Tacos, Sharks and Crickets…

Some best practices and ideas for a weekend…

Take A Base, Get A Taco: Taco Bell has been known to tie their partnerships with professional sports to some outlandish giveaways over the years, some of which they have had demand exceed supply. So this time out for the World Series they placed a bet on a promo that has some risk and some reward, but also one that could slide through the cracks, or at least to a close base.

The chain announced it will give all comers a free Doritos Locos Taco if any player steals a base during the World Series. If the first stolen base occurred during games one through four, the free tacos (one per person) will be given out on Oct. 30 from 2 pm to 6 pm local time at all participating Taco Bell locations (those in San Fran and Detroit included). If the first stolen base occurred during games five through seven, the tacos will be given away on Nov. 5 from 2 pm to 6 pm local time. Taco Bell will support the “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco” promotion with advertising (television, radio, online), social media and public relations. Customers will also be encouraged to share their predictions on when the stolen base will happen, on Taco Bell’s Facebook page. On Twitter, they can join @TacoBell in supporting their favorite baseball players (via their handles) and campaigning for #stealataco.

So what happens, the Giants Angel Pagan swipes second in the eighth inning of Game Two, which led to FOX’s Joe Back proclaiming free tacos almost immediately on the network.  The twitter world immediately went crazy with the added TV boost, with questions that also included a potential date switch for the promo because of the anticipated bad weather in the Northeast early in the week. Will the promotion generate millions of dollars and new customers for the brand? Some but not a great deal of newbies. Will it generate buzz? For sure, that has already happened.

However most importantly Taco Bell found a way to cut through the clutter and create an at-risk promotion that was well timed and well received by consumers. They now get a great bounce when the promotion executes to report numbers given out, which will give the MLB partner additional life away from the ballpark and the World Series itself. Smart and chancy promotion for a brand that likes to run on the edge.

Sharks Try To Ease Pain: The NHL Lockout has negatively affected thousands of businesses across North America, and the partners of the San Jose Sharks found a way to support those businesses on night when hockey was supposed to be played this fall. Content Magazine and Mayberry Workshop created a Sharks Cash Mob on Wednesday Evening, October 24, 2012 at San Pedro Square Market and surrounding downtown San Jose businesses.

A “cash mob” is an event created to support businesses by encouraging people to buy locally and “do a little to do a lot” for the community. The two invited  all Sharks fans and members of the community who want to support downtown businesses to spend their evening at a downtown restaurant or bar on October 24th.  They also supported the event with drawings for Sharks merchandise to serve as a reminder that the community and the team are still united to be a positive influence in San Jose.

The Cash Mob idea came at a time when teams are looking to give added value to those directly affected by the lockout…season subscribers and business partners…but those indirectly effected with no direct stake or spend in the team may not see relief. Those businesses are perhaps even more at risk because the team partners will have something to come back to when the lockout ends. The local businesses? That revenue is gone forever. The promotion found a way to generate good will and revenue and not make dark NHL night as dark in San Jose as they maybe are elsewhere. Good idea with replication.

Cricket In the States? Cricket is the number one sport in four countries that account for over a fifth of the world’s population – India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – and has strong pockets of popularity across four other continents. The already high levels of interest in cricket means that future growth in mature markets is likely to be organic, so in order to build the ‘bigger, better, global game’ the International Cricket Council is working with a number of partners to find a place for the sport in the United States.

Seem crazy? Some ideas as to why the ICC doesn’t think so. The growing immigrant population in the U.S., especially in urban markets, is from the countries listed, the enjoy follow and understand cricket already. Although not on a domestic carrier yet, ESPN saw record traffic on ESPN3 and on all their mobile channels during the recently-completed World Cup. That traffic was driven from areas across the U.S. vs the rest of the world.

The introduction of an exciting new format of cricket – Twenty20 – combined with the increasing globalization of the sports and media industries and the growing size and influence of the Asian diaspora presents cricket with a much stronger platform from which to target growth in these markets than it has had in the past.

Now in a challenged economy can investors find millions of dollars, build stadia and then attract both brands and casual fans to shorter cricket matches? The TV audience, the digital audience and brand sponsors may be very intrigued if the infrastructure arrives. Plans are for increased activity and education of the game to take place in 2013, and if that is successful, who knows. There are many in Europe scratching their heads as they see the NFL take a stakehold there with the Jacksonville Jaguars, so cricket as a U.S. success may be not that far off, if the deep pockets arrive with the game.

