MLB | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Best Practices, Team PR: Josh Rawitch

As we have mentioned before we would like to highlight some of the best of the best in communications and marketing more regularly with a short q and a. We start it off with Arizona Diamondbacks SVP, Josh Rawitch.

One of the most respected team communications executives in professional sports, Josh Rawitch is entering his 20th season in Major League Baseball and third as Sr. Vice President of Communications with the D-backs. In this role, he is responsible for the internal and external communication efforts of the organization, including baseball and business public relations, media relations, publications, social media, photography and fan feedback.

During his tenure with the D-backs, the team has garnered increased attention locally, nationally and internationally, as it has been featured in outlets such as Yahoo!, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Bloomberg and the New York Times as well as dozens of outlets during goodwill tours of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Rawitch joined the D-backs following 15 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he was most recently the Vice President of Communications. At various points with the Dodgers, he oversaw the broadcasting and community relations departments. An early advocate of social media, the Dodgers became the first in Major League Baseball to create a program in which independent bloggers received media credentials and access to cover the team. Rawitch joined the Dodgers in 1995 in the Advertising and Special Events Department and spent parts of five seasons in the team’s marketing department before moving over to Public Relations in 2000. He left the organization for two seasons and helped to integrate MLB.com, the league’s official website, from an independently operated site to a profitable venture that now receives hundreds of millions of visits per season. During his time with MLB Advanced Media, Rawitch served as a daily beat reporter, covering the Dodgers (2001) and Giants (2002). He was the lone American journalist to cover the Caribbean Series, All-Star Game, League Division Series, LCS and World Series in 2002.

The Los Angeles native attended Indiana University, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Marketing and Management with a minor in Business. He currently teaches Strategic Sports Communications at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and was previously an adjunct professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication for two years.

What is the biggest challenge you see in the communications business today, and how is it best overcome?

The biggest challenge I think we face is the oversaturation of messaging, which makes it hard for any message to carry the weight needed to truly stick or have an impact. The speed of the news cycle is incredibly fast and therefore, more and more mistakes are made because there just isn’t the time to fully report it – an issue with which many of my journalist friends admit they often struggle. The best way to overcome the first issue, I think, is getting creative in the way we share the message so that it has a stickiness that wasn’t required 10 years ago. As for the latter issue, I’m not sure how to fix other than being honest with those who share the news and accepting that mistakes are going to be made given the nature of the news cycle. Just being human and recognizing that we work with other humans is probably a big step toward overcoming any issue.

Who is the person you learned the most from in your career and why?

Due to the high turnover during my years at the Dodgers (and MLB.com), fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), I’ve had almost 20 different bosses in 20 years in baseball, which is almost unfathomable. I’ve also worked under five different ownership groups, 10 managers and 8 General Managers, which has allowed me to learn the good and the bad from so many different people, it would be impossible to pick just one. That doesn’t even count some of my mentors in other departments and at other teams that I’ve leaned on for guidance. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I try to learn at least one thing from every person I come across – even if it’s something really minor.

What are you most proud of from a work perspective?

I’d like to believe that those I work for will say that I’m loyal and calm, even under difficult circumstances. I also believe that we were able to recognize early on the value of directly interacting with our fans/audience and utilizing newer platforms to do so (blogs, social media, etc.). But I think the thing I’m most proud of is the work the 30 MLB teams have done to raise more than $250,000 for Stand Up to Cancer in the last two years after seeing several of our colleagues affected by the disease.

Who do you learn the most from today?

Our President & CEO, Derrick Hall, has been a great mentor to me from my earliest days as an intern and just by watching him on a daily basis, I see what it takes to be a dynamic leader. He’s created a corporate culture that is extremely unique and I truly love working at the D-backs every day.

What has been your biggest disappointment?

I don’t really have any professional regrets, but I’ll continue to be disappointed until the day we win a World Series. Even though I may not have anything to do with how we play on the field, I watch it every year and truly want to know what it’s like to have that feeling that your franchise came out on top.

Who were a few of the people you enjoyed working with the most and why?

