Will Championship Week Move More To Gotham?

As we move through Championship Week and fully into March Madness, the sense of underdog success permeates the air. It is totally unlike the big-time sports business feel of college football, which generates millions for select schools competing at the highest levels, but has little of the mystery and mystique of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

The pre-amble to that drama are the conference tournaments, now spread across several rights-holding networks (NBC, Fox, CBS and ESPN) and held in tourist locales like Las Vegas (which the legal gambling-averse allows without issue) as well as longtime like St. Louis (for the Missouri Valley’s “Arch Madness” and Greensboro for the ACC Tournament on a semi-annual basis). However the one tournament to consistently call the media and sales capital of the world home, The Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, is undergoing a transformation of its own. While still billed as a sellout, the conference and its new TV partner in Fox has taken to the subways and the busses with ad campaigns explaining the members and the event to its casual fans, something unneeded and unheard of in previous years.  It is smart to do so; the league should take nothing for granted, especially with some of its newer members from cities like Omaha and Indianapolis, with far smaller alumni groups within driving distance like former members Notre Dame, Syracuse and Connecticut. Still the Big East calls MSG home, and will use the event to showcase its brands and its high quality hoops to both existing and new potential partners who may never get to go an experience the home court at Hinkle Fieldhouse or even The Bradley Center in Milwaukee, let alone Xavier’s Cintas Center or the new future downtown home of the DePaul Blue Demons. It is a great showcase and celebration for a college sports brand in transition. Change as we have seen on college sports is constant.

So will the Big East, now in transition with new geographic faces, stay in Gotham, and should it? All last fall, conference like the Big Ten and the ACC constantly visit New York and all its business trappings, talking about the power of the college football brand to a city and a fan base that remains basketball centric. Yes thousands flock to pubs and houses to watch college football at the highest level, but it has nowhere near the street cred, and the longstanding ties to casual fans, that basketball has. The distant allure of Rutgers, the pageantry of Army, even the claims by Syracuse of being “New York’s College Team,” are still gridiron stretches, and very hard to consistently maintain. Yes brands love college football, as do millions of fans, but in New York it is still second fiddle to hoops.

What does that mean for the marketing opportunities of the ACC and The Big Ten, or heck maybe even the SEC down the road? Could they use their postseason college basketball tournaments as a lure to further infiltrate Madison Avenue year round? Absolutely, and that day will probably come sooner rather than later. Despite all the genteel agreements college sports we know is big business, and to consistently showcase your best of the best in New York is critical to get to the next level. The ACC now probably has more big ticket sellers in basketball in New York…Syracuse, Duke, Notre dame, North Carolina, even Pittsburgh and on a good year Boston College…than any league including The Big East, and that flow of cash is what makes MSG shine, much more than tradition than ever before. Those football schools also bring a carryover to brands for college basketball, something which the non-football playing Big East schools struggle to do, and that year-round presence with an active college community is a brand’s golden ticket. The Big Ten is not that far behind, and with large fan bases from schools like Michigan and Wisconsin in the New York area, laying an occasional claim to Gotham also makes great sense for an occasional March rotation.

So where does that leave the Big East of the future?  That remains to be seen. Does the move of the tournament occasionally to a market like basketball-crazed Indianapolis or even Washington, DC or make more sense for the new geography? Would “tradition” go by the wayside without the call to MSG every early March? Would new brands in other locales embrace the change as progressive thinking instead of a kick in the pants out of town? All of those options are in the offing, along with the ancillary possibility of the nearby Barclays Center or even the state of the art Prudential Center getting in the mix, much like Barclays has tried with the Atlantic 10 Tournament with some degree of success. Still for all its internal and media issues, Madison Square Garden is still the Holy Grail, one which the private schools of the Big East have fought to hold on to for now.  It is the brightest light, the biggest stage, and one, as the business of college basketball continues to bounce, will get even more alluring and more coveted for others as dollar and brand value rise on a national scale. New York may not be the home of big time college football all the time, but for big time college sports business having that center stake in the ground to market and entertain and activate around is perhaps more valuable than ever.

Who will win out? Can all of the leagues win out by rotating? Remains to be seen but as we have understood all too well in recent years, dollars rule the big campuses more than ever, whether that is in September or March.

Knicks, Nets Brands Lay Seige To Gotham…Can Both Win?

