Best Story In College Football? How About Lehigh-Lafayette And 50K At Yankee Stadium

Say what you want about big time college football, the power conferences, computer rankings, even major rivalry week, one of the best stories in the game will take place not in Boston, where Harvard will meet Yale for the Ivy league title and ESPN College GameDay will be on hand, or in LA when USC meet UCLA or when Mississippi and Mississippi State meet for the Egg Bowl, or even when Auburn meets Alabama. Those will be great matchups will fill stadia and lots of media coverage. But try drawing 50,000 for almost ANY college football game to Yankee Stadium (which had a little more than half of that total for UConn and Army last week), and then try doing it with two Patriot League schools with losing records.

 
Fantasy correct? Nope. Reality. That’s what will happen Saturday when Lehigh and Lafayette meet for the 150th time, the longest rivalry in college football. This one, for only the second time ever, will be at a neutral site (the 1891 game was played in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania) and it will be a draw beyond anyone’s imagination.

 
Now this was not something that the folks in The Bronx dreamed up on their own, like has happened with other matchups and the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. All of those games have served as a great addition and revenue driver for the Stadium, with each one having tis own marketing and P and L. This game? Stand alone, baby. No marketing from the Pinstripe folks, minimal advertising.

 
It was all driven, with not a huge amount of corporate support by the enterprising athletic directors at the two schools and their staffs, who conceived of the idea five years ago, way back when Twitter was just getting going if people can think back that far, especially in the get it done now world of college and professional sports.

 
Joe Sterrett of Lehigh and Bruce McCutcheon of Lafayette, both of whom have been leaders in finding ways to market and grow the bottom line at their respective schools over the years, took it upon themselves to sell the idea not just as a buzz worthy event, but as a revenue-generator for the programs, a one-time event worthy of a big stage. Initial goals, according to most reports, were a break-even of around 20,000 seats, priced moderately between $6 and $35. The suites would also be available at a price, with the Stadium working together to control costs and see whatever the upside would be. The two AD’s got long-term buy in from every level of their respective universities to make this the must-attend event for anyone involved in the two schools or in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas, events began to line up the night prior and the night following, touting development, marketing and alumni. Fraternal groups rallied to help make the event a cause celebre’ for the future. Students, as always, would still get in free.

 
The hoopla even extended to Wall Street, where the presidents of both schools set up fundraising events and will get to ring the closing bell at the NYSE. Others came up with the idea to get the Empire State Building done in school colors on Saturday night. The buzz built over five years, and the result is an event that surpassed expectations, and according to many reporters, will generate over seven times the revenue for the two schools that their regular on-campus meeting, which always is a big draw in the 10-15 k range as it rotates between the two eastern Pennsylvania campuses.

 
Is the huge draw an anomaly in the usual daily calendar of sports, especially on the college level? More than likely. Another outlier has been Cornell hockey which has packed Madison Square Garden several times around the Thanksgiving weekend, while other collegiate hockey events draw a fraction of the bodies and the eyeballs. Once again, it was self-marketed for the long-term by the school as a rallying point for all things Cornell, and in this case it worked. Harvard-Yale hockey has done a similar job at MSG last year and this, but other events haven’t come close, and college football and hoops for a large part do OK but not outstanding, even with a much larger marketing and business activation spend in major arenas. For sure there will be programs that will look at Lehigh-Lafayette this weekend and say hey we can do at least 2/3 of that for our rivalry game, but many times the expectations fall flat for a number of reasons, from time to TV to weather to the matter of disposable income.

 

 

However for this one year, Lehigh-Lafayette caught lightening in a bottle, which combined with a dedicated and passionate and visionary administration, and some long term vision in a short term world, really made the Saturday matchup a classic not for what happens on the field, but for what it has become as a special event. Kudos Leopards and Mountain Hawk leadership on a job well done.

 

Lessons From A Lifer At ESPN…

When we were lucky enough to be asked to update our text “Sports Publicity” in 2013, we called on several of those in the media industry who have been around the evolving world of communications for a while, and asked them what they have seen in terms of changes and how they have been able to adapt to the changing world and remain successful.

 
The sampling of sports communications execs ranged from those at media companies like NBC and Sports Illustrated to agencies like Taylor and leagues like the NBA. However one of the stories that struck is the most was the narrative told by ESPN, and its longtime communications head Chris LaPlaca. LaPlaca, one of a handful of original employees at “The Worldwide Leader,” has always looked to find ways to learn, and encourages his staff to do the same. By doing so, ESPN has taken a unique and aggressive approach to communications, teaching everyone on the staff to be “360 degree communicators;” using every medium possible to make sure that the story behind the ESPN story is being told. The staff learns how to use video, audio and every form of digital device to capture the unique goings-on behind the scenes, and make it into a communications experience in addition to what major story is being covered.