Most people I could name would not mean anything to those reading this, as they’re front office colleagues over the years that work hard and don’t really get much recognition. But of those high-profile people, I’d say that growing up listening to Vin Scully for my entire childhood (and now adulthood) and then working with him on a daily basis for so many years was a huge highlight because of his humility. The same goes for Joe Torre, whose baseball camp I attended as a kid and who understands people better than just about anyone I’ve met. Steve Sax was my favorite player growing up, so having him as a coach for a year with the D-backs and getting to know him was pretty cool. Luis Gonzalez is the best athlete I’ve ever worked with (and had him at both at the Dodgers and D-backs) but there are dozens of players who have come along, too, who treat everyone the same way regardless of their status and I’ve enjoyed each of those people quite a bit.

Who do you read or listen to regularly?

Admittedly, I’m addicted to my Twitter feed and probably read 10 articles a day from there on any number of topics. I try to read SportsBusiness Journal thoroughly each month and the Daily as often as possible. There are lots of sportswriters I like and respect and mostly I read biographies of accomplished people when it comes to books. I’ve got Sirius/XM in the car, so I listen mostly to news channels, the MLB channel and tons of music of every kind.

What is your biggest concern with the business of media and entertainment?

The fact that controversy and negativity is what generates clicks and drives the news cycle is definitely concerning, as I think there are far too many great stories out there that never get told because they’re seemingly not as attractive to a mass audience, but I’m guessing people in my shoes have been saying that for 25 years. I’d also say that the 24/7 nature of the industry makes it a challenge to achieve a semblance of work-life balance, but I think those of us in the industry knew what we were getting into and both accept and appreciate the lifestyle that goes along with it.

What’s the most positive change you have seen recently in business?

The access to information in real time is extremely exciting while the ability to watch/listen/read whatever you want, whenever you want, is obviously changing everything about the way we consume media and information.

What’s the thing that makes you stay focused and positive in your life?

My family is the most important thing and always keeps me grounded and happy, regardless of what may be happening professionally. Recognizing how fortunate I am to work in baseball and for this organization definitely keeps me focused, as I’m very aware that I get paid to do what tens of millions of people pay to do. I’ve always strived to be the best at whatever it was I was doing and I’ve known that if I slack off, there will be someone right there to take away this dream job and career.

Best Practices: Amplifying The Message

The latest in Tanner Simkins q and a’s is with industry veteran Michael Neuman.

Michael Neuman is the Managing Partner of Scout Sports and Entertainment.  We recently caught up with the Amplify Sports and Entertainment for a discussion on career advice and developing trends.  Neuman’s brief bio is provided after the Q&A

**** **** ***

Full Court Press: For those who may be unfamiliar, tell us about yourself and your work?

Michael Neuman: I launched Scout Sports and Entertainment in 2010 as the in-house sports and entertainment consultancy at Horizon Media.  Horizon is the largest independently owned media agency in the world.  Our role is to provide strategic counsel to our clients who invest heavily in sports and entertainment content to develop deep, emotional bonds with their target audiences.  We sit at the intersection of sports media and sports marketing, a powerful and pivotal point where brand and consumers come together with frequent momentum

FCP: Why sports?

MN: The passion is unrivaled, people WANT to see and feel it live.  It’s the ultimate “must see” TV and live event programming.

FCP: Describe your leadership style?

MN:  Empowering, inclusive, incorporating, passionate, caring and invested

 FCP:What are some industry trends or developments that you are closely following?

MN: Brand curated content and the use of social media to flame the fires of good work.  AB’s Up for Whatever campaign around the Super Bowl was simply brilliant

 FCP: Who is someone you learned the most from? What did they teach you?

MN:  Doug Verb my first boss, hired me out of college.  Treat all people with upmost respect and understand what motivates them.  John Floegel when I worked on the McDonald’s business for teaching me the art of politics and Jonah Kaufman (McDonald’s owner operator) for teaching me the importance of metrics and speaking the language of your audience

 FCP: What is your biggest regret?

MN: I wouldn’t change my life at all, I’m doing exactly what I set out to do and have worked with some of the industry’s greatest people.

 FCP: If you go back, what would you tell you?

MN:  In athletics, the mental edge is the differentiator between good and great.  In business, start earlier.  Once you zero in a career, start building experience and a network base.  The industry is super competitive and amassing relevant experiences earlier will be the differentiator

 FCP: What was the last book you read?

MN: I’m reading “Leaders Eat Last” now

 FCP: Any tips for aspiring sports professionals who may be reading this?

