NBA | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Want A Piece of The Cavs? Invest In the Bench…

With all the LeBron James news and the talk of skyrocketing ticket prices, ample TV appearances, out of control franchise valuations and all else round the Cavaliers, it will be interesting to see who the smart, calm head identify as key engagement opportunities around the LeBron return. Will brands try and tie up Kyrie Irving even more? How about Anderson Varejao, there flamboyant, international star soon to be a free agent?  Do you roll with the ever-improving Tristan Thompson, or a rookie like Andrew Wiggins, with lots of upside? They all will surely get their fair share.

However a guy who could be an even better bet for brand stability is someone who won’t even put on a uniform. New head coach David Blatt.  The skeptical may say Blatt is being thrown into a pressure cooker which could quickly spit him out, with wasted time and wasted money for brands.  Very, very doubtful. Blatt, for the right brands, would be the safest investment this side of LeBron. Why? Teams now are investing more and more in the long term culture of an organization more than the quick fix. Blatt comes to the Cavs before LeBron as a global commodity; a successful basketball lifer who has a reputation for getting the respect of his players around the world, and one who gives that respect back. He is multi-lingual, multi-national and has turned very turbulent situations around in places like Russia and Israel, all the while keeping strong ties and respect with the hierarchy of NBA coaching circles. While Erik Spoelstra was somewhat of an unknown quantity outside of coaching circles when he took over the Miami Heat and gained LeBron, Blatt is a known international commodity who could become a coaching star regardless of the performance of his returning superstar now.

So what type of brands invest in a coach new to the NBA? Some will depend on his level of comfort doing things outside of his given duties. The goal is to win with the Cavs and focus there, but that doesn’t mean opportunities can’t arise. The low hanging fruit are apparel companies who can dress Blatt as he becomes a TV fixture during games. There are international brands on the business side like law firms and even law and tax firms that now spend dollars against having a key spokesperson with little public effort; it would be much more behind the scenes entertaining and talking hoops. Educational businesses could benefit from a well-traveled American who speaks several languages, and that is just the start. Yes, the choices have to be wise and incremental, with a look to the future as the team evolves.

The future should include a carefully picked coach as well as his superstar players,  and if you are a brand looking to find a spot in the hubbub, grabbing its affordable rising star on the bench, might be a safer bet than grabbing one on the floor.

Cavs Win In Social With LeBron, But Heat Haven’t Lost…

We went to the folks at MVP Index to take a look at the LeBron effect is early on in social, and to debunk the myth that Heat fans evaporated…here ya go

What impact can one man have on a brand? Ask the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James’ decision to pick his first team over the Miami Heat seems to have had an invigorating effect on a sleepy sports brand in social media.

 The Cavs, with a Twitter amplification rate of 0.86, could definitely use a boost. That boost was provided in earnest when  James took his talents and his 213.27 amplification rate to Cleveland. On the day Sports Illustrated dropped the story of James’ return home, Cleveland’s mentions went from 15  per hour on July 8 to a staggering 3,118 mentions per hour on the day of Decision II. An even larger change is seen in their retweet rate. On July 8, the Cavs were seeing a retweet rate of 14.54 retweets per hour, and on the day of the decision their hourly retweet rate reached 6,202.35 per hour.

The changes weren’t just on Twitter, either. The Cavaliers’ Facebook account also experienced some dramatic changes. 23,259 more people were “talking about” the Cavaliers on July 12 than they were on July 11. That is a 96% increase in people interacting with the Cavaliers’ Facebook account in one day. They also experienced positive changes in their comment rate (307%), Like Rate (77%), and Share Rate (75%) over the same time period.

What about their reach? Before his decision on July 11, the Cavaliers’ Twitter account 336,967 followers. As of July 12, the Cav’s have 370,421, a 9.92% increase in their followers. On Facebook, the Cavs had 1,700245 likes before the decision, and on July 12 they stand at 1,773,792 likes. The Cavaliers gained 73,547 likes in just over one day due to the decision.

How do fans react when their star leaves? We can’t speak for everyone, but it’s widely assumed that the Miami Heat fans are “bandwaggoners.” An account named NBA Legion stated that the Miami Heat had lost 300,000 followers in a tweet that earned 29,585 retweets. That’s a really interesting story, and were it true, we would have seen some real data that backed up the bandwaggoner claim. It’s just not true. The Heat actually have increased their following by a marginal 1,393 people, bringing their Twitter fan base to 2,671,454.

