Creating A Better (Luxury) Experience…

Content and access are the buzz words for engagement now more than ever before. Those words get even more amplified when you factor in high net worth companies and individuals looking for that once in a lifetime experience, whether it is in sports or entertainment. The ROI has to be unique, and it can’t be something that can easily be replicated by others in the space.
One company that is priding itself on the unique is LXL Experiences. Its CEO Mark Riccio, has decades of experience in customer service and has worked with scores of elite brands from his time with the New York Jets, and LXL has looked to him to cultivate and create an elite subscription event service like no other, whether it is spending a night in a suite with some friends…and Mariano Rivera…or hanging with the cats of Law and Order and learning the inner workings of one of America’s most popular shows. The experiences are not for everyone, and the barrier to entry is high, but the model, according to Riccio is taking hold and setting the company apart.

 

We caught up with him to talk about LXL and the lessons learned with Gang Green over the decades. (His bio follows)

There are many who think the athlete meet and greet is done to death for corporate America, why is this a better mousetrap?

The first thing I would say is we are not the athlete ‘meet and greet’. While spending time with an athlete can certainly be part of an experience, it is only one component – compelling content, premium food and beverage, luxury gifts, and other interesting members are also all part of every experience. And further to that – -sports is only about half of what we do. Part of our value proposition to members is we create intimate and exclusive opportunities to interact with athletes, as well as celebrities across a range of interests – food, music, fashion, and television.

Is there a model you all have set up outside of sport that this follows? ?

There is no specific outside of sport model we follow. With that said, many have drawn a parallel to shared private aviation, or shared luxury vacation models. The key difference between those and LXL is our membership is all-inclusive. Members pay monthly and everything is included, there are no additional costs – which gives the member cost certainty, value certainty, and simplicity.

Coming from a career in the NFL, what are the lessons learned you brought to this business?

LOTS! First and foremost people do business with people, not necessarily a company, product or service – therefore developing relationships is a vital business function. Second, people will pay a premium price, if they receive a premium value. LXL is a combination of these two leanings. Sports teams win or lose – you can’t control that – but you can control the guest experience – and if done right — you create a memory and the guest will never forget how you made them feel. LXL has put a firm stake in the ground around this learning.

What has been the response thus far?

“Ahh, I get it!” That’s how I sum up the response. It’s a new model so I have to walk prospects through it – and once I do, “Ahh, I get it!” is the reaction. So in short, the response has been outstanding. Over and over, executives have been telling me they are looking for a seamless, all-inclusive solution for (client) entertainment that gives them variety and enables them to focus on their business. We take the pain out of business hospitality and that has great value to executives and companies. We do all the work — provide memorable experiences and all of details that go into that — and our members just chose with whom they want to share these occasions.

Anything has surprised you thus far in the reaction of clients?

Yes, two big surprises. First, people do not push back on price – – which I’m admittedly accustomed to. People in NY will tell you exactly what they think, so this lack of push back is a clear indication the price – value comparison matches. Second, people’s surprise when they realize the LXL model in its entirety doesn’t exist elsewhere.

Is this a model that is purely American for sport or can it be replicated globally?

Building and nurturing relationships is not geographically contained, and we believe the LXL membership model is as effective in NYC as it will be in LA, Europe, and Asia.

How have you been able to tie the luxury experience with sport to entertainment? ?

Sports is only about half of what we do. We continue to move closer to other lifestyle experiences: culinary excursions; music of all types; inside fashion; television and movie celebrity interactions. We will always offer sports experiences – it’s in my blood and it has value, but it is clear that businesses have clients with interests far beyond sports. The culinary, fashion, music experiences combined with a healthy staple of football, baseball and tennis experiences is part of our unique value to LXL members.

Is it similar to the customer experience you tried to help create with the Jets?

Yes – without a doubt. People are paying a premium for certain hospitality and sponsorship assets at the Jets. We would remind ourselves regularly getting the deal done was only a quarter of the work. Making that partnership come to life was the harder, more sustainable piece of the business, and I was fortunate to work with some very talented colleagues that did a great job with that.

What teams do the best at taking care of their high-end customers?

The interesting part here is that teams are getting more and more pressure here. Providing more value – aka “taking care of the high-end customer” is now a competitive necessity as opposed to competitive advantage. I’m undeniably partial so I’m going to recognize the Jets. I think MSG has done a good job in reacting to the changes in the marketplace and working to provide more value. Likewise, my experience has been teams in smaller markets have to work harder to maintain that high end customer because there are less of them.

Where would you like to have the business at the end of 2015, and what’s the benchmark for success at that point? ?

We have started signing Founding Members and are only taking 40 in total for the first year. This number will allow us to be nimble, work directly with our members to set the path for growth and deliver the optimal member experience in NY, as well as other markets.

As President and CEO, Mr. Riccio leads the LXL team and brings to it a depth of experience and a deep understanding of the professional sports arena and team business. As Senior Vice President with the New York Jets, he was responsible for all aspects of team and stadium business affairs and overall strategic planning. He directed corporate sales, new business development, corporate partnerships and the merchandise division. Mr. Riccio was also responsible for the New York Jets’ special events, game-day operations and multimedia product. He knows what it takes to create a superior luxury experience within a major entertainment venue or stadium. Mr. Riccio is also an adjunct associate professor at Hofstra University, teaching graduate and undergraduate classes in the Frank G. Zarb School of Business and has served as director of marketing and development for intercollegiate athletics at Hofstra University. Mr. Riccio holds a BA in communications and an MBA in marketing from Hofstra University, and a JD from St. John’s School of Law. He is a member of the New York State Bar Association.

