp used for engaging casual voters (social media being one of the biggest), the ability for the candidate at the time to show that he could relate to the casual sports fan was very important. Did it sway the election the following November? Maybe not with huge numbers, but it is hard to think that a President who could make a jump shot (and who had a brother in law in Craig Robinson who is and was a coach) did not at least influence some people to cast a ballot. The other candidates made the odd NASCAR appearance, Senator McCain went on a few hunting trips, but none embraced a sports fan like President Obama did.

This time around we are starting to see the same thing. Governor Romney visits Daytona and looks uncomfortable in interviews, candidates Santorum and Gingrich have not gone the sports route. So the door is open again for the President.

The candidate who is able to court those casual fans in the past few elections did get a nice little boost, and maybe more of a second look when controversy reared its head at least the first time. President Bush was a former Rangers owner, and was able to find home plate more than a few times with a first pitch. President Clinton whooped it up with Arkansas at the Final Four and loved being around athletes. President Obama rarely passes a basketball court without taking a look at the rim. It made sports a talking point when there was not one to engage people, and made them all seem just a little more human, and a little less lofty.

So here we go again. The sports world was abuzz with talk of BCS, MLB playoffs and Jeremy Lin and it was all tied to an ESPN podcast. The spokesperson was not Mike Greenberg, it was Barack Obama, only a few days before Super Tuesday. That type of grassroots appeal will once again give POTUS more street cred, especially if things get tight come Election Day.

The Political Game…

Four years ago this month, Sports Illustrated ran a back of the book story by Scott Price, who had the chance to play then-candidate Barack Obama in a game of basketball. The story showed casual sports fans, who many times are also politics averse, a side of the candidate that they did not know about. That story of course was the first of many where sports and now-President Obama crossed paths on his way to the White House. While it probably pales in comparison to all the other initiatives the Obama camp used for engaging casual voters (social media being one of the biggest), the ability for the candidate at the time to show that he could relate to the casual sports fan was very important. Did it sway the election the following November? Maybe not with huge numbers, but it is hard to think that a President who could make a jump shot (and who had a brother in law in Craig Robinson who is and was a coach) did not at least influence some people to cast a ballot. The other candidates made the odd NASCAR appearance, Senator McCain went on a few hunting trips, but none embraced a sports fan like President Obama did.

So now as we are getting deep into primary season, it is interesting to note that none of the Republican candidates have yet to try and embrace those casual sports fans as the Obama camp did four years ago. Governor Romney obviously has a strong athletic background given his role in the Salt Lake Olympics, but none of the others seem to be wandering near an ice rink, or a gym, or even a wrestling mat in Iowa. Maybe it is because the younger more athletic demo is still more in the Obama camp, and that the Presidency, with programs like “Let’s Move,” has done a stringer job of keeping those casual voters in their camp. Maybe Republicans feel that the younger, more athletic demo is not yet worth courting as they try to re-engage an older Republican set and those who are more apt to vote or at least swing their vote. Maybe none of the candidates have an interest in athletics, or that given the issues at hand, attending an event would be seen as wasting important time campaigning in other areas. Maybe none are interested in LSU or Alabama, or the Packers or Giants, or maybe even Tim Tebow just yet. Maybe Daytona will be a coming out party for those still in the race.

However one thing is for sure. The Presidential candidate who was able to court those casual fans in the past few elections did get a nice little boost, and maybe more of a second look when controversy reared its head at least the first time. President Bush was a former Rangers owner, and was able to find home plate more than a few times with a first pitch. President Clinton whooped it up with Arkansas at the Final Four and loved being around athletes. President Obama rarely passes a basketball court without taking a look at the rim. It made sports a talking point when there was not one to engage people, and made them all seem just a little more human, and a little less lofty. Let’s see if any current candidates follow suit, maybe as pitchers and catchers approach.

Sports Help Motown Matter Again…

No matter what happens Sunday with the Lions and the Tigers, sport and its feel good messages have helped slowly recovering Detroit matter more to many again. The crash of the economy was reflected no more than in the downtrodden Detroit, where the auto companies fled for bailout money and the infrastructure of a once proud region collapsed upon itself. What would happen to sports, the lifeblood of the blue collar town and one of the few things the city had to draw to for hope.

The Lions collapse despite the beauty of Ford Field, the Tigers ills, the Pistons slide, the Univ. of Michigan’s ongoing sports issues, even the Red Wings lack of Stanley Cup luster as the rival Blackhawks took home a Championship, did not bode well. Along came a Mayor with deep sports ties, Hall of Famer Dave Bing, and maybe, just maybe things started to change to better reflect a Detroit on the rebound. Maybe one of the most important factors during the bleakest of days was that the sports teams did not abandon Detroit, they actually increased their outreach. The Tigers found tickets to get to the unemployed and extended the lives of sponsor programs at discounts or in some cases, chose not to remove a non-paying big auto brand for a short time. The Red Wings increased inner-city programs while the Pistons tried to find new groups to lure to The Palace.