The Cavaliers can gain more than just NBA Titles with the reacquisition of LeBron James, they now have an opportunity to resurrect their brand in social media. The immediate impact LeBron James has on a brand is impressive, but what will really be interesting to watch is Cleveland’s ability to continue growing and engaging with their fans at a steady clip. With LeBron’s added reach and influence, they can capitalize on their revitalized fan base and win sponsorships, move merchandise, and increase ticket sales.

Brand Hoopla: Five Star Basketball

As part of our ongoing series with Columbia University ad the Full Court Press blog; grad student Tanner Simkins spent some time with various marketers and newsmakers in and around sports business. With school ending and the camp season getting started, Tanner talked with Leigh Klein, steward of the legendary Five Star brand.

For over 20 years, Leigh Alan Klein has echoed in the world’s next wave of basketball talent. As CEO and Co-Owner of Five-Star Basketball, he has bridged elite young prospects and tier-one coaching. Five-Star has a long list of iconic player alumni including Moses Malone, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and more. The Five-Star pedigree claims even more basketball legends serving as coaches like Hubie Brown, Rick Pitino,  Bob Knight, John Calipari, and the list goes on. Recently, we sat down with Coach Klein for a discussion on general development news and his work with Five-Star. (A detailed biography for Leigh Klein is provided after the Q&A.)

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Full Court Press: Five-Star attracts the best basketball talent at its camps. How have you been able to remain the premiere camp in the country for so long?

Leigh Klein: The success of the camp continues to be rooted in the teaching of the game. We consider Five-Star the last bastion of teaching and it’s more important now than ever before with the sport evolving to a continual season (high school to club).

FCP: You are able to bring together basketball’s greatest coaches, scouts, mentors, and motivators to help with the camps – what’s the dynamic like working with so many great basketball minds?

LK: The link is the insatiable desire that each of these incredible people bring to contribute to the game in some way shape or form. They will not and do not quit without adding something that makes basketball better. They recognize that the Game is bigger than any individual and feel compelled to contribute to it and give back to the current and future generations.

FCP: How would you describe your leadership style?

LK: My objectives in leading are to provoke thought/build the IQ of the individual. The macro is the big picture and the micro are the choices along the way.

FCP: I imagine you have heard some great speeches over the years from visiting coaches – what stands out as the greatest/most moving speech?

LK: The most powerful story I ever heard at camp was from Coach George Raveling. It’s a true story about him as a young assistant coach and of a kid that he constantly crossed paths with along his way to work. The individual begged for his time and attention and George constantly shunned and pushed it off to the next day and then the next day. The kid one day decided to take his own life. Without question it moved me and stuck with me as a constant reminder that the only thing that really matters – is people. You can never be too busy to help a person.

FCP: What does it mean to you to have such a long list of alumni?

LK: We are so fortunate at Five-Star to play a role in the development of so many great players that we encountered as high school kids whether it was Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and on and on, to see how these kids worked to reach their goals is incredible. For me, I’m just the caretaker of the legacy started by my father, Will Klein and his long-time partner, Howard Garfinkel as well as all the incredible contributors who left their impact on basketball and Five-Star Camp. Guys like Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly, Mike Fratello, Bob Knight, Rick Pitino, John Calipari and on and on, made the coaches and players they encountered better. Five-Star was the vehicle but the credit really show go to the incredible people who came through and made basketball better!

FCP: What’s your favorite book, coaching-related or otherwise?

LK: I just read Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson and it’s as good a book as I ever read. I believe it will help me be a better person, better father as well as give me great strategies to implement with our team at Five-Star.

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

LK: Versatility is the most important skill, for players and for aspiring sports professionals. Continue to add to your skill set. Look how the NBA has evolved, in the past five years,  we have seen the rise of video coordinators into coaching. We have seen the emergence of analytics both into coaching and in team management. Lastly, you see, those who were once sports agents now play prominent roles as team presidents and general managers. Versatility!

You have to grind. There are no shortcuts to success. If you can’t embrace the grind, then the industry is not for you. Lastly, learn how to sell. Selling is critical in every aspect. Selling yourself, selling your ideas….if you can sell, there will always be a job for you.