DeVry Tries To Score With Baseball…

 

The age of online higher education of all levels continues to grow each year, and in a world that is increasingly more technologically savvy, the ability to study and earn a degree without ever setting foot in a classroom is becoming more and more commonplace.
Whether that is healthy, and whether the loss of actual human interaction and discussion is valuable is a big debate, but for the time challenged and the budget challenged, the for-profit online world of education can be seen on almost every bus shelter, infomercial and recruiting site out there. Some lager outfits, like the University of Phoenix, have sought to distance themselves from the competition, and others have sought to find marketing niches to set them apart in the conversation.
One of which is DeVry University, which last year found a unique niche by partnering with the United States Olympic Committee to provide online education and enhancement programs online to athletes with little time for formal and traditional education during their training and competing years. The partnership started with six Olympic athletes and has grown to about 200 enrolled today, including American gold medalist bobsledder Steven Holcomb, who was featured in DeVry ads during the games.
This year, DeVry will try another wide ranging partnership with a little more grassroots appeal, a partnership with Minor League Baseball that will give them exposure at all 160 minor league franchises ranging from rookie leagues to AAA and will include online promotions, signage and other events to drum up awareness to the millions who flock to games over the course of the summer.
However in addition to the wide-ranging consumer sponsorship, DeVry will institute a higher education program to assist minor leaguers interested in pursuing a degree, as well as providing 20 full-ride scholarships to minor league players, staff, alumni and other team and league employees, as well as reduced tuition for interested players and their spouses. Like the USOC partnership, the athletes become the advocates, and the success stories out of the partnership can be merchandised as equity for DeVry while providing a very unique service for those in MiLB who are in many cases just out of high school and thrust into the rigors of MLB without a fallback when their careers end. Even for those MiLB player who spend some time on the NCAA level, the ability to complete a degree, or help a spouse who has sacrificed for them, get their education is also appealing.
The DeVry partnership also falls in a pretty unique niche for minor league baseball, a category that is probably not over-sold locally throughout the minor league system, giving the program a real chance at success in markets big and small. The program will also make for a nice test case for other potential sponsorships, from the D-League to minor league hockey, using young athletes and those toiling at the lower levels as ambassadors not just for DeVry, but for online education as well.
Will it succeed? The USOC program seems to be taking hold, and while the experience at the minor league baseball level is sometimes more geared towards young people and giveaways, the ability to tell positive stories by engaging young athletes looking for a fallback when the time on the diamond becomes short is a good one, especially as you aggregate the stories across all levels of baseball and in a host of markets.

 

 

For MiLB it’s a smart partnership, and for DeVry it seems like an educated guess at success, with an RI that can drive brand, enrollment and good will. A hot could be in the making.

Brewing Up Some New Innovation On The Promo Front…

While many times media-types look to larger market teams as innovation leaders, especially in the digital and social space, the reality is that those in smaller markets are sometimes best at innovation. One of those leaders of the pack for Major League Baseball is the Milwaukee Brewers. No matter what happens on the field, the Brew Crew always seems to be finding new ways to engage their  fans year-round, and many of those innovations become best practices for other teams throughout professional sport.
One of those key people with a finger on the pulse of the Brewers digital brand is Director of New Media Caitlin Moyer. Moyer started working for the Brewers as an intern in the Corporate Marketing department in 2003 and has risen through the ranks, now helping lead the outreach in digital and social media and digital advertising. We caught up with Caitlin to hear more about how the Brewers do what they do, and what’s coming up next this winter.
The Brewers have really found ways to engage with fans in the offseason and make it fun; hiding gnomes and doing other unique engagement platforms. How have those non traditional ideas been received?

Non-traditional ideas tend to be received very well by our fans, whether in the offseason or during the season.

Some of our ideas, such as the lawn gnome scavenger hunts and our balloon event, have taken place before sunrise and there’s always a great crowd on hand taking part.

While there is something to be said about valuing tradition in the Midwest, Brewers fans are also always up for something new and exciting. They are the most passionate and loyal fans in all of baseball.
Anything new coming up this winter?
We just finished revealing our “#20in15” 20 All-Fan Giveaways slated for our 2015 promotional schedule. Over the course of a week on our social media platforms, we invited fans to play along and try to “Guess the Giveaway” as we released clues for each of our 20 items. Fans had the opportunity to win tickets to these games as well.

Included in that reveal were two more opportunities for us to engage fans this offseason—1) This year, we’ll have 7 T-Shirt Friday dates where all fans in attendance will receive a free t-shirt, and this year, fans will have the chance to vote on the designs; and 2) We will have one Fan Vote Item, where fans will have a say in the final All-Fan Giveaway item of 2015.

Fan Votes are great ways to listen to feedback and give fans exactly what they want, rather than us simply guessing what they want.
Who are some of the teams or outlets you look to to see what’s new and interesting in the digital space?
In my mind, the San Francisco Giants are the gold standard in the MLB. Aside from the fact that their digital efforts are headed up by the genius that is Bryan Srabian, they are in the fortunate position of being located right in the heart of the tech industry.