 
We were able to more clearly document the practice in 2013 with a blog post  so today we caught up with LaPlaca to ask him more about his thoughts on the industry today, where it’s going, and what he is most proud of with all the time he has logged in Bristol (his bio follows the story).

 

 

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

Information flow these days begins at warp speed and accelerates from there, often bringing a lack of context and at worst, complete misinformation along for the ride. All you can do is be savvy about which issues are worth the time spent and then use all the tools you have at your disposal to insert your point of view.

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

I learned work ethic and integrity from my dad, how to communicate in writing from a variety of professors at St. Bonaventure University, how to be a member of a team from my high school football and basketball coaches, how to hustle from Joe Goldstein, and the intricacies of corporate communications from Tom McElroy, Hank Rieger and especially Rosa Gatti, who took a shot on me right out of college and then again, nine months later, when we both joined ESPN within its first year. I am still learning today from tons of people who have no idea I am stealing from them.

What are you most proud of from a work perspective?

I’m proud to be among a dwindling group of ESPN folks working here who joined the company in its first year…clearly, I was just a kid then! None of us spend much time looking back when the present is so fun and challenging and the future is bright…but when we do, we quietly express pride and gratitude for having started from scratch and contributed to what we’ve built, brick by brick, over 35 years. The reason we’re still here isn’t because we signed a lifetime contract: it’s because we learned how to adapt, evolve, get in front and work like challengers to stay there.

Who do you learn the most from today?

The way this industry is evolving, I learn something new every day. And it can come from anywhere if you are open to it.

What has been your biggest disappointment?

I don’t spend much time on “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” It’s over, I can’t change it and I’ve already deposited whatever I’ve processed from any disappointments. I much prefer to channel whatever emotional energy I have into the present and future. If pressed, I would likely say Game 6 of the ’86 World Series…..but the Red Sox have won three Series since so I’ve let that go.

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

It’s really difficult to condense 35 jam-packed, fun years to answer that question. I love my current team, for example, some of whom were kids when I got to Bristol and some of whom weren’t even born. That’s simultaneously scary and wonderful. If pressed, I would say those of us who were here in the very early days will always have a special bond. When we run into one another – those still here or those who have retired – there’s an unspoken but palpable and very special connection.

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

Speed’s impact on veracity and context from a journalistic perspective. From a business perspective, I’m confident about ESPN’s future in a rapidly changing environment. We used to be the toy department…..now, live sports is arguably the most powerful entertainment genre in this country.

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

I have three: Mobility in consuming content. The ability to personalize. Sports as a preeminent genre. There has never been a better time to be a sports fan.

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

I’ve been blessed with a “glass half-full” outlook no matter my circumstance. Sometimes I have to spend a lot of energy to get to half-full, but it’s always worth it. That said, my wife and I have two little girls at home, ages 6.5 and 8, and to be able to see the world through their eyes at this stage of my life is a wonderful gift. They make me laugh every day.

 
Chris LaPlaca was named ESPN, Inc.’s senior vice president, corporate communications in June 2008. He is responsible for the Company’s worldwide internal, public and media relations strategies, including oversight of consumer, corporate and employee communications for ESPN’s 50 business units. He also oversees the company’s day-to-day working relationship with The Walt Disney Company’s corporate communications and investor relations groups.

LaPlaca, a 34-year veteran of ESPN, had been senior vice president, communications (2006-08), overseeing public and media relations. Prior to that he was senior vice president, consumer communications (2003-06), overseeing consumer media and public relations efforts for domestic services ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic, ESPN and ESPN2 HD, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Radio, Mobile ESPN, and several other brand extensions. He is based in ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. headquarters.

 
Prior to joining ESPN, LaPlaca worked for one year (1979 80) as assistant sports information director at Brown University.

 
LaPlaca received a bachelor of arts degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University in 1979, and remains active in support of the University’s Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
ESPN’s Communications team has earned many accolades over the years, including PR Week’s “Team of the Year” for large corporations in 2005, and CableFAX Magazine’s “Team of the Year” for 2012.