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For the past two decades, Leigh Klein, Five Star Basketball CEO and Co-Owner, has been responsible for the development of the world’s leading basketball instructional brand, Five-Star Basketball Camp. Coach Klein has directed Five-Star’s Instructional Video/DVD Series and has edited five books. He co-founded the Five-Star Foundation where he remains the Vice-President.

 

 

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…

What Next, Clippers?

The speed and price of the Los Angeles Clippers potential sale this week pointed two key facts; there are more billionaires in the world than there are sports franchises for sale, and the most important part of any transaction is not a valuation or a sticker, tis what someone in the market will pay for the asset. Steve Ballmer’s speed to beat others to become an NBA owner this time around proved that point.

Earlier in the week a lot of the talk had been about the potential brand damage the entire Sterling mess had brought to the franchise. However even before the sale there was little evidence that the madness had actually brought more value to the Clippers brand off the court than ever before, should the right owner be found and a sale go through. Sponsors who threatened to walk came back in the door, upper management was stabilized with the help of the NBA, and the support of the players and the coaching staff following Adam silver’s moves had given all a sense that justice in some form was being meted out, and the business of the LA Clippers was as sound, if not sounder, than ever before.  Now the a $2 billion price tag where exactly is the Clippers brand going forward, especially given the flux of their co-tenants the Los Angeles Lakers, and the ever-fluid state of the NBA from a personnel standpoint.

On the court the franchise obviously has some of the most marketable stars in North American sport in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They have paid handsomely for a coach in Doc Rivers and have added the pieces they saw as needed to move the club to one level for now, but it is a level still short of an NBA title. They sell tickets in a building where they are a tenant, they bring in brands which are solid but not overly cutting edge, they draw a bit of a national audience but still not a massive one, and their presence outside the US in the scope of the NBA is still behind that of brands like the Knicks, the Lakers, the Bulls, the Heat and even teams like the Rockets, the Nets and the Mavericks. They are not currently, but will soon, be in a position to set up a better structured and more lucrative TV deal, but that is still a bit off in the distance.

The big question from a brand standpoint right now can be addressed in the time and effort Ballmer as an owner will put in to changing a culture even further. Many have said the organization outside of ownership was progressing into being more aggressive and cutting edge, but will more changes be coming as the former Microsoft head now evaluates staff and brings in new and different faces to continue to accelerate the face of the Clippers?

There has even been some talk of the new life the team has received, coupled with the new name recognition amongst casual fans because if the issues with ownership and the marketable stars they have may even push the longstanding but in flux Lakers brand as the most marketable in Southern California. That really, really remains to be seen. Fans are loyal and tribal and won’t jump ship that fast, and the market certainly is big enough for both clubs to survive and thrive. One looks to new York, where the Nets have certainly grown as a brand in Brooklyn, but the Knicks from a business perspective have not suffered in any substantial way yet, and have generated even more offseason buzz than Brooklyn with all the talk of what Phil Jackson may be doing for the long term. Now none of that talk has translated into anything substantial in terms of wins and losses for the Knicks, who missed the playoffs and are still coachless, but it has continued to keep them well in a basketball conversation throughout the spring, and the revamped Madison square Garden remains a prime destination for hoops fans from around the world, despite the rise of the Barclays Center and tis main tenant a river away.

The interesting question around LA may be more of what the Lakers can do to right their ship than what the Clippers are doing to ramp up theirs. LA has a solid business and marketing mind in Jeannie Buss, but who ultimately makes the business calls may not be in her capable hands right now, although it would be a solid move forward for the team. The brand is certainly not suffering in terms of sales or recognition yet, and it takes several bad years, not one, for loyalty to wane. The vastness of the market can certainly support both teams having filled buildings and viable brands, and a little extended completion on the business side is certainly not a bad thing.

In the end the real intriguing part of the Clippers sale if and when it goes through to be final, will be to see how innovative, fresh and forward-thinking the team will be. What will brands put a value on when they are looking to gain entry into the NBA, and what will the team do to continue to now accelerate the buzz not just in the marketplace but nationally. The new owner has said he will stay in LA, but does that mean the Staple Center? Does Anaheim come back into the mix as it has before? And what happens with TV rights and other manageable assets? All will be interesting to watch as yet another successful business man enters the field of pro sports looking to make his mark and rearrange the furniture in a house that was recently shaken to its core, but one with a very solid foundation.

