Boxing | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Why Mayweather Is Money…

For those ‘Rocky” fans, the business side of Floyd Mayweather is a lot like the image of Apollo Creed before he takes on “The Italian Stallion.” Pick the venue, but the flowers for the Mayor’s Wife, create the package for your challenger and collect the big pay day in the best suits. Control the brand image. Just don’t lose.

And although Argentinian Marcos Maidana isn’t quite the Latino “Rocky,” he nearly did what 45 other fighters couldn’t, taking the fight to Mayweather before losing a 12-round majority decision at MGM Grand arena. Regardless, the champ and all the piece around him went on to a mega payday and the close result will soon be a memory.

What won’t be forgotten is again the way Mayweather and his team carefully orchestrated every aspect of his fight, from ticket and TV sales to fighter purses, venue choices and every marketing deal in and around the bout. Nothing was left to chance, and all came back to the man they call “Money.”

Mayweather is in the middle of a six-fight deal with the Showtime network and is supposed to fight again in September. He has almost 7 million Twitter and Instagram followers, more than 4.1 million likes on Facebook, and a social networking team so that he is in constant contact with his fans. He negotiates all deals for its promoted fighters, receives all revenues generated by his fighters and then pays fighters, other promoters (if it is a co-promotion), and other expenses (operating costs toward the promotion) out of the revenue generated. The result is something that few single sport athletes can achieve; net worth of close to a billion dollars with all aspects of the brand coming back to its owner.  It is the rarest of opportunities that comes to an elite boxer who understands the business; even tennis or golf, where success is based on the individual; still have to negotiate a course, the field or the draw. Boxing it’s one on one. Even the UFC, with all its power, is still controlled by Zuffa Inc. Elite MMA athletes can do really well, but when they go to the UFC, like in a team sport, there are certain elements that get negotiated away.

Now of course the issue becomes what happens if Mayweather loses a fight? Does much of that brand equity built up immediately fly out of the ring? Some might, but because of the longevity of his career and the guaranteed TV money that comes win or lose, the Mayweather gravy train continues on. Besides, who doesn’t like a comeback after a surprising loss?

Is the Mayweather model an anomaly or a new trend in fight sports? Right now there are others Pacquaio, Dela Hoya, who can control a good part of the marketing pie, but Mayweather is the one who appears to want, and have total control, something which can be very, very difficult to duplicate should another mega-star come along early and maintain the brand power for such an elongated tome. For sure he has his critics, but it is hard to argue with his success in business or the ring. Apollo would be proud.

We talked Mayweather on CBS this past Saturday as well, here is a link to the clip.   

Brand Carano The Next Big Women’s Crossover?

Anyone who has turned on a sporting event in the last two weeks has seen the preview of the new Steven Soderbergh movie “Haywire,” which stars among others Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Ewan MacGregor. However one of the biggest crossover stars in the film may just be Gina Carano. The daughter of former Cowboys QB Glenn Carano, the Texas native has been the poster girl for the female side of Mixed Martial Arts for some time, combining a championship style (just one loss in the cage) with the looks and acting ability to be a box office draw.

Her emergence as the star of “Haywire” comes at a very interesting time for women’s athletics. Going into an Olympic year and with Danica Patrick crossing over to NASCAR fulltime, it seems like the opportunity for healthy role models who can engage both male and female audiences may be higher than it has been in some time. The economy is bouncing back, the ability for any athlete to carve his or her niche in the digital space is an added plus, and there is an ever-growing need for positive stories about responsible, healthy and well rounded athletes no matter what their gender. So why could Carano be the biggest of the big? Few reasons.

Her athletic ability is amazing: The appeal Carano had in competing was that she wasn’t just a great female MMA fighter, her technique made her a great MMA competitor regardless of her gender. She fought with flair and speed, and that athletic ability apparently has carried over into her action film career.

She has understood the business side: She was always a serious competitor, but her brand appeal in the cage went far beyond her competitive spirit. Carano understood how to work sponsors and television and mix the appeal of a woman in what is very much a man’s game, while being taken seriously by all who watched. Brands interested in testing the MMA space gravitated to her and as a result she helped grow the sport with her mix of mainstream appeal and athletic ability. She made believers out of many who thought that a woman competing would be more of a freak show and less an athletic competition, and even made the hardline male UFC consider a women’s fight at some point.