MN:  If you truly want to work in the business of sports, you must be 130% committed to do whatever it takes to catch your first break.  The hardest part is getting the shot, it’s no different than the career minor leaguer getting called up in September.  Most fans don’t know this player probably spent the last 10 years in the minors.  There must be an irreversible commitment to succeed and on your own team, you need everyone on board including family, friends and your entire network.  Persistence and determination are omnipotent

**** **** ***

Neuman is the Managing Partner of Scout Sports and Entertainment, a Division of Horizon Media, Inc. Prior to joining Horizon, he was cofounder and president of Amplify Sports and Entertainment, LLC, a marketing consulting agency created to help brands harness the power of strategic sponsorship and maximize the impact of athlete and celebrity driven campaigns. Prior to launching Amplify, Neuman was Senior Vice President, Group Account Director with STRATEGIC (formerly Strategic Sports Group), where he provided strategic consulting services for sports and entertainment partnerships. Neuman previously held senior positions with Paragon Marketing Group (HALO Sports), Arnold Communications, and Global Television Sports, Inc.

Owning The 4th…

As one goes through the sports calendar it is always interesting to note what the opportunities are that can still be “owned” or created by brands or teams. While the biggest days to still grab are those around the MLB All-Star Game next week, it is noteworthy that no one really has grabbed the opportunity to activate around July 4. Maybe because the day is such one of leisure and activity may be spread too thin, but the day is still one of the quietest news days of the year. at a time when activity is very high. From Indy Car at Pocono to NASCAR to the Wimbledon Finals to baseball, there are key goings-on in sport, and this year the spirit of World Cup abounds as well. Then of course there is Competitive Eating, the one “sport” that seems to captivate the day with its own “World Series,” the Nathans Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Is there an opportunity for July 4 to become a Youth or Casual Sports Day, or maybe even a day when “Sandlot Sports” or pickup games abound.  Maybe it is a call for activity along the lines of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign…a day where people should be active and promote their independent activities. Maybe it is the day where a summer-long initiative is launched. There are no shortage of local and national events to activate around on the Nation’s Birthday. It is a feel good day where a feel good brand or activity could rise up and take some of that slow news away. Competitive eating does a good job of grabbing the spotlight, so maybe a healthier activity could too. It’s all about the opportunity.

Have a great 4th!

Biz of Baseball Tech: MLB.com

Here is the latest stop-by done by Columbia alum Tanner Simkins. This one os with a fellow program alum, Jim McCloud at MLB Advanced Media. Tanner take a few minutes with Jim to talk about the biz of BAM.

Jim McCloud serves as the Vice President of Sponsorship Sales MLB Advanced Media. We sat down with Jim for a discussion on digital, landscape trends, and more. (A detailed biography of Jim McCloud is provided after the Q&A)

Full Court Press: For those who may be unfamiliar, tell us about you and your work with MLBAM?

Jim McCloud: I’m the Vice President, Sponsorship Sales at MLB.com.  I oversee the Midwest region selling nationally across MLB.com and all 30 club sites.  I also manage the relationships with the following clubs from a digital sales perspective the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, and Houston Astros.

FCP: What’s the largest obstacle when it comes to digital sales?

JM: The largest obstacle is the changing landscape of digital media.  The product we sell is a compelling product and we’re an innovative company which certainly makes my job easier.  However, with the shift in eye balls to mobile and people consuming our content in so many places we need to make sure that we are wherever the fan is whether that be on MLB.com, in our At Bat App, on social media, etc.  So we constantly need to monitor where the eyeballs are and make sure our strategy aligns with the consumption patterns of our fans.  What works today might not work tomorrow.

FCP: Describe your leadership style

JM: I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great mentors who have taught me a lot about leadership and grew up playing sports through college.  So for me it’s important to have a team environment, where everyone trusts one another and pushes each other to get better.  Good thing is I’ve been at MLB.com for five years and have held numerous positions so while I’m hands on, I also give my team the ability and freedom to make decisions and am there to support them as they work through certain situations and obstacles that arise.  Since I’ve faced many of their challenges during my time at BAM I’m able to help work through certain issues.

FCP: What are some industry trends or developments that you are closely following?

JM: Mobile continues to dominate the digital landscape as it’s become the first screen for users.  However, no one has truly figured out the best way to monetize the medium given the limited amount of space, so we’ve been working to develop different ways to create value for our partners.  It will also be interesting to follow the launch of iBeacons in MLB stadiums this year as it’s another new technology that we will be experimenting with.