 
LaPlaca was honored by his alma mater in 1995 with the Jandoli School’s Alumnus of the Year Award, given to a graduate who exemplifies the highest professional standards and for service to the journalism program at St. Bonaventure. In April 2003, LaPlaca became the seventh alum in the program’s 54-year history to be inducted onto the J/MC school’s “wall of fame,” which includes five Pulitzer Prize winners.

 
LaPlaca is active within the industry and the community. He is a member of the NCTA’s Public Affairs Committee, and co-chaired the Association for Cable Communicators’ annual conference in 2013. In 2010, he was a keynote speaker at the PR News annual Media Relations Forum, and presented at the Conference for Corporate Communication at Notre Dame in 2013.

The Largest College “Conference” In The U.S. Looks To Grow…

For those not of a certain age, or not involved in college athletics, you probably don’t know how powerful the Eastern College Athletic Conference, or ECAC, was, or how big it remains today. Made up of hundreds of schools, many now on the Division II or III level, the ECAC is still the largest group of colleges that work together in athletics in the United States. At one point, before the current conference structure really took hold in the Eastern United States, the ECAC was it, controlling not just smaller college athletic governance but the biggest schools as well, especially in basketball. While all that has changed, the ECAC has reorganized and now stands at a place where it can better present itself to brands than at any point in its history, with thousands of student-athletes, and hundreds of schools, under its guidance.

It also has a progressive, forward-thinking leader in place in Dr. Kevin McGinniss, who is looking to take the ECAC to places it hasn’t been in years. We caught up with Dr. McGinniss to talk about the challenges, and opportunities that exist for the ECAC today (his bio follows the q and a:

 

You are now just over a year into the job, what have been the biggest surprises thus far?
I am pleasantly surprised at the progress we have made in the previous 15 months. With almost an entirely new staff we have been able to put forth some wonderful new initiatives along with a major relocation of the Conference Headquarters, which has been remarkably embraced by the State of Connecticut to the tune of $400,000 in grants and forgivable loans.
If you are a brand, how do you describe the value of the ECAC?
The value comes in to play when members take full advantage of all the services we offer, and associate their brand with the history and prestige of the ECAC’s brand – an enhanced brand we bring forward.
You have gone in with a plan to try and find economies of scale to market what is essentially the nation’s largest group of colleges, what has been the response from such a diverse level of schools?
Similar to the previous question, with such a large and diverse number of institutions, they can recognize the value of membership and strength in numbers. Being affiliated with the ECAC brand gives incredible visibility to each institution in a footprint it might not otherwise be able to access and at the same time, by working with so many schools together, combined they can enhance the student-athlete experience to an even greater degree.
What is the biggest opportunity the ECAC has?
The landscape of intercollegiate athletics has obviously changed over the years and will continue to do so. Therefore, we need to constantly evolve as well, in a way reinvent ourselves and get in front of those changes while still sticking to our core values and core competencies as we embark on a new five-year strategic planning process.
Of all the schools you work with, are there any examples you can cite already of schools buying in to the program you are trying to create?
All of our member institutions are so unique and are incredible partners in bringing the best services to their athletics programs and student-athletes. Since we came on board, we’ve added a number of new members such as Pace University, the College of New Rochelle, Newberry College, and Geneva College, just to name a few. They’ve already begun taking advantage of our full program of services, especially our championship opportunities and awards program. Likewise, long time members such as Stevenson University, Lebanon Valley College, and Endicott College, again to name just a few, continue to realize the value of membership and they can be seen participating in a number of championships this weekend.
On the men’s side hockey is the most viable property the ECAC works with, what are the others you would like to elevate?

We want to continue elevating each of our sports along with looking at emerging sports such as field hockey, lacrosse, and opportunities for students with disabilities. We have some great affiliate partners as well that we’d like to elevate such as rowing and the IC4A.
So much is made of “big time” Division I sports for brands, how do you describe the value that the Division II and III schools can bring to brands?

It’s all about relationships no matter what the division or level. Every institution and athletics program is unique and has something valuable to offer. An athletics program can bring great exposure and visibility to just about any brand in any community. Athletics is often the front porch to the entire institution, even at DII and DIII.

What are the next steps people should be looking for this winter from the ECAC?