She competed in a fast growing training sport: While it is true that she has yet (and may never) compete in a UFC/Zuffa event, her success in the cage and in other MMA disciplines has made Gina Carano the role model for others, both men and women, to point to in terms of using MMA for training and success. MMA as a training sport continues to grow globally, in many ways outside of the success of the professional events of the UFC.

She can act: The limited but solid success of the movie Warrior this past fall was a solid next step in mainstream appeal for MMA. Carano’s work in mainstream action films while she can still compete at a professional level will give MMA another needed pop with the casual sport fan, and with the younger demo who loves both action films and action sports. It is a great opportunity for crossover appeal.

Now does this mean that Carano can gain more mainstream success than an athlete like Serena Williams, Nastia Lukin or Patrick? No, well not yet. She hasn’t competed in a while and there is still some question as to whether she will compete again. Even less than boxing, female MMA is nowhere near as deep in talent, and there have been some questions lately with some other elite female fighters and use of banned substances, so that will limit some of the competitive draw. An athlete like Lukin or Hope Solo is returning to one of the world’s biggest stages, the Olympic Games, this summer, while Patrick, even with a less than successful racing career to date, still has a huge competitive platform to see and be seen every week. Still for a young active sport that still needs more mainstream and casual appeal, Gina Carano has a huge upside, one that marketers may glean to in the coming months even more, especially if Haywire does well…and if she returns successfully to professional competition. Definitely a name and a brand on the upswing.

New Jersey Hedges Its Bets…

Lost on the national sports scene Tuesday night, amidst the rising scandal at Penn State and the NBA lockout non-news, was the vote by Garden Staters to legalize sports betting in the State if the Federal Ban on such activities can be overturned. Right now Nevada and its casinos remain king of legal sports books, with New Jersey and other states where other forms of casino gambling are legal remain on the outside. While it remains a long road to legalization, the overwhelming vote by the citizens of the state, a state with more professional teams in the area than any other place in the country, if not the world, could be a boon to a struggling state infrastructure which once relied heavily on the casino and racing industries for a large share of the tax dollars. With the economy changing, the emergence of casinos in other states, the change and decline in horse racing and the advances in multiple state lottery systems, those large scale streams of income have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Professional sports leagues will continue to lobby against a New Jersey sports book. Nevada, with no professional teams, is seen in many circles as almost a safe haven for sports betting. New Jersey, with not just the Jets, Giants, Nets and Devils but with all the Philly and New York teams in close proximity, could be seen by many as wrought with issues and potential corruption. Those on the ‘pro’ side of the gambling issue see those teams in proximity as a huge plus for dollars spent, hotels used, and taxes earned. There is also the issue of college sports gambling. Again Nevada, with the University of Nevada (in Reno) and UNLV as the state’s only Division I programs, has a small percentage of local college action that is not on the official sports book. New Jersey, between Rutgers, Monmouth, Seton Hall, St. Peter’s, even NJIT, and all the New York and Philly area schools, could again pose a larger issue for regulators. Boxing, king in Las Vegas, along with MMA, pull in large dollars. New Jersey could look to also re-raise that tide and appeal with large scale fight cards more than ever. So the debate will rage in, with lobbysts on both sides pleading their case.

From a sports branding standpoint, the dollars that could flow into the State, along with jobs and technology opportunities could be a windfall. Simulcasting has tried to keep race tracks moving along when meets have been shortened, in an attempt to bring more dollars in. a sports book at places like the Meadowlands and Monmouth would boost attendance, dollars and jobs. The flailing casinos in Atlantic City would get more interest, the ones doing well would drive their dollars upward. More dollars and more people mean larger brand spends and promotions in and around the tracks and casinos, which also lifts the bottom line. The casual dollars going elsewhere could now flow into a suffering local economy.

Would the worry of a criminal element or corruption come to be real for professional and collegiate sports? Nevada seems to have faired well with an increasing number of collegiate events, and the NBA All-Star Game did OK in the city. The biggest issue with Las Vegas not getting a team these days seems to be more economic than because of gambling…the base economy of tourism may not have the solid corporate base to support large numbers of suites that would need to be sold for large revenue. Yes, casinos would provide some of the seats to be filled, but in the end casinos want people in their casinos, not watching hoops or hockey. Rest assured, any sports book in New Jersey would be heavily scrutinized and regulated, with the leagues, especially the NFL, watching every step of the way.

