“Brand Rivera” Closes Sports’ Biggest Annual Call To Action

It was only fitting that New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera served as the closer – albeit this time for an event that has a major impact on the future, not the present. The impact however, was less about baseball and more about legacy. It was the end of the 30th March of Dimes Sports Luncheon, the brainchild of former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson and some other network heads, and Rivera was making the latest, of not last stop in a post-season tour that has seen him add endorsements and awards to mark the end of his storied career. However this award, the Sportsman of the Year, seemed to be even that much more special, as it honored him not just for his on field accomplishments but for his work with young people, and was helping raise millions for those struggling to get through the first stages of life, and for those parents who are dealing with that type of adversity every day.

“This is helping babies. Babies who come with defects, and they didn’t ask for that. But here comes March of Dimes to help these babies, to help these families,” Rivera said Wednesday at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. “The amount of money we are raising is for a great cause. Me being here is a great honor and a pleasure, because we are giving back. That’s what it is all about — giving back.”

Rivera’s acceptance put the cap on one of the most special days in the sports business community every year; a day where almost 800 people take the time to gather, listen, share stories and donate their support to the March of Dimes, just like they have for 30 years. Maybe the cause doesn’t have the glitz or glamour of some others these days, but this event brings business star power like no other. Now chaired by Sean McManus, President of CBS Sports, the lunch pulls in some of the brightest names in sports and broadcasting to honor, observe and pay tribute on their own dime. From Olympic stars like Mike Eruzione and Tara Hughes to broadcast luminaries like Bob Costas and Michael Kay, one cannot go a few feet in the Waldorf on the day without recognizing a familiar face.

However the stars of the day are really the children and the volunteers of the March of Dimes, who have benefited to the tune of over $10 Million that the lunch has raised, and this year set a record with over $1 Million alone coming in from gifts. The issue of babies struggling, and the challenges everyone share in raising young people to be healthy, was not lost on even the biggest names in attendance. That was made clear during the festivities, when host Ernie Johnson of TNT, himself a cancer survivor, told the story of his adopted son Michael who has muscular dystrophy lives on a ventilator, and when Jon Miller of NBC Sports, the winner of the Corporate Leadership Award, described the harrowing times his family went through when his oldest son was born prematurely. Sportswoman of the year Skylar Diggans, became very emotional in her acceptance speech when she talked of her love for children and how her parents influenced her life as well, and Brett Yormark of the Brooklyn Nets  discussed very passionately the need for MOD work to help eliminate premature infant issues in their team’s new home borough of Brooklyn.

The event itself again served as a respite and a time for brief reflection from the craziness of the sports business world. For a few hours, the senior staffs of the Nets and Red Bulls, the Devils and the Sixers, the Mets and the Yankees, all put aside their worries of wins and losses and ticket sales and headlines and were able to mingle and focus on a greater cause, and what the impact of sport business as a motivator for helping those less fortunate can do.

Now the Sports Luncheon wasn’t the only event during the week that helped focus sports business on philanthropy. Thursday night tennis stars Andy Roddick, James Blake and Jon Isner held a Manhattan fundraising exhibition for memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and this past Tuesday the group Sports For Social Change seized on the platform of “Giving Tuesday” to launch “Give An Assist, ” a call to action for fans to help those in need through Donations, Volunteering, Coaching, Fundraising, Shopping for Socially Responsible Gifts and more. Those are just a few of the selfless acts that “brand sport” continue to take on away from the limelight, acts which can and do impact the lives of millions for the better.

While much of what we view “brand sport” as being is clearly based on the results on the field and in the marketplace, the March of Dimes Sports Lunch, and other events like it, serve as a great reminder to all who work in the space that there remains a bigger picture that sport and sport business should aspire to embrace…using the power of all the brands to better the lives of those who watch, spend and even play the games on some level. Wednesday was a great reminder not just of that responsibility, but of the power and impact that sports business can bring to literally change and transform lives. While Rivera’s trademark was the save, his appearance, and the contributions of the other recipients and those in attendance, will be marked down as wins in the bigger picture, wins not for him or the Bronx Bombers, but for thousands of future fans and their families who will be impacted positively from the event.

