Healthcare Coalition Uses Athletes To Deliver Its Message…

Trying to get a very busy and cash-challenged American public to focus on changing the bureaucratic healthcare system is certainly not easy, especially during the holiday season. However the hidden out of pocket costs when a person has to go out of their network even for simple procedures can be devastating to families and individuals who have no idea of the charges that they are incurring.
It is an issue that many state legislatures are trying to come to grips with. One state with out of control costs is New Jersey and several health care stakeholders have announced a new coalition to advocate for legislation giving consumers more information to navigate the health care marketplace. The members of new coalition, NJ Healthcare Users for Reform and Transparency, or NJHURT, include representatives of health insurers, labor, consumers and public policy group.
The coalition said it has four goals:
Increase transparency. Require hospitals and physicians to provide, for a significant number of the most commonly performed procedures, information about the fees they charge and make that information available in a user-friendly, online format.
Reduce surprises. Hospitals should require physicians practicing at their facility to participate in the same insurance networks they do.
Create a fair, simple arbitration process to resolve billing disputes. Each side submits a “best and final” offer; the arbitrator selects one within 30 days, and the loser pays the costs of the arbitration.
Establish a reasonable fee schedule. This would cover out-of-network ER services based on actual costs.
How do they aim to enlist the public to become aware and support the cause? One way that is a little unusual is by using athletes. NJHURT has teamed up with several athletes on both ends of the state, The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, to come up with fun and efficient viral campaigns to show the problem as it exists and bring it to light in the minds of the public, many of whom may be more focused on the gridiron than on their bills every Sunday. The coalition also got a little lucky when one of their spokespeople. New York Giants lineman Geoff Schwartz, actually ended up on the injured list for Big Blue as the campaign kicked off. Now while Schwartz health costs will be covered under the NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, he can clearly see the problem with the public in looking at the bills for Emergency Room and Doctors visits that are out of network. The video they created is fun and informative and has a stickiness that can get some play, much more than a simple call to action promotion with a talking head (although there will be plenty of those type of promotions as well).
The coalition also targeted players for inclusion rather than brands or teams for now, which keeps their cost down and can still get them a bang that they need.
As big Pharma continues to spend large dollars on sport in general for promotion, this campaign to keep costs down us a smart one for grassroots activation, and is certainly one that can be replicated in regions throughout the country where costs of healthcare are skyrocketing and athletes are an excellent entry point for a call to action.
Nice score NJ Hurt, keep fighting the good fight.

As The NFL Reels From Dark Days, Five Who Do It Right…

It has been a tough few weeks for the NFL, with the devastating video in the saga of former Rutgers standout Ray Rice leading the way. We felt it appropriate to take a look at five local current or former players doing it right, something which doesn’t always get top billing but which is noteworthy nonetheless: Here is a looka t some solid brand and community work by those who call the area home.

Steve Weatherford, Giants: In 2013, Weatherford was named Health and Fitness Ambassador of the Boys and Girls Club in New Jersey, serving as a role model, mentor, and fitness and nutrition coach to more than 80,000 kids throughout NJ. He was named “head coach” for Wellness in the Schools, leading the charge and acting as spokesperson for that organization’s recess fitness program for more than 77,000 students throughout the NY metro area. In 2013, Steve was recognized for his outstanding community service by the NY Giants organization with the coveted Wellington Mara Award.

The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation: Created in 1996 in honor of Jay McGillis. Jay was a special young man who developed leukemia while a member of Coach Coughlin’s team at Boston College. In the eight months between Jay’s diagnosis and the day he lost his battle with cancer, the Coughlin family saw first-hand the physical, emotional and financial strains the illness caused the McGillis family. After going through the tragic events with Jay’s family, Coach Coughlin vowed that if he ever had the chance, he would create a way to help families with children battling cancer. Coach Coughlin kept his vow and started a foundation to BE THERE in Jay’s honor. Since then the TC Jay Fund has evolved in size and scope, helping thousands of families in Northeast Florida and the New York/ New Jersey Metropolitan Area who are fighting childhood cancer.