New Jersey is not Nevada, and the lessons learned in the rise and fall of the casino industry has shown that. Las Vegas has re-invented itself time and again as a travel destination city, with gambling as the backdrop. Atlantic City has not. Would the sports book be the catch for all that ails the State? No. Would it be an intriguing partial answer for tourism and revenue? Probably. Would it cause more headaches to a state already with enough issues with corruption? Hard to tell. What about all those pro and college games in such proximity, would they all be off the board, which could curtail interest greatly? To Be Determined. One thing is clear though. The citizens of the state spoke pretty loudly Tuesday night, and they would like to place their bet on sports books to help raise revenue. If it can clear the federal hurdle, not an easy one by any stretch, it will certainly be an interesting sports business study to see how new age technology and old school sports wagering can re-invent themselves together in the Garden State, a bet that not too long ago continued to be a long shot, but one whose odds suddenly improved this week.

Can Bellator Play “Avis” To UFC’s “Hertz”

It has been a question for several years in the fight sport world. Is the market big enough in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts for more than one viable professional brand to exist alongside the UFC, or is it like professional football, where the NFL is king no matter what the market size and those who come along to share the pie get the pie thrown back in their face.

Many have come along to challenge, some with short but popular runs like the IFL and ProElite, many others with quick hit and miss challenges that spend large sums and never deliver anything. Others, like the WEC and Strikeforce, find their regional niche and eventually get swallowed up by the UFC dollars and muscle, well run promotions that cannot get to the next level without the partnership. All through the time, the UFC experience continues to mature and move out, now with its first network TV deal coming in a few weeks, an opportunity that some think will move the UFC, if not the sport, more into the “mainstream.” Whether that is a blessing or a curse for the UFC remains to be seen. However one prospect that has emerged recently is the still pushing nature of the Bellator Championship series, which has cultivated young up and coming fighters in its own events, packaged in mid-sized venues, and promoted regionally with the help of Fox Sports and other cable outlets. Bellator has been consistent with its brand and messaging, and has put on quality events that have caught the attention of fans.

Recently, Bellator seized an opportunity created when the UFC left Spike TV, which had been a key part of the brand growth with their co-partnership on “The Ultimate Fighter,” to take a position with Spike. That move, to a network of savvy marketers who know how to package, promote and deliver the MMA product to a make demo, will be a big test to see if the sport of professional MMA is finally ready for an alternative to the UFC production. Spike knows the sport, and the sport knows Spike, and Bellator presents an intriguing and affordable opportunity for television.

As a brand in MMA, Bellator has developed a good reputation. As a business they have shown they have a niche and a good business plan and can grow what they have created, not at the expense of the UFC but as a compliment to the UFC.
Whether the UFC can create enough white noise with programming on Fox or with partners to disrupt the Bellator plan remains to be seen. The promoters have found a way to deliver quality and consistency, and maybe with Spike can create a few more household names. If that leads to growth it is good for the sport, and some healthy competition could keep the UFC brand moving along even stronger.

Now if fans aren’t driven to a Ballator Spike relationship what does that say about the sport of MMA? maybe it means its still too soon for a still growing sport to be big enough with the casual fan to support two professional brands. Maybe it says the fans want UFC and not anything else on a large scale? Maybe it says that the “secret sauce” that made the UFC Spike relationship such a good one doesn’t mix in the chemistry of Spike and another brand in the sport. All of that will be revealed over time, but for now it is worth noting the growth Bellator has taken on, and what that could mean for the sport, is a step no others have been able to achieve for more than a few months, and it will be worth following to see what fight they will have as a brand. Healthy competition is not a bad thing.

UFC Continues Its Steady Build…

The date is hanging out there for UFC fans…November 12 at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The date that the UFC finally finds its way to broadcast television. The date where UFC fans think the sport will go mainstream and thousands of families will flock to Target to buy branded apparel and Brock Lesnar toys for Christmas. Is that what the Fox deal is all about? Not really.