This is a pivotal time for the ECAC. We just finished celebrating 75 years of the organization and now we are about to embark on a new strategic plan to take us into the next chapter. Our membership will play a key role in shaping the vision for the future of the ECAC.
Dr. Kevin T. McGinniss became the eighth Commissioner in the history of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) on July 1, 2013. As part of the organization’s overall restructuring that began in 2013-14, the ECAC Board of Directors voted in August 2014 to change the title of Commissioner to President and CEO to better reflect the unique identity and mission of the ECAC.
Since taking the reigns McGinniss has led the nation’s largest and only multi-divisional athletics conference through a progressive transition to enhance the intercollegiate athletics experience for ECAC student-athletes, coaches, administrators and institutions.
McGinniss came to the ECAC from the role of Associate Director of Athletics for Development at the University of Rhode Island where he began in 2007. McGinniss owns a strong educational and professional background which includes more than 30 years of experience as an educator, author, coach, athletics administrator and athlete.
In his role at URI, McGinniss directed all aspects of fundraising for the athletics department. After his arrival at URI athletics fundraising achieved record levels. In his first four years at the Kingston campus he led the athletics component of URI’s $100 million “Making a Difference” capital campaign, securing more than $12 million in total operational, capital project and endowment support for URI Athletics, surpassing the campaign goal for Athletics by more than 20%.
Under his watch, URI Athletics procured almost $5 million in philanthropic support for capital improvements inclusive of major upgrades to the baseball facility, eight new tennis courts and the soon-to-be-constructed state-of-the-art strength, conditioning and performance center. McGinniss also served as the Athletics Department’s liaison to the URI Foundation and URI Alumni Association.
Before arriving in Kingston, McGinniss served as director of athletics at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. In recognition of his efforts, he was nominated to receive the 2007 National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Division II Athletics Director of the Year Award.
From 2001-05, McGinniss served as the director of athletics development at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. He was responsible for coordinating all fundraising for athletics, including a major component of the New Millennium Campaign – $25 million for a state-of-the-art athletics center.
McGinniss’ experience in higher education administration also includes serving Southern Connecticut State University as its director of athletics development and director of alumni affairs. He has also served as the director of athletics and recreation at Lehman College, The City University of New York. In addition, McGinniss was the director of athletics development and executive director of the Blue & Gray Club at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y.
A former men’s basketball coach, McGinniss was the head coach at Lehman College and in only his second year as head coach led a program with just a combined eight wins over the previous four years to the CUNYAC North Division title and an ECAC post-season tournament bid. He also served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, helping lead Southern Connecticut State University to a 20-win season and a postseason berth in 1992.
Active in professional organizations both locally and on the national level, McGinniss has served as Vice-Chair for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District I Board of Directors, is a member of the National Association of Athletic Development Directors, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and the National Association of Basketball Coaches Research Committee. In addition, Dr. McGinniss serves on the Sport Management Advisory Board and is an Associate Faculty member for The Malcolm Baldrige School of Business at Post University.
McGinniss earned his bachelor’s degree in health, his master’s degree in physical education/ athletics administration and a sixth year professional diploma of advanced graduate studies in educational leadership all from Southern Connecticut State University. He received his doctorate in education from the Teachers College Department of Health and Behavior Studies at Columbia University. Dr. McGinniss and his wife, Amy, have a son, Kyle, and daughter, Kelly.

The Changing Landscape of College Sports Business…

The college sports landscape is undergoing as much change from the business side as it is on the fields of play. Issues like the rights of student-athletes, the cost-benefit of massive programs, the role athletics should play in the college environment and how the digital and social world can help or hinder business, continue to churn.

 
Into the mix comes some interesting “attacker” companies to try and solve those issues, one of which is Virginia-based Rockbridge Sports, Media and Entertainment. We caught up with Rich Klein – Co-Founder and Principal, to get his take on the environment and what his relatively new company is doing to help rearrange the status quo. (His bio follows)

 
What is the paradigm that has shifted for Rockbridge to come into being, and how is your offer different from the much larger competitors in the college space?

Collegiate multimedia rights over the last dozen years have seen a flawed model take root. For the most part, outsourced deals were being struck that simply were not financially sustainable and were creating rifts between rights holders and the Athletic Departments and we believed that this speculation game was not healthy for the industry in the long run. That is why we started Rockbridge. We felt there was a better way. Everything we thought was going to happen, is starting to happen. Consolidation of companies that were financially forced to because they were highly leveraged – and the further positioning of those companies not to succeed on the ground but to be rolled up and sold – did not and still currently do not create a transparent, mutually beneficial model that offers the control a University should have. In a recent poll, over 90% over Athletic Departments said they did not have a good relationship with their multimedia rights partner. That is because rights holders are asking for financial relief, more rights, more inventory and less restrictions on types of companies that can sponsor the Athletics Department and quite frankly it is hard to blame them because these companies are looking for more and more ways to mitigate their financial losses. The problem is that a lot of what they define they are asking for runs counter to a University’s mission. Our approach is not to “own” or “control” the sponsorship and multimedia rights at a University, but rather to deliver targeted strategic, financial, creative and personnel resources and services to the athletic department so as to drive significant incremental revenue, maximize program resources, and grow the University brand. This “insourcing partnership” model provides the University the greatest degree of institutional control of its brand and assets, while still providing the resources, expertise and leadership necessary to build a world class corporate partnership program that is custom designed for that institution – one that allows the University to rise above its competitors – not be homogenized among them.