You see the billboards everywhere from the Upper West Side to Secaucus, the hoops battle for Gotham…the Nets brand against the Knicks.  One takes over subway cars with sleek images of its multi-million dollar renovation, the other takes out newspaper ads challenging companies to become their latest corporate partners. One lauds cheerleaders and dancers on “Fox and Friends,” the other lines up celebrities to do a Letterman “Top Ten” list. One pushes its business head, Brett Yormark,  to the forefront with every new initiative; the other has a head of business, Dave Howard, whose name never makes the media.  One owns the broadcast station it plays on, the other is the television stepsister, albeit on the most watched regional cable channel in the nation (YES). On the airwaves, one has the ESPN partnership on a less visited FM-specific station, the other calls the home of NY sports (WFAN) its place of radio residence.  

Welcome to NBA in the New York area, 2013-14 style.

Who will win? It will be interesting to see. On the court both now sell stardom…aging, recognizable stars whose clock is ticking toward a run at greatness.  This is no longer the new kids on the Brooklyn, or the Prudential Center block against the Ivory Tower atop Penn Station. It is recognizable, national faces on both sides of the East River, clamoring for major dollars in marketing and sales. The days of large group outings to fill seats for at least one team are gone, for now. The two franchises have never really been in lock step with on-court success. The rise of Jason Kidd’s Nets outshone the Knicks of Tim Thomas and Stephon Marbury in terms of wins, and then the Carmelo Anthony  and A’mare Stoudemire Knicks took the center stage again as the nets retooled, rebuilt and set their business goals across two rovers into the heart of Brooklyn.  Gimmicky and buzzworthy partners and promotions filled seats in the interim, while MSG continued to pull in large scale partners as it had for almost its entire history. Now, the playing field, at least in terms of buzz, appears to have balanced.

The Nets and the Barclays Center have become a spectacle in a positive way, with full houses and ticket prices that may have already outpriced the average blue collar Brooklyn family they were coveting just a few years ago, but that’s the cost of fame. Lower prices to see the Barclays can go to college hoops, or the Globetrotters or the Atlantic 10 Tournament now. The Knicks and MSG? Once again they are must-watch TV for casual fans, with celebs of a higher level ringing the court every night, while hundred dollar glasses of champagne pour on the new walkways high above the court.  The building didn’t really need a renaissance for its loyal fans, but in an era where even super models may go for a slight nip and tuck, the time for making the palace more palatial was right.

So where to go from here in this “battle?” The Barclays center team won a huge battle to the east with their takeover of Nassau Coliseum and the annexation of the Islanders down the road. That creates new seamless inroads into Long Island and even Queens, longtime stalwarts for the tenants of MSG.  The Knicks can try and reclaim those parts of New Jersey that may have fallen by the wayside in recent years and now are wide open with no NBA team in The Garden State, and a new president in Steve Mills who has called New Jersey home for years. NJ Transit is a lot easier to take into 33rd Street than it is to traverse a second subway ride, and there are corporate dollars left behind in New Jersey that the Knicks high prices could demand.

For all their growth, the Nets will have challenges that they did not in previous years. Their well-oiled PR machine could always find a player or two for the latest community initiative to gain ancillary attention. Now a team of aging stars whose focus is on the court, not the community will make Brooklyn’s all out event blitz less frequent. Then again, winning on the court can still trump winning off the sports page as well. For the Knicks, they will continue to do the obligatory events to keep them connected to their loyal core following, while continuing to grow the casual observer and even the foreign tourist who make MSG, like a trip to Yankee Stadium, a “must see” new York experience at any price. They have also done a solid job of trumpeting new partners into the Garden fold, with companies like SAP  thinking that their ROI on the MSG experience outweighs the lofty price of brand entry above Penn Station.

In the end, an area which had so little in terms of “new” in the arena space now has seven gleaming new facilities on all sides of the Hudson, with the revamped MSG and the still-new Barclays joining the slightly older but always solid Prudential Center for winter time attention. The Nets on court moves have set the sites for less off-court hype, while the Knicks continued star power can more than hold their own, now with an elegant, revamped home to show their well-heeled fans. We are also talking about filling buildings under 20,000 night in and night out, not the massive areas of seats that Citi Field or Yankee Stadium or even Met Life Stadium   or even Red Bull Arena have to offer. This is a basketball-savvy area that loves its pro sports and enjoys the buzz, which is good for the hype machine of both Knicks and Nets. Will one come out on top? The battle will probably ebb and flow, dictated more by the moment than the long term. Who will win? The buildings for one, and all the ancillary businesses around them who have had in some cases to endure strike-shortened NHL and NBA seasons in recent years. The business partners for another, who can probably reap more benefits this year as the competition ramps up than in previous years. The media for another, who should have their fair share of drama on and off the court as the season progresses. And hopefully the fans has well, who for a long time have seen more hype than hope over an elongated period of time, even with all the steep prices bandied about.