Other than that, I consider it an important part of my role to keep up on industry news and trends. I subscribe to many newsletters and check in with certain websites daily to stay updated on the latest trends. Some of my favorites include Mashable, Hashtag Sports, Ad Age and Fast Company. Good ideas can come from anywhere.

Sometimes people question the ROI for digital campaigns what have been some of the best examples you have seen where an idea turned into great business for the club?
Our Countdown to Opening Day campaign has been successful for the last two seasons. There is something special about Opening Day – especially in Milwaukee. Here in Milwaukee, Opening Day is treated like a holiday. Every year, without fail, 45,000+ fans take the day off work and pile into Miller Park to celebrate the return of Brewers Baseball. It is undoubtedly our most popular game of the season. Because of this, for the last number of years we have offered free Opening Day tickets as a major incentive to purchase a 10-Pack.
We attempted to accomplish two very distinct goals with our Countdown to Opening Day social campaign. First, we wanted to build excitement for the upcoming season. It is hard to imagine baseball season in the dead of winter when there is a foot of snow on the ground, so we wanted to find a way to stay relevant to our fans in the offseason and get them excited for the upcoming season. Secondly, we wanted to use this as a platform to promote our 10-Packs message and use the free Opening Day hook to drive 10-Pack sales.
In 2013, we had a very successful Countdown to Opening Day social campaign in which, beginning on January 1, we posted a different photo every day representing the number of days remaining until Opening Day. The campaign was so popular we decided to bring back the Countdown again in 2014, but this time, all of the images were fan-submitted.

For 89 days, fans were encouraged to submit their photos showing how they were counting down to Opening Day. At the end of each day, our team would review all of the submissions and decide which photo would be posted across Brewers social media channels the next morning. Of course, we tried to tie in some sort of clever caption relating to the picture in every post. Every fan that had their image selected was entered into a drawing to win a pair of 10-Packs. Also, each post included a link to our 10-Packs landing page along with the hashtag #SeeUMarch31 and some variation of the message, “Opening Day is in XX days. Go for free with a 10-Pack.” And the end of the campaign, we included all 89 countdown graphics into one full-page Season Kickoff ad that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the day before to Opening Day.
Not only did this campaign help drive 10-Pack sales and create brand awareness during the offseason, it spawned increased excitement for OpeningDay and engaged our fan base.
We have also held several special one-day , online-only sales. The offers were promoted solely online and codes were disseminated via our various social media platforms. Through these types of offers, with little to no paid advertising, we’ve been successful in selling over 20,000 tickets on a single date.
The club has a number of players who like to engage in the digital space. Does the team help with such engagements and who are some of the players who have done a good job?
Looking back at 2011, I can name two players on our roster who were on Twitter. One was pitcher John Axford. We were fortunate in that he was a natural (and still is) at engaging with fans, and at the time, we were able to work with him to develop a special ticket offer that was quite successful.

Now we are seeing more and more players joining sites like Twitter and Instagram each year. As these athletes “grow up” with the technology and have an innate understanding of how to use it, they are more comfortable with the platforms and more open to working with us on specific initiatives and ideas.

On our current roster we have probably 15 players that are on social media in some way, shape or form, and they vary in levels of frequency and engagement. However, Carlos Gomez literally is the Brewers Most Valuable Tweeter because he does a great job of interacting with fans on both Twitter and Instagram.

In addition, this past season, one of my greatest successes was “helping” one of our veterans, Kyle Lohse, get on Twitter. Turns out he is a natural.

Obviously there has been some change in the marketplace with the Bucks new owners. Do you work with the other teams in the marketplace to share best practices and see how you can work together?
Absolutely. Especially in a market our size. We may not all get together and meet regularly, but I know all of my counterparts at the different sports organizations from collegiate to NBA and NFL.

For example, we hosted a “Social Media in Sports Night” at Miller Park in 2012 that brought together most of the teams and we have no problem reaching out to each other if an idea presents itself.
Which brands do you think do a great, innovative job of fan activation in general? Are there people outside of baseball that you follow and try to adapt ideas from?
I wouldn’t say there is one company, brand or person that is my go-to resource.

Starbucks is an amazing passion brand that carries that over well to digital, Oreo set a standard for “real-time marketing,” I really admire the stuff that Callaway Golf has done with drones. The #ShareACoke campaign was really creative, McDonald’s is taking an interesting approach to transparency….

Like I said, good ideas can come from anywhere. I definitely keep an eye on what’s happening outside of baseball and outside of sports, but there’s a bigger part of us that likes to be innovative and leaders on our own.

So much emphasis is on winning, how do the Brewers keep fans engaged when success on the field is not always there?
After the World Series, there are always 29 teams with disappointed fans. Whether a team doesn’t make the Postseason or comes within a game of winning the World Series,, our task remains the same: keep fans engaged in the offseason.

One of our primary goals in the offseason is building hope and excitement for the coming season. We focus on what we are doing to improve the team (trades, acquisitions, etc.) We remind them of the star talent already on the roster and of past triumphs. We focus on key series/matchups for the next season, we get fans excited with fun, new promotions, and we are out there in the community reconnecting with fans—whether it is a Thanksgiving Food Drive or our Fan Fest.

When Opening Day rolls around, you’re not selling tickets—you’re selling hope. Hope that this year will be your team’s year to win it all. That’s really all you can do, is give your fans a reason to hope and believe. Baseball is such a romantic sport when you think about it.