You have started with several smaller schools, is the value proposition for them more personal business management or a greater exploitation of local assets they couldn’t do themselves?

It is both. Our revenue generation system is built around intense preparation, passionate execution and servant leadership and it does not matter what size the school when you execute the system. It is our commitment to transparency and to doing the work on the front end, in partnership with the University, that sets us apart. We help our clients understand how the business operates on their campus – from local staffing and commission schedules to media production costs to the sources of incremental revenue growth. This approach creates a credible and mutually understood belief and commitment to a growth strategy and plan that is unique to that institution – not a national or homogenized plug and play approach that is unique to a rights holder. And when you select good partners that believe in their growth and in the strategy and are working in good faith up front to build something together, it becomes easy to structure the right business terms and lay a foundation for mutual success. I should also note that we also have a solid track record of success at the Power Conference Schools, and it is only a matter of time before we before we will again.

Is the high school space something you see as becoming more viable as well?

As a long term multimedia rights partner for two of the more progressive high state associations in Arizona and Michigan, we are seeing firsthand the value they can deliver for corporate sponsors. With every day that passes, the marketplace is understanding more and more that this space is growing and is where the college market was about 20 years ago. High School State Associations are under increasingly more pressure to generate revenue while at the same time ensuring that their core values are kept intact which is why we believe our system fits their approach. Opportunities for corporate partners to directly enhance the high school student experience is not only a noble community pursuit, but is a viable and valuable part of a their marketing efforts which is being proven as we sign up more prestigious brands. There are few properties that reach across every community in a state and to the intimate level that high school does and brands want to be part of that.

What are the areas of opportunity in the multimedia rights space area?

Opportunities will continue to exist within traditional rights and in the growth of digital assets. Those medians whereby sports brands can deliver value to their sponsors will always be viable, but sports properties will have to continue to look at doing things differently, not just better. For instance, we have helped build along with the Western Athletic Conference, the WAC Sports Digital Network which runs on multiple platforms and is an asset that the WAC owns outright. That means they control their own content, delivery and can offer ownership opportunities that were only offered heretofore through outsourcing to ESPN 3 and others in the space. Once we determined we could produce, distribute and market quality content directly to WAC fans, we decided that we would retain our valuable data and sponsor able inventory much like the ownership professional teams have with their regional television and digital networks.

Colleges with massive football and basketball programs seem to be more ties to quick change then even most professional teams these days. Is the bottom line so fragile at the college level that a large school needs to act quickly so as to keep their constituents happy?

State funding is increasingly harder to rely on and even with lucrative long term revenue positions of conference television deals, there is still such pressure to continue to grow your revenue streams. Donors and students through student fees are a critical part of that stream (in addition to multimedia revenue) so you have to stress customer service to those groups in addition to athletic success. Football and basketball programs obviously drive this but the recent change of Michigan’s Athletic Director is a prime example of how this extends beyond coaches of the two main sports. It is a tough balancing act to generate incremental revenue, succeed at your sports and keep the mission and the traditions of the University at the forefront of all that you do.

There has been talk in some places of an overvaluation of college rights. Is the marketplace set for a correction?

It depends on the property and the deal in place. Is it fair and sustainable or is it deal that is part of the speculation bubble (an unprofitable deal but betting that the property will garner more value when they sell the asset to a suitor in the future)? There are enough of the latter that if I am a University President and/ or an Athletic Director, I would begin to dig in and prepare for ‘Correction” day when I might have to bring it back in house and understand what that means. Furthermore, if you are not in the “top 35”then that proactive planning should begin now so that you are organized even if you are 2 or even 3 years away from your mmr rights deals expiring.

For schools outside of the power conferences, what are the biggest opportunities you see that have not yet been exploited fully?

Those schools and even some schools in those power conferences really need to begin focusing on how they need to build a real battle worthy sponsorship program – one where you can drive significant incremental revenues and deliver real value to your sponsors all within the core values of your University. Those programs that are outside the power conferences are in a tough spot because if those schools have partnerships with bigger mmr companies, they might not be getting the attention they should be getting to maximize their revenues and if they do it in house, they likely do not have the expertise to build a sponsor program that can truly maximize output. But they have to start doing something or they will get left even further behind – status quo is not an option.