A “Unique” Sponsorship Gamble Pays Big Dividends…Again

If you are a gambler take note when the Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo signs an athlete. Last year the company pulled the personable Novak Djokovic away from his longtime partner Sergio Tacchini, just in time for another epic run through a Grand Slam summer. This past week they rolled the dice and grabbed Aussie Adam Scott on his way to Augusta, and the result was the first ever Green jacket for someone from Oz. Maybe they should grab the Chicago Cubs?

Now anyone around key urban areas in the United States like New York will know Uniqlo. Owned by Asia’s largest apparel retailing company, Fast Retailing Co., they are on Fifth Avenue and the suburbs, and when they enter a market they dominate the landscape with their unique logo well in advance of launch. There are no TV or radio ads, it is all about location print, digital and engaging at the point of sale. The brand is massive around the world, hence the harnessing of two engaging international male athletes as ambassadors.

So while many watching the playoff this past Sunday may have scratched their heads and said “Unique Who” while watching Scott sink his last putt on 10 to take the coveted crown, the brand impact was for exactly that. Who is this, what are they and when are they coming here? For now the two stars endorse and wear the affordable apparel, but there is no push by the company to engage heavily in the space in the States outside of their retail locations…they are not adidas, Nike or Under Armour, or for that matter Tacchini or Izod. They are a massive retailer…think Forever 21, with their own lines who have cracked a global space and now will push even more into the malls of select America, and their strategy is to do that, and enhance their global footprint, through a pair of personable, vibrant male athletes who happen to be on top of the tennis and golf worlds.

The choices were selective, got brand buzz at announce and were very cost efficient for two athletes looking to make a change.  For Uniqulo the constant presence of a patch in front of millions for Djokovic on his rigorous schedule and now for Scott at the top of his game reaffirms the brand positioning where the retailer is strong, and exposes it to new consumers who may do a little Google to find out more, and be a bit more aware when the company continues to grow into new territory.

 Like Djokovic’s serves and Scott’s putting, timing is everything for Uniqulo, a company that has picked two winners to grab awareness as it expands, and leaves agents, marketers and even some gamblers maybe, wondering who’s next?

Unpredictable Games, Consistent Marketing: March Madness

It’s still a pristine sponsor environment for the most part, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, There is no on court signage, you have to look hard to even find a call directly to the tournament site NCAA.com (it’s on top of the backboard and sometimes on directional signage), and even with the huge social media buzz, there is not a twitter handle or hashtag in site.

However even with a few more miles to go, the NCAA has at least used rotational signage to bring in school logos and conference affiliations (not domains though), and depending on the level, some partners also come in and out on signage, so it’s a start. The NCAA’s continued Olympic-like repressiveness on social media has kept athletes at bay from expressing themselves in the space, but change may come some day soon.

One of the most progressive moves is the connect to sponsors in brand advertising during the tournament thus far. From Unilever’s Dove campaign to Enterprise Rent A Car, all the spots tie directly to the personalities and the flavor of the student athlete. Each brand partner does not go rogue with an over the top and edgy campaign…they stick to the core values of the casual fans watching the tournament…the spots from State Farm to Buffalo Wild Wings, all feature young people seemingly enjoying the athletic experience, and that brings great brand affinity to the partners and to the teams participating. There are few shots in the dark with NCAA Partners.  For most, March Madness is the focal point for a huge spend that takes place year-round, and culminates with effective TV and digital platforms with the NCAA Tournament partners, Turner and CBS. There is little ambiguity with the spots, and certainly not a dating site, an alcoholic beverage, or a male enhancement drug anywhere in sight, a rarity for big time sport of any kind on broadcast TV.

Now the NCAA has done a great job on the streaming and aggregating of all forms of media, and its partners on the broadcast side continue to enhance what they are doing with the second screen and the mobile space. Is it anywhere near what MLB.com or the NFL are doing with second screen enhancement? No, not yet. However this is a three week tournament, not a full season, and those seasonal rights are still controlled by the schools and the leagues themselves. March Madness after all is still very much about the tune-in, as it should be.