Are there losers? Maybe those on many levels who can’t afford the big bucks, but in an era when digital and experiential are growing, the actual event attendance is less and less a must and more and more a maybe.  Regardless, it should be an interesting winter of hoops, as not one, but two basketball brands wage war to see who can be the kings of the area.

If nothing else, it will make for great drama, and that drama is what drives the business of sport in the area.

Good Ideas: Mets, Nets and Butts

Yet another good ideas roundup as summer comes to a close…

Brooklyn Goes For A Marketing Encore: The glare of the bright lights for a first successful season at the Barclays Center had not dimmed before the Brooklyn Nets started making noise for their second season…naming a new coach/old star and revamping their lineup to steal the summer away from their crosstown rivals. Along the way the organization even embraced hockey even more, accelerating their work with the Islanders and even taking management control of the re-development of their old building, the Nassau Coliseum. The tent poles in Brooklyn and Long Island give both teams a marketing leg up that extends across the valuable territory of Long Island, and with some success can even tweak into Manhattan.

They added a Russian star in Andrei Kirilenko, made the choice to broadcast in a mosaic of languages that reflect their borough, Spanish, Russian and English, and will market aggressive to all communities. They even chose to retire their new coaches number…Jason Kidd…on a PRESEASON night albeit against the Miami Heat…to bring even a little more early season buzz to the brand.  While the Islanders tried to take a page from the Nets buzz by adding things like a tattoo sponsor in their final seasons at Nassau, the Nets will attempt to market the two brands, and hockey fans and hoops fans usually don’t cross over well…as one lifestyle brand with the same partners.

While there may be some risk, for brands on the come like the Isles and Nets, there can also be great reward for economies of scale with teams that have distressed space to grow. It’s not something that can work well with mature brands…say the Knicks and Rangers who have their own categories to fill without support of the other team…but Nets and Isles makes sense as long as they are pulling from the same direction. Sometimes the encore can be even better than the opening act, and that’s what is hoped for in Brooklyn.

Wipe and Win: The guys at Dollar Shave Club have done it again…a fun way to engage a key audience with an effective spend, a charity component and a good message. They announced this week they have employed several of the most under marketed and larger than life athletes on the planet…NFL centers…in a campaign for a line of well…butt wipes.

One Wipe Charlies are flushable wet toilet-paper products launched in the spring and they have enlisted four NFL centers — Travis Frederick of the Dallas Cowboys; John Sullivan of the Minnesota Vikings; Eric Wood of the Buffalo Bills; and Nick Hardwick of the San Diego Chargers -- to appear in the male-targeted brand’s “Clean Snap” campaign.  The centers are largely from small markets not likely to draw big dollars or even large media attention on a weekly basis, except of course for Frederick of the Cowboys, in front of Tony Romo every Sunday. None have a big social media following either, and for the most part they are pretty name and faceless, but they are marketable as a group to a male audience, and a program like this will help probably raise the profile and put some dollars in their pockets.

Now all the details have yet to be laid out,  but the charity tie…every time the company sees a tweet reading #cleansnap, it will donate $1 to the charity of the four centers’ choice…is not a bad one. Can the centers enlist their high trafficked teammates to chip in with a mention or two…can some celebrity fans join the process and can some viral videos also help poke fun at the campaign for a brand that is not an NFL licensee…all to be seen.

Dollar Shave has built a strong brand out of the viral and the fringe, and this move is a little more bold but certainly lean and mean. Will it lead to some higher profile endorsers down the line? For mow it’s more brand building than product selling, but it certainly was a creative way to engage pro athletes who are under marketed and create a niche that draws the eyes.

Mets Grab Jerry For A Last bit Of Attention: Summer doesn’t end til Saturday night, but the Mets summer ended long ago. So for the team to find a way to bring positive and fun attention to themselves as the season winds down is a great salve for all wounds from the long season.

Tuesday night the team brought longtime fan Jerry Seinfeld into the booth to call the game alongside SNY regulars and Seinfeld fans Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez. Seinfeld filled a similar role in 2010, and can certainly help carry a broadcast. To bring him back for a late September Mets-Giants telecast while the casual fan in New York has turned his eyes to football will get the team national exposure and probably provide lots of content for a long winter in the digital space. The series may be gone, but Seinfeld’s popularity and his talent live on, and that combo gives New York at least a triple for effort on a night when most people would be tuning elsewhere. It’s not overuse or overkill of a relationship, but a good strategic placement to go into the winter. Nice job by all around.