FCP: Who is someone you learned the most from? What did they teach you?

JM:  Bob Bowman is someone who has been a great mentor to me.  He’s been instrumental in my development and someone who has led by example.  He’s truly an innovator and what he’s been able to build at MLB.com speaks for itself.  Bob has challenged me since the day I stepped foot into BAM and has pushed me to think outside the box and has taught me to always move forward and innovate.  I’ll forever be grateful to him for the amount of time he’s invested in me and the opportunities he’s provided me.

FCP: What is your biggest regret?

JM: There are no real regrets thus far in my career as I’ve worked for two great companies in CBS Sports and MLB.com.  The mistakes I’ve made have all contributed to the progression of my career and for that I don’t regret anything.

FCP: If you go back, what would you tell you?

JM: If I could go back, I would tell myself to enjoy the moments from college and the time I spent with my teammates playing baseball.  Those are moments you take for granted and as you move on into the professional world and you have more personal and professional commitments, you think back to some of those days.  You don’t realize how much fun those days were and how valuable they were to shaping who you are.

FCP: What was the last book you read?

JM: Seal Team 6

FCP: Any tips for aspiring sports professionals who may be reading this?

JM: The biggest question is how do you plan to differentiate yourself from others?  Sports is a competitive field that many people want to work in and it’s those individuals that create their own luck that are the ones that break in and succeed. Networking, internships, and putting yourself in positions to display your skills, in my opinion are keys to getting an opportunity, then once your foot is in the door the rest is up to you.  The hardest part is breaking in so it’s those individuals that are resourceful and strategic that find a way in and succeed.

MLBAM (MLB Advanced Media) is a full service solutions provider delivering world-class digital experiences for over ten years and distributing content through all forms of interactive media. Our digital leadership and capabilities are a direct result of an appreciation for designing dynamic functionality for web, mobile applications, and connected devices while integrating live and on-demand multimedia, providing valuable products for millions of fans around the globe.

Father’s Day Promo: The Simpler Are Sometimes The Best

A couple of years ago on a  Sunday morning  I was going to get bagels I heard New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan on “Ed Randall’s Talking Baseball” show on WFAN in New York talking about how the simplest of actions with his father, playing catch after work, were some of his brightest memories. Often times in big time sports and promotions it is the simple ideas that get lost as not glitzy or glammery enough, but with the right platform, can be the most effecting. Dolan’s thoughts thatmorning spurred one of those ideas.

 Several years ago I was approached by a colleague, Lance Laifer, to see if there was a way to create awareness for an anti-Malaria campaign he had organized, and do it through sport. The idea was simple, take a nerf basketball hoop and pass it around with a ball through Madison Square Garden, letting each person in the arena dunk the ball, and with each dunk a dollar would be donated to charity. At some point it was going to become a logistical nightmare, setting the world’s largest dunk record, but the event worked. It got exposure for the charity, and as the ball and hoop were passed around the lower seats, several NBA officials and even some players took notice. One was Dikembe Mutombo, who used the idea and the platform to continue to grow his own initiative to eradicate malaria in his native Congo by purchasing bedding nets. The link between the basketball net and the mosquito net was simple, and eventually led Laifer’s group to an association with the NBA, national exposure and fundraising, and a leadership position which has helped eradicate the problem of mosquito-born malaria in Congo and other parts of Africa. All from a simple, cost efficient plan to dunk a nerf basketball. But timing, part passion, part simplicity helped a small idea contribute in a big way.

Laifer has gone on to now solving pneumonia issues for kids in a big way, and is also helping scores of big name folks negotiate twitter through his company, all through looking at big issues and creating simple solutions one step at a time.

So now back to playing catch. Every year the Northern League St. Paul Saints hold the “World’s Largest Game of Catch” to kick off their promotional season. A simple act connects fans of all ages in a communal and promotable activity that links young and old, boy and girl, dad and son, mom and daughter. Timeless, simple, easy. So with all the charities, initiatives and campaigns out there, why hasn’t anyone latched on to a “Simple Game of Catch” as an easy promotion at the Major League level? Lots of teams do runs around the bases, sleepovers and giveaways, but a linked, simple game of catch can be an amazing communal experience either as a fund raiser or as a stand-alone promotion. problems with liability if Johnny gets hit in the head? Use a soft ball. Problems in moving it along? Like Laifer’s idea make it a nerf promotion that goes around the stands and finishes on the field. If the simple act of dunking a nerf hoop literally helped to change lives, then a simple game of catch could as well. Just an idea.