Now would some fans like to be watching a remote feed live from the campus of Florida-Gulf Coast or isolation cam on Mississippi’s  Marshall Henderson? Sure. That can probably come down the road.  What the NCAA does give you now is consistency of brand, and all its partners are along for the ride. The event makes big money, and they can afford the pristine environment. The little things are working their way into the tournament, and those little things…more digital activation, sellable second screen experiences, a better virtual experience…will become tantamount as March Madness continues to grow in stature.

Many may take shots at the Ivory Tower for its handling of a host of issues, but for the marketing of the tournament and their consistency of message, the NCAA should get some solid marks again this year, with more to come as the environment continues to mature.

No Bull…PBR Gets A Chance To Ride A Quiet NY Weekend To Success

This weekend the New York area will be without a boxing match, an MMA card, the NFL, the NHL, arena football and indoor soccer. There is a smattering of college hoops and a little NBA, but what can someone with a hankering for some action check out. Well the PBR is back for its annual stop at Madison Square Garden. From its bulls to its interactive displays, its riders and its clowns, the PBR experience is certainly a unique one for sports branding coming through New York for what is its only east coast appearance.

In previous years the PBR has tested jousting, marched the bulls through Times Square and offered up first hand visits to try and distinguish themselves from other events in the area. There is usually a Giants playoff game or some NHL looking to draw attention. This year, the sports card is pretty much all bull for a weekend which the Tour uses to kick off its season and remind Madison Avenue that its fans and its product are unique to sport.

Why MSG in January? Even with a slower economy than when the circuit first came to MSG, the PBR still pulls some major brands from Ford to Stanley Tools to Wrangler to Cooper Tires, and even a new official chainsaw in Echo Power Tools (try selling that category, MLB). Their exclusive TV partner, CBS, also needs to entertain and engage partners in the buying capital of the sports world, especially since the PBR does not come any closer than Fayetteville, North Carolina at any point in 2013. We do live in a global sports environment now, but being able to experience an event like the PBR for skeptical brand buyers is very important, and there is no better way than hosting a showcase event in their backyard.

Families may be looking for a post-holiday event to attend that is both affordable and a bit different, and the casual sports fan is looking for some live event that is not of the norm and is a ways away from a normal trip to “The World’s Most famous Arena.” Add in the NASCAR-like appeal of the bull riders, the spectacle and drama of the bulls and you have an event that can actually draw attention and pull in a strong weekend crowd in a very fickle environment.

Aside from the spectacle of PBR, the fact that it is a stand-alone East Coast event for the sport, at the same time every year, can even make the weekend a destination spot for staycationers in the burbs, but also for fans of the sport from up and down the east coast and parts inland. All that works because of the consistency of the calendar, and a willing partner in Madison Square Garden. If the event moved from time to time, or if it had to go up against better weather or any host of other events in the crowded New York schedule, the event would be nowhere near as successful. Casual fans would not seek it out, or be able to circle the date with consistency. Even diehard fans would have to adjust from the rigors of daily life, and any stretch from annual consistency could spell doom.

Consistent and effective year in, year out branding and timing leads to a good churn of the casual fan and builds brand loyalty for the core follower, which translates into three days of an enthused, supportive and engaged fan, which is what all events strive to deliver in these challenging times, especially in the largest media market in the country.

So is the PBR season opener a model for branding success for niche events? It has many of the elements for a good one off, most important of which is exciting live content in a weekend which is as quiet in the area on the sports calendar as any. If it spectacle you like, the PBR certainly delivers.

Steelers, Cowboys Seize A Social Branding Opportunity Together…

They rarely meet in the regular season, but the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys are clearly among the rarefied air of NFL brand dominance. Their success on the field is only mirrored by the passion that both fan bases have for their teams, and the high profile that their ownership groups possess. Now in addition chalk up a little social media innovation for the two clubs.

The digital teams of both teams have combined forces to float a trial balloon for fan engagement when the franchises, both 7-6 on the season, meet in Dallas this weekend. They have created what is believed to be the first ever “Social Media Showdown” for two professional teams, let along two iconic franchises.  The Cowboys and Steelers have started a wide ranging outreach to see which team can garner the most new followers to their social sites in the week leading up to the game. Both have implored and engaged their already large audiences (each team has a social media footprint of over 5 million) to help recruit new followers as a sign of support for this week’s matchup. The team that brings in the most can claim some bragging rights in the social space and get some additional buzz for the brand.