David Nelson, Jets: The wide out for Gang Green has spent countless hours in the offseason raising money and planning visits to help the children of Haiti. After seeing the devastation of the earthquake, Nelson has made it his offseason life to help the children of the Island nation, even renting a home there with his brother Patrick, who lives there full time and takes care of five children. The two are helping to build a school for 250 children, and they are also partnering with former Jets kicker Jay Feely in constructing a $2.1-million sports complex on the Island.

The Marty Lyons Foundation: The popular former Jet now announcer started his foundation in 1982 to fulfill the special wishes of children chronologically aged three (3) and seventeen (17) years old, who have been diagnosed as having a terminal or life threatening illness by providing and arranging special wish requests. The Foundation has 10 Chapters granting wishes in 13 states – Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The Second Wish Program is to grant wishes to children who have received a first wish 24 months prior and have exhausted all medical options and are essentially at end-of-life stage or receiving palliative care. With over 6,500 wishes granted in over 30 years, The Marty Lyons Foundation is dedicated in making more dreams come true.

George Martin and The Journey For 9/11: The NY Giants legend and his work to raise awareness for those in and around Ground Zero is no less poignant today, as his book was released recently as well. From Sept. 16, 2007, to June 21, 2008, retired Super Bowl champion put his life on hold to walk from the George Washington Bridge in NYC to the Pacific Ocean in San Diego. His Journey brought him through 13 states and Washington, DC, 3,003 miles and 5 million steps, to raise money for and awareness of the plight of thousands of seriously ill Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers. In his view, they were underserved by the U.S. government, insurance companies, and healthcare plans… so the NFL legend walked.

Martin, former president of both the NFL Players Association and the NFL Alumni Association, is likely the first pro athlete to conduct a solo charity walk across the U.S. and probably the first African-American to do so. He finished his Journey 41 lbs. lighter — but with millions of dollars raised! The book is filled with magical moments: stunning vistas; moving visits to schools, firehouses, hospitals, memorials and historic sites; babies kissed and elderly hugged; the tears of ailing first responders; the food, culture and music of America. With captivating words and dramatic pictures, readers will experience America from coast-to-coast, through the eyes of this mountain of a man.

As Training Camp Opens, Giants Others Start Their “Quest” At Home…

It used to be a rite of summer as the local NFL team headed off to some far-off  college for several weeks of hardnosed, secretive out of the way training camp that as conducted without distractions. Fans had to travel to find you, media was restricted, and the business of football went on its merry way.

Today, only 12 of the NFL clubs venture beyond their home boundaries, and with millions spent on practice facilities and brands partners looking for more ROI, the home-grown training camp makes more and more sense, although it is still left up to the football side to determine what is best to set the tone for the season. Still, as teams sell their naming rights and try to find more ways to engage high end season subscribers, turning to home to get things started is becoming more the norm than traditions of the past.

One such team is the New York Giants, who will mark the first full year of a new title sponsorship for their training facility later this month, and will be home hard by Route 3 in east Rutherford as opposed to following their stadium partner, the New York Jets, out of town for training camp this week.

The new naming rights partner is Quest Diagnostics, the biggest provider of diagnostic information services in the world with $7.4 billion in revenue in 2013. Quest became the partner not just of the 20-acre facility late last summer. They will  work with the team in an effort to expand its new sports diagnostic business. The goal in year one has been simple; to become the leader in developing tests related to sports. This could lead to new information on how performance is affected by variables such as diet and hydration, led not just by Quest, but with the teams’ medical and training staff, led Ronnie Barnes, the team’s senior vice president of medical services.

For Quest, a publicly traded but conservative company, the move was a bold one. They are not a commercial  brand, so now one driving down Route 3 is going to run to a store and ask to buy Quest products, In many ways the consumer only knows the company when they have to take a medical procedure, and the doctor or health worker gives them a quest kit for some kind of test, so the relationship to consumer may even be an unpleasant one at first thought. There are benefits for Quest clients for sure, like hospitality and ticketing, and the association with an elite franchise like the Giants is a plus when discussing  business with salespeople and doctors. Maybe that gets Quest some added sales and visibility in a crowded medical marketplace, but the real benefit, if done right, is not now, but in the future.

Teams are constantly looking for more ROI on their dollar investment in their players, and a living and breathing partnership with Quest in athlete care and development puts the brand at the forefront of a very hot topic.  Breakthroughs with elite athletes can also morph into the private sector in healthcare as well. There is also an education factor involved with the consumer on health and well-being,  so clinics and other programs that Quest can partner with using Giants current and former players and staff to talk health and wellness in the community also makes great sense, and can have ancillary benefits as well.

