Value In Frozen Lolo? There Sure Is.

Whether you were with her or against her this summer, Lolo Jones success and then failure made her one of the memorable faces of the London Games. Sponsors certainly adored her style, while her wide-ranging coverage and her polarizing comments, not to mention the backlash from teammates who though she was getting too much coverage for actions in front of the camera vs. on the track, kept her in the headlines.

Like her or not, there was never a doubt that Jones had star appeal, was an outstanding athletes and had a backstory that made her stand out in a crowd.

Now she goes to try her hand at a much colder Olympic sport, the bobsled. She spent three weeks at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center enduring all the testing and was selected along with  another Olympian, 4×100-meter relay gold medalist Tianna Madison, to the U.S. World Cup team as pushers. Where it goes from here and would she make it to the U.S. team for Sochi remains to be seen.

Other male track stars..Willie Gault, Hershel Walker, Renaldo Nehemiah, Edwin Moses…all took to the bobsled to various levels of success (three also spent quality time in the NFL) but only Walker actually advanced to an Olympics.

If Jones continues on it will do wonders for Women’s Bobsled, which is not an A list winter sport for NBC or the American audience.

Why does it make sense for Lolo? First, it puts her in a position to yet again how the world she is a dynamic athlete, not just an intriguing pretty face. Second it keeps her very relevant in the brand marketplace for a cycle heading towards another Olympics in two years, this one in the winter. Third, it is an amazing add-on to brands who have been on the Lolo team over the years, an unexpected boost at a time when they may be re-evaluating their time and work with her. Fourth, It gives her a leg up on sustaining her brand vs. many of the most elite track competitors who will not be front and center in the minds of Americans for the most part of the next three years.

Most importantly it puts her in a position to help a sport gain exposure…a sport which probably should and would welcome the help. Women’s Bobsled with Lolo Jones on board makes the sport a factor in popular culture and that exposure can spill over a bit to athletes on the team who had little shot at breaking through without the Lolo halo. It also helps the USOC in many ways, bringing more casual interest to the Winter Games, which usually lag behind the Summer Games in overall awareness. While there may be some negativity, extra buzz, especially for an Olympics that may lack NHL star power if the league decides to not let its players participate, is a good thing for the USOC, for the bobsled federation, for the sport and for NBC.

If Jones makes the team and gets to Sochi, critics would be hard-pressed to challenge her credibility as an athlete. Few ever make the cross over from summer to winter, especially in a sport which was learned on the fly and is quite dangerous.

Will the Lolo experiment work? We shall see the next step this weekend, but if it does, the marketing machine for a slightly far off Winter Olympics will be starting to dial up just as the first snows of 2012 start to fall.

Let The Open Branding Experience Begin…

Say what you want about the Olympics, The Super  Bowl, even NASCAR, perhaps the largest multi-day annual experiential sports branding event kicks off Monday when the US Open starts play at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.  From champagne bars to celebrities playing in sponsored events with fans to social media and community awareness, no event packs more punch and more people into two week’s than the USTA’s grand event.

The brand exposure used to be limited to two weeks in Flushing Meadows and maybe a bus shelter here and there with some New York Times ads mixed in. However for the last ten or 12 years, the USTA has expanded the value of tennis’ biggest branding event not just nationally but globally, with partners like Emirates Airways now in the mix and social media giving fans a chance to grab a piece of the Open wherever and whenever they like.

Also unlike the Olympics, which cracks down heavily on any promotions in the host city, a number of athlete-sponsored events always seem to extend the life of the event well beyond, the two weeks, especially in the fashion world. Take for example, Uniqlo announcing plans to launch an apparel line modeled after performance wear created and worn by Novak Djokovic this past week, or  Venus Williams unveiling new items from her fashion line EleVen . All will drive more ancillary interest in the event, bringing it even further to the top of the mind of casual fans not just in New York, but around the world. While this doesn’t mean that the USTA protects their marks and brand sponsors any less than other properties, it does create a bigger opportunity for brands to get exposure who may not be US Open official partners.