Now this is not the first time MMA on the professional level will be seen on broadcast TV. The IFL did the first live show on Fox’s MyNetwork in 2007, and then there was the ProElite/CBS deal that brought the world another side of Gus Johnson along with Kimbo Slice. Neither ended the world as we knew it, nor did they pull numbers or more importantly, advertisers, to sufficiently keep those promotions afloat. The big difference with this partnership is stability. The UFC has built a stable, recognizable brand that supports their core audience and also has enough stickiness so that casual fans know what “Ultimate Fighting” is. That is a tribute to time and consistency that Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company, and partners like Spike TV and Versus are responsible for. There has been no short term rush to hype and push out a product that is lots of sizzle and no steak. Instead, the progression is a steady build. The ironic thing about the first Fox card is that it has lots of names and good fighters, but no real mainstream name that a casual follower can pull to without a little education. There is no Lesnar, no Chuck Lidell, no Randy Couture. There is a mix of interesting personalities and styles and backgrounds which can make this a good test and a good first step for the relationship.

Still, even when the first broadcast numbers are in, the most interesting element will be in the followup. UFC on free TV will never be a weekly staple in prime time. It is event and destination programming, much like boxing was in its heyday. It will be an amazing vehicle for mass promotion for advertisers new and old who are looking to access the demo, and it will also serve as an even greater platform to drive attention to all the other pay per view and stand alone programming the UFC does. None of that will be key to a huge or a small number on the first Fox show, but it will be key to the steady build that UFC has put together over the last five to seven years. It will also not occur in a vacuum of marketing. Instead the Fox broadcast will be a hinge to other very important activation pieces around the event.

One example is the expanded relationship between Microsoft’s XBox Live and the UFC. Microsoft announced that a UFC channel will launch on Dec. 1 for subscribers of the service. The platform will let fans order live events as well as choose on-demand content from the promotion. Social features will show who users think will win a fight and compare fighter records. The first broadcast available for the app will be UFC 140 which takes place on Dec. 10. So while not tied directly to the first Fox fight, the promotion around the fight, with XBox signage in the Octagon, will be invaluable to the next stage of digital activation for a sport brand heavily engaged in the space.

Yes it is true that there is an immediacy to judge success or failure in our 24/7 environment, especially with a property that is so tied to a demo that wants immediate gratification and results. Ironically while that quickness to get results in the Octagon is important, it is less important for a maturing brand like the UFC. From a business perspective it has been a steady growth chart, one with hype mixed in, but with a longer term vision than most fans probably realize. That vision is what makes the UFC an intriguing brand, whether or not you like the violence in the cage or not. Yes November 12 is another key date, but it is not really the beginning, it is the next logical step.

“Steeling” A Look At Future Branding…

This weekend the Disney movie “Real Steel” will open with a futuristic look at fight sports, a world where robots enter the ring, controlled by gamers and former fighters, as a way to deliver action and excitement without the mano a mano violence that occurs when humans mix it up. Starring Hugh Jackman, the movie is part “The Champ,” part “Rocky,” and part “Rock Em Sock Em Robots,” with lots of gaming and brand extensions if it is a hit.

However one of the hidden gems in the movie is not in the characters, it is in the branding. The movie takes place in 2021, with Jackman helping train some down on their skills robots at the bequest of his son, who he has been estranged from. The challenger robots take on elite gamers on large screen tablets who manipulate and create champions, and the eventual storybook finish is expected and very strong. What is remarkable however, and the companies represented in the movie. Tablets abound, but they are not ipads, they are HP Tablets. Verizon may dominate the mobile world today, but all the action takes place in the Sprint Arena and with Sprint equipment. And what is the search engine of choice? Not Google but Bing. Today those are all the challenger brands, but by placing them in the movie, the brands send a subtle message to viewers that THEY are the brands of the future.
Very smart strategic placement by three companies who are still challengers in their space.

Now will it work, and will kids drop Apple to go buy HP tablets, or jump from googling to binging? Not right away. But if the movie is a hit the brands benefit not just with this theater period, but probably for the DVD, the video game, and for the sequel. Maybe the mega-brands chose not to be in, maybe the challengers pushed. Either way the messaging is subtle, the projection to the future effective, and the branding story one to watch. Well placed marketing punch by all involved.

Next Steps…Horse Racing and Boxing…

The weekend brought more hope for boxing and horse racing…again. Manny Pacquaio’s win over Shane Mosley continued to raise his stature in the sports and entertainment world, while Animal Kingdom captured the Kentucky Derby with great fanfare and record attendance. So what’s next?