During the season, it can be a little tougher to keep fans engaged in a tough season. We went through a really tough time in 2013, and we made a concerted effort to reach out to our fans with several different “Fans First” initiatives. That didn’t come from social/digital. That message came from the top and was executed across the board. It takes an owner and team leaders committed to their fan base and a standard of excellence to pull you through those tough times.
How important is the mobile space for the club? Any new initiatives that you are following or the Brewers will be adapting in the winter or spring?
Mobile is a huge initiative for Major League Baseball in general ,and as a League, we’ve been a leader in this space. We work closely with the folks at MLBAM on the MLB At Bat and At the Ballpark Apps. This past year, we added iBeacons to Miller Park -fans receive special offers just from “checking in” at Miller Park-and we look to expand our use of them in 2015. There is a lot of potential there.

Can “Black Fives” Score As A Great Marketing/History Platform?

There has been a big push in recent years for professional sports in the United States to return to their roots and honor those who came first. MLB has done a tremendous job in and around all things Jackie Robinson and has worked to raise the profile of the Negro Leagues; the NFL recently helped honor their trailblazers with the film “Forgotten Four.” But what about basketball? While there are constant efforts by the NBA to look back at those who told the early stories of integration with the league, some feel the NBA has not fully embraced this history of players of color in the early stages of the sport.
One of those people pushing for more recognition is Claude Johnson, President and Executive Director of Black Fives. Johnson has worked tirelessly over the years to tell the story of some of the original, and most colorful (no pun intended) athletes in the early stages of when hoops became popular. (Claude’s bio follows the q and a)
We caught up with Claude to talk about those characters, his plans, and if the NBA can mix those great retro uniforms of clubs gone by into their marketing plans soon.
How did Black Fives come about as a property and what have you seen as your biggest success?
Our mission is to showcase and teach the pre-NBA history of African Americans in basketball, a period known as the Black Fives Era, as well as to honor those pioneers and their accomplishments. What started as a hobby that into a commercial business, Black Fives, Inc., which at first developed trademarks, then produced wholesale apparel including throwback jerseys, and finally sought licensing revenue from intellectual property and content. All the while, I spent a huge amount of time researching, documenting, and sharing this history with schools, descendants, and a growing number of online followers. This “side” activity is what I enjoyed the most, it was the most rewarding, and I felt it was making the biggest difference to others.
So in early 2013, I organized a public not-for-profit charity, the Black Fives Foundation to replace the old company, which I dissolved, and then donated all of its assets to the new foundation, including its entire portfolio of IP and its archive of historical artifacts. We got our tax exempt 501-c-3 status in August 2014, so we’re still fresh. Now there’s a better alignment between our org structure, our efforts, and our passion. I didn’t mind selling tee shirts, but dedication to a cause definitely resonates better with me.

For example, we believe we’re making the subject of history more interesting to certain students, which in its own small way helps close our country’s persistent academic achievement gap. We also include content and messaging that’s relevant today, in areas like leadership, teamwork, inclusion, business, problem solving, and finding common ground. Our slogan is “Make History Now.”

When reaching out to people to tell the story of the teams, what do you find most surprising that people don’t know?

People are probably most surprised to learn that dozens of African American basketball teams were playing well over 100 years ago. Those same people wonder– and some are even upset about it–why it’s taken so long for this history to “come out” … and conversely, why it was “kept hidden” for so long. All-black teams were playing all-white teams before 1910. The ball had laces. The basket was closed at the bottom. African American barnstorming teams had lucrative operations even during the Great Depression. There were 10 world championships in professional basketball before the NBA even began, with two all-black teams–the New York Rens and the Washington Bears–winning the first two titles. That’s just the beginning.

MLB and the NFL have done a great job of embracing their long-ago history. How do you feel the NBA has done in that regard?

The NBA has not done much if anything with this history. Yet. When the Barclays Center celebrated its opening by permanently installing a compilation of six mural-sized vintage Brooklyn-related African American basketball images that we provided to them, when the Mayor’s Office declared February 10, 2013, as “Black Fives Day” for the City of New York with a special proclamation, and when this year the New-York Historical Society borrowed over 200 artifacts from our historical archive to stage the first-ever Black Fives museum exhibition in their Civil Rights Gallery, with the tremendous media coverage that these milestones received, it truly made this history come to life. The NBA and its licensees now have a great opportunity to capitalize on this new virtually untapped vintage sports genre. I hope they consider it. The timing seems to be right.

Has there been any talk of the teams being recognized with throwback jerseys during NBA games?

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told me that he went to see the Black Fives exhibit at New-York Historical and that it was terrific, which was profound considering this was right after the Donald Sterling drama. I expressed to Adam how great it would be if the Knicks wore Rens jerseys one day, to commemorate this history, and for other NBA teams to follow suit with the jerseys of Black Fives Era teams that overlapped in their cities. He said that that was a wonderful idea. Of course the Knicks would have to agree. And so would Adidas, which makes the official NBA uniforms. We see this starting off as perhaps a small, organic initiative that focuses on students, educational achievement, and community building in local NBA markets.

One of the most unique partnerships could be between the New York Rens and the Knicks or the Nets, especially with the Renaissance Ballroom now slated for destruction. Have either team embraced the idea recently?

We previously had reached out to Knicks and Adidas execs, as well as to the Brooklyn Nets, but that was prior to the foundation and these new developments. What is so interesting in life is that sometimes everything could be right about a situation, but the timing so wrong. Or vice versa. When it all comes together, that’s a beautiful thing. We’ve since reached out again, because we feel these ideas are at least worth a discussion to explore the what-ifs, to see if the timing is right, and to consider possible next steps.

