In some ways it is like the expansion Cleveland Browns starting after the “Browns” moved to Baltimore, or Twinkies re-launching after a short time going out of business. What is the equity in the brand name and who is your core when the dust settles. That is what the “Big East” is going through under new commissioner Val Ackerman after the messy split that saw the American Athletic Conference…the former Big East…be re-invented under Commissioner Mike Aresco with very few of the old faces that the Big East was known for.
When the dust settles at some point in 2014-2015, the landscape will hopefully be a little clearer; with the basketball-majority Big East schools back together while their football playing partners are off in other places like the ACC, the Big 10 and the AA. The core of the Big East really remains the same.
What didn’t remain the same is the digital brand equity that the conference built up over its existence…email lists, Facebook, twitter and other assets…they all went with the AA, even though many of those followers may be supporters of schools not in the AA now, but in the Big East…St. John’s, Villanova, Marquette etc. No matter, because when the change occurred, those assets stayed in Providence with the AA, and the Big East was left to start anew.
The loss of those followers is an interesting issue for who owns what in the digital space. Darren Rovell, the popular sports business reporter, took his legions of followers from CNBC to ESPN when he switched networks, a nice push for his transition and a nice bump for followers of sports business who loved Rovell no matter where he went. More recently, the New York Times will negotiate a settlement with ESPN so that Nate Silver can take all his followers with him as well as he migrates to his new deal with “The Worldwide Leader,” a value that had a clear price in the negotiations. The value is in Silver’s name and hos work, but it is also in his followers, a big number which had huge value to the Times and to ESPN and one which NYT will have to now try and replace and ESPN gains, along with his forward-thinking analytical work.
For the Big East the transfer of followers is not as essential…those who are loyal to schools will eventually catch up with where they can follow the league and their league, and the numbers were not huge…but it does pose that question as to who exactly owns what rights? Will the AA see a big drop off when followers of Big East schools see that they are following the AA now and unsubscribe? Will the incoming schools drive even more traffic, and will casual football fans give the AA a boost? Will the Big East lose some space because their schools are not football playing and hence may have smaller digital followings…like a Xavier and a Butler vs. a Cincinnati and a Memphis…or will the fact that the league is so concentrated on hoops and hoops lovers provide more opportunity? In some ways it is also very similar to an athlete moving teams.
Are people following him or her because he plays for a team or because they enjoy his or her story and his or her brand? Greg Jennings moved from the Packers to the rival Vikings and saw no drop-off, largely because of the quality of his followers who were as much interested in his persona and his off-field work as much as he was a Packer. A good guy with a good brand doing good things can transfer well. A guy with issues, maybe not so well. There is also the issue of people being a bit lazy in the social space. It takes time to “unfriend” or “unsubscribe,” and unless it’s because of a controversy or a passionate dislike, many people will be complacent and just stay on board.
That can benefit an enduring league like the AA, and doesn’t really help the ramp up for the Big East. It will take more work to re-gain and educate followers than to drive them away.
In the end, the true value is in the assets owned and those that can be secured. Trying to an entity and just posting for them usually means they own that information and those followers. Rovell always wrote under Rovell for example. It made for an easier move. If you are writing as an employee of Sports Illustrated or ESPN or x company, and you go somewhere else, chances are you will either start from scratch or try and buy your way out, and in a world where digital assets are growing in value, that buyout can become costly, and the equity built can be challenging to recoup.
So what would have happened when the new Browns arose? Well tis is all new territory, something that didn’t really enter into major discussions three years ago, let alone 15. Then it was all about the name and the past equity vs. the future. And the assets were much more hard than digital or intellectual. Chances are they were starting from scratch, since the passionate Browns followers didn’t follow the team to Baltimore. For Hostess, the re-boot was a short time later and there was no one challenging the assets, they were purchased, so it was easier.
For the Big East? Different story. The good news is they have the luxury of some time, since they are not a football playing conference and their schools have a good social media presence they have held on to. Many of those schools, like a St. John’s and a Marquette, have been the leaders in digital investment for years, so best practices can be transferred. However it’s still not easy starting over, even with an established name and brand. The American Athletic lost the name but kept the assets, a nice settlement for them. Where both leagues grow from here will be worth following as casual fans return to campus and start the ramp up for college sports again.