UA, Houston Score With Promos…

It is late summer in New York. People are on vacation, there is a glut of sports news between the NFL, baseball winding down, the US Open, even The Barclays taking the headlines. So if you have an elite high school basketball event, what does one do to cut through the clutter? Location, location, location.

That’s what Under Armour did with their annual  Elite 24 – one of the nation’s premier high school basketball events – when they brought it back to New York for the first time since 2009. The game was played in Brooklyn…a good move as it has become again such a hotspot for hoops with the growth of the Brooklyn Nets…but not inside at the Barclays Center or at a college gym where the story would be just about hoops. It was played OUTDOORS on a rooftop under the Brooklyn Bridge at the historic Tobacco Warehouse at night. Televised by ESPNU, suddenly the setting, as much as the talent, becomes the draw. In previous years UA brought the game to other venues like Rucker Park and Venice Beach, known homes for elite talent. However finding a unique venue put the game on a different stage, one that casual fans would notice with imagery that transcended the game.

In the end, the story of the legendary talent that has played in the Elite 24 speaks for itself and will tell a story to basketball fans. However for the UA brand the setting makes the difference in telling their story on a hot summer night, with photos and video that are bigger than basketball, which is the message any leading brand wants to portray.  Did it work? While there was some great play as expected on the court, the images were shown around the world, with the bridge as a backdrop on a perfect New York summer night. The images told the tale, which in a crowded environment, is the goal.

Nice score for UA.

Cougars Score With Mascot Promo:  With all the talk escalating about payment of college athletes and the use of their likeness, the University of Houston scored some nice points in elevating the assets that they can control this past week. They held a birthday party for their mascot, Shasta, at the Houston Zoo as ESPN’s Darren Rovell pointed out. It was a great way to connect UH with young families and get them interested in athletics at the school, even if they have no aspirations of attending. It makes UH more a part of the community as they transition from a traditional home for their sports to the American Athletic.

However what may be even more important is colleges aggressively using the assets they do and will control…like mascots…to be much more of a marketing tool going forward. The mascot gives consistency of brand and is something that will not change over the years for schools…they can sell the mascot as much as they want without fear of repercussions from athletes who can put a claim in on dollars made off of their name through jersey sales etc. Much like minor league baseball, the mascot becomes the promotion staple without worry of repercussion or building equity in a name or an athlete that can vanish because of injury, poor performance, or in the future, worry about right fees. Taking the mascot to the masses, especially one that is well crafted and reaches a non-traditional athletic demo, is smart business, and the Cougars should get a nice bounce from their efforts.

For Brand Success, Cosmos May Have To Look More East Than West…

This past Saturday, as the first place Red Bulls battled Sporting Kansas City in a key Major League Soccer matchup in the Midwest,  a packed house at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium on Long Island, NY helped the New York Cosmos usher in a new era, in a league that has the same name as their last one, the North American Soccer League, but in a business and soccer environment that is far from the one that one of the world’s most revered but dormant brands left when the NASL folded its indoor and outdoor leagues in the early 1980’s.

 The U.S. soccer market on all levels is far more mature than many anticipated it could be, led by the steady growth of Major League Soccer on the professional level, and as important, the steady adoption of the game by  millions of kids the last 25 years. Add in a steady influx of soccer-savvy immigrant populations and the ever-growing global marketing campaigns of some of the world’s biggest soccer clubs, as well as the continued rising popularity of the World Cup, and the reborn Cosmos enter a climate much more soccer-friendly and soccer-savvy than the one they exited.

 So what now Cosmos? The NASL is several rungs below the more mature MLS in terms of soccer level of overall quality, and the league remains a bit of a question mark for its long term stability as the competition for professional soccer visibility rises, while the “brand” Cosmos can only sell so much. Factor in a Red Bulls team in its state of the art facility that has considerably expanded its marketing efforts in recent months…doing viewing parties in Manhattan and Brooklyn now as well as in the Garden State, and the fact that Manchester City and the Yankees are riding into the market with a club in a to-be-determined location, and the Cosmos are going to have their work cut out for them to find an effective and profitable niche.

 However the club does have a few things in its favor. Since 1977, many of those New York areas kids have been involved in the Cosmos brand because of the highly successful camps that former team executive Pepe Pinton continued to run at Ramapo College in New Jersey. Thousands of kids continued to know of the Cosmos without ever seeing a match, and those kids, and the camps’ ample data base, provide a very nice marketing push that any expansion club in any sport would die for. The club also has the name, which holds up well in any global soccer conversation, albeit the brand and those playing for the brand now are not on equal par just yet.  They also have the ability to market, and draw in brands, without many of the encumbrances of a well marketed national league. The team grabbed Emirates Airways as a jersey sponsor for example, because NASL has no current airline partner, and many of those categories are left wide open for the sales force to secure without having to share large chunks of revenue.