What organizations or brands have been most supportive of your work?

In 2006, we had a solid but very short-lived licensing partnership with Nike and Converse. That’s how they roll and we were happy to partner with them. More recently, Barclays Center has been tremendously supportive with their murals and coverage. The New-York Historical Society with their unprecedented exhibition of our artifacts, for which I was invited be their guest curator. Now the Brooklyn Nets have asked us to develop an educational program for them, which will take a graphic panel version of our museum exhibition into some of their local schools, along with a short film, actual artifacts for show & tell, and a presentation followed by discussion. Another development, so recent it’s not yet formally announced, is that we have joined into a long term licensing partnership with the popular youth-oriented lifestyle apparel company ’47 Brand, f.k.a. Twins. They are an existing NBA licensee, which indirectly brings us closer to the league, and their first collections of team-identified merchandise will drop at retail in May 2015. Although there is so much room to expand in this landscape, our DNA as a brand right now is to proceed always in an organic, authentic way.

Hollywood has embraced the stories of pioneers like Jackie Robinson, have there been any plans to tell the stories of the teams and their personalities?

None yet, partly because our bandwidth is so full. But as you can imagine there are vast numbers of stories from which to choose … a quick look at the array of articles in our blog will illustrate that.

What is the next big step your forsee for Black Fives as a business/foundation?

We see the Brooklyn Nets educational program as pilot that might expand into more Brooklyn schools next year as well as potentially to schools in other NBA cities. Adding an academic curriculum would be logical, and would give a generous underwriting corporate sponsor some very meaningful community visibility.

Another big project for us is that we are planning to launch a community-based campaign in Pittsburgh seeking to enshrine local native Cumberland Posey, Jr. in the Basketball Hall of Fame. During the 1910s he was one of the greatest basketball players of his time, black or white, and he later owned the Homestead Grays baseball team, perennial Negro National League champions, earning him a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame. We believe he would be the first individual enshrined in both Cooperstown and Springfield. Depending on how it goes, we hope to apply that same grass roots model to other Black Fives Era pioneers who are deserving candidates for enshrinement.

We just got our official tax exemption in August 2014, so we will be applying to grant-making institutions for funding for the first time, which if successful will allow us to add much-needed basic staffing, such as more interns, an administrative assistant, and a development resource.

Finally, next week we will be launching our first-ever annual fundraising campaign! Anyone wishing to contribute could visit http://www.blackfives.org/donations/

Claude Johnson, an author and a historian, is President & Executive Director of the Black Fives Foundation, a public 501(c)3 charity whose mission is to use the pre-1950 history of African-American basketball to engage, teach, and inspire youth, while honoring its pioneers and their descendants.

Claude enjoyed a 20-year corporate career with best-in-class brands including IBM, American Express, NBA Properties, Nike, Phat Farm, and Benetton Sportsystem, gaining extensive experience in sports marketing, sports licensing, and apparel merchandising, before launching Black Fives, Inc., the commercial predecessor to the Foundation.

He is the author of “Black Fives: The Alpha Physical Culture Club,” the history of a pioneering early 20th century all-black basketball team, and is working on his second book. Editorial coverage of Claude and the Black Fives Foundation includes The New York Times, AP News, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Jay Z’s Life+Times, The Root, The New York Daily News, New York Newsday, Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated for Kids, ESPN, and in many others. A former regular columnist with the Greenwich (CT) Post, he also has been published in SLAM Magazine, Bounce Magazine, and on BlackFives.org.

Claude was born in Vienna, Austria. His father is African American, from the South Side of Chicago, and his mother was German, from the Römerstadt section of Frankfurt am Main. He lived in the Republic of the Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) before moving to the USA with his parents at age six, attending public schools outside Boston and then in Cincinnati. Claude has a BS in Civil Engineering and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, and an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.

He is a former trustee of the Greenwich Public Library, a former candidate for the Connecticut State House of Representatives, a hobby photographer, and a volunteer youth football coach.

Claude lives with his wife and their three boys in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Ivy Sports Symposium Returns To Its Princeton Roots

Every year for the past nine years in the middle of November the Ivy Sports Symposium brings together leaders in the sports industry as well as hundreds of students and rising professionals for a jam-packed day of thought leadership, advice and networking. Back in the Garden State this year after stops on the campuses of Harvard, Columbia and Penn the last three years, the Symposium is one of the few student-run large scale gatherings for sports business, and its speakers list is reflective of the prestigious schools the Ivy League represents worldwide. This year’s event is the first one off campus, moving to the Hyatt in Princeton after spending its first five years in and around the University. The move is more reflective of the growth of the event, as the anticipated 600 plus attendees and speakers are now of a size that only Palmer Stadium or Jadwyn Gym could hold. Growing pains may take away some of the intimacy of the event, but the impact will hopefully again be felt by all involved who make the trek from over 40 schools up and down the east coast.
 
It is no secret that sports business has grown to be a multi-billion dollar enterprise the world over, and with that the competition for jobs and experience has also grown exponentially. Right now in the U.S. alone, there are over 300 “sports management” programs at colleges and universities that are churning out degrees by the thousands. That doesn’t include the scores of students in other majors looking to delve into some form of the business once they get whatever degree they happen to receive, from business to anthropology in some cases.
 