The Open this year even gets a bigger bounce coming off the London Olympics, where players like gold medal winner Andy Murray and the Bryan Brothers were heavily involved in promotional campaigns into and around the Games. The Bryan Brothers were front and center on Citi’s Olympic promotions, which ties nicely into a trip to New York despite the fact that rival Chase spends millions as an official US Open sponsor.  Maybe some confusion, but great awareness for the game during the lead-in.

On the digital side, the mega-platforms created by CBS, The Tennis Channel  and ESPN online fit really well with IBM’s enhancements for the Open in the mobile space, as well as with the encouragement by the USTA, the WTA and the ATP to have players use social media platforms to pull attention to the event.  As much as the London Olympics were deemed “The Social Olympics,” rest assured the US Open will find ways to engage with fans through digital media that will probably surpass all tennis events and most sports and entertainment events in the past.

Why does The Open really succeed year in, year out as such a huge event for brands?  Yes it’s the tennis in some ways and in many ways it’s the transitional time of year when brands are looking to cap a period of promotion while also looking introduce new platforms for the fall and into the next year. However the Open’s greatest value is in its location. No other mega-event is located every year in the same place (the largest media market in the world) at the same time. That gives both buyers and spenders and easy annual mark to build a tentpole around and in today’s 24/7 always changing world, that consistency is very much welcomed. All of which leads to another blockbuster two weeks of brand tennis, which helps not just the event’s partners but the game of tennis continue to grow.

Age Limit Olympic Hoops Grows Brand Basketball…

It was nice seeing the second version of “The Redeem Team” take the Olympic gold on Sunday over Spain, but what did it do for the future of the great game of basketball? By contrast, the men’s Olympic soccer tourney, won by Mexico over Brazil, gave the sport a big lift and highlight a host of the young stars fans will see in elite league’s around the world later this summer, and more importantly, in World Cup 2014. It was an exciting glimpse at the furte of the world’s most popular sport, while the second-most popular sport gave the Olympics, well…more of what fans have seen for the past year…NBA stars who we can see and enjoy for eight months every year, next to be seen in November. Is the soccer model, championed by FIFA, the way to go for basketball in the future?

The idea has been floated by NBA officials as high as David Stern in the past few months, and the Olympic tournament did nothing to show that a move to a separate World Championship, with elite young players partaking in the Olympics, could be the best to grow the game. Why? Some thoughts.

1- While bringing the original Dream Team to the Olympics was best for global growth, the sport has matured. In Barcelona ’92, the original “Dream Team” lifted both the sport of basketball and the Olympics to a new level of casual awareness. Since then, basketball has grown significantly on the global scale to the point where the Olympics, although important for men’s basketball, is not the be-all for those who follow the sport. It is mature beyond the experience and in many ways suffers because the focus is on those who rarely get the spotlight. Olympic basketball was prime time viewing, but even with its mega-stars, it is not must watch Olympic TV.

2- An off-year “World Cup” puts hoops on its own stage. We have obviously seen the lure of soccer’s World Cup in a non-summer Olympic year and what it does to grow the sport globally. Baseball, kicked out of the Olympics for 2012, has created its World Baseball Classic that s growing as a non-Olympic year global event, Rugby has its World Cup despite its coming inclusion in Rio 2016. The best of the best in team sports…established team sports…need their own window where they are the central focus. (In addition to basketball, hockey is also at this crossroads, although for different reasons).

3- The Basketball World Championship Frees Branding and Sales: Olympic basketball falls under the IOC and restricts sales, TV and marketing.  That would not happeb in a World Cup format, which can be sold and licensed by the NBA with FIBA, creating a huge dollar and branding flow directly to the governing bodies.

4- Under 23 Olympic Basketball Showcases The Future: Keeping men’s basketball as a Global Under 23 event in the Olympic Games ensures a competitive event that exposes new faces to the world…faces which casual and ardent fans will follow going forward. Given the elite nature of young basketball players, it certainly will still have some “star” power, the stars will be rising vs. established. That model, as in soccer, will help grow the game which after all is what the Olympics are all about…the advancement of sport.