On the field, each organization found its leadership core. The Tigers under Dave Dombrowski rebounded with a division title, the Lions are now back in the NFL mix after years of mismanagement, the Red Wings are again nearing the top of the NHL as the season beckons, and the Pistons, under new ownership and the front office of newly arrived Dennis Mannion, will look to again embrace a core fan base that probably can relate to hoops as much so or more than the other three sports. New companies have looked to take advantage of land and business space in Detroit, sparking more and younger fan interest around teams that are hungry and willing to find ways to accomodate those trying to find creativity in what was a stagnant economy. More importantly for those lifers in the city and the area, the ownership of the teams and the front office have seen the great value that sport can bring on the darkest of days for those less fortunate, with the lift of winning teams bringing even more than a distraction to those on the comeback. The auto industry, still based in the area and once the largest sponsor of athletic events in the world, has also found ways to re-engage in sport, and linking to those teams in the area has been a big plus for morale and for the teams who need the partnerships.

Now it’s not an easy road for either the economy or Detroit, and certainly it is not yet one that has a silver lining. The Lions are still in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions and remain a young team, the Tigers have their work cut out to try and overtake the Yankees, the Pistons, when the lockout is settled, have perhaps the toughest rebuilding task both on the court and on the business side of any of the teams at this point, and the Red Wings need to continue to find ways to grow a fan base that is still ethnically challenged despite being in such a hockey hotbed. However if the Detroit sports resurgence continues through the winter…including the Wolverines rise back in hoops and football…don’t be surprised if many draw parallels to economic recovery and that in sport. The President is after all, a sports fanatic himself, and rode the sports theme to garner casual voters in 2008.

We all love the comeback and the underdog in sport, so a Detroit success in sport fits in many ways with tough economic times, more so than any other city. Winning on the field matches winning in business and vice versa. Now more than ever. Go Motwon go.

Can “Brand Jimmer” Lift A Faith Too?

It is an interesting time for the Mormon religion. A Broadway show by the creators of South Park mocks the faith but gives it great visibility and the ability to laugh at itself…it boasts not one but two Presidential candidates, and it has one of the most marketable basketball personalities in Jimmer Fredette, who Thursday night became a member of the Sacramento Kings, the capital city of the Sunshine State with a Mayor who understands the rigors of the NBA (Kevin Johnson) and fought to keep Joe and Gavin Maloof’s team in the city for now.

So with all that exposure, good, bad and curious, can the brand of Jimmer Fredette help the Mormon religion grow as well? Now Fredette obviously is not the first BYU alum to make it to big time sports recognition, nor will he be the last at a school that puts a great priority on athletics balanced with academics and a moral high ground. Fredette’s cult following earned him over 2 million views on a YouTube Channel following him up to and through the draft, visibility no other top draft pick, nor many NBA players, can match. He is not shy about his faith or his ability to play hoops, and if he makes the transition to the NBA grind, he can be a very interesting ambassador for a larger cause that has gotten and will continue to get some pretty unique visibility through sports, the arts and politics in the coming year. The fact that Fredette will take his style of play to arguably the most liberal state in the country and play for a team needing a new identity will also be an added plus for anyone associated with “Brand Jimmer,” but his presence does present some very unique opportunities to have the general public better understand the Mormon faith. Now it’s not to say that Fredette will be out doing missionary work when he leaves Arco Arena, but he can help clarify issues that exist and maybe make people think twice when considering the understanding of his beliefs and millions of others. The power of Fredette’s messaging certainly won’t be lost on the elders of the church, who have taken on a large campaign to better educate people on who and what Mormon is, in light of the success of “Book of Mormon” on Broadway. Could Fredette’s draw also help in a White House battle?

Keep in mind President Obama used his ability as a sports fan, especially a basketball player, to identify with thousands of casual fans and lukewarm voters in the last election. Can candidates Romney or Huntsman subtly use Jimmer success to gain some ground or assist in a platform when their campaigns ramp up? Part of that will be determined by Fredette’s success on the court. If he becomes a fan favorite and plays well, the Jimmer references will begin, if he fizzles, well, that’s showbiz. Fredette’s style and persona is certainly throwback, and he electrified thousands with his play at BYU, now if it translates into NBA success, his calling could help elevate not just brands and the team he plays for, but also the understanding and acceptance of a religion which may be largely misunderstood but is certainly warming to the bright lights and big stage now perhaps more than ever before.