In the end, the move seems to have been gradually fruitful in year one, with the most public-facing part of the partnership just starting with this training camp where thousands will flock to watch Big Blue practice and see those big Quest logos all around the field and the training center. While that decision to support a large partner was not the only one that factors into where a team does their preseason, it certainly doesn’t hurt a fledgling partnership, and is another example of why teams are increasingly staying home to get things started, as opposed to venturing out to places like Cortland, NY and Latrobe, Pa., settings which in the past made good football and business sense, but in today’s environment are becoming less of a necessity and more of a niche in the big business of the NFL.

Head To Head Challenge Looks Like A Winner…

It hasn’t been the best of falls for either the fans of the New York Giants or the Washington redskins, but that doesn’t mean the last of wins has stopped the continued off-field hype of the teams stars. From Robert Griffin III promotions all over Maryland and Virginia to Eli Manning’s ever-present face at Dunkin Donuts, star power overcomes wins and losses, especially when the promo dollars are already out the door. Donuts are good comfort food anyway, right?

One thing not to be overlooked is the good athletes still do in the community, assets that, in lean years, sometimes become even more value in staying tight with fans. Those athletes who continue to embrace and do the little things when efforts on the field aren’t going right are sometimes remembered long after their record on the field comes to an end.

So it is worthwhile to note that Mark Herzlich, an inspirational story in himself as he overcame cancer at Boston College to go on to play in the NFL with Big Blue, and the Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon have teamed up in a competition to see who can raise the most money for childhood cancer research. The fundraising campaign from Wahl Clipper and St. Baldrick’s Foundation comes with a twist—the winner gets to shave the other guy’s head; getting bald to stand in solidarity with kids fighting cancer.  Herzlich doesn’t actually have far to go given he sports a Mohawk these days as well.

The Wahl Head-to-Head Challenge kicked off on the last day of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, September 30. The goal is to continue raising funds for the cause and to send a message that support must extend beyond this one dedicated month.  Being a shaving partner of the NFL makes the contest a bit easier for Wahl, but it also provides a nice entrée beyond the sports pages in two major markets. Both players have also used social media to build support, and the final showdown wll get ample viral support because of the nature of the event and despite the team’s records at the time, so it can be a win/win for all involved.

It is tough to break through the pink tradition during October around the NFL for any kind of charity event, let alone one tied to any form of cancer charity support, and November’s popular “Movember” campaign, where men of all walks of life will grow mustaches to show awareness and raise funds for prostate cancer, will also pull  focus from elsewhere, but for two key markets with a great visual, a solid social media play and a string cause tied to brand, the Head-to-head Challenge looks like a winner.

Cutting Through The Pharma Brand Mix…

If you are a large scale player in the healthcare field these days, it certainly is not easy trying to set yourself apart.  Trying to find a niche, delivering your message, and most importantly effectively and efficiently serving the needs of the consumer are all major challenges as the field goes through a constant ebb and flow of rules and regulations from the federal and state side, and insurance companies play a game of cat and mouse with what can and what can’t be covered.

New Jersey, being the home of big pharma and sitting between the major markets of New York and Philadelphia is especially ripe for competition, so finding ways to effectively cut through, do good, be a solid brand and serve stakeholders is even more challenging.  One of the ways a myriad of health related companies have found ways to tell their story is through sports marketing, a sometimes tricky but consistent way, if used properly to reach not just the masses but to communicate on down that your company, your services, and your brand are aligned in a proper way in the community and are delivering quality and best in class care.

Most recently we saw Quest Diagnostics start to take this route with a wide-ranging partnership with the New York Giants that goes way beyond just slapping a logo on top of the team’s training center along Route 3 in New Jersey. The Jets have a similar partnership with Atlantic Health Systems, and virtually every team in the corridor has found a link to a healthcare provider, a medical group or a series of specialists linked to a hospital or chain of healthcare providers. Some are large scale branding programs, some more subtle, but all deliver the message of quality aligned with an elite partner, a pro sports franchise.