This first trial for the Social Showdown does not have any frills, but it has lots of potential. It is not sponsored but it could be, there are no prize incentives but there could be, and while there is one central gathering for posts (#socialshowdown) there are no massive message boards to really capture data or allow a large scale interaction between fans. What the effort shows is a great willingness by two mega-franchises to try something different to engage and grow. It costs little to do and has tremendous revenue and promotional possibilities. While it is true that other rivals have gone to the social space to engage fans during big rivalry weeks, those efforts are usually exclusive of the competitor. Working together gives this effort an extra push, some extra potential and the ability to see on both sides what works and what doesn’t.

There is really little downside to this test between the Steelers and the Cowboys. It is made even more special by the fact that the two legendary franchises rarely meet during the regular season, although the traditional rivals can also grab hold of the idea just as quickly.

It is probably something that should and will be expanded and replicated by college, high school and pro teams very quickly, with the only limit being the cooperation and foresight of those involved. How about taking the idea to Notre Dame and Alabama.

Regardless of the outcome, the Steelers-Cowboys Social Showdown is a great first by two mega-brands that may bot to be as progressive as other franchises, but are smart enough to see a unique opportunity and seize the chance to not just engage with their existing fans, but to grab others who may be casual and less engaged and pull them into a rivalry. Smart and savvy, and definitely worth a look for what’s next.

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.

Could the UFL Have Sprung To Success?

They quietly started another season this past week with four teams…Sacramento, Virginia, Omaha and Las Vegas...limping along on financial fumes, albeit with some solid local following, good coaches and some potential great stories of their players. The United Football League is still trying, even if few realize or even care.  What happened and could it have worked?

The league started four years ago hoping that they could ride the coattails of a potential NFL lockout and building in some secondary markets to reach success. They brought in name coaches, looked to find ways to engage fans, tried to find brands who were passionate about football but couldn’t crack the NFL roster, and hoped a match would light. maybe the NFL would see some seeds of an idea and use the league to develop talent, maybe a franchise or two would catch fire and force some kind of merger. No dice. There is enough football in the fall, and the idea of throwing good money after bad for a start-up wasn’t appealing at all to the NFL. Arena League, WLAF…been there, done that. Thanks but no thanks.

So here the UFL sits, still trying to do something as a business. As of this weekend, their website is “under design” still, not a good thing for a league looking for an identity in a crowded marketplace. The franchises have found somewhat of a following, at least in Omaha and Sacramento, cities with no professional football to call their own. Las Vegas has the solid Jim Fassel at the helm and the lure of dollars in the gambling capital of the world, but not much more. So why continue?

Maybe one of the reasons is still the allure of the spring, where professional football in a football crazy society still has a void. It is where the UFL should have started, finding a way to be a litmus test for young talent, coaches and innovative ideas away from the NFL window. It was where the XFL had its shot at success, before the WWE turned it into a circus and ran it out of business. It is a time after the Super Bowl where quality competitive football could find a niche. Now there is talk of the USFL returning, but right now it appears to be lots of hype with an advisory council of elite former players and some passionate “founders” but not much else.  Talk of a 2013 season has come and pretty much gone, without dates, stadiums, coaches, players or most importantly…owners with deep pockets…having arisen. For sure there is plenty of TV time to be had amongst the cable networks now out there, and in theory there is enough talent to fill rosters with a smattering of bold face former college and NFL stars to be a draw as well. The NFL will probably watch from a distance and won’t support at first, but could become parties somewhere way down the line if a league in the spring found its way on its own to financial viability and innovation. testing concussion-free equipment, using technology to innovate, taking chances the NFL never could, would all be in the offing.

So could there be a reason why the UFL is still trolling, showing it can have some viable and semi-mature markets to be swept up in a spring move down the line? Maybe. Then again maybe it is just a last-go round before the coffers run dry, which would be a shame. The saying is that hope springs eternal, and maybe that’s where the UFL, or another property could end up…bringing spring football to viability on some outdoor professional level. The fall after all, is just too crowded.