The games off the field in LA will be just as interesting as the ones on the court.       

Sixers To Camden, Sorta, It Almost Happened Before…

This almost sorta happened once before, in 1993. The Philadelphia 76ers and their owner Harold Katz were embroiled in a dispute with their arena partners, the Philadelphia Flyers and their owner Ed Snider. The battle was over the new home of the teams, as the CoreStates Spectrum was quickly running out of its once very useful life. A state of the art facility was needed, the question was, would it be one or two? For years, the Sixers had played second fiddle to the Flyers in their shared home, with the offices staying in the bowels of Veterans Stadium. Priority dates, media and fan events always went to the Flyers. Now the Sixers wanted equal time.

When deadlines came and past, Katz had had enough. His brand, he felt, was damaged as being second fiddle, so the two teams would go their own ways.  A partnership was formed to bring the Sixers probably about six miles, across the Delaware River into their own facility right by the new amphitheater and close to a to be built minor league ballpark as part of a massive revitalization of the Camden waterfront. Governor Jim Florio, up for re-election, was a big backer of the plan, and off the owner would go, breaking ties with the Flyers and the city for a new state-of-the-art basketball specific facility just north of the Walt Whitman Bridge. The logic was that thousands of sports fans commuted from new Jersey every day, an those who were on the Pennsylvania side knew their way past Camden to get to the Jersey Shore, so the Sixers would not be leaving, and in many ways they would be a little closer to an affluent New Jersey fan base. The owner would have what he wanted and what he felt was needed for a brand; a home they could control of their very own.

It never happened.

Katz picked the wrong face in Trenton to support, as Christie Todd Whitman bounced Florio, denounced the plan as a tax payer burden, the team when back to the negotiating table and hatched a better deal than they had with the Flyers, and shortly after that Katz surprisingly sold the team to a group that included Comcast and Snider and the current massive South Philly sports complex that now exists had the anchor tenants it has today, albeit with the Sixers now back under different ownership and headed on the business side by Scott O’Neil. The minor league stadium, Campbell’s Field, was built and has housed the Atlantic League Riversharks for over a decade with some level of success and the New Jersey Aquarium was added as well, but the NBA in downtrodden Camden? No way.

So this week the Sixers to Camden talk perked up again, albeit on a different level. With the team having their D-league team in Delaware, a spot to anchor and build from in South Jersey could be a good fit.  It would not be a new arena, but a practice facility which would be a potential great new draw for recruiting players as well as doing entertaining for legions of fans on non-game days in New Jersey

After years practicing at St. Joe’s Fieldhouse, the team began to practice in rented space at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in West Philadelphia in 1999. The possible move comes after plans to construct a training center at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, fell through in April, and left the team looking for alternative sites that made sense.

From a brand standpoint, the move could be a good one; a controlled multi-use facility that expands the marketing reach of the team just a bit farther into New Jersey, a state without an NBA franchise since the Nets bolted across two other rivers to Brooklyn. It helps also forge some additional cross-promotional ties potentially between the Sixers and the Devils, New Jersey’s NHL franchise (although the Flyers do train in New Jersey as well, in Voorhees), which is also owned by Josh Harris and overseen by O’Neil. The days of having a gym with a few weights to placate your athletes are long gone. Training facilities are now multi-use, multi-media hubs and home away from homes with little expense spared to keep athletes happy, trained and treated well.

Is all this just posturing and more importantly who fits the bill for the new facility, which would join Campbell’s Field between the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges? It would seem to be very much a privately-funded project with a break on land that is unused and some great tax breaks, but it would probably not be a mega-moneymaker for the cash strapped and crime ridden city. It would be an emotional boost, and hopefully help seed some small jobs for residents and get young people involved more in basketball and education-related programs in the city, which could have a nice long-tail effect for some of the kids and the families in the community.

In the end it is always hard to figure out the real economic effect new stadia, let alone practice facilities, can have on a community. However by engaging Camden, the Sixers are showing smart marketing and good community responsibility as they work hard to re-build and re-brand a franchise that has been on the downswing and is now looking to fight its way back up, just like that city across the river.