 Most importantly, while the club looks west to Madison Avenue for recognition, they should also look east for a solid example on how to market and expand a largely independent sports brand amongst the millions of people who live on Long island. The Long Island Ducks of the Independent Atlantic Baseball League, have done a tremendous job of building, maintaining and expanding a year-round fan base while bringing in media exposure and sponsor dollars not usually seen in independent baseball. They fill their field in Suffolk County and have become a fabric of a community that may never cross a bridge into Manhattan, and those Long Island-savvy fans will embrace a quality product that markets to them more than anyone who looks to just pull from areas in the New York City or even New Jersey or nearby Connecticut.

 The NHL Islanders were beloved on Long Island for years at Nassau Coliseum before the ugly fight over the aging building drove fans and brands away. Many may return as the team improves and they look west to their new Barclays Center home in Brooklyn, but   there remain thousands of fans looking for affordable, fun entertainment who could embrace a Cosmos brand for years if the team puts itself in a position to do so.

 Now maybe Hofstra’s former football field is not the long-term play, but maybe the oft-talked about stadium at Belmont Park isn’t the answer either. Maybe there is a play further east, even towards the open space that Stony Brook University has built a quality athletics complex on, that could make more sense. Most think that the Cosmos ownership is looking globally more than locally, but that global look takes big bucks and certainly won’t happen overnight, and it probably won’t happen in the NASL. Would a European group..The Barclays Premier League…put down roots in two East Coast cities and make the Cosmos one of their tentpoles? That’s a long shot as well, and the MLS inclusion, barring some far-fetched merger with the incoming group, won’t work at all. The Red Bulls advanced push has also shrunk the market a bit, so maybe, at least for now, the major play is to grow its fan friendly…dare we say it…minor league approach of fun events with competitive soccer as the Cosmos become kings of NASL again, and then go from there. It may not fill Met Life Stadium or even Red Bull Arena or in every case 14,000 seats at Hofstra, but it certainly would make sense to grow slowly, manage expectations and take the established name and insert it consistently back into the conversation  not just for buzz, but for sales and quality world class play as well.

 It was a good start for the Cosmos, but the real test is in the offing to see if a world class brand can be a world class business in all aspects on and off the field, with a potential audience of millions right in their eastern backyard.  

Nets Brand Now Bigger Than The Borough

Legendary Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey said that “Luck is the residue of design.” “The Mahatma “would be proud of his borough’s current tenants in professional sports then. Now there is no way, even in his wildest dreams that Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark could have foreseen a billionaire Russian owner, the failure of an NHL team to achieve a deal in the region for a new arena, or even a future Hall of fame coach and several hall of Fame players all converging within a relatively short time to make the centerpieces of his business, the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets, the talk of professional sports in recent weeks.

However what Yormark and his team could have foreseen was setting up a brand that was capable of capitalizing on success should that success come along, and that’s what has happened not just for the Nets, but for Brooklyn Sport and Entertainment as a brand. The days of packaging promotions around Green initiatives, free tax return nights, and jerseys of visiting players in an outdated arena in the Meadowlands may seem like a century away for some, but those were the seeds that helped lead the brand to its success today. Hokey promotions and a thirst to keep the team relevant in any possible way despite the turmoil or inconsistency on the court made the Nets brand one to be noticed, if not valued by many. The team continued to position itself as the Barclays Center became a reality and Mikhail Prokhorov ceded the team from Forest City Ratner. That constant buzz of new ideas even made the team more relevant as it went from the Prudential Center in its transition year, wrapping up a star crossed history respectfully in New Jersey, while all the while looking ahead to Brooklyn.

By almost all accounts the first Brooklyn year was a success. Awards for innovation, a return to a borough for professional sports (although the very successful minor league Cyclones are there and remain a great draw), lots of “firsts” from college basketball to boxing, all became the mantra of year one. It was all Brooklyn all the time, and even the team performed well enough to be a draw along, with its new arena.

So now Brooklyn is set, the launch year is complete, and what’s next is now on the horizon. That horizon, through both luck and design, now includes an NHL tenant as well as possibly an additional venue to manage and sculpt should Forest City Ratner beat out Madison Square Garden for the rights to develop what is now the Nassau Coliseum. The Nets brand and its buzz and business acumen now extends to Charles Wang’s Islanders, perhaps one of the best on-ice resurrections in the NHL, and now perhaps one of the better business stories in sports which we will now hear about every day, if the Nets spin doctors have their way of building brands come true. Year two also sees a Nets team, with an owners deep pockets, be a team of stars, ones which casual fans won’t need any introduction to. From new coach Jason Kidd to the coming veterans from Boston to newest signee Andrei Kirilenko (who will help fill some additional seats from the heavy Russian area of Brighton Beach), there will be more buzz and brand interest associated with the on-court performance of the Nets than there has been in years. All of that is good business for the brand, the arena and the borough.