How many of these programs provide practical experience and a skills set that will help a workforce find gainful employment is up for some debate. However the real value lies more outside of the classroom in elite events like the Ivy Symposium and a handful of others, the ability to share experience and meet successful individuals in a field where who you know is as important of not more important, than what you know sometimes.
 
Sports business for all its glitz and glamour remains very much a people business, and programmes like the one at Princeton and others at places like the University of Michigan, Northwestern University and MIT, provide young people with invaluable lessons you can’t always get in a book; a chance to hear and experience firsthand what the successes and failures have been for people who now fill the ownership chairs and the C Suite. While the college experience is important, the networking experience, which can lead to volunteerism, internships and even entry level jobs, not to mention lifelong relationships, is invaluable.
 
Friday’s event, like the previous eight events, will feature speakers from a wide range of backgrounds, from owners like the Minnesota Vikings Mark Wilf to team CEO’s like the Sixers and Devils Scott O’Neil and the Cleveland Indians President Mark Shapiro. The topics will range from entrepreneurship to philanthropy, marketing to sports law, minor league baseball to the NFL, all with a who’s who of successful businesspeople from around the world, not just around the country, leading the discussions. This year there will event be a Shark Tank, with three emerging businesses vying for exposure, along with a recognition of ten rising stars in the business, all under the age of 30.
 
Like many wide ranging one day events, some will say the Ivy Symposium tries to do too much in one day, but for those with interest and focus in sports business, it has always been a day well spent.
 
Like other years as the days close in the Symposium becomes a tough ticket, and this year is no exception. For those who aren’t on board yet, a waiting list does exist. But for those going on Friday, it should be a great day of networking, learning, and engagement, right in the middle of the corridor between New York and Philly, one of the most fertile areas for sports business anywhere.
 

For all the latest details on the Ivy Sports Symposium, check out  http://www.sportssymposium.org/ivy/2014-symposium/agenda/

The Most Loyal of Fans; The Military, Start To Get Their Due…

The “Salute To Troops” initiative the NFL staged this week, along with all the efforts that MLB put on in and around the World Series and NASCAR and others have done is beyond praise for the men and women who not only do so much to keep us safe, but who are amongst the most passionate and biggest supporters of sport on the planet. They are also the most loyal, remembering what brands, teams and leagues gave them hope when they needed it, and repaying that loyalty tenfold not just today, but down the line as well.
For years the military families were amongst the most underserved constituents and consumers tied to sport, and as Veteran’s Day arrives, it is nice to see them get their due.
One area that is sometimes over looked in terms of loyalty is on the college side. Putting the Service Academies and a few select Universities aside, the engagement of local military families is sometimes forgotten as a key marketing and engagement strategy by colleges. However that too is changing.
IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions and college football fans this year are joining to say “thank you” to those who sacrifice so much for our country more than ever before. Through a growing IMGLTS program, fans this year were encouraged to purchase tickets to a Military Appreciation game. The seats were then donated to active or retired military members. This year, 22 schools participated – double last year’s number – donating more than 21,000 tickets to our Armed Forces. Many of the active service members and veterans receiving free tickets had previously never attended a college football game.
The participating schools were and are: Penn State, which began the program in 2012 and donated more than 5,000 tickets, Akron, Arkansas, Auburn, Boston College, Colorado, Duke, Florida, Georgia State, NC State, New Mexico. Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, South Carolina, Southern Miss, Temple, Tulsa, USF, UTSA, Utah State, West Virginia and Wyoming.

 

A note from an Air Force veteran was like hundreds of others sent from thankful military members: “It was very special for me and my family to be able to attend such a high-profile event and to see the fellow veterans at the game enjoying themselves. It really touched my spirit and made me proud of the fact that someone took the time to think of us. I am truly proud to be a U.S. veteran. May God continue to bless you and the United States of America!”
While the effort by these elite schools on football is great, the outreach should extend down to the smallest schools with distressed tickets looking to do good as well. Military families big and small are in every community, and the positive spin coming off such an activation will pay dividends and should be a “must do” vs. an alternate opportunity. Many of these families of returning young veterans have young kids who can become instant fans of a local school they knew little about; heroes can be made of stent-athletes and coaches who connect with the vets and their families right away, and those bonds can grow over time, with a spillover effect that won’t just put butts in seats, it can lead to jobs, life lessons and even sponsorship as these new vets get back on their feet and work with growing businesses in the community. The effort shouldn’t stop just on the college level either. High schools, now seen by many as the next great marketing frontier, especially in the digital space and with hyper local sponsorships, should also look to engage their local military vets, and fond ways again to make these heroes even bigger heroes through sport.
We have come a long way on every level in recognizing and engaging the military to say thank you through sport, but we still have a great way to go away from the brightest of lights on NFL Sundays and during the World Series. That start has been amazing, the next steps can be even greater, and the payoff both in loyalty and brand value, will continue to be immeasurable.