 And with that…Happy Father’s Day To All…

Yankees’ Hope Week Reaches A Milestone, And Keeps Growing…

This coming week will mark a five year milestone for the New York Yankees and their tent pole in-season awareness program, Hope Week. While all teams have a responsibility to give back to their fans year-round and the Yankees themselves have expansive foundations run by Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Joe Girardi and many others, the New York Yankees have created quite the niche with Hope Week, and have found ways to expand it every year.  What sets Hope Week apart for the Yankees is the expansive connections each and every member of the organization makes with so many different organizations during the busiest part of the season. The plan, which ranges from visits to having various groups and organizations come to Yankee Stadium, takes every part of the organization and exposes the brand to a wide variety of stories that will have a cumulative ripple effect way beyond the initial meetings. It is Community Relations and outreach to the max, and as a result garnered exposure not just locally but nationally, with a full-length feature on the Today Show on Friday.

Does this mean the Yankees cram all their good will into one week? No. What Hope Week does is serve as a great example of what the value of sport and celebrity can do for so many charities and causes, and draws attention to all in one concerted effort. There is lots of follow-up, and lots of special events, the team and the players do prior and will continue to do after. However by focusing so many efforts in one week, it serves as a great reminder to all what the team can stand for in the community. Each year the event has grown, getting national attention even by The White House now,  and year five is serving as a great look back as well as a look into new ways to engage and build serving as a “Must Do” not just for baseball teams but for every elite team that wins a world title. Brazil should do a hope week for soccer in World Cup…the Clippers in LA. It should also not end with the pro teams. The most elite of college programs should do the same, and the USOC could handle as well. No the Yanks are not alone in bringing hope. What they have done first is really use the wide-ranging week, in midseason, to expand the brand and once again convey their leadership, this time off the field. Well done.

So The Tiger Said To The Horse…and Other Ways Detroit Builds Its Brand…

The best of organizations are the ones that are proactive even on their brightest of days with storytelling and finding niche’s to get exposure. The communications heads don’t get caught up in the moment, they manage up and make sure that even the small outlets get the due they deserve. Sometimes packed press boxes don’t allow for enough seats, or media time for stars is constrained and political, but the best at what they do find the time and make the effort to tell the stories and make everyone feel as welcome as possible. It is not easy, especially when times are good, to balance the requests or take the time, most importantly, to listen to those who some may consider “second tier” and figure out how their outlets can jibe with the opportunities that exist, especially when balancing the multi-faceted demands of stars. However one thing is clear, the way you proactively seek coverage for select events, create coverage that is tied to the news of the day off the field (such as in the community or with brands) and best manage the time of all involved will pay huge dividends when the on-field results inevitably cycle down, and one is looking for getting a little something extra for players, coaches or events when media of any size could be off covering other news of the day.

One of the clubs that looks to be the most proactive in maximizing visibility of the team on the upswing is the Detroit Tigers. Despite their infield success, the national spotlight for a city that has been down on its luck has not come easily or consistently, so the Tigers front office has aggressively taken their messages to the media.    

Case in point was this past weekend, when baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, Miguel Cabrera, shot a good luck message to California Chrome and was included along with multiple prominent celebrities as part of a video produced by NBC and aired prior to this past Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. While some may think those things “just happen,” it took a lot of timing and foresight by the team to pull it off, especially since MLB is not a partner of MLB. It exposed Cabrera and the Tigers brand to a completely different demographic.

Then you have star pitcher Justin Verlander continues to gain national notoriety with his relationship with Kate Upton. While again it may be a big assumption that all the off-field work comes naturally, carefully crafting the messages and the opportunities still has to involve an active Tigers staff, to make sure all opportunities are in lock step. Verlander was also put forth by the club and became the first player to participate in a new initiative by MLB and its rights holders and MLB productions whereas a player wears a wireless mic in the field, and provides a behind the scenes tour of his team’s clubhouse. The footage is used during national telecasts and on MLB.com and sets a great example of what stars can do to set the example for others.