5- It increases youth involvement and competitive nature: One of the reasons that USA Basketball fought to bring NBA players to The Games was because the rest of the world was improving at a young age in the sport, while American youth elite play was slipping. Under 23 can further grow the global game, and hopefully give young Americans a chance at Olympic glory as well…an opportunity they may not get in the current format of elite older players.

Yes there are major hoops and political battles to be fought should basketball go the route of soccer. Hockey right now is wrestling with an issue that is different…is there value enough in Olympic hockey to effectively shut down a thriving NHL season for a few weeks, while baseball could actually make a strong case for re-inclusion if basketball goes the soccer route for the future (baseball is primarily out because of the lack of MLB elite players participating since the Games are in the MLB season). Building time and equity in a global championship also has its challenges as well, and won’t happen over night.

However if the powers that be on the basketball side want to continue to grow the game globally and increase “brand basketball,” the soccer model of World Cup and young Olympians, is the smartest and most lucrative.

Great to see Kobe and company win the gold with Coach K on Sunday, but that World hampionship model could be even better for the game.


Mini’s, Clothes, and Earrings; Some “Little” Olympic Wins…

As London 2012 winds down, a look at some of the “little” wins…unusual brand exposure that helped skirt the Olympic rules with some innovation, timing and a little foresight.

BMW HAS A SMART DRIVE: Maybe you have seen it during the field competitions, maybe not. It certainly hasn’t made it into a lot of the audio, but  London 2012 vehicle partner BMW found a fun way to get mentioned, and noticed. The brand provided a fleet of miniature versions of its MINI cars that transported track and field equipment around the Olympic Stadium. The remote-controlled cars do not carry any MINI branding, so they didn’t break any IOC protocol, but they did create some buzz and a natural connection as the cars scurried about picking up javelins and a shot out or ten.

It was a great test for future mini tests, maybe picking up a kicking tee at a football game or dropping a puck at center ice. Plus auctioning off the remotes afterwards could have a great philanthropic upside.  Nice engagement, BMW.

SCORING POINTS:  Americans April Ross and Jennifer Kessy dropped the women’s beach volleyball final to Misty May Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings, but they scored some huge points for startup apparel brand 4POINT4. The pair wore the new brand, which has a unique philanthropic twist, throughout the tourney, and by their success helped donate sports equipment to developing nations throughout the world based on their performance in the games.

Additionally, as part of the brand’s philanthropic efforts tied to Ross and Kessy, 4POINT4 supported beach volleyball tournaments in Cité Soleil, Haiti – a United Nations-designated red zone area –while the Olympic Games went on. The “sister city” campaign had simultaneous volleyball matches in an underserved area of Haiti during the Olympics as part of the brand’s mission to give access to sports and equipment to less fortunate kids.

It probably didn’t bring in the endorsement dollars of a Nike or Under Armour for the pair, but the partnership served as a nice launch platform and over time could be a real winner for both the sport and brand philanthropy.

HOW ABOUT THOSE EARRINGS: As Sanya Richards-Ross earned gold on the track Monday night, so did her large Chanel earrings. The custom designed, non-logoed pair got some quality time during the race and in her post-race NBC times, making their way to air without a Chanel Olympic tie. Did anyone take notice? The IOC must have, as the earrings did not appear during the Olympic star’s races later in the week.

While the official brands did come through with big time activation programs for the games, it is always interesting to note the little ones who found their way through the clutter and could set themselves up for even bigger and better plans down the line away from the games with other properties. Nice job by all three, where a little luck tied in with hard work to bring some great results.

NFL Helps Extend The Olympic Audience

The NFL and the Olympic movement have had several crossover stars throughout the years…Willie Gault, Jim Thorpe, Bob Hayes among others  have excelled in both athletics and football.

Now Sanya Richards Ross and Holly Mangold have never ventured to the NFL gridiron in recent years as players, but Brand NFL helped give both some added pop as they ventured to the Olympic stage in London this weekend. Make no mistake, Richards Ross and Mangold have certainly earned their keep and deserve all the accolades they have gotten. However their relationships with two prominent NFL stars…Ross married to two time Super Bowl champion now turned Jacksonville Jaguar Aaron Ross, Mangold the sister of New York Jets Pro Bowl offensive lineman Nick Mangold…has certainly helped draw even more casual viewers to their efforts across the pond.