Data Now Has A Price…

What price does data have in sport these days? If the stories on Friday are to be believed, and no reason they are not, the current price for at least some of the data is north of $200 million. That was the expected number that the sale of Chicago-based Stats Inc. fetched from a private equity firm, who has acquired the company from  Fox Sports and the Associated Press. The purchaser was  San Francisco-based private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners.

Stats, best-known for licensing data statistics and providing analysis for over 200 leagues worldwide and networks like ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports and Comcast Inc.,  gained more attention among sports business types  this year when the NBA purchased its SportVU player-tracking technology to install in all of its arenas. The appeal of tracking technology partnered with wearable tech is seen as a major growth industry, an area which Stats is only one player at this point, and a costly one at that. However being first in the marketplace with a brand-name partner has its value, and that value was clearly shown this week.  Whether that pricey spend for tracking technology will drop significantly like we have seen in other areas of technology, from calculators to laptops to cameras to televisions, is a question yet to be answered.

The other major growth industry for data remains in the gaming space, a global billion dollar industry, with a small fraction of that business currently being legal in some countries outside of North America. The ability for consumer to use data for gambling in sport is commonplace in Europe, but still illegal outside of Nevada despite challenges currently going on from numerous states. Every professional sports league in North America continues to publicly deny the interest in gambling, but will still monitor the progress and the lobbying going on back and forth to change the Federal mandate. Should the law change, most feel it is not if but when, the need for accurate and detailed data from companies like Stats will explode, as leagues can then license their information through a data provider and take a cut of every transaction. While many people may think of those transactions as miniscule, the ability for a registered adult consumer to place a wager or engage with every interaction in a game, especially in a mobile environment is massive, and would make a revenue stream for leagues a billion dollar industry.

While the gaming and gambling is still off in the distance, the use of data for detailed player evaluation continues to be more and more powerful. The NBA D-League and the Arena Football League have started to track data related to performance with microchips in uniforms, and the tracking technology being used by the NBA can record much more than just actions going up and down the court. Whether or not professional player associations will allow the wearing of such chips during league games and practices is up for debate, as that data can be extremely personal when it can record things like heart rhythm and breathing capacity, but the interest for using all kinds of data to engage fans and broadcasters for content is now at a premium everywhere from America’s Cup to Formula One, and being able to provide that intimate detail of data now has at least one number affixed to it through the Stats sale this week. Now what dollar value broadcasters will put on that data for their use remains to be seen. If it can be sold to a brand, and if the consumers continue to have a need for more intimate data, the price goes up. If the market says the data is superfluous, the price stays the same or the value goes down. There is certainly an interest in more data, the question will be at what price.

Regardless of the short term outcome, the value of having propriety data and finding ways to use it continues to grow for both the recreational athlete and for the consumer and the teams at the highest level. What was once seen as an outlier in “Moneyball” is now the rule in every aspect of sport, and a venture capital firm has now set at least one price for what value data has.

New Tool Helps Sport Think Globally, Speak Locally…

One of the biggest challenges for American brands, teams and leagues today is literally getting lost in translation. As sport continues to expand globally, understanding culture, language and tradition becomes more and more important, and with the advent of social media, the ability to make a misstep and be deemed “the ugly American” can happen in seconds, with huge amounts of time and money being spent to help right the faux pas.

We see it constantly in the Latino space, where teams or leagues or even athletes try to reach the “Hispanic” audience and throw “Los” on something and play some mariachi music without really understanding if they are marketing or speaking to the culture in Brazil (where you are better off with Portuguese and even Japanese), Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico or even Spain. One team’s “Spanish” is not the same for everyone. The sports that do it best in the Hispanic or Latino world remain in soccer and are growing more in basketball in baseball, where the sport itself is part of the culture. It is a growing embrace, but total understanding and marketing to each part of a cultural base is still costly and years away.

As American sport looks east, to Asia, especially, the challenges become even more daunting, albeit enticing. You have not just spoken language and cultural issues but written language issues, as well as select governments that carefully control the use of social media, often times the prime engagement vehicle when going in-country.  China presents one of the biggest challenges and opportunities.  

Key social media channels like Facebook and Twitter are blocked, so it’s hard for athletes, teams, leagues, and agencies around the world to tap into the this growing market. In turn, the leagues need to find strategic ways to engage in the space that are both seamless and respectful of all going on around them in real time, as one misstep can have devastating results.