MLB Scores With Charitable World Series Execution…

For all the talk about baseball needing to catch up with the times, the traditions of how the game is played remain hallowed ground, and one of those traditional points of execution is the sacrifice; literally giving your chance at glory up to move a runner along. Sometimes as we focus on the glory of the big hit or the big strikeout, those little nuances get lost.
During the World Series, sacrifice is not only something that is part of the game on their field. As Commissioner Bud Selig puts a ribbon on his time as commissioner, he has helped lead the charge to do something few sports entities would ever do in the scramble to get out every last dollar; he had baseball, on each of the first four game of the World Series; sacrifice airtime that could be sold, to highlight four key causes. Now this is not to say that every sport doesn’t do its part with community programs; the NFL’s work with breast cancer awareness is seen front and center every October, and the NBA just completed a huge cross-league community service project. However for MLB to give up signage and large tracts of airtime for a cause in each of the first four games of the World Series was certainly different and worthy of a best practice shout out.
It reinforces the message, from the top, that sport, in this case baseball, has a mantra that should be much more about community and positive messaging than about commercialism, at least for a short time.
The four causes that drew the massive outreach on FOX and in stadium were: veterans and military families, ALS awareness, Cancer prevention and research and Youth outreach initiatives. The causes certainly are not unusual to sport at all, and all four are routinely highlighted and supported throughout the season locally and nationally in MLB. However the sport went above and beyond in driving attention and celebration to each of these four carefully-selected initiatives with events away from the field and then throughout the night during Games one to four. Players, young people, coaches, celebrities and broadcasters all took part in the constant celebration and call to action. Signage behind home plate and in broadcast, which is usually part of high impact sponsorships, were dedicated to the initiatives, each of which used the night as a culmination of all the activity that took place during the season.
Now baseball has a great deal of advantages in pulling off such events over other sports. The natural breaks in the game, the lack of a clock, and the ample time announcers can discuss the initiatives all play in baseball’s favor to carefully execute a wide-ranging plan throughout the course of a game. Trying to pull off such a multi-faceted activation in other sports which have constant action, like soccer or hoops or hockey, or another one with a clock and a full focus just on the field, like football, would be very difficult to do.
However even with that advantage, baseball took the time to carefully identify, then plan out and execute these community and charitable plans game by game, which scored tons of goodwill and positive reinforcement around the action itself. Are there drawbacks? Sure. The cynical will say the first four games are traditionally the lowest rated, and the lack of being able to predict any series going beyond four limits such a multi-level execution to just the first four games, but in the end, the planning and the placement is a wonderful execution for baseball, and puts a very positive cap on all that these four causes have done for the year.
Say what you want about late times and lower ratings, but from an execution standpoint it’s hard to argue that the charity initiatives hit a homer with MLB on a massive scale.

Oyo Boyo, A Simple Idea Keeps Getting Bigger…

Several years ago when I was with the New York Knicks we were planning a promotion around Allan Houston, and as part of the plan, were going to send out to interested media the LEGO figure that had been made of our-then star, as a way to keep him top of mind when award voting season came along. It was quick, easy to mail and very unique amongst collectables. Did it really look like Allan? Not really but it was official and had his number, so it made sense. We found a way through the NBA to get 50 little Allan’s and off they went. As a collector of the unique, as well as a longtime supporter of LEGO, I had been interested in the possibilities of the product to engage sports kids, and somewhere in our basement, not passed on to my son Andrew, a master builder if there ever was one, are the original NBA-licensed sets as well as some hockey and extreme sports sets as well. They are now all collectors’ items, as the patients, and LEGO’s interest in sports, stagnated after a few years and the patents lapsed.

The problem then was that the Danish company didn’t really “get” the sports market in the States, and the risk of getting the wrong LEGO figures to market, they could not produce every player, far outweighed the rewards. In an era before short form video, 3D printing, and high speed molds, let alone self-generated content, LEGO was probably ahead of its time.

That was then, and to the delight of millions, another US-based company has taken LEGO’s seed, and their lapsed patents, and injected digital media and state of the art engineering into and opportunity. Welcome OYO Toys.

Boston based and now Boston-area manufactured, OYO has taken the old LEGO-licensed idea and brought it into the next decade. They have licenses to manufacture products for MLB, NFL, NHL and MLS, with more coming not just in the US, but internationally as well (how many kids in the States will now buy Messi figures who would not have a few years ago, thanks to soccer’s expansion in the media here?). Their system allows for custom printing and design of almost ANY player they have a license for that people can order, with delivery taking only a few days.

More importantly, OYO has used video, data and technology to bring the figures to life in short form video with self-created “stadia,” which thousands of young people with an interest in sport AND film (along with their dads and older siblings) can have fun with in re0creation scenarios, much like LEGO has done with the Star Wars themes line.  Even better, the figures are compatible with LEGO blocks, so parents don’t have to discard those mounds of blocks sitting around the basement. The kids can build stadia, or other scenarios, and use the OYO sports figurines as well.

The best part about OYO’s potential is that it again seeks to marry what were once divergent worlds for young people. Like robotics, LEGO were once thought to be nerdy and not for “sports” kids. Same with film and full motion video, or even photography. Now OYO can help merge those world’s, and make the arts and building good for “sports” kids, especially on rainy days, and can probably help the kids once thought to be a bit “nerdy” and not engaged in sports find a common ground as well. That merging doesn’t just help at home, it will help in the classroom, as suddenly science and technology, and even engineering, may seem just a bit more cooler to kids who might have been bored with sports. It also doesn’t hurt that media companies like Nickelodeon and Marvel are looking to find ways to pull sports into entertainment, and OYO’s analytics, video, and interchangeable parts can also play right into their plans as well.

Are there some limitations? Sure. Making the figures as life-like as possible is a challenge, and there is probably a limit as to how many figures the company can customize for now. However the upside and potential for OYO in any host of sports, even on the NCAA level, is very bright, and certainly makes their business one to watch. The Boston Globe had a piece the last few days on how the company came about and its new infusion of cash from Mandalay Entertainment, which is certainly worth a read.