As you look forward into the landscape, are there sports that you see on the collegiate level or the amateur level as being the next big opportunity? and is so what are they and why?

Certain Olympic Sports at the collegiate level like soccer and lacrosse are starting to grow into a revenue producing proposition or at least begin to be net neutral. Sports like this are growing in numbers and their demographics for sport specific sponsors are attractive. We also see the potential of multi-sport events like an authentic (non AAU or made for television event) national high school competition being something that can generate significant interest and value – and we are looking at those type of possibilities today.

 

About Rich Klein…
Prior to co-founding Rockbridge, Rich worked for CBS Collegiate Sports Properties for 15 years, following a successful career in Higher Education publishing sales with McGraw-Hill. Rich began his time with CBS as the sponsorship sales lead for the state of the art Schottenstein Center at The Ohio State University and afterward was the General Manager at Cavalier Sports Marketing at The University of Virginia for five years.

During his time as a Vice President of Collegiate Properties, Rich has been responsible for the acquisition, start-up and direct oversight of numerous collegiate multi-media and media properties for CBS including LSU, University of Virginia, University of Maryland, and University of Utah. His creative inventory concepts have become standard within the collegiate marketplace, generating over 200 million dollars in sponsorship sales throughout his career. The son of a college basketball coach, Rich has excelled in creating the culture, structure and team necessary to generate significant and incremental revenue growth.

Rich is also committed to his family and community. Throughout his four children’s formative years, Rich has supported their activities in both athletic and cultural organizations as a coach and volunteer. He continues today as a member of The Board of Advancement at The Covenant School in Charlottesville, VA and as part of a mission team that travels to the barrios of Grenada, Nicaragua. Klein earned his BSBA from East Carolina University in 1988.

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.

Learn And Grow In A Digital World: Lessons From Rising Star Peter Casey

Peter Robert Casey builds and grows online sports communities.

Over the past five years, he’s held community strategy and management roles – both agency and client-side – for some of the biggest brand names in sports: Nike Basketball, Nike Baseball, Nike Athletic Training, the New York Knicks and Five-Star Basketball, where he currently helms the company’s digital efforts.

A self-confessed hoops junkie, Peter was the first media-credentialed microblogger in college and NBA history – a story covered in the New York Times, ESPN, Mashable, and Sports Illustrated – and last fall attended “30 games in 30 days” at every NBA arena to launch his Basketball Passport website.

He survived to tell his story, and happily resides in the northwest corner of the Bronx with his wife Martina. We caught up with Pete so that he could give us some tips on how he has built a reputation as a go-to guy for smart thought, especially in and around hoops.

You have had what can be described as a nice entrepreneurial run, what has been your proudest moment professionally?

For every sports property that I’ve worked for full-time – the New York Knicks, Five-Star Basketball and Team Epiphany (on the Nike Basketball account) – I’ve been able to continue working with them in a freelance or project-based capacity after leaving. It’s not a moment, per se, but it’s a testament to repeatedly over-delivering on expectations, building solid relationships and doing the right thing. I’m most proud of that.

What was the toughest time where didn’t think you were going to be able to make the next step?

There have been some scary times – watching our bank account dwindle to $200 at one point and covering a mortgage and rent in two different states – but I never doubted making the next step. I owe a lot of that to faith, but self-belief is crucial to conquering your comfort zone.

Who is the person, professionally, that you look to the most for inspiration?

It’s a tie. Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin. They’re constantly shipping and sharing advice, and they always stay true to their DNA.

The Passport platform has gotten great buzz, what’s the best anecdote you have heard from people who have used it thus far?

A few fathers told me they’ve created accounts for their young sons so they can track their journeys and preserve their memories together. I thought that was pretty special.

When you went on your “30 Games, 30 day” run, what was the biggest surprise?

The biggest surprise was seeing how generous people are. On Sunday, December 1, I showed up in Los Angeles with two bags and no tickets, and had two games to attend that day: A Clippers-Pacers matinee matchup and Lakers-Blazers evening tilt.

A buddy of mine was flying out from NYC to attend both games with me and rightfully assumed I had the ticket situation all taken care of; well, I didn’t. So I went into scramble mode. A friend-of-a-friend of Matt Barnes’ barber [don’t ask] was able to score a last-minute pair from Matt himself, who showed up to the arena late as a DNP [retinal tear in his left eye]. Result? Fifth row from the floor.