Ross was in the Olympic Stadium for his wife’s  competition…prompting Jags coach Mike Mullarkey to take the team and over 1,000 fans into Stadium to watch her go for gold on the big screen at Everbank Stadium and drawing support from all around. A great shared experience between athletics and the NFL.

Now the Mangold shared experience played out for several days in the New York media as coach Rex Ryan encouraged his star to skip practice and join his sister in her special quest, one which he had resisted in doing until the last minute. Mangold went and supported his sister, much to the delight of the team and the support of the media. NFL lifts even competitive weight lifting it seems.

So what does this mean exactly? Richards Ross has garnered some great brand support on her own…especially through USOC sponsor Citi...but athletics, or track, still falls into the abyss after the Olympics every four years. maybe an extra boost from her NFL crossover attracts a joint sponsorship, or extra grassroots support, to help her gain more attention for her charitable and business endeavors after London, where she became a gold medalist. For Mangold, still maturing in her weightlifting career, maybe it means extra training dollars and more media attention which could also lead to some fun brand campaigns with her brother.

End of the day, the NFL machine helped bring more attention to a pair of very deserving athletes and may help differentiate them from others during the post-Olympic scramble for brand partners. Both are unique stories with great ties to the NFL at a time when the NFL brand is coming front and center in the spotlight. A rising tide can lift not just the NFL boat, but those for track and maybe weightlifting as well.

Will Team Handball Ever Get Its Due?

This was inspired by my colleague Vince Wladika…we don’t agree on everything but when the moon and the stars are right… It has the best elements of soccer and basketball…it has contact…it is fast paced and highs scoring…it is measured in a manageable quarters with universal rules…it is arguably the most widely used training sport on the planet and by some accounts is the second-biggest team sport in the world, yet ask most Americans about Team Handball and they think of middle aged men hitting a spaldeen against the wall. Why?

I was introduced to Team Handball by coincidence vs. choice. I was assigned to be the venue coordinator in what was then The Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis for the 1987 Pan Am Games, and the sport was Team Handball. It was a first-time opportunity for the sport, which i knew little about but picked up quickly. The U.S. as the host nation was grandfathered in. So off we went to try and drum up support. The Federation was headquartered in New Jersey. The Americans were made up of former Ivy and Academy athletes and there was a rivalry with Cuba to deal with. So many elements were in place to at least get some support while USA Baseball was out pounding its Latin neighbors.

The Americans took on the vaunted Cubans in round robin competition and low and behold, a full scale brawl erupted. The Americans lost, created an international incident and the sport took off. As the medal round dawned, word spread of the controversy rising and low and behold US faced Cuba for the Gold. Over 6,000 curious and patriotic soles showed up, and in some kind of “Miracle on Ice” redux, the U.S. avenged the loss and beat Cuba…in overtime! Writers from the Newark Star Ledger’s Chris Thorne to AP said team handball had arrived…and then it was gone.

The U.S. men again failed to qualify for London, a victim I heard of a federation short on dollars, interest and promotion for a game well known to any professional in hockey, soccer or even hoops. Could Team handball grow again in the States? Sure. What does it need?

Some basic things…more exposure and centralized organization by its NGB…an extensive education program designed to show the interest in the sport to casual fans…a strong social media push designed around education for those who play and with some slick highlights promoting the action that the sport has…as well as outreach to a growing audience of immigrants who know the game from their youth…immigrants from around the world who understand the game at its core and can expose it to a mainstream American audience. Heck, Slamball once had a home…handball is legit and just as full of action.  It is a simple, inexpensive team game with a solid history and a long following, even as a training sport. It probably has some amazing player stories. I am not saying we need to launch the International Team Handball League tomorrow, but for a country always looking for whats next in fast pace action with a good mix it up spirit, not to mention global routes and infinite sponsorship and media avenues, Team Handball could be a quick and dedicated sell.