But what about beyond Brooklyn? There is where the real value lies, and that’s where the business can now expand its reach. The exciting team and its state of the art arena now extends several hundred miles east into Long Island and through Queens, drawing casual hoops fans and now hockey fans as well. The star power of the Nets team can pull fans probably from Manhattan and even from New Jersey now,  something which in year two of a launch may have been harder to do. Does it mean the mega brands of MSG and the Knicks should be shaking in their Nikes? No, there is a large enough market for hoops anyway to go around. But for ancillary brand building and getting casual dollars, the Nets brand extension, especially if they win the bid  for the Long Island arena projects, could continue to become that much more powerful in the TV world, in the digital world, in the sales world and in the event world. Brooklyn as a borough has a power all to its own, now its home standing sports brand has ratcheted up its limelight as well. Of course there remain many “ifs,” the team has to play well and win, the arena has to continue to manage costs and make it affordable, the Islanders transition has to be smooth and successful and the economy needs to stay strong. If all those go well, the brand is positioned better than it ever has been before.

So yes, many of the events that have put the Nets brand in the position today could not have been predicted. What could have been predicted is that the team and brand leadership was going to be relentless in taking advantage and telling the world about every move, and when the sun came out and opportunity arose, they could literally cash in.  They are moves that Mr. Rickey would have liked, and if he were alive today, would certainly support as the Nets become bigger than the borough.

Big Ten, ACC Take Their Bites of The Apple…

At first people seemed to be scratching their head. The ACC or the Big Ten trying to put roots down in New York, the home of the Big East?  Who would care other than some alumni? New York us not a college town, it’s a pro town.

However as seen this week, the ACC and the Big Ten from a brand standpoint do consider New York a college sports business town, and their overtures to media, to Wall Street and to Madison Avenue were made very clear as conference realignment took place this week. The ACC spent the early part of the week in and around the media capital of the world, ringing bells at Nasdaq, visiting network partners, calling on brands who want to engage in the college space, not just with marketing types but with coaches who can engage and tell stories and talk positively about the relationship the new face of the league can have. Jim Boeheim rang bells and shook hands with prominent Syracuse alums all too eager to talk about his team, now going from the snowbelt to tobacco road, and what that can mean for the school from a dollars and branding standpoint, as well as from a W and L perspective. Rutgers, now moving on from scandal du hour, is touting visits of Michigan and Ohio State and new relationships, not looking back on old ones.

The leagues themselves will leverage these relationships and now talk aggressively of bringing elite events…football, post season basketball, even other sports with large alumni followings like lacrosse and even baseball, into the market for high level  competition. No it won’t be the daily presence that a Big East will still have in New York, rather it will be the best of the best, and that’s what New York enjoys. No, the Big Ten and the ACC won’t leave their close ties in the markets they are in, rather they say they will amplify their outreach now by embracing New York and the new groups of alumni and supporters with their new members who have always been here, but have been hard to wrangle without a consistent tie. Is it a corporate wakeup call for the Big East? It sure is. Mike Krzyzewski  is now doing regular community visits in and around Gotham and rest assured Big Ten and ACC media and brand partners will be hawking all things about their new member schools regularly around the big dollars of the New York area. Conference tournaments now have the Barclays Center and the Prudential Center to call home, not just MSG, the home of The Big East for so long. Last year the Pac 12 made noise about being more east coast friendly, but the reality is with no schools close by, that is very hard to do. With a Rutgers and a Syracuse, the ACC and Big Ten have some anchor in the region to leverage. Now that is not to say suddenly everyone in New York will be on board every day. Piscataway and Syracuse are not Brooklyn and Queens, and the market is still very fragmented for the casual fan. However for those leagues now to be able to be within earshot of corporate dollars consistently means a great deal, and using those ties to propel the overall league brand is a big boost, one that probably was never adequately used when the schools were in the Big East. 

It is a smart business move to be so aggressive with their new assets by the Big Ten and the ACC and it should serve as a warning shot to those in the space who have been less aggressive and have called the area home for some time.  College athletics is big business and getting bigger, and two of its largest players have now put down roots in the Apple.  