Keep building OYO, and we will keep watching. What was a rare fail for LEGO is an opportunity for you.

Great Cross-Promo For An Iconic Gift: The Hess Toy Truck Hits 50…

This weekend I received a call to action postcard about the 50th anniversary of a collectable icon; The Hess Toy Truck. In a time of quick and easy, fast and fun and on to the next thing, the Hess Toy Truck has endured for generations. It has stayed true to its brand; solid, well designed always with a surprise or two, and always with batteries included. Kids, especially boys, of almost every generation love the trucks, and as they get older even keep it on the holiday list as a collectable even in places where Hess gas stations at least may be a thing of the past.

Now Hess is no small mom and pop organization. Founded originally in 1919, the company has been in the oil and gas business since that time and today operates largely in the Northeast, with refineries throughout the world. Its ties to sport, especially in football, stem from the 1960’s when President Leon Hess bought and operated the New York jets, which his family controlled for decades. The Hess Company green and white ties directly to the Jets colors still worn today.  

Over the years Hess has been involved in various forms of sports sponsorship outside of the Jets (where they still put in a good amount of time and effort), ranging from the NY/NJ Super Bowl to the Boston Red Sox, the Tampa Rays, the Pinstripe Bowl, Special Olympics, the Yankees, Arthur Ashe Kids Day, and even projects like the fields at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. The sponsorships have always bled over to their retail stations who hosted and housed promotions around the teams they sponsored, usually in the traditional forms of giveaways. No huge TV campaigns or social promotions; very basic and effective calls to action that helped draw in consumers and raise some awareness of the Hess brand in a crowded marketplace.

However nothing draws interest like the Hess trucks. Still sold at gas stations as well as online, the trucks and their accessories probably have more brand awareness with consumers than the gas stations themselves, or the teams the brand has sponsored over the years, and making it to 50 with a strong annual consumer promotion these days is certainly the stuff of legend, at least a consistent legend anyway.

So as the Hess toy truck hits 50 this winter, are there sports brands that can tie in to amplify the program and get some additional brand affinity. While not a major tie, is there a little NASCAR driver promo that can create awareness, maybe even as a giveaway? Can some of the Hess partners; the Jets, the Yankees etc., find a way to tie to the truck with some of their own living legends for a promo?

For sure the Hess toy trucks, especially with such a grand anniversary, will move this year with consumers. The question is will some of the sports brands long affiliated with Hess find some creative ways to share the spotlight? We shall see. Anniversaries for such a hallmark promotion don’t come along every day.

Diamondbacks Science Promo Is A Big Winner…

It hasn’t been the greatest of baseball years in the Valley of Sun, but that doesn’t mean the Arizona Diamondbacks haven’t continued to make an impact on the lives of young people through programs on and off the field. One that will bring classroom work together with a baseball club will take place this weekend, when the DBacks become one of the first professional sports teams to tie baseball together with the key core teaching curriculum of  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

The team will host 14,000  students and their families, and give  3,000 students and teachers a chance to take part in a pregame STEM parade on the field and receive a D-backs Science of Baseball t-shirt. Combined with their naming rights partner, Chase and the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation, 10 different STEM clubs with a $2,500 grant for their work, especially in the growing field of competitive robotics, and a host of other teams from schools will be able to present their projects throughout the stadium during the night for the other fans in attendance.

While a great way to fill distressed seats and celebrate community, the DBacks work goes far beyond just one special night for kids and teachers who may rarely get recognized in an athletic setting. It is part of a growing trend to tie analytics and science to give kids an added boost and create more fun in academics, much like “Schoolhouse Rock” did with music for a previous generation. The program in Arizona was started in 2013 by Science of Baseball Founder, and University of Arizona Professor, Ricardo Valerdi, and his engineering students to keep the kids engaged by using curriculums that include classroom activities, athletic activities, and take-home activities. It has grown vastly since then, and should be replicated not just by baseball, but by every sport going forward as a way to link onfield and offfield activities. An event, and a program like this, is also highly sponsorable and can open new areas for brands who were not originally involved in sports but can use science and technology as a key area of ROI on their own businesses. For financial services firms like Chase, a tie to a sports-related STEM program further enhances their brand affiliation with sports, and also gets them connected to a younger demo which they crave but have probably not been able to hit with during a traditional signage and advertising campaign.

There is no doubt that the growing field of analytics in all areas of sport has become a hot button. On the field, teams are looking to get the extra edge through analysis like never before, while in recreation sports wearable tech and geolocation have created a new and fast growing industry. Lop on to all that the fast-expanding field of pay fantasy and e-gaming and you have a whole slew of new business opportunities tied to science and technology through sport that did not exist even a few years ago. In order to enhance and grow that field, and its future workforce who can be loyal followers and consumers of professional sport, or even college sport, teams big and small should look to the DBacks program as a way to tie in and get younger people interested and engaged through science, while at the same time taking “sports” kids and showing cool and interesting ways that science can engage with sports.

The program, and programs like it, have a very long tail for growth going forward, and should be embraced as a best practice. They tie to community, sponsorship, education, and on field performance like few others.

A big win for Arizona with this one on all fronts, and a best practice that should be copied across the board and around the world.

(Hat tip to our friends at sporttechie for pointing this out)