Try and find it during London 2012 for yourself…you may be surprised and impressed, even without American males in the mix.

Olympic Opportunities; Brand Masks, Rim Signage

As th first weekend of the London Olympics came to a close, some unique opportunities arose…here are three:

Masking A brand: Although not quite with the push that archery hs gotten through its roles in some recent blockbuster movies (Brave, The Avengers and The Hunger Games especially) fencing, with its inner-city appeal, has presented its own opportunities. The best example of a new best practice came from American Lee Keifer, who found a way to turn what is a usually bland piece of equipment, the fencing mask, and turn it into a living breathing piece of patriotism by donning the red, white and blue across her face mask. Keifer’s move raises the question of what else can be put on facemasks to draw a little extra edge…could they become like goalie masks, with elaborate  images designed to vex the opponent? The Olympics will limit corporate sponsorships and non-traditional uniform marks, but can a new revenue and media stream be launched for say, collegiate fencing by the creativity of the mask? Regardless of Keifer’s finish during the games, her red, white and blue mask may open up a new sponsorship canvas for a sport still looking to find its footing in the mainstream.

Grab The Rim, Send A Message: one of the more eye opening result’s of Sunday’s USA-France men’s hoops opener was the clear message sent not on the court, but above the court. Shots of the high flying action above the rim revealed a very clear message on the rim, facing the camera, which said “inspire a generation.”  Although limited in size, the rim, facing the backboard camera, could become a new unique revenue source during any televised game as basketball organizations from the NBA through high school and college look for new ways to engage signage with sponsorship. A few years ago the Harlem Globetrotters dropped Campbell’s Soup signage on the sides and bottoms of the plexiglass backboards, but the images were hard to track on TV. The rim message, even with the limited size, came across very clear on TV and for sure will be tested going forward as a new innovative source of ROI for brands.

And now, back to the Games…


Man U “Gets” Local Branding, PSU Speaks As One, And Value As “Intrepreneurs”

As we hit the opening weekend of the Olympics, some thoughts on good moves away from London…

Manchester United Thinks Globally, Acts Locally: There is perhaps no more better positioned global sports brand than Manchester United. The club will play to packed stadia anywhere in the world and their web traffic, kit sales and TV audiences stack up against any other property in sports. So while scores of clubs came to North America for “friendlies” this July, Man U left the UK and went east for a China  tour, further cementing their position as arguably soccer’s strongest brand in Asia. It was a big part of DHL’s sponsorship with ManU, which will also bring them across North Europe before heading back to start Barclays Premier League training.

While the club was on their whirlwind tour through China they made a very pointed move to connect, donning jerseys with Mandarin on the front, a departure from the English “AON” branding that adorns their kits the rest of the time. As brands still grapple with how to connect with the Chinese marketplace, this was a great example of understanding local culture. It is not all about saying we are doing “Hispanic” night and playing salsa music and putting “Los” on everything. It is about thinking and doing what that audience can connect with and making the effort to show that you understand what pleases them. The change of kits, even temporarily, showed supporters that ManU “got” them, and created a nice surprise, not to mention a great visual.

Great example of a global brand adapting and sending a message that no matter how big they are, they can identify with their supporters in every market.

PSU Speaks: The aftermath of the Penn State football situation will not be clear for a very long time. Regardless of which side one falls in the decision, it was impressive that players and coaches spoke in unison this week of their desire to stay with the program.  Coach Bill O’Brien used the national media, with a day-long trip to ESPN, to speak to the nation and explain in his voice the challenges and potential opportunities that student-athletes may have with the sanctions, while players spoke in groups to support each other and the University. The program even was able to turn the recruiting habits of other schools looking for potential transfers into a rally point, with players speaking out against assistant coaches spread out across the campus trying to speak to players about leaving Penn State for their school. Perhaps it is short term messaging, and many thought it was expected for the players to rally, but the fact that almost all players spoke in support as one, and that Coach O’Brien went on the aggressive to the national media, gave the program a window of fresh air for a few days and set a tone that was the most positive element to come out of the program in a very long time.