So it is into that mix  that Barnabas Health launched their latest program extension, one which is not tied directly to a franchise but one which has long term positive repercussions for athletes on every level, and sends messages that the system understands both the big picture of the healthy athlete and how that translates down to the grassroots.

Their Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes (MJM), expanded its program statewide to offers young athletes access to free and low cost cardiac screenings and baseline concussion testing through satellite centers at all six Barnabas Health facilities throughout New Jersey.

At the announcement Tuesday,  Barnabas Health executives were joined by Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Chair, Senate Education Committee and MJM spokespeople David Diehl, two-time Super Bowl champion, NY Giants, and Joetta Clark Diggs, four-time Olympian and 2013 NJ Hall of Fame inductee, in announcing the expansion with a simple message… keep kids safe.

What does the program do? It provides life-saving cardiac screenings; baseline concussion testing; medical evaluation and treatment for sports injuries; and education for student athletes, parents, school districts and recreational sports administrators. Since 2010, MJM has conducted more than 7,000 cardiac and concussion screenings for young athletes.  MJM has provided these screenings, educational programing and medical expertise to communities, recreation departments and several high schools throughout the state in Essex, Monmouth and Ocean counties. In addition, Barnabas Health has a mobile unit that travels throughout the state to conduct screenings, making it easier for young athletes to receive proper care.

When preliminary testing to identify serious cardiac problems is provided to young athletes, sudden cardiac arrest and tragic deaths may be avoided. Nearly 90 percent of sudden cardiac deaths in young athletes occur during or after athletic activities, and hidden heart conditions are often the cause. Cardiac screenings include a baseline EKG and evaluating blood pressure and vitals along with a thorough review of medical history and EKG interpretation by a pediatric cardiologist, who can recommend further testing or intervention as needed.

 A concussion baseline study (ImPACT) is a non-invasive test that tracks information such as memory, reaction time, speed and concentration that can help identify potential issues for young athletes. If an athlete is believed to have suffered a head injury, this screening test may be used to evaluate the severity of the injury and determine when it is safe to return to play. Concussion screenings are offered to young athletes ages 12 to 18, and cardiac screenings are offered to young athletes ages 6 to 18.

By expanding the program and using high profile athletes as their spokespeople, Barnabas accomplishes a host of initiatives at the same time. It shows that their program has a gold standard, one that can put the young athlete care on a par with the professional. It sends the message that the system works to assist youth, many of whom may have a passion for a healthy lifestyle but could have undetected issues that could be problematic, and Barnabas will help them in correcting those issues so they continue to lead healthy lives. It also shows that the company is willing to bring the programs to the people, not have those with busy lifestyles have to come to them. It also shows that Barnabas is taking the time to re-invest in the community not just by taking ads in game programs at the Meadowlands or the Prudential Center or advertising in Yankees broadcasts; it is supporting the grassroots by working with kids and their families in the community. 

The program can have some amazing effects not just for Barnabas as a brand but for young people as well who may be at unknowing risk while they passionately pursue the sport of choice. Down the line someone will be saved, and although that story may not be able to be told directly through Barnabas, the pass-along effect of that story by a parent or by a media member can supersede millions of dollars in hard advertising. Real life examples, real life results, isn’t that what healthcare marketing should always be about?

Now this is not to say that all other programs are just about the big dollars and the big spend. Most are very effective for the brands and their partners, but this one ties together so many objectives that is certainly noteworthy, especially in the crowded New Jersey corridor. A nice job by Barnabas Health to tie an expanded and effective program together, from the grassroots to the highest level of athlete and community care.

Giants “Quest” For A New Partner Works…

We all know in sports, timing is everything. So it makes great sense, especially in sports that use a clock to measure game length, that the timing category is of great value to both brands and properties, and in many cases, to athletes. Tennis and gold for example, usually have athletes with watch deals well before they have more traditional sports deals, like automotive. So in selling sport, one of the biggest assets on the check list is the time or watch category.

For the New York Giants, their watch partner has been Timex, and their partnership went to an even grander level when Timex became the initial partner of their training center. Placed on a major highway in view of Met Life Stadium, the Timex Performance Center was a bold statement for the Timex brand, with great signage both from the ground and for those millions flying into Newark Airport. It made sense, since after all; sport is all about making precision moves for big results. The brand had other pieces of the deal, including in stadium and media rights, and the partnership worked for all.