The Social Media Game On A Global Scale…

The social landscape in sports across North America is growing exponentially every day. Teams, athletes, events, brands, media companies, are all scrambling to add followers, build alliances, grow traffic and scream louder than anyone else to draw critical mass for whatever reason, from selling tickets and growing brand loyalty to giving consumers the unfettered access they crave. Yet for all the scrambling and the theories of what is brand success…is it millions of followers or the right few thousand for your audience for example…a great piece by Eric Fisher in this week’s Sports Business Journal shows that American teams are still lagging in the social media footprint to the soccer clubs of Europe, and that the recently completed cricket World Cup had more of an impact in the digital space than almost any other North American sporting event, save the Super Bowl…and that impact was not on non-American servers, it was on a well known platform in the States…ESPN digital.

This type of news may create some consternation amongst the sports social media elite in the United States, and may send some “experts” heading for cover as they advise brands. However in reality the news is a great example again of how the sports landscape is far more global than we sometimes care to admit, and taking a look at best practices of some of the world’s largest soccer clubs can continue to give North American brands insight into social media. Often what is also overlooked is the advanced use of the handheld outside of the States and in emerging companies, where landlines are not useful. Telecom companies have been using the digital space for years…the French Open and Formula One were among the first events ever, as early as the 1990’s…to use digital technology to bring fans multiple images and export data to as wide an audience as possible who were following events in their handheld devices.

The list also serves as a reminder to the tribal nature of soccer as a global brand. The largest clubs in the world have truly global followings…loyal groups who consume all things about their home club win or lose…and while American sports are king here, the amount of team-specific fans outside of this country (vs. fans of the league like the NBA or NHL) is far less than the amount of club-specific fans around the world.

This is also certainly not an indictment of the great innovation and brand activation programs American sport has pioneered in the digital space, and those programs are growing exponentially each day. What it is, is a great look and reminder into the potential of the global brand and the appeal of effective social media programs that are based on both content and support. Passion drives interest no matter what the platform.

Cricket Getting Louder…

On April 2 it generated 45 percent of all page views on ESPN’s mobile platform, and over a million views in the United States alone. Its final was watched not by millions, but by billions around the world, and its professional league, which started just days after it's international final, saw sellout crowds, waves of blonde haired cheerleaders and loud music. It is also the subject of one of the most talked-about documentaries of the upcoming Tribeca Film festival. No its not football or baseball, or NASCAR or even soccer or the X games. And it's not Charlie Sheen. It is cricket, and while it is still not registering in mainstream America or with the media, it is becoming a bigger player on the global sports landscape than ever before. Should we care in North America? The numbers say yes we should.

There is probably no game that has more firmly tried to integrate western culture into its classic style than Indian cricket has. The matches are shorter, the uniforms brighter. the music louder, the dollars larger in the Indian Premier League than ever before. Cheerleaders don the sidelines. sponsors right big checks for signage, fans buy jerseys by the thousands. The result also had a positive effect on the global game, as India took down Sri Lanka to the delight of billions to win this month's World Cup on home soil. So the changes actually enhanced the game rather than slowed its growth. the changes are also being felt in the other Commonwealth countries where the game is played from youth. England, Australia, even the Carribbean, are looking to streamline the game to match the Indian success and dollars. However in North America baseball is still king, with cricket a way distant cousin. However change is in the air. The growing influence from the Caribbean, India and Pakistan is making cricket fields all the more common in cities on both coasts. The New York City public schools has made cricket an accepted sport, and matches televised late at night in sports bars are drawing larger and larger crowds. This is not lost on brands looking to influence the immigrant community, who now may spend more to activate against local cricket leagues and on TV than against Little League or the big dollars of traditional sports in TV. The digital world has given cricketers a chance to expand their highlight offerings, giving the sport even more exposure in short bursts.

Will cricket ever explode into the mainstream of the U.S. or Canada. Probably not, at least not consistently. The education process for those still used to baseball and football and even challenged by soccer may be too great. However for a growing population used to the nuances of the game. The choice between a traditional cricket match with some new style or watching an elongated and confusing baseball game may not be such a stretch. For that reason alone, American brands should be hip to following the cricket story, and see how they may be able to latch on to a growing and fervent wave of interest by a growing population.