The Value of “Intrepreneurship”: I don’t often use my blog to speak about brands I work with, but Friday while teaching high school students at Columbia University, Bloomberg Sports’ Bo Moon gave a nice talk on the value of being not an entrepreneur, but an intrepreneur. It is a word that has been around for a few decades, but raised many eyebrows in the room…the definition is: “behaving like an entrepreneur when you’re employed at a large corporation for the benefit of the corporation as a whole.”

Moon and fellow employee JB Lee became intrepreneurs at Bloomberg when they took the idea of using the company’s vast analytic engine for business to create a vertical business in the would of sports. They presented to senior management, were given some seed money and as a result of their efforts Bloomberg Sports was born three years ago, and recently was spun off partially to IMG.

They saw an opportunity that existed in a large company to create a new revenue stream and came up with a business plan to present to management to expand a potential offshoot which was away from the core business. They did it on their own time, explained it very clearly and when ready went to senior management with the idea. They didn’t have to go out on their own or be rebellious…they knew the workings of the company and how to unify and be inclusive and respectful as opposed to breaking away and trying things on their own. They did not know at first if they would get support with the idea, but their presentation made sense, especially in a challenged economy where a large business was looking for ways to provide new services using existing assets.

It is a great example of presentation and thinking “in the box” per se, vs. trying to go at something alone. Companies need to encourage more intrepreneurs as a way of growing, and Bloomberg Sports is a great example of how to do so.


Why The Baseball All-Star Game Works…

Tuesday night the sport of baseball gets what is perhaps the rarest of rare opportunities in a cluttered 24/7 sports and entertainment world…a night virtually free of competition to show off its best and its brightest. Maybe there is a little World TeamTennis, a dab of NBA Summer League and free agent movement, some minor league baseball here and there but there are no movie openings, no TV originals, no global soccer, no tennis, no golf, no football news, no NASCAR, IRL or Formula One, no Olympic trials, no hockey free agency, not even any WWE or MMA. Nothing. Nada to compete with for the causal fan, except the All-Star Game, live from Kansas City. While some may still feel that MLB is caught still trying to catch up to engage with younger audiences, having that niche of about 48 hours almost alone to promote the sport, its athletes and its brands is perhaps the greatest single advantage baseball has over anyone else in the marketplace. Every other team sport, for all the great platforms that can be created, always has something else to draw eyeballs. Every championship still has other elements to compete with. Baseball, on a Tuesday in mid-July is all to itself.

Does baseball take adequate advantage of that platform? Let’s see. The league has fully invoked social media to get the fans up close and personal to everything going on in and around the game, even publishing a comprehensive guide as to who and what to follow from Sunday through Wednesday morning. They have a good celebrity presence with softball and others attending the games, they have found their way into Late Night shows with their stars, from Letterman’s Top 10 list to RA Dickey joining Dave on Wednesday post-game.  They recognize their global presence with the Future’s Game, a format which may make even more sense for All-Star going forward as the upcoming World Baseball Classic takes hold, and they have tried to take the challenge of the game having no meaning head on by rewarding home field advantage to the winning league. Whether the last piece works or not is anyone’s guess, but it did and still does cause considerable debate and it does draw casual attention to the game.

As far as sponsors go, the game and the surrounding activities are all about the brands who spend huge sums to be part of “America’s Pastime.” From State Farm‘s involvement in the Home Run Derby to Sirius XM’s partnership with the Futures Game to Head and Shoulders fun “Man Man Competition with Nick Swisher and other former players having fun with their hair, every brand partner using every platform possible, will try and find a way to get the best ROI out of all things All-Star. While there may be some clamor as to who gets the best exposure and how the greatest programs are executed, the multiple days give the better programs the best chances to shine not just at the game, but on the web, on mobile, in video and at every ancillary event.  Market size for such a platform, with the game being in Kansas City this year, isn’t even the factor that it used to be, with so many brands able to use new and digital media to pull in activation from fans around the world like never before.