However all deals do run their course, and this week the Giants moved on to a new partner, one familiar to the consumer in some ways but not a consumer brand…for now. One that really positions the team as forward-thinking in terms of health and well-being not just for its players but for the community. And one that shows a great link between a local company whose tentacles extend out into healthcare across the nation and around the world.   

The new naming rights partner is Quest Diagnostics, the biggest provider of diagnostic information services in the world with $7.4 billion in revenue last year. Quest  is now the partner not just of the 20-acre facility. They will  also will work with the team in an effort to expand its new sports diagnostic business. The goal for the two is to become the leader in developing tests related to sports. This could lead to new information on how performance is affected by variables such as diet and hydration, led not just by Quest, but with the teams’ medical and training staff, led Ronnie Barnes, the team’s senior vice president of medical services.

For Quest, a publicly traded but conservative company, the move is a bold one. They are not a commercial  brand, so now one driving down Route 3 is going to run to a store and ask to buy Quest products, In many ways the consumer only knows the company when they have to take a medical procedure, and the doctor or health worker gives them a quest kit for some kind of test, so the relationship to consumer may even be an unpleasant one at first thought. There are benefits for Quest clients for sure, like hospitality and ticketing, and the association with an elite franchise like the Giants is a plus when discussing  business with salespeople and doctors. Maybe that gets Quest some added sales and visibility in a crowded medical marketplace, but the real benefit, if done right, is not now, but in the future.

Teams are constantly looking for more ROI on their dollar investment in their players, and a living and breathing partnership with Quest in athlete care and development puts the brand at the forefront of a very hot topic going forward. Breakthroughs with elite athletes can also morph into the private sector in healthcare as well. There is also an education factor involved with the consumer on health and well being,  so clinics and other programs that Quest can partner with using Giants current and former players and staff to talk health and wellness in the community also makes great sense, and can have ancillary benefits as well.

In the end, the move is certainly one to watch in the sports business space. More and more teams are looking for new and creative ways to grow sponsor base and take care of their athletes  by being leaders in technology as well. The Jets not too far from the Giants in New Jersey, have Atlantic Healthcare as their training facility partner in a slightly different deal, but in a similar category.

Now what about the timing category? For the Giants, it will never go away, and will probably evolve into a partnership with a more traditional jeweler or watch or timing brand. Their power of association for the consumer, as well as their ability to be creative, is among the greatest in sport. Bringing in Quest is a move that is smart for now, and progressive toward the future, a new brand in sport whose timing could be perfect in the fast-paced world of healthcare.

Wrestlemania Re-Affirms WWE Brand Power…

There was probably a time when the NFL would have shied away from seeing the WWE as anything but an encumbrance to business. After all for at least part of its history, the publicly trade company has been awash in misogyny, steroid use, violence and controversy.

But today the WWE is a thriving entertainment vehicle worldwide, hell bent on providing fun, exciting and engaging stories in every medium and to fans old and young. The pinnacle of that growth was last weekend at Met Life Stadium, when WrestleMania brought a record crowd of over 80,000 to the new home of the Jets and the Giants, the culmination of a week of tri-state and national appearances with media, charities and athletes and celebrities of all walks of life, all showcasing the value of the WWE brand and how far the company continues to go as an entertainment brand.

Why was this valuable to the NFL? Wrestlemania 29 provided the perfect test of the facility and the area for next February’s Super Bowl. Hotels were filled, traffic patterns were tested, and most importantly, the power sources for the stadium were pushed well beyond what will be used for next winter’s extravaganza, quieting any critics who were wondering if the same power outage that occurred in New Orleans could occur in next year’s home. Every test was passed, giving the NFL another box checked for when the world’s sporting eyes will be focused on Met Life.

From a branding and merchandising standpoint, WrestleMania was everywhere. Kids and adults sporting tee-shirts and hoodies were everywhere from college campuses o Times Square to the three area airports, and the WWE brought out superstars past and present to make sure that every demo could be involved. It was fun and engaging branding, and the next lifting off point for a property that is still viewed as sport because of the athleticism of its performers, but is all about family entertainment for every walk of life. No brands ran from the WWE brand, promotions from Times Square to children’s hospitals came off without protest, and the WWE leveraged the event to show how expansive their marketing pull can be.