Later that afternoon, while sipping coffee and sharing stories with local hoops bloggers, I started panicking about Lakers tickets. Then my phone vibrated. It was a surprise email from the owner of VIPTickets.com, who had read about my journey online, and wanted to *donate* a very special pair of tickets for me. I’ll let these photos sum up the rest of the story.

Have you stayed in touch with many of the people you met along the way, and who has been the most loyal supporter?

There are too many kind people to single out just one, but I’ll say the folks from the Warriors, Timberwolves, Suns, Bucks, Cavs and Celtics took generosity and support to a whole ‘nother level.

You are now part of the senior leadership at Five Star, where do you think the brand has its best chance for success?

Staying true to Five-Star’s roots – delivering the best basketball instruction and inspiration – but doing it in a way that resonates with the next generation of players: On-court, on mobile, and on social.

Now that you have started several businesses, what do you think is the biggest barrier for success for people on their own?

Fear. Fear of criticism and fear of being judged. That probably holds back over 90% of people from ever starting. After starting, the biggest barriers are not focusing on cash flow and quitting before you get where you want to be.

Who gave you the best advice?

There’s an old Steve Jobs/Apple Computer saying: “Real artists ship.” I wish I got it directly from Steve.

Looking back, what is the one thing you would do differently in the path you had so far?

I would’ve taken more risks sooner.

West Virginia’s Global Promo Scores Big Points…

The West Virginia University has some of the longest treks of any school in the country because of its far off affiliations with the largely Midwest and Southwest schools of the Big 12. It is a lot harder to build rivalries when you are no longer playing Pitt or Syracuse or even Maryland regularly. The level of competition is certainly steep, but so is the travel.
However the school took on a newer initiative on October 25, one which transcends every border thorough the digital space, and pulled together anyone with even a slight affinity to the Mountaineers from around the world.
The staged “Mountaineer Nation Day,” when fans were encouraged to show their pride and passion for WVU through 341 watch parties in 13 countries, including Mountaineer bashes in Canada, Colombia, Ireland, Germany, France, China, Malaysia and Aruba. With its global alumni base of 190,000+, the school has relied heavily on satellite events to encourage the wearing of blue and gold during one away football game each season as a sort of homecoming away from home. Working with their partners at IMG College and Collegiate Licensing, WVU carefully targeted and used every social platform available to build awareness and then affinity of the game with all the trappings included.
The social element this year included the creation of six Vine videos to share and post for the game against Oklahoma State. The short videos featured fans, students, The Pride of West Virginia Marching Band, The Mountaineer mascot, and school President Gordon Gee. The Vines posted twice a week during October, leading up to the matchup and were hosted on the WVU Sports Vine account and also found on mountaineernationday.wvu.edu.
On game day, the site became a real time rallying point, with fans submitting photos to show their pride from around the world, with WVU targeting key groups who showed the most affinity to give away prizes like officially licensed jewelry, custom Mountaineer apparel, Mountaineer toys, and Mountaineer dog items.
While many schools do viewing parties on a regular basis, the fact that WVU was able to link their global network together and use the social space to have all those fans interact before, during and after the game was a great next step in fan engagement, and in many ways made the distance between Morgantown and those other Big 12 schools just a little bit closer, at least in the virtual space. It set a great example of how well schools can use remote locations to create a bigger community, because of the affinity people have with social media today.

 

 

Nice win on and off the field for the Mountaineers.

Little School, Little Budget, Tries To Make A Bigger Splash…

The biggest college sports business news in the New Jersey this fall thus far has come from Piscataway obviously, where the Scarlet Knights are finding their way through their first year in the Big Ten across the board in sports large and small, with the loudest noise coming with their upset of Michigan two weeks ago. Whether the move to the Big 10 will benefit the conference, which touts New Brunswick as being just outside New York with every chance they get, or to the University (who should get a bigger cut of the financial pie not just for athletics but for academic programs as well, as the story goes) is up for some debate, but from a buzz and brand story the change seems to be off to a good start.