One recent launch we have been watching is KAWO, a social media management tool that helps businesses repurpose and automate existing social media content onto Chinese channels like Weibo and WeChat, which launched a sports-specific portal early in the spring.

Founded by Australian entrepreneur Andrew Collins, the Shanghai-based social media agency gives brands digital access to over 600 million people by automatically pulling their existing Facebook and Twitter content onto a central dashboard, where moderators translate and then push it via KAWO directly on a brand’s Chinese social network accounts.

While many large properties like the NBA and MLB have invested large dollars into building up a presence with staff in China, other emerging sports and entertainment properties and leagues will not have the ability to do so because of financial constraints, yet the opportunity for engagement in the market with millions of interested consumers exists. That’s where a platform like KAWO can provide benefit; it clears the social barriers and carefully orchestrates the buzz and the content into a form that is respectful, efficient and monetizable. While we all may understand that English is the international language of business, speaking to an emerging consumer in their language, with the right nuance, is irreplaceable.

Will platforms like KAWO attain scale, or will there be more efficient copy-cat platforms, or ones that large scale media companies and leagues can launch on their own to attain a similar level of service? Possibly. However for the here and now, and we are all about here and now, a service like this to speak proactively and smartly to the growing Asian consumer market could be an interesting investment, and one certainly to watch as we continue to go more global. While staying true locally.  

Leadership 101: Adam Silver’s Teachable Moment

Those who know Adam Silver and have followed his career probably were not overly surprised by Tuesday’s announcement. He has learned not just from David Stern, but from countless others in sports, law, finance and communications as to what best practices should be. Listen, build consensus, communicate with those around you, take away surprises and make sure all who speak do so from the same script. Be prepared.

We saw the same preparation go into Sunday’s press conference in Memphis. Silver understood that he was not just speaking to a national audience but that he was in Memphis the home of the Grizzlies, with many of their media in attendance. Before addressing the news of the day with the Clippers, he spoke clearly and thoughtfully on the passing of former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, who had died earlier in the day. It showed compassion and humanity, with no rush to hyperbole or the buzz of what the real news was to come. Compassion and thoughtfulness set the tone. Once that was stated, it was on to the news of the first steps in the Donald Sterling investigation. There was no ambiguity, every answer was well thought-out and addressed clearly.  A timeline was set up, and there was little indecision on when next steps would be. No joking, no sarcasm, just clearly thought out messages.

Tuesday was more of the same. Clear definition. A solid message brought forth from consensus. There were few if any “don’t knows’ or items left to chance. Clear, calm and definitive as one can be. No key parties were left to twist in the wind. The Clippers, a valuable franchise and an unwilling victim in the circumstances of one man, were not thrown aside, they were acknowledged and their subsequent actions in the digital space helped unite rather than divide the news of the day. That was seen throughout the sports and entertainment world as every party reacted, and those within the NBA family either spoke loudly in support or did not speak at all. Everyone pulled from the same playbook. The message of one face ruled the day. Clear and concise with no margin for ambiguity.

Now for sure this was not just a soapbox push to do what is right just by itself. This was a clear statement built out of the word in the business community, both short and long term. Over the past few days, from Capitol Hill to Wall Street to Madison Avenue, influencers have voiced opinion and taken action to show how important this decision was going to be. When sponsors run, season ticketholders speak, politicians weigh in, your business, that of the NBA, is at risk, and all those actions obviously played into the decision Tuesday and rightfully so.

Is this battle over? No way. Silver’s actions and words on behalf of the league now get passed through the court of public opinion to the legal system, where big ticket items like fair market value for the club will be bandied about for months of not years, and we will come to know the name of any series of arbitrators down the line.   

However the teachable moment was the most important; a clear message by one voice that ruled the day. Clear and concise with no margin for ambiguity. That’s what we want from all in a position of leadership, be they parents or educators or mentors or business leaders. Adam Silver set the bar very high today, and all who helped him get to this point should be proud.