Remembering Warner Fuselle…

We pause from the normal talk of sports biz to remember one we lost…

It seems like in the past year we have lost a good number of those “people behind the game.” Longtime writer and MLB scorekeeper Bill Shannon died in a fire last year, Red Sox PA announcer Carl Beane was killed in a car accident last month, and over the weekend we lost a man by the name of Warner Fusselle, it was reported Monday.

If you are a baseball fan of a certain age, you may not have known his name but you certainly knew his voice. Also if you happened to be lucky enough to attend a Brooklyn Cyclones game in Coney Island for any part of the past 11 years, you also knew Warner’s voice but probably never saw his face. Fuselle was the sometime PA announcer and always radio voice of the Cyclones (and before that the radio voice of some of the greatest Seton Hall basketball teams ever) but he was best known to baseball fans around the country as the man behind the “TWIB” notes, and after the passing of the legendary Mel Allen, as the voice of “This Week in Baseball.” While today that might not seem like a big deal, in the 1970’s and 1980’s TWIB was where you went for weekly highlights of action from around the AL and NL, a great half hour that usually led into the one national broadcast game each Saturday afternoon. It was produced magnificently by MLB Productions, with Fuselle’s smooth tones rolling over highlights of Ozzie Smith doing backflips or Dale Murphy homering into an Atlanta bullpen.

Warner’s voice led you around the league. More importantly Fuselle, like the others we have lost, were part of a gentle summer tradition for those in the industry. They would always have a story, a tip or an idea during a day or night at the ballpark or the arena, rarely asking for anything in between. True gentleman of the game. No yelling, no silly comments out of line designed to embarrass, just a genteel manner and a willingness to pass along whatever traditions and information had been passed on to them.

Were they a bit quirky? Yes, Thank God. We should all be so quirky. They all loved their jobs and had an ability to make you feel important, whether you were 18 or 60. In some conversations I had with him over the years, Fuselle would express frustration that he hadn’t gotten x or y broadcast job after TWIB went away, but he always seemed to enjoy the beautiful ballpark in Coney, hard by the Atlantic Ocean, not far from either Nathan’s or the Abe Stark skating rink. Eventhough he was a Wake Forest grad raised in the south, he had become a Brooklyn baseball guy, not unlike another gentleman of the South, Red Barber had become for legions of Brooklyn Dodgers fans of a bygone era.

Yes Fuselle and the others were a throwback to a certain era, but more importantly they were really a reminder of what should be important in a business that is all about games.

Most recently I had chatted with Mark Fratto, forever an innovator at St. John’s University and now the Red Storm Director of Communications. He had pulled Warner in to do play-by-play for St. John’s baseball in a test program, where SJU created broadcast quality video over the internet for a fraction of the price. The experiment worked, and Fuselle ended up calling games on the CBS College Network this spring, even though Fratto joked he had to remind Warner to watch the action on the monitor and not keep telling the stories that he was so gifted at.

The New York-Penn League will begin in a few days, and there will be a void in the Cyclones press box, one that was occupied since the team’s inception by a student of the game, always with a story to tell. No doubt the team, and hopefully all of baseball, will pause sometime this week to remember Warner Fuselle. Then we will get on with the ballgame, just as he would have liked.

A man, like many, who loved the game dearly, and who we can all learn from going forward.

Squash, Twitter Trouble and The Growth Of Andrew Shaw…

Once again it seems like ideas good, bad and indifferent are flowing in groups the last few days, so here’s a look at some other best practices and some issues.

Squashing A Brand: The sport of squash is fast, ultra-athletic and pretty much refined to clubs and select colleges and high schools in the United States. It has never been “mainstream.” The International Squash Federation, with a large amount of support in India and Pakistan, has tried in vain to get the sport on the Olympic programme. Women’s Professional Squash, even more of an afterthought than the men’s game by the casual fan, is trying to resurrect itself as a viable alternative for a more edgy audience, and is slowly cutting its own course.

However this past week and coming up, a few lucky balances may give squash at least a little more play in the eye of the casual public sports fan. First, Trinity College, whose streak of National Championships and years without a loss, came to an end with a loss to Yale. The streak, 252 matches and 13 years, was great for Trinity, but not so great for the sport overall. Fans love winners and champions, but not total dominance which eliminates story lines. So by losing, trinity probably generated more publicity for the sport than at any one time in its admirable winning streak. Secondly, the professional sport of squash gets its biggest stage this week by playing in front of thousands…of commuters.