Yes New York is a pro town. But college sports business is now more professionally orchastrated than ever before, and if this past week is any example, the ACC and Big Ten will be in the fight for attention, and dollars, in Gotham more than ever before.

Can The UFC Take A Page From The WWE For A New York Brand Win?

Two weeks ago the WWE was everywhere and anywhere in the New York Area as Wrestlemania became the lynchpin for all things about the brand. Community projects, brand partnerships, education news, appearances on Wall Street, meet and greets with celebrities, panels on broadcasting, economic viability studies…you name it the WWE rolled it out as they headed up and through their record-setting event at Met Life Stadium, with over 80,000 turning out in what was a good model for testing the limits and challenges for next year’s Super Bowl.

 This week another vibrant brand this one in a cage not a ring, will roll into the area looking to showcase all its marketing muscle and extol its virtues to Madison Avenue, Wall Street and to the seat of government in New York State in Albany. It is the UFC’s chance to sell itself even larger, with a mega-card and pay per view at the Prudential Center in Newark. Athletes, ring card girls, organizational head Dana White as well as a host of athletes talking up the brand even as the NFL Draft descends on Gotham this week as well. The challenges for both the UFC and the WWE similar in many regards…they are both testosterone driven entertainment, which use cable and broadcast TV to fuel very lucrative pay per view events. They have engaging stars and storylines and a charismatic leader as the face of the company. They have been dogged in their use of social media to engage fans, and their events have worldwide appeal especially in a demo, the young male early adopter, that many traditional sports and entertainment events find elusive. The two brands also struggle with critics who say they are too violent, too misogynistic and are part of a continued dumbing down of society. 

 There are also some distinct differences between the two. The WWE is a publicly traded company, the UFC is privately held. The UFC is real sport, the WWE is pure entertainment. And for the UFC, the WWE is allowed to hold events in the State of New York, while professional MMA remains outlawed in New York. Wrestlemania could always return to Madison Square Garden, while the UFC still awaits the day when it could call MSG or The Barclays Center or The First Niagara Center or any upstate casino home.

 New Jersey meanwhile has thrived as a focal point for legal MMA both large and small, and will welcome the UFC back this week. However in the midst of all the events, the expo of goods, the sponsor in store autograph signings will be a look by all at Albany with the continued message that the UFC and its larger competitors have done all that has been asked to make the sport OK in New York, like it is in a majority of the country and around the world. What will all that glad-handing and lobbying do for the brand? It will probably help push some consumer brands still reticent to engage off the fence and into the sport, especially if ad decision makers can go down 6th Avenue to see an event without crossing a river. It will also help open more key venues and raise competition for large scale shows, which will help the bottom line for the UFC or a promotion like Bellator, which is the industry’s number two promotion.

The drumbeat for next Saturday has already begin, with appearances UFC athletes in a number of places, including the booth for Saturday’s Mets-Nationals game on FOX. While much of that talk was about tune in for the live event that was on Fox Saturday night, the message to a national audience about the New York issue was spelled out pretty clearly and articulately be UFC fighter Uriah Hall. It was simple…we are mainstream, we are legit, we can deliver a product and we can help New York.

The lack of pushback by anyone on Wrestlemania should serve as a good template for what the UFC could do as they return to the New York area this week. It was big time glitz, big time promotion and all clear messaging. It helped lift the brand of the WWE on all fronts, and a similar effort can help float the rising tide of the UFC, one which still needs a little push to win their fight in The Big Apple.

Winning The Marathon, Scoring In Brooklyn

As we head toward Election Day, few quick items from the weekend.

The Nets Build A Public Trust: Make no mistake about it, the Brooklyn Nets are a business. They are there to sell tickets and sponsorships first and foremost and make the Barclays Center a winner on the ledger sheet. They are not a charity. However the steps the team has taken to become as big a part of the community and to be innovators has been impressive. Their delayed opening night brought back a host of famous Brooklyn faces, like former Dodgers, which will help them get credibility and buzz with a community that may not love hoops, but loves their borough.  yes they had Jay-Z and Beyonce, but to fill the seats on Tuesday nights in February the team needs to be a gathering place for the community, a sense of civic pride. They need to do all the little things that will give people with limited discretionary dollars  reason to spend them on basketball when they may not yet love the team. Those little things included a well detailed email on Friday with every possible travel option  to the arena for Saturday nights game, and a detailed description of all the goings on. Contrast that with the Knicks, who opened Friday, and sent out a reminder that the game was being played. Not much detail on subway lines, buses or other facts, just a reminder…we are opening, we are sold out come follow us. That works for the Knicks, an established brand sitting atop Penn Station. It won’t work for the Nets yet.