While not in big movie towns like Toronto or New York or LA, there are opportunities to get Detroit some national exposure through big budget films, so the team welcomed RoboCop (modern day remake of movie, that was shot recently in Detroit) to throw a first pitch and shoot a video skit with Tigers stolen base leader Rajai Davis. The event exploded on social and got national play for the brand well away from traditional sports coverage.  The team also aggressively recruited the Weather Channel (with extensive coverage, Reynolds Wolf live hits) to broadcast live from Comerica Park on Opening Day and to produce a behind the scenes feature with their head grounds keeper complete with radar tracking and how they installed a completely new field (outfield and infield) this past March after hosting Red Wings – Leafs alumni game and multiple minor league, college and high school ice hockey games as part of the Winter Classic Festival. None of it happened in a vacuum, and all brought a casual audience close to the Tigers, their ballpark and their personalities.

Do these opportunities come along if Detroit is in last place instead of first? Maybe. However leveraging the team, its place in the community and its stature atop the standings right now in a way that is more than baseball is key not just for the short-term but for the long-term strength of the club and its brand. While many opportunities may come to marquee clubs, being able to look outside the stadium and find opportunities and bring them into the club communications and marketing plans is really important for teams no matter what the size and success. The best at it rarely look at the results on the field, just the results in the stands, when building relationships and creating buzz, and The Tigers are great example of how to get it done.

MLB Drafts More Interest…

It is the only major sport that does the picks for its future while its present is going on, and is also the only sport that still only drafts those athletes who are from North America as opposed to the world, but the MLB Draft continues to come of age as a property.  Taking place over three days without any international players, the Draft had been somewhat of an afterthought for the casual baseball fan amidst all the goings-on in the MLB season. Like the NHL, the players selected usually take years to mature and reach the Majors, so much of the fanfare and immediate gratification that comes with the NBA or NFL Drafts, where players go from the board to the teams, is missing. However MLB continues to find ways to make the Draft more relevant to the casual fan, and even improve the Q level for the diehard follower.

Using the social space and the power of MLB Network, Sirius MLB Radio and MLB.com, the league moved the Draft a few years ago to their studios in Secaucus to create more relevancy to the process. They have also engaged actively with the projected top picks, giving those players immediate opportunities to get time in the spotlight and with the fans, and have now taken a page from the NFL and the NBA Draft Lottery by having teams bring in some luminaries from their past glory to help select the first picks and give some analysis about the current draftees, their experience going through the process, and thoughts about the organization they represent. From Hall of Famers to former executives, the studio will be chock full of relevant names that a casual fan may flip to just to hear from, and that will help move the draft picks to be more top of mind as each organization builds.

Thursday will feature the use of a Twitter Mirror celebrity photo station within the network’s Studio 42. The Twitter Mirror was tried during Spring Training, with a tablet will be stationed along the third base line of the miniature infield of Studio 42 where draft picks, club reps and other celebrities can take photographs to be posted on Twitter. MLBAM and the network will also be encouraging each of the seven prospects slated to attend the Draft in person to take further pictures with the Twitter Mirror following their selections.

Now those in the room will still not have the uniqueness of other sports, who now shop that seat to elite fans, some brand contest winner or even celebrities, but the step towards other faces brings much better relevance to an event which is big on mystery and long on time for today’s get it done now sports fan. Baseball is still long on tradition more so than other sports, and the draft’s length and uncertainty doesn’t really lend itself to the hysteria and fan interest of other leagues, but all in all another solid effort by MLB to find a way to make its future stars and the process behind picking them  much more front and center than ever before.

The Troops Remain A Still To be Tapped Platform…

As Memorial Day is upon us here in the States, it is interesting to take a quick look at a group that is passionate, young, loyal, appreciative, athletic, budget conscious and enthusiastic, yet is among one of the most underserved groups for brands looking to reach the male demo and grow a fan base…the men and women of the military. While the Federal Government continues to bemoan the lack of ROI The National Guard had with its large NASCAR spend (although was the goal awareness or direct recruiting?) and recently announced bigger cutbacks in sports spending on recruiting advertising (over $80 million affecting properties like fishing and NASCAR at first), it remains a mystery as to why many brands looking for that young active male demo don’t go right to the bases and places where these loyal families and “captive” audiences sit. Armed Forces Radio and TV remains a very fertile and cost efficient ground for sports brands to reach a loyal audience, and bases are always looking for programs to keep the troops and their families busy and connected to mainstream America. More importantly, these groups, once discharged, remain very loyal to those who supported them while serving their country, with NASCAR-like brand buying and affinity. So why don’t more brands look to use sports to activate with the troops on base and in their communities vs. in stadium? Of course the immediacy of media at a game is powerful and impactful, but going to the troops and their families will also have a long lasting effect for those who care to take the step.