The J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions commenced in Vanderbuilt Hall of Grand Central Station in New York, bringing some of the world’s most gifted players to a glass cube for a chance at prize money, a title, and the curious eyes of all coming to and from work. Like the PBR recently (at Madison Square Garden), squash comes to a different place to get exposure with a brand (J.P. Morgan) that can court its high end customers who are interested in the game, as well as find a little extra brand recognition for those going to and fro their workplace. It brings the sport right to a large group of consumers who may never have seen the game before, and could take an interest. Will that interest mean that more people will run out to get squash racquets and balls/ Well, if there is not a lot of public access to play the game, probably not. What the event does do is create the potential for other showcase events, while also serving as a potential platform to tell the stories of the elite athletes who are competing. It’s not like squash will suddenly overtake any other racquet sport in popularity, but it is an interesting (and probably expensive) incremental awareness play, that coupled with Trinity’s loss, may have squash on the minds of more consumers this January than ever before.

Hashing Andrew Shaw: Andrew Shaw is a fast-raising talent with the marketing-savvy Chicago Blackhawks, an athletes with flair on the ice and a good grasp of how to grab the attention of the casual and die-hard hockey fan. He is funny, outspoken, and engaging in a marketplace which has again embraced its Blackhawks at a time when the media-hungry NHL is scrambling a bit to find new storylines with the injuries to Sidney Crosby and the slow year being had by Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. So into the mix steps Shaw, who has gotten support in the social media space with his own hashtag following (#shawfacts) about various musings of the day on and off the ice. The Shaw world got an even bigger test this week, when followers were put forth to win a signed Shaw jersey for the most engaging or interesting post. The social media world reacted really well, and the traditional media coverage followed suit, generating lots of buzz, traffic and awareness for the young star. What’s next? Maybe a charity tie to raise some funds, a brand hopping on board or maybe even a one off #shawfacts showing up on an actual game or practice jersey. Regardless it seems like Andrew Shaw is a star in the making, one who has effectively worked with those around him to get hos career on and off the ice on a fast track by blending an engaging story with the right media medium.

The Dark Side of Social Media: this week also showed us two downsides of social media, which detractors had a field day with. The first happened in new Jersey, when top college football recruit Yuri Wright was expelled from powerhouse Don Bosco Prep for posting explicit tweets under his tag. The school, rightly so, took a zero tolerance stance in a region that has had more than its share of sexting scandals on the high school level. It was the most recent reminder for all who can unknowingly be in the public eye, whether you are in high school or the pros or a private citizen. There are few if any filters available for what you speak about in a public forum. It is your responsibility and you always have to think before you act, because once its out there, it’s not coming back. Tough lesson for a young man with a bright future.

The second difficult incident was with regard to Joe Paterno, who as we know did pass away this morning. The rush to be first with Paterno’s death led to many erroneous and unconfirmed reports last night, one of which created an embarassing situation for CBSSports.com, who published without confirmation from the family. The rest of the night was spent backtracking and updating by many news sources, all of whom held CBS above reproach as credible. Now Paterno’s passing a few hours later doesn’t really change the fact that in the rush to be first, the loss of credibility and accuracy is called into play. Is it better to be accurate or first? This is also not a new issue, just look at “Dewey Beats Truman.” What it is, is another example of how fast our world has become, and the trouble that news sources of the highest level have in making sure that what is being reported is really beyond reproach. The death of anyone should not be taken lightly, and it is much more serious than something like Rob Lowe deciding to be the source for Payton Manning’s alleged retirement. Either way, the incidents point out the challenges all have in dealing with a fluid news cycle, with more questions and less answers as to what is right to do and what generates buzz, news, and dollars for those who report.

Next For Tebow…

The hoopla and hype over Tim Tebow mania came to an end for the short term on Saturday night with the expected loss to the New England Patriots. More importantly, the game itself showed the gap between the steak (Tom Brady and the Patriots) and the sizzle (Tebow and the Broncos) in the very unforgiving team sport of professional football. That being said, the Tebow mystique and his rise over the last few months was certainly fun, noteworthy, impactful and full of potential. So what’s next? Some thoughts.