While millions will cast their eyes in a few weeks time to the Olympics as the grand daddy of activation for 2012, there will still be competition every day for casual fans attention and dollars. NFL will be starting, college sports kicking up, baseball in full swing, MLS and the various soccer “friendlies” will be moving along, NASCAR hits its stride and more people will be on holiday as August beckons. MLB has the clear stage to test and activate like no one else, with a prime time window to showcase all their wares on Tuesday. It should be the envy of all events, not just for the window but for what the sport is doing to grow and show off their work with little to battle against.

Can America’s Cup Make A Splash?

Many consider it the third-most lucrative sports event in the world behind World Cup and the Olympics. Last week a preliminary race drew thousands to Rhode Island to see the state-of-the-art vehicles, with high tech appliances, big name sponsors and unbelievably skilled crews duke it out for a nice prelim purse. Yet for most of North America the eyes were tuned to the middle weekend of Wimbledon, EURO2012, NASCAR, NBA free agency, major or minor league baseball or even a day at the beach or in the country.  The event was a the Americas Cup World Series off the coast of Newport, Rhode island, the latest in a series of trials leading to the 2013 America’s Cup in San Francisco. So with all the sponsors, the U.S. vs. other countries rivalry, the history of one of the world’s oldest sporting events, the big deal sponsors, the great stories, the technology, can America’s Cup find a way to the forefront of the American landscape before next year? Maybe, but it’s going to take some work.

 First the positives. America’s Cup has done it before, with skippers like Dennis Connor and Ted Turner leading the quest to defend the honor not just of the race bit of the United States against the world. This time it is Team Oracle, led by billionaire Larry Ellison, who will lead the charge for the U.S. against its challengers in no more of an ideal setting than the waters around San Francisco. Ellison has invested millions into the race and its lead up, and some of the global brands with the deepest pockets, from Puma to red Bull to Louis Vuitton, are well invested in the race. Like any other elite sailing competition, millions have been invested in technology, not just on the boats but in the ways broadcasters can cover and fans can engage with the crew and all the goings-on during the race and the lead-ups. The competition has a country-vs.-country feel that embraces Patriotism, which is always a great plus, and it inspires a throwback to the long-gone days when sailing ruled the world, a sense of nostalgia that millions can relate to. Also sailing remains one of the elitist of the elite sports around the world, and the name “America’s Cup” has a huge built in brand recognition that even casual sports fans have a feel for. All that is good, as well as the timing of the race in an off-Olympic and World Cup year, which could give America’s Cup a runway to a global audience that is rare these days. The controlling body also has launched a huge green initiative around educating people the world over on cleaner oceans and conservation programs, and the elite crew members on the ships are some of the most diverse and entertaining characters in any sport anywhere.

Now the issues. The America’s Cup has no real flow. Challenges are set at random, so the next one could be next year or ten years from now. There has been little education for the casual sports fan as to what the Cup is, and although there is some embracing of social and digital media, the programs that are available still have not reached the masses. While there are amazing sponsor names, the programs that have been out forth thus far focus only on the regions where races are being held, and not with the masses. The stories of the racers and crew are string, but have not been communicated beyond those with interest in the race, and in North America, coverage of the sport is scant at best, especially on TV. Like soccer a decade ago, sailing is a global sport with no string consistent home in the U.S. Can, for at least a year, the sport find its sea legs in American culture?  Maybe.

The good news is that the issues presented can be overcome with proper planning, seeding and brand activation. This is not a startup launch which people do not understand. It is an event with great history and one which has broken through before. It has a great technology play which can appeal to the education world, and its brands are not averse in any way in spending money to justify ROI. The races are also not tomorrow, they are in the fall of 2013, with some powerful events upcoming to help create an effective build.

It comes down to education and activation. Can America’s Cup take the local and international success it saw last weekend again and parlay that into North American success? They have the brand, the product and the technology to do so. That’s the hardest part. Will they? That all depends on leadership and vision. The opportunity is there for a great and every exciting product that can be experienced both in person and with traditional and social media. Will it happen? The ship has not yet sailed, but the time is ticking, even with a year still to go.

America’s Cup is definitely a property worth watching.