In boxing, the next step for Top Rank’s integrated marketing approach should be a renewed and expanded agreement with CBS and all its broadcast arms. The pre-event promotion boxing received as a feeder for the pay-per-view event was a positive not just for the sport, but for all the brands associated with Top Rank and Pacquaio, and the exposure for his next big fight should grow exponentially for all involved. The downside of boxing is there is no immediate next result for the champion…that takes months to hatch and market. However the positive side is that same hype machine, which can take the champ on an extended media tour to help grow sponsors and the sport in the coming weeks. All of that positive energy should feed not just into Pacquaio’s next fight, but into other subsequent bigger cards that can also be promoted. Now CBS is not about to jump whole-hearted into the boxing business, although Saturday’s promotion bodes well for future cross brand and channel promotions. Maybe there will be a championship fight back on broadcast TV at some point, but for now using broadcast promotion to build to a big pay per view still makes great sense, and Saturday’s event could now be a solid framework for the sport and its better promoters to build off of.

On the horse racing side, the exciting win at the Derby creates a bridge to The Preakness, and could lead to a month of hype toward the Belmont Stakes. The large window NBC created to promote the race Saturday was encouraging, but leveraging that window across all the NBC Comcast platforms…news, sports and entertainment…leading to The Preakness will not be easy. The competition with a well planned multiplatform effort by the NHL for the Stanley Cup playoffs will be a challenge, as will access and managing the various story lines consistently leading up to the race. A few years ago UPS seized the popularity of Big Brown by creating a successful sponsorship platform around the horse during its Triple Crown bid, could a brand find a home with Animal Kingdom and its jockey, owners and trainer to seize the moment? More importantly can the sport itself find ways to harness Saturday’s buzz and translate it into positive messaging for the sport overall? Time will tell, but record crowds and excitement certainly can’t hurt.

The obvious difference between boxing and horse racing from Saturday is time. Boxing has a charismatic champion to build off of for months, horse racing must seize the moment now. Regardless, Saturday again showed the value of the big event in sports and the potential leverage it can have with brands and the public. Now the leverage must be translated into results.

Horse Racing, Boxing Share A Day And The Same Crossroads…Again.

They are sports driven by gambling dollars and the big event, and they have spent years trying to reconnect with the heyday of the past. Saturday boxing, in the form of Manny Pacquaio and Shane Mosley’s title bout, and horse racing, with the Kentucky Derby, will again take center stage in sports and try and use these elite events to resurrect their businesses. Can they?

Well the good news is that despite the alphabet soup of governance, the fractured leadership, and the migration to other sports by the casual fan, both sports remain on the edge of the public eye, and both have tremendous untold stories, especially in the markets that are growing fastest in this country, Hispanic and African American. They also both have the looming issue of gambling, both positive and negative, that can draw both ire and interest from the public and the media. Tainted sports? Yes. An upside for brands looking to engage or leadership willing to consolidate? Absolutely. Now boxing seems to be making the biggest strides towards resurrection. Promoters like Top Rank and Golden Boy have looked to professionalize their business sides, taking chances on new marketing partnerships (Top Rank’s cross promotion of the fight tonight with CBS is a great example, chronicled by the Sports Business Journal this week) and non-traditional ways to promote in an effort to use the big fight to lift the overall business. The sport’s violence and the athleticism of its elite fighters always draws a crowd and buzz, and the upsurge in interest in the UFC has actually helped pull boxing back into the brand discussions, which is counter to what many thought would happen with the rise of MMA.

Horse Racing is a different story, but one with solid potential. The horses, the jockeys, the owners, the tradition still remain largely untold outside of the Triple Crown and the Breeders Cup. Online gambling and an aging population has taken its toll on the tracks, and public funding in once profitable places like New Jersey has dried up a thriving business. There is little activation in the social media space and rumors of corruption always abound. Yet the sport thrives around the world, the excitement of the race and the pageantry of race day still exists, and the upside for thoroughbred racing to combine efforts to better educate fans and capture attention consistently still is very much in play. Maybe not at hundreds of tracks 365 days a year, as happened in years past, but certainly with a focused, consistent schedule that makes sense to the casual fan.

Brands will turn out Saturday for both events, as will casual fans on site and watching on TV. NBC’s consolidation of the Triple Crown makes great sense, and a younger, more savvy group of owners in horse racing can help drive change and consistency there as well. Both sports have opportunity…again…and at their core they are understood by the casual fan. What is needed is 21st century marketing and branding on a consistent level that uses the big event to drive the growth of the sport. Will it happen? Time will tell, as will leadership. Regardless it should be a great day of viewing.