For a sports and entertainment property, it doesn’t get much bigger than the WWE, and the brand did its cousins at the NFL a solid last weekend.

Good Moves: Rose Coming Back, Bronze Snoopy, High Tech Sponsors

Time for a little best practices roundup…three good ones from this week…

ROSE ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL: Most times an athlete’s rehab is behind a wall of secrecy and HIP-AA regulations. We seldom see the work he or she outs in as we concentrate on those who have replaced even the brightest of stars for whatever that period of time is. However that is not the case with Derrick Rose, who adidas brought back to the limelight this week by releasing the first in a series of powerful vidoes chronicling the Chicago Bulls return from his ACL tear that will end with his return to the lineup at some point this fall.

It is a smart move by adidas, who has invested heavily in the superstar and can’t afford to let him drift away for long periods of time. It is also good for the NBA to keep such a megastar in some kind of eye of the public as he makes his way back, and it probably is therapeutic for Rose as he goes through the tedium of rehab. Now these are not open-ended looks…they  are carefully crafted, well-orchestrated dramatic vignettes that only put Rose in a well approved light. If he has setbacks, they can still be factored into the story. When he eventually hits the court, adidas will be there, and it will all culminate with his eventual return to the court.

Some may say that the videos are a distraction to the process, that they are exploiting the time he outs in during a long road back. However in a time when fans clamor for access, adidas and Rose found a way to let people in, maybe be a little inspired, and help both him and his brand in sending reminders that the star may be away, but he will return.

Well done, surprising promotion.

 SNOOPY GOES GRIDIRON: Met Life has spent a huge amount of money at the stadium shared by the Jets and the Giants in New Jersey, so it should come as no surprise that brand extensions should go way beyond signage. The latest was revealed in Manhattan on Thursday, a giant bronze statue of Snoopy that will be installed outside the stadium, so fans can high five and pose around the Met Life mascot as they come in and out of the new stadium, starting this weekend when the Jets meet the Giants in their annual preseason game, which has been christened the Met Life Bowl.

While most preseason football is pretty much a snore, give Met Life a little credit for trying to liven up a game which may not mean much even to the local fans who are just hoping their teams stay healthy and engaged over the next few weeks. The third preseason game of the summer is usually when teams let their prime guys go for a longer stretch, and with this being game two, Eli, Sanchez and their teammates on both sides will probably make quick exits.

However the statue installation is a nice slightly subtle reminder to all coming in each week which brand rules the roost…or the doghouse…in the swamp. Nice little brand extension idea for one of America’s largest sports sponsors.

 NINERS GO UNCONVENTIONAL, BLAZE BRAND TRAIL: The Silicon Valley is all about tech innovation, so maybe it should come as no surprise that the San Francisco 49ers latest Founding Partner is not a beverage or a Telco brand but a data storage provider. n Violin Memory entered into a  long-term partnership as the 49ers official and exclusive data storage provider for the 68,500 seat stadium that will open for the 2014 NFL season, as well as for the remainder at Candlestick Park.

Violin’s products and expertise will provide key building blocks in the technology infrastructure of the stadium, and in turn, the company will have exclusive branding in the suite tower, a signature feature of the new stadium.  The message that a partnership like this sends to the industry is that the 49ers are committed to having the most technologically savvy stadium for an audience that will thrive on up to the second brand engagement. For Violin Memory it is a step out into the consumer marketplace, announcing to their competitors a growing engagement not just with businesses but with fans. Maybe it seems a bit unconventional, but when one looks to the stadia of the future, such as Livestrong Park in Kansas City, fang engagement with everything from hand held devices to interactive data centers in the stadium are going to be just as important as wide concourses and a wide variety of food and beverage are today. An interesting trend to follow for the arenas coming online soon.

Still The Best Ahead For Lin, Dickey

Last year if you said to a sports marketer the names “Lin Dickey” he or she may have thought you were talking about the former NFL quarterback Lynn Dickey and maybe some kind of retro fantasy camp idea for old Packers or Houston Oilers. Today, especially in the mega-market of New York, the names Lin…as in Jeremy and Dickey…as in R.A. could represent some of the biggest potential in the coming year, should both continue their improbable  rises in their field of play. Are they similar? Yes in many ways. Are they different things do different brands? For sure. Together have they, along perhaps with Victor Cruz of the New York Giants, represent a refreshing “everyman” story that comes along once in a while, but rarely in a major market like New York in the same year.