Another great example of innovative thinking unveiled Saturday was their own Brooklyn Super Hero, “The Brooklyn Knight.” The launch came complete with a Marvel  partnership and design and a comic book to go along with the costumed character. A great brand extension for the team in a borough which loves education. The Knight can help again extend a brand into the community with a product, and a series of products, the Knicks do not have. It wasn’t hoaky, it was smart, and is the latest way the Nets are really trying to make themselves a commodity Brooklyn can be proud of vs. a team that plays there.

Not every night will have Jay Z and Beyonce sitting courtside, but cultivating a diverse list of faces from all walks of life with ties to the borough are great. Again if the team doesn’t win some of this may be for naught, but by doing all the little things, the team is finding ways to make sure that when the quiet days come, they are still in the conversation.

Don’t Shoot The Runners: While there was a ton of controversy around the ING New York City Marathon which is going to continue on for some time, the bottom line and the long-lasting positive that could come out of the race is all the volunteering and dollars that have been raised not just for Hurricane Sandy but for thousands of other charities. At this point a debate over a “damage” brand or leadership is moot. What is important is that thousands who were to run took to the streets on Sunday to do community service and aid the victims of the hurricane, and millions have been donated by the Road Runners, sponsors and the Rudin family for the cause. For the next month it does not matter how the decision was reached, what matters most is that the dollars that were raised and will continue to be raised go to places that need the help, and that those who WERE giving to hundreds of charities follow through eventhough the runners supporting causes could not complete the race. The history of the Marathon, and its future are very valuable to the City and to those who participate and it should not be lost on the issues that arose this week. Hopefully at the end of the day the real winners are the people who spoke out and the millions helped by the donations and support, many of whom could or would never run the race. That is what Fred Lebow started and that is what has made the race so amazing over the years. It has never been about the man and woman who finished first and it should never be about a CEO or a board, it has been about the human spirit.


Kicking It Out, Tagging Together, And Throwing Good Money Afer Bad

Kick It Out Gets Kicked Back: It seemed like a great sign of unity for a positive message. The anti-racism campaign Kick It Out struck a deal with the Barclays Premier League to have all players wear t-shorts as a sign of anti-bullying prior to matches this weekend. A clear, powerful message delivered by a diverse group of players on the largest of global stages.

However a number of players, most notably Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand, decided not to wear the t-shirt in protest of the lack of action from the organization. The players remain unconvinced that the platform holds any water when driving interest in anti-bullying, because of the amount of issues that continue to go on. The racist incident that involved Anton Ferdinand in October 2011 came days after an altercation between Liverpool’s Luis Suárez and Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, which saw the Uruguayan receive an eight-match ban and £40,000 fine after being found guilty of racial abuse by the FA.  Other issues continue to arise as well, leading to the player’s issues wearing the shirts pre-match.

Be that as it may, the player’s issues seem to be directed in the wrong place. Participation by all sends a strong message to those watching that bullying is an issue and should not be tolerated on any level, not just amongst those playing football. The charity is the conduit to try and spread the message, nit the governing body that can control what goes on and levy fines to players in violation. There is no doubt that some of the protesting players are staunchly with an anti-bullying campaign. Not participating in the symbolic gesture probably makes the rift a little wider, and drew even more negative publicity to a campaign that tried to raise awareness through solidarity. Sometimes two wrongs don’t help anyone get things right.

Hello Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Nets have become one of the first professional teams to pool all their fans digital assets, using the hashtags #HelloBrooklyn and #BarclaysCenter . The cumulative site is smart because it gives fans the opportunity to tag all media they create in and around the arena, not just tied to a game. Therefore sharing Jay-Z concert pictures with those fans at NBA games will help build more affinity for the arena brand, and bring some commonality to all those coming to the arena. It also gives casual fans a chance to see what other events have look and felt like at the new building and maybe gives them a second thought when looking for another night out that is not on their A list for event.

RIP UFL: After reporting losses of over $120 million the UFL announced this past weekend it would suspend the season but pick it up again in the spring…before moving back to the fall later in 2013. So if they somehow get the money to play the last half of a season with four teams and do well in the spring they are going to them go back to the fall, where they have been a colossal failure. Instead of staying in the spring with no competition, they go back to the issue of the NFL, high school and college football not to mention hockey, hoops, NASCAR, MLS and oh yeah, the playoffs and the World Series for MLB.

The definition of lunacy is continuing to do the same thing repeatedly and hoping for a different result. Fits the UFL’s business plan. Too bad, the league has solid players and coaching and a good TV presence. Just no sports business sense. The league will never get to crown another champion, let alone play another game in all likelihood.