Is it because of the perception of Red Tape? The sometimes transient nature of the military and their families? Neither are clear but for those brands who can figure it out, the captive audience waiting to attach to their products, services and even teams as potential viewers and ticket buyers, is huge. Now there are a number of strong programs that serve as one-offs for honoring military men and women once at the game to give them and their families a chance to attend events. Camoflage Kids is one great one, and on Memorial Day MLB will have a series of ceremonies at all games, but those are all outbound programs once these young people are on site. Brands should look to base activation programs, tied to sports, to really make a sound investment.

Now virtually every sports property honors a local vet during a break in play. Those moments are inspirational for sure. Some teams have set about hiring programs for those returning in droves from the battlefields of Afghanistan. All good. However sustaining programs that support the military and their families at the core rather than just a base visit here or there is really what would be unique. It may not sell huge amounts of tickets at first, but the word of mouth amongst the military is very powerful, and the legacy built in for what will be a long future of a solid fan base or a consumer alliance is probably well worth the initial investment. Several lifestyle sports…NASCAR, the UFC, Ironman…have done a good job with putting their brand with the core of the military. Finding a brand to activate with that sport is still not easy though, but combining that powerful sports brand with a solid consumer program is something that is worth cracking as we hopefully move toward more troops coming back to the States and entering civilian life.

Majoring In The Minors: MiLB Bands Together

It is perhaps the best form of family sports entertainment in North America; affordable, fun, usually pretty quick, casual and plentiful in most areas. It is minor league baseball, a solid rite of passage for many people who used to make more regular stops to the Big leagues but may be priced out of more than one or two trips a year. The business of an affiliated MiLB team is all about community; work with local brands and partners, build your base and sell the experience. Play in your territory and try and be as entrepreneurial as possible. Your costs on the field are picked up by the parent club, the rest of the business is yours to run.

For years that work was in a vacuum. You shared best practices with other clubs in the offseason, but the sell was yours to handle locally. Maybe occasionally a larger brand would come along for a league-wide or regional partnership, but largely these were businesses unto themselves. There was massive scale and data, but it was usually pretty unwieldy to navigate, like trying to place the same ad in hundreds of church bulletins, a nice idea but tough to do. Recently however MILB has found some ways to work together and find those economies of scale, better implement best practices and consolidate some media to best grow the overall business of the collective without sacrificing the charm or the bottom line of most clubs. With Michael Hand as the Chief Marketing Officer, the business of minor league baseball is taking a bigger step forward collectively than it has ever before, and the result is a more cohesive and better run organization with ancillary benefits for all involved.

By looking at the aggregate of over 108 Million fans, an almost 50-50 gender balance in the stands and at least once club within 30 minutes of almost ¾ of the population of the US, MiLB is making its case that it is not just a smart local buy, maybe it’s a smart national play as well. New deals, like a weekly Game on CBS Sports TV, a multi-faceted partnership with Disney for the recent film “Million Dollar Arm,”  and a national deal with the “Pep Boys” chain, which matched the footprint of their stores to the map of where MILB is played, are all recent steps forward in a healthy overall strategic business plan for MiLB.    While not in every park, Pep Boys will be a “proud partner” of each participating club and activate various in-stadium elements from April through the beginning of September; including, signage, on-field promotional activities, video board messaging, public address announcements, print advertisements and couponing. All of which brings added value, and added dollars to the clubs while presenting “Brand MiLB” in a very compact and effective light.

Still as with every collective there will be some bumps in the road. Minor league clubs have operated in their own business model for years, and the most successful ones may not have the margin or the ability to suddenly vacate a category for the better of all others who may not have that spot filled, but in select areas, like major entertainment categories, the larger partnership can be a great fit. What has been realized and is important is the fact that these very savvy local business units, the clubs themselves, recognize the need for innovation, and collective innovation is sometimes healthier than the rick of going at it alone. While not one size fits all, the way MILB is now approaching business creates an interesting patchwork, and one worth watching as best practices come about, the air gets a little warmer, and families look to the diamond for a night of fun under the bright lights.