New York Giants | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

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 Twitter.com or visit twitter.com/#NASCAR, they will reach a Twitter platform scrolling the most relevant tweets from NASCAR drivers, families, teams, commentators, celebrities and other racing fans and personalities. Twitter.com/#NASCAR 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.

Continued Giant Brand Success…

Ring ceremonies used to take two forms for championship teams. A quiet, low key team only event where players celebrated amongst themselves and those insiders who were part of their title run. Then there was usually the more public ceremony which most teams do, many times on the first home game of the next season. It gave the fans a chance to experience the moment and also relive the championship memory, and hopefully spread some good karma for the next season.

So what do the Super Bowl Champion Giants do? They find a way to create both a brick and mortar and virtual experience, fully sponsored but not over the top, to unveil their new rings. The team took the ring party to Tiffany’s, complete with blue carpet this week, with media on hand to see, touch and feel the rings along with the players. Select business partners and a few lucky fans were also on hand for the mid-May brand building event at a time of year when most NFL teams are quietly going about the off-season workouts.

Then there is the virtual world. For years many leagues have licensed out cheaper replicas of the actual championship rings for sale to fans in various forms, from paperweights to items fans could actually wear. Not the real thing, but pretty close. However the Giants took the fan experience one step further, working with the augmented reality company GoldRun to create an app where fans could download the actual ring that the players and staff unveiled this week.

With the app, fans virtually try on and snap photos with the team’s Super Bowl rings, as well as the Lombardi Trophy, and then take part in a shared online experience with others wearing the rings and “holding” the trophy. Those who downloaded were eligible for a series of prizes and inclusion on Giants.com and the team’s official Facebook Page.

The app and the ring ceremony were the latest and greatest examples of how Big Blue, while never sacrificing the tradition and value of their brand, has been able to ramp up their engagement with fans and brand partners year-round. Their chats with players during the playoffs, their video streaming during the victory parade, their year-round enhanced digital and broadcast video offerings, and their work with Pinterest as a marketing channel late last season have all given fans the ability to further immerse themselves more personally in all things Giants, regardless of how the season ended.

While some iconic brands in sport and even entertainment have sat back and enjoyed the spoils of victory, the Giants have gone the other way, looking for even more ROI and activation points for all who want to experience the team year-round. Another winning week for a championship franchise, even though the beginning of their title defense is still a ways down the line.

Can Jeremy And Victor Take NY?

It has been yet another interesting week in the crucible of sport. While the New York Giants were celebrating their Super Bowl victory in the Canyon of Heroes, the hobbled New York Knicks had caught fire against some lesser opponents and an unlikely new star. Out of both have come some interesting marketing opportunities for a pair of ethnically diverse stars who appeal directly to the new breed of fans that the NFL and the NBA are looking to capture.

On the Giants side there is wide receiver Victor Cruz, rising from the streets of Patterson, New Jersey, undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts, almost cut in the preseason last year, and now fully emerged as the ultimate success story in the NFL, catching ball after ball from Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. He speaks English and Spanish fluently, has a humble charm about him, can dance (we have all seen his salsa moves) and has already proven over the course of the season that his skills on the field match his marketing appeal off the field for the NFL Champions.

Then we have Jeremy Lin, who started his improbable run to success in a Knicks win over the Nets last weekend, and has followed that up with one impressive game after the next this past week, leading into Friday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. He is quiet, Asian-American, Harvard educated and has already shown leadership skills as a point guard that the Knicks had been lacking to that point, despite the presence of superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. His unusual background and his unlikely and meteoric rise to the limelight at Madison Square Garden has created a Tebow-like fervor in just a week, and his presence not just with an Asian background, but with an Asian American background, makes for very intriguing possibilities for the NBA as they continue to court that growing fan base and demo.

There are as many similarities as there are differences between the brands for Cruz and Lin. They have both arisen as undrafted surprises and have let their on-field success do the talking first. The fit the new mosaic of American society and are playing in the world’s largest media market. Their skills and size are not overstated and they appeal to the average and casual fan. They have not picked up any controversy and they have made their teams better and more fun thus far. The differences? Cruz really has proven over time that he can be a successful NFL commodity. He has stayed healthy and has responded to big time pressure on the biggest of national stages. Lin’s success has been short term thus far, against opponents that may not have had time to adjust to his rile with the Knicks or have taken him lightly, and the Knicks haven’t won a playoff game since 2000.