This past week was a another landmark one for both Lin and Dickey. Lin announced a representation deal with the firm of Williams and Connolly and then his current team, the New York Knicks, got a bump when an aribitrator ruled in their on a major salary cap issue that will effect Lin’s signing potential. Dickey and his back to back one hitters regardless of his outcome Sunday against the Yankees, has made him the summer toast of The Big Apple.  Together, they share the common man story…one a bit of an overnight sensation, one an overnight sensation many years in the making…but both with a quiet casual appeal and the ability to fit into a list of brand campaigns, from education and charity programs to major endorsement deals. One, Lin, has a huge Asian market at his fingertips…brands looking to leverage an Asian American high profile athlete both in the U.S. and abroad. The other, Dickey, sits on the verge of an All-Star appearance and has a down home appeal, not to mention an Olympic pedigree, that plays not just to Madison Avenue but to Main Street USA as well.

Now in sports marketing nothing is a sure thing. Witness all the brands that invested in the potential Olympic value of Americans Shawn Johnson and Bryan Clay prior to them making their respective teams heading for London, with neither now going to the game (Johnson due to injury, Clay did not make the Olympic decathlon team this past weekend). Lin is also working to get back following his season-ending knee injury, while Dickey, a 37 year old knuckleballer, could lose the edge he has this year and send him back to journeyman status (although that seems unlikely at this point). Even with the risk, thus far the pedigree of both athletes to come across as respectful, savvy and genuine in grasping their fame appears to be very strong. We love a comeback and an underdog story in this country, and “Linn Dickey” appears to have given us not one, but two, to follow through the summer and into the fall.

The most interesting thing will be which brands they chose and how the plans will play out over the coming months. Dickey is in the midst of a grueling season with the regular demands on MLB players, while Lin is out of the limelight training in California, before a trip to Asia this summer. Picking the right partners to activate with, even maybe with less dollar and more legacy, will be key for both. Their everyday appeal is key, so matching that appeal with the right companies can extend their legacy almost regardless of long-term results.

Heck, maybe somewhere even that former NFL QB, with a little of both their names, is also smiling and looking to cash in.

Both have caught lightning in a bottle in Gotham, and we are all enjoying the ride.

Yin and Yang of Twitter…Osi Umenyiora and NASCAR

The endless debate rages on as to how and what twitter as a social platform can do for sport. We started the weekend with New York Giants defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora trying to use the medium to help Lawrence Taylor buy back his Super Bowl ring…provided Umenyiora found a million followers. Then we had NASCAR cutting a “deal” with Twitter to help manage and effectively market the medium to the sport’s uberloyal fan base, starting with the Pocono 400 in June.

One great idea, one poor one. Why?

Below are some thoughts we put in the updated Sports Publicity text which will come out in November on twitter usage. In the case of an individual athlete, the idea that “I will do this if I get to a million followers” has jumped the shark. It hasn’t worked with charities for the most part, and is becoming white noise with athletes and other sin the entertainment field trying to get a mass following “just because.’ The social media audience is becoming more savvy, and the days of quality followers that can be used to merchandise brands or other partners is becoming more important than just volumes of passive followers, many of whom may be spam or may never actually read or engage in anything that the “prominent figure” endorses . There is also a growing backlash from athletes and others who try to openly use twitter growth or Facebook likes as a ploy to help a charity or a brand.

If the effort was sincere, then why not just support the effort with the fan base you have cultivated, and use traditional media to help grow the word as well? Sincerity in cause and brand marketing is much more important than “follow me.” The other need is for consistency of message. The ability for athletes or any celebrity to endorse one brand this week and another random one the next is getting more and more difficult. People want to be cultivated and want to see a steady message, not some willy nilly shoutouts. Sure there are a few exceptions…an Oprah shoutout or something that Shaquille O’Neal may like carries weight because their work in cultivating followers has taken time and has been proven effective. It is very, very difficult to replicate, especially when someone is pleading for followers with no real backup.

