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)

Patterson Award Hits 10 Years Of Goodwill…

It certainly has been a topsy-turvy week for sports; from the Derek Jeter swan song and Rutgers starting their Big 10 life to the off-field mess that continues to plague the NFL, both good and bad have taken over the headlines in various degrees.

So into that mix in the Garden State this past week on the good side was the official 10 year announcement of the winners of the Steve Patterson Award by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Patterson Award was established in 2005 by the RWJF in honor of the late Steve Patterson, the former UCLA basketball star, NBA player and Arizona State basketball coach. Patterson’s belief in the practice of using the power of sports philanthropy to make a difference in various communities inspired the creation of this award.

This year’s winners were the Tiger Woods Foundation, Jays Care Foundation and Harlem RBI and were honored at a September 18 ceremony at RWJF in Princeton, N.J. With the two baseball-related winners in Jays Care Foundation and Harlem RBI, no other sport has received more Patterson Awards than baseball.

Some facts on the three winners:

The Jays Care Foundation is the charitable arm of Canada’s only MLB team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Established in 1992, the foundation has grown exponentially from a regional focus in Toronto to investing in children and communities from coast-to-coast. Their mission is to create equal opportunities for kids in need across Canada by removing barriers to sport and education. Foundation programs such as Field of Dreams and Grand Slam Grant provide funds to children and their communities to learn and play in a safe environment as well lead happy and healthy lives. Other foundation programs include Rookie League, Home Run Scholars and Jays Care Community Clubhouse.

Harlem RBI: Harlem RBI’s goal is to provide inner-city youth with opportunities to play, learn and grow. They use the influence of teams to impact and inspire children to recognize their potential and realize their dreams. Harlem RBI has grown to aid more than 1,500 boys and girls annually since its founding in 1991. The program provides youth with year-round sports, educational and enrichment activities. Youth are first exposed to Harlem RBI through its summer baseball program. Program components include Rookie League, REAL Kids, TeamBuilders, TeamWorks, Legends and Social Work. When they graduate from the program, Harlem RBI youth are expected to be resilient young adults and embody DreamList attributes, which include being physically healthy, high school graduates, college graduates, work-ready, teammates and more. Since 2005, 97 percent of Harlem RBI seniors have graduated high school and 94 percent have matriculated at college.

The Tiger Woods Foundation : Founded by Tiger Woods and his father, Earl, the Tiger Woods Foundation has affected millions of students by providing advanced educational opportunities with a focus on STEM education. Of the foundation’s numerous initiatives, one of its flagship programs, the Tiger Woods Learning Center, provides scholars in grades 5-12 with college-access programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math. Interactive classes allow these students to identify the importance of attending college and exploring potential careers. Through the Earl Woods Scholarship Program, students receive a $5,000 scholarship, which is renewable for up to four years, as well as a dedicated mentor. Specialized internships are available to students in the program, which help prepare them for life after college. Since 2005, the foundation has distributed more than $80 million and an astounding 100 percent of Earl Woods scholars have graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

While other years have shown maybe a little more diversity in winners, pairing groups like Tony Hawk and the San Francisco 49ers, the results do not diminish with baseball leading the way for the 10th year of the awards. All have the same focus; use sport as a tool to better society, no matter what the price tag. That message is amplified even more by the dollars that RWJF puts behind the program annually, a key part of giving back not just to sport but to the positive messages it sends across the state in calls home. After all that is probably the best way philanthropy can be used tied to sport, an overlay of international, national and local partnerships, marrying legacy programs to those that youth can relate to today. All those efforts were summed up on a nice September day in the heart of Big Pharma country, with the results resonating far beyond Princeton. Beautiful program, beautiful effort, beautiful rewards, and a beautiful legacy for all involved to show how winning in sport goes way beyond the playing field. Role models like these are the ones we need.

Bobbleheads For Broadway…

It’s no secret that the most successful promotion in sport, the one with literally the most shelf life, is the bobblehead. So it was great to learn that the bobblehead promo has migrated to theater, and no less to the alleged home of the bobblehead, the Bay Area.

This late winter and spring  the San Francisco engagement of NEWSIES, February 17 – March 15, 2015 will offer up bobbleheads at each of the 32 NEWSIES performances.  It is a promo that has been long in coming but has been challenging to pull off due to licensing, timing and distribution on Broadway, but doing the bobbles as a test away from New York makes great sense.  Disney Theatrical Productions is the first to come on board with the road show of NEWSIE’s which recently ended its long and successful run on New York.

Ironically it is the city of innovation, San Francisco to take the plunge and see what the ROI will be, and it makes great sense. San Fran was the first city to introduce sports fans to the Bobblehead Giveaway concept back in 1999, when the San Francisco Giants Baseball Club handed out 35,000 Willie Mays dolls to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Candlestick Park.  Fifteen years later, bobbleheads (and now Garden Gnomes) are more popular than ever and Bay Area theater fans will be the first to receive a Broadway bobblehead of their own.

The cost of producing bobbles has dropped significantly in recent years, and the limited run with the bobble built into the ticket price, can bring some great value for a kid-oriented play. If it works, copycats beware. Can the Aladdin bobble be far behind?

Great work and perseverance by SHN the preeminent theatrical entertainment company in the Bay Area, and their CMO, Scott Kane, for seeing the value and finding the partner for a crossover promo worth tracking.

What works for one entertainment genre should work for another.

Another Simple Idea “Kicks” In…

The beauty of the Ice Bucket Challenge came out of its simplicity, combined with its viral nature. An easy to understand, uncomplicated act that everyone “gets,” tied to a charity. No need for tools, signups, pledges or pink shorts; 100 percent goes right to the charity.

So with that in mind we came across another idea gaining some steam for September. A simple game of kickball. While not as easy as dumping an ice bucket, kickball, like a simple game of catch (another idea which has been used to grow charity initiatives in minor league baseball in recent years), kickball is simple, easy to play, can have some great viral moments and requires little outside of a ball and some friends. Play it in a park, on a street, a schoolyard, wherever. Young and old can play for hours or minutes.

So with September being National Hunger Awareness Month, the ShopRite supermarket chain and some of its employees have looked to kickball to take a slap at hunger. Local stores are organizing simple kickball games with employees, families and friends, with each participant dropping a few dollars or some product from ShopRite toward the cause.  The money raised goes right to Shoprite for product that goes right to homeless shelters and food pantries at a time when it is needed most, as those places usually go bare when people donating go away for the summer, and kids return to start school and need that boost more than ever.

Every year during September — National Hunger Awareness Month — employees of the ShopRite try to raise money for the company’s Partners in Caring Program, a hunger-fighting initiative that supports more than 1,700 charities. Since the program began, ShopRite has donated more than $29 million to food banks to help feed the hungry. This year’s goal is to raise $1.5 million for food pantries.

The great piece of the pie that ShopRite can also bring to the front for such campaigns are through their co-op programs with brands. Expanding a simple kickball game to include product pulled in from brands in stores through their co-op programs gets more people involved, and can target national products in much-needed categories to fill the shelves as well. Those distributors can also pull in more employees to participate and grow the pool as well.

Gain the beauty of kickball is its simplicity; there are no master skills or a special field needed, and a ball gets everyone involved. Heck, impromptu games can even pop up in supermarket parking lots for a few minutes right after work, and in a cell-phone happy world, videos from fun to impressive can pop up pretty quickly.

Will kickball catch on like bucket dumping? Probably not as big or as viral, but it’s a great effort for the chain to raise product and awareness for yet another worthy cause.