The Broncos Decision: For all the fun that the late season run was, the Denver Broncos were still only a .500 football team running a very unconventional system that will be hard to replicate for the long term or of their current starting quarterback was to get hurt. For all the brand value Tebow brought to the team for the short term, the ling term value is in winning in the NFL, so the team needs to decide if Tebow is their future and then market accordingly. If he is not, offseason hype can lead to unrealistic expectations, and all that good will built up can be for nothing. It is a very fine line Denver must walk in promoting team vs. individual in a sport where it is as much about all the players and coaches vs. just one.

The Tebow Decision: For the short term, Tebow and his management team maximized what opportunities they could. Jockey was able to launch and build an effective campaign, his energy drink sponsor FRS, got huge props on his post-game hat, and of course his support of his values and Christian faith led to an almost unprecedented ad buy during Saturday night’s game by Focus on Family. Now Tebow and team have to decide if they want to diversify with offers or stick to some key brands with a little more short term dollars. The choice he will have to make is with regard to time…how much time will he devote to building his brand vs. doing what needs to be done with regard to football success. There are only so many hours in a day, and both take time to be successful. Will he grab the window now and be all Tebow all the time, or will he scale back and let the football lead to other oppts down the line? It will be interesting to follow.

Which Brands Make Tebow Time Successful? We saw Jockey come along, so will we see other sides of Tim Tebow emerge? Will it be very serious and conservative, or will he take a shot at having some fun with a few edgy brands that may change the opinion of people who were not on the bandwagon? Now we won’t see spirits and condoms and can’t see gambling, but could we see some fun brands like Axe Body Wash do a campaign? How about a dating service? maybe GoDaddy or a digital company? It will again be an interesting follow.

Winning Makes the Next Difference: Now that we have seen the short term wins and all the hype and discussion, the next level of wide sponsorship will be tied to long term on field success. That is what makes Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Aaron Rogers and Drew Brees the next level of athlete brand…they won, then they got the bigger dollars. Tebow grabbed the spotlight first, with the long term winning at the NFL level still to come. Can he improve his game to get to the Super Bowl and can the Broncos improve around him? Or will he end up elsewhere in a system that benefits from him best? That winning on the field is the best way to keep his brand top of mind off the field.

The Christian Right: Say what you want, love them or hate them, but as a block the Christian Right can influence eyeballs, brands, and opinions, especially in an election year. They have found an impassioned spokesperson in Tebow who will try and balance his faith-based opinions with the brands that will pay him big dollars. While much was made about his prayerful stance, athletes invoke The Almighty every day, from prayer circles in the NBA and NFL to players crossing themselves after a goal or touchdown or before an at bat. It’s not new at all. What is different is Tebow’s unique way of presenting and marketing his faith, from his Tebow stance to the phrases he had on his eyeblack in college. He gets the power he has, and the Christian Right has found ways to invoke his power with their messages. If that helps or hurts him or is a non-factor with brands will depend on how he does on the field and how strongly he and his team pushes those messages to an audience which may be religious averse on Madison Avenue or in Hollywood.

What If He Strays? Tebow is all about a squeaky clean public image. What if he goes on a bender or blows off some kids or gets caught by a cell phone cam doing something he shouldn’t be doing, even innocently? It will be interesting to see. He doesn’t have the million dollar offers yet that could make that straying a big factor, but it could effect some of the cult-like following he has developed. Then again, America loves a comeback, so a little off-color issues may actually make him even more appealing if he is successful on the field as well. To date, every move is carefully crafted and he has been pretty well protected despite the bright lights he has played under in both the NFL and at Florida. He is not naive with regard to the cameras and his image, and his team has done a great job of message control to date.

So is Tim Tebow someone like Doug Flutie, a great marketer who took advantage of a limited spotlight for great off field success? Or will he be like a Manning or somewhere in between. It will be a crowded year for brands looking for ROI, with the London Olympics on the horizon. As we pause to see whats next in the offseason and focus on the onfield winners, the next steps for Team Tebow will be crucial and interesting to watch, maybe even more from a business story than the ones we have seen so far.