Umenyiora’s appeal is a great example of what happens when the request for followers rings hollow. It is great that he got to 50,000 plus followers. That is the core he should work with and that is still a powerful group that will grow, so long as he seems sincere in his efforts. Otherwise the white noise gets louder.

Now NASCAR is a different story. Their athletes are marketing machines, they appear sincere in their outreach and the fans are looking for more interaction. They rarely have to seek, fans seek them and will follow.

NASCAR has also allowed, as we have seen in previous races, to use social media platforms for drivers and crews in race, the biggest result of which was Brad Keselowski tweeted from his car a photograph he had just shot of a jet-dryer truck engulfed in flames right after having been rammed by driver Juan Pablo Montoya. He added 100,000 Twitter followers in a few minutes because of his content and the viral nature of the shot.

The partnership with Twitter will support live race broadcasts. During a race, when fans click on #NASCAR, search for #NASCAR on or visit, they will reach a Twitter platform scrolling the most relevant tweets from NASCAR drivers, families, teams, commentators, celebrities and other racing fans and personalities. will be available starting with the Pocono Raceway race weekend and then on June 10 in conjunction with TNT’s first of six television broadcasts of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Smart way for the medium to embrace, and for sure a good litmus test of proactive brands who will not have to beg for exposure. The exposure will come to them. Quality beats quantity.

Now those points…

One, it’s not for everyone.

Just like parties or driving fast cars, social media is not a practice for everyone. Coaches, athletes, even some brands may be risk averse or simply not have that much to say. Therefore participating in a social media campaign of any kind is not something that everyone must do. Understanding and following what is going on from a distance makes sense, so being on twitter or Facebook from a monitoring standpoint is a great thing to do. If you have nothing to say, or add, then don’t say or add anything.

However understanding what is going on is important. Silence can be the best form of intelligence.

Two, Size doesn’t always matter.

When social media exploded there was a burst to get to large number of followers. However social media is about peer to peer engagement of thoughts and ideas. Making sure you, your client, your business partner have the right followers, whether they are 20 or 20,000, is just as important as having a million in many cases.

Three, know who is in your posse.

Many people sign on to twitter or Facebook, Google Plus or engage in LinkedIn or any other social platforms and never bother to see who is following them or why they are following them. Ask from time to time; check your lists for spammers or unusual content, block those who are offensive to you. Just like people at a party in your house, responsibly managing your lists is an important piece of business maintenance. Then, knowing who and what is being said amongst your user groups will make your social media engagement just as valuable and effective as anything else you do in communications.

Four, ask questions.

Make sure you ask people why they are following you if you don’t know. Drop a question from time to time to some followers. It is important to be involved in the social space if you choose to be, so engage when you can.

Five, speak when you have something to say.

Many people fall into the trap of speaking just for the sake of saying something. Don’t. If you have an idea, a link, a story to communicate then do so, and make sure it is reflective of your overall social strategy. Don’t just post something because you haven’t said anything in a while and feel a need to do so.

Six, remember who you represent

Sometimes people think that they can separate their personal thoughts from their professional by using a “this is my thought not my company” disclaimer. That can be a big mistake. We are all intertwined for better or worse, and the alter ego idea in the digital space does not work. You speak for all those you represent at all times, so always have those around you in mind.

Seven, watch the chains that bind you

It is very easy to comment on a photo or a public chain in social media. Once you are on it you can lose control of those ties and they can spin very easily into a questionable area of comment, whether you are still commenting or intended to be part of a conversation that grew or not. Cut the ties after you comment, it will save you a lot of headaches.

Eight, watch the inference.

We lose all nuance with the printed word, despite the addition of emotions and small catch phrases. If something gets lost in the printed word pick up the phone and call the person. A little voice contact can take much of the sting out of a misguided email, post or tweet.

Nine, Think before your post.

The biggest mistakes made in social media come from those who react emotionally. Be professional, pause and then say what you have to say. Once a thought is out the amount of time taken to retract or clarify will cut away from all the productive time you have.

Ten, Be Genuine and Creative

Don’t use social platforms to create white noise or endless useless chapter about a subject you are working with or promoting. Make your platform as much editorial as advertorial and as diverse as you can. It is social, so be social while balancing the work effort. Social media provides lots of opportunities for us to connect with people from around the world that we would not normally be able to.