Still even with the differences, if Lin can continue to play well and the Knicks can win consistently, the branding opportunities are strong, both individually, and maybe for one or two companies, together. Could there be a company that wants to reach the Hispanic and Asian communities together in Gotham? maybe a telco or a bank that has regional interest and may want to grow. While there are big marketing stars for both the Giants and the Knicks clamoring for big dollars, the presence of Cruz and Lin present another glimpse of opportunity in the two biggest areas for growth in the U.S. for professional sport, Asian American and Hispanic. Success breeds opportunity, and the opportunity for Jeremy Lin and Victor Cruz may be here.

Social Media “Giants”

Many times the more elite or more traditional brands in sports rarely venture away from the way things are done. You will never see the Yankees wearing black game jerseys, Alabama football in bright orange, Manchester United donning stripes, the New York Rangers wearing pink, the Dallas Cowboys in day glo. It just doesn’t happen, even with the temptation to sell more merch. The steady tradition and way things are done is what makes the brand special in sport. Now that doesn’t mean a brand cannot be progressive and react and grow with the needs of the marketplace. A great example of that growth is the Giants, and what they have done in the social media space heading into this weekend’ Super Bowl.

Big Blue was not always the progressive brand. It was more slow and steady tradition, and that’s what worked. However the more competitive marketplace and the thirst for positive information and identity with teams has led even the Giants into a solid and effective embrace of social media, the likes of which many teams can and will copy and benefit from. Even with all the hoopla of the two weeks leading to Sunday’s game, New York has found ways to capitalize on a season of cultivating the social media space, and has given their fans, and the brands that support them, ample bandwith to enjoy the experience from a digital perspective, even much more so than their opponents from New England have done.

Now does this mean we will see John Mara, or his mom Ann, take to Facebook and twitter this week, or Tom Coughlin talking trash with fans in the text world? No. What is does mean is key execs like Pat Hanlon, along with the team’s digital media and broadcast department (and its announcers corps) have used the space effectively to engage and sometimes tantalize the fans, and have been able to use the open access channels to get out key information and show a side of the team that most fans don’t get to see. A great part of that access came to a head Thursday night, when the team hosted a set of hour-long Google+ hangouts with players as part of their Social Media Night campaign. The Google+ event, which featured Victor Cruz Corey Webster and Mark Herzlich was one of a series , in which the team will facilitate a series of conversations between fans and players.

The team also held a live webcast from the team hotel featuring players Jake Ballard, Steve Weatherford, Tyler Sash and Prince Amukamara, with fans submitting questions via Twitter, Facebook or Google+ and using the hashtag #NYGsocial. The Giants randomly selected 20 fans to join the sessions and participate in real time from wherever they were. It is controlled, smart, scalable and does not detract from the seriousness or the dedication the team is putting towards Sunday’s game. It is building more fan loyalty for the long run, and is giving those who may only follow casually a chance to engage on an even larger scale through the digital space.

Is all this a possible distraction to the teams preparation? Is it too much access? Aren’t the Giants a successful enough brand so that they don’t have to push the envelope even slightly with engagement online? The answer to all is no. The chats, and all the other access, is being done in downtime and away from other dedicated team functions. It is not being done in a vacuum, it is being done hand and glove with football operations, and the purpose and goals of the programs are stated and agreed to be all. It is not boastful or trash talking, it is clear, unfettered access in an environment that fans understand pretty clearly, and players have also grown to understand as well.

As far as it being not needed, the best time to build brand for the future and do the little things is when you are in a position of strength. When a brand is challenged or struggling, and that includes in sports, the mistakes are magnified and the changes to culture are amplified. By taking the time to grant access or try new avenues for engagement or sponsor or broadcasts programs now, New York is building from a solid base, and ensuring that if and when times get a little dicey, fans will understand and give them a second chance. There is no shortage of time for innovation and execution, and the Giants have shown, in the best and busiest of times, that their fans come first and they will make time to go the extra mile.

That is a giant stride forward, and sends a clear message to everyone that no matter how big the brand, there is always time to innovate. Adjustment to the marketplace is always important to a brand, new or established, and the Giants work in the social space is a clear example of leading by example, from the top on down.