However Rutgers isn’t the only University in New Jersey with a shot at a sports business bounce. Monmouth and its football move to the Big South Conference should continue to increase its early fall presence, and its place in a vibrant community during basketball season should also continue to help its brand grow during the winter for hoops. Seton Hall’s ever-challenging position in The Big East, along with playing almost all of its games at the cavernous Prudential Center away from campus can be both a blessing in good years and a huge challenge in others, while a school like Rider can find ways to engage in the Trenton-area with business and a community that likes to support its own. Same with St. peters in Jersey City, a mid-major in the MAAC that has done well at times in drawing from the community and the ever-changing makeup around the Yanitelli Center

One program which could be on the upswing as a brand is Fairleigh Dickinson University. Spread out across several campuses, the University’s Division I sports are housed in Teaneck, with hoops playing at the Rothman center, just seconds from a slew of businesses and commuters off of Route 4. Under personable men’s basketball coach Greg Herenda, the school made some nice noise early last year by knocking off both Rutgers and Seton Hall in the same week, a rare double, but went on to have just a 10-21 record for the season. With a slew of new players, FDU should continue to improve on the court, and if so could be in a position from a brand standpoint to make some sports business noise as well.

The biggest reason is Herenda as the face of the program. A basketball lifer, the Jersey City native is one of the most respected and well known faces on the college scene, especially in the Northeast. He has used his personality to up the talent pool, but has also hit the business and student recruiting trail, hosting a weekly radio show on the schools well-listened to public radio station, WFDU on Sundays. His show has had a nice list of guests ranging from Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun to Charlotte Bobcats mentor Steve Clifford and Kentucky’s John Calipari, and no doubt the list will grow over the winter. It creates a niche, especially in the digital space, that can give the Knights a bit of an edge. Then there is the Rothman Center and the community itself. Sitting just a few miles from one of the most vibrant business corridors in the Northeast, the facility is an under-marketed sports gem for casual fans or for brands to activate against, and for families to check out hoops. Finding new and innovative ways to get the players, both men’s and women’s teams, more into the community for events and to use Herenda’s charm to get businesses and local programs to come out and support the Knights is a challenge, but also now presents a great opportunity. The sponsorships may not bring in huge dollars at first, but effective in-kind partnerships with any and all mall employees and businesses in the area can certainly raise brand awareness and can lift the profile and the opportunity of all involved. FDU also has a growing sports marketing program with tis students that could also generate even more awareness in Bergen County, perhaps the most populous county in the Northeast, if not the country, without a pro sports team to support and call its own. So why not the Knights?

Of course there remain challenges. FDU is limited on its marketing budget and staff, and Bergen County presents lots of challenges as well as opportunity to cut through the clutter. The school is still much more known as a commuter school so catching student attention to stay for games without a tradition of winning is also a challenge. However from a brand standpoint, the opportunity appears to be rising for FDU to strike. Families in the burbs are looking more and more for hyper-local affordable entertainment; brands are looking to draw more and more from a local consumer base, the digital space has created more opportunity for fan engagement, and it appears FDU has a coach willing to market and grow as well as achieve success on the court. While it’s not the Big 10, it is still a major market sports business opportunity, one which the Knights can try and seize to get their piece of the pie.

Let’s see if they can score with it this winter.

AT and T Scores With #Techgating

The amount of ways any collegiate partner, let alone an NCAA partner, can effectively engage with a young and vibrant audience grows every day. The most important element remains targeting the audience you are trying to reach so that you are not wasting time, and more importantly sponsorship dollars. Case in point is NCAA partner AT and T and their wide ranging partnership activation platform this fall.

AT&T, and NCAA Corporate Champion, have launched  #techgating. The define it as: “Where tech meets the tailgate to create a better game day.” At select college football games this season, AT&T will have an AT&T Fan Zone Tour Truck or its Amplified #Techgating Tour Truck on campus to promote #techgating. Fans can engage in a number of activities from a fight song mash-up station to a social-enabled photo booth. The key is original branded content using the students, alumni and interested fans as the focal point of the project. The more original user-generated content, the more compelling the content will be. It’s not cookie cutter and it helps each school carve its own brand identity. The program will look to capture images and content of all kinds from a wide swath of schools from Oregon to New Jersey, and will continue to post the content in real time on its own branded site, as well as micro-sites for the games they are coming in for.  There is no limit to devices used to upload, which helps AT and T expand its message of portability and accessibility with mobile technology.

Of course there’s a payoff for original content for registered users with various prizes leading to tickets and access for the 2015 College Football Championship Game.  The season-long activation is a smart way to tie local to national while keeping AT and T top of mind with consumers for their investment, all leading back to Dallas and the night when the first playoff champion is crowned.  A smart way to convey core messages while pulling together the most important part of a contest tied to digital; unique, user-generated content. Nice score for the NCAA, for the fans, and certainly for a key brand partner for college football’s biggest conferences.