The New Sponsored Logo Game: The Battle of Consistency vs. Risky Dollars…

In the last few years sports teams in North America, from college through the pros, have forgone consistency of brand in their look for the sake of selling more diverse, quirky, unique and even outlandish jerseys, kits and other uniform pieces to an audience who want different, at least to have in their closets. With few exceptions…The New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Penn State football, the Montreal Canadiens, the Los Angeles Lakers…teams if every size and shape have taken to Day-Glo, faux flags, selfie encrusted, camo-filled looks as a way to gain attention, sell more merch and sometimes raise funds for charity, especially when apparel companies like Under Armour and Nike are always looking to engage a younger audience not thrilled with consistency and big on expressive and outlandish. Sometimes it works, sometimes it looks silly, but usually it draws attention and many times ancillary revenue.

That revenue challenge on the professional side, and maybe at some point on the college side, will soon be amplified when the four major sports leagues allow brands to advertise on uniforms at some point in the next few years. The logo’ed jerseys have long passed the sniff test in MLS, the CFL and the WNBA and on practice apparel with the NBA and the NFL, and brands on kits are the norm in sports like rugby cricket and soccer in the rest of the world, so it becomes a question of when and who, not if, the brand of choice will appear on many clubs uniforms in North America. Some still may forgo the selling of space on uniforms for the sake of purity and value of their look, but most will surely give it a try and reap the dollars.

However with the logo’ed jersey comes a unique problem, one which has arisen again with MLS as clubs like DC United switch kit sponsors; the availability of old inventory licensed out to commercial partners through television and digital still photography. Sponsors, especially new ones, will pay a high price for the ability to be seen everywhere associated with clubs, but archival footage sold and licensed, especially in transition years, could continue to show up with old and dated uniforms bearing brands that are long gone. A Volkswagen logo on a United kit for example, could continue to show up in a licensed video game or commercial or billboard or photo campaign for several years after a team makes a change, which can create problems both for the club and for the new brand, depending on how wide the usage is. Now in the still photographic world, the digitizing of shots can help alleviate that problem; lift a logo out and drop a new one in to share; but in video and even in many licensed products the logo change may be slow, which can potentially damage the brand for the short term. The problem is not a new one for clubs that have chosen to flip-flop uniforms or do specialized or throwback uniforms several times a season; you run the risk of those unfamiliar or “specialized” day glo or bright orange uniforms ending up in places where you would want your traditional and consistent look to be. Some cherish the thought of the specialized uni’s ending up in campaigns as great exposure, some go to great lengths to limit the accessibility of shots and video from special nights so the brand can stay consistent for the long term. However with a branded uniform work for the long term, that issue of inconsistency rises dramatically. The goal is to overachieve for a brand partner, especially one that is new or one that has plunked down millions for an affiliation, so consistency, and consistent policing of what footage is going where, is going to become even more critical when logos start appearing in prime time for the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB at some point.

Now brands who chose to forgo the branded bucks for their clean look may run the risk of less upfront sponsor dollars than those who chose to bring a sponsor in; but they run much less of a risk in achieving ROI for that sponsor by simply saying no to jersey signage. In many ways, their clean look is exposure for the team unto itself; it is what they are known for in the sports marketplace. However for most, the dollars to earn by dropping a carefully placed and sized logo will be too much to pass up.

So who wins and loses in the new sponsored logo world? The leagues and teams for the most part will see a win, as will many specialty sales spots who can offer up the new looks, much like they do with the “specialized” jerseys being done ad nauseum today in college and the pros. Brick and mortar apparel sales shops, who have to take the risk on dated material with old logos will have the same issue they have when a marquee player gets traded these days, getting stuck with inventory now deemed for the scrap heap, but online e-tailers who have less inventory and can shift quickly to a new look will also benefit.

For sure none of this is being done in a vacuum at the highest level. The risks and rewards and issues are being played out time and again in the elite leagues, each watching as minor league sports and others take the first steps. However once the step is made for logo’ed apparel, consistency and control may have an even bigger premium. It is one thing to have a special jersey from a few years ago showing up in an ad campaign or in printed material by a third party; it is something else when the ad contains a brand whose contract has long since expired. That can do damage not just to the authenticity of the ad, it can hurt the new sponsor relationship with the team and with the league itself.

Consistency of brand is something which seems to be a little less valuable these days, with new and flashy looks taking the place of the safe and simple. For sure there are dollars to be made with the changing times, the question remains is the risk worth the reward for the long term?  That remains to be seen, as sponsors enter the uniform game for most sports sometime soon.