Creating A Better (Luxury) Experience…

Content and access are the buzz words for engagement now more than ever before. Those words get even more amplified when you factor in high net worth companies and individuals looking for that once in a lifetime experience, whether it is in sports or entertainment. The ROI has to be unique, and it can’t be something that can easily be replicated by others in the space.
One company that is priding itself on the unique is LXL Experiences. Its CEO Mark Riccio, has decades of experience in customer service and has worked with scores of elite brands from his time with the New York Jets, and LXL has looked to him to cultivate and create an elite subscription event service like no other, whether it is spending a night in a suite with some friends…and Mariano Rivera…or hanging with the cats of Law and Order and learning the inner workings of one of America’s most popular shows. The experiences are not for everyone, and the barrier to entry is high, but the model, according to Riccio is taking hold and setting the company apart.

 

We caught up with him to talk about LXL and the lessons learned with Gang Green over the decades. (His bio follows)

There are many who think the athlete meet and greet is done to death for corporate America, why is this a better mousetrap?

The first thing I would say is we are not the athlete ‘meet and greet’. While spending time with an athlete can certainly be part of an experience, it is only one component – compelling content, premium food and beverage, luxury gifts, and other interesting members are also all part of every experience. And further to that – -sports is only about half of what we do. Part of our value proposition to members is we create intimate and exclusive opportunities to interact with athletes, as well as celebrities across a range of interests – food, music, fashion, and television.

Is there a model you all have set up outside of sport that this follows? ?

There is no specific outside of sport model we follow. With that said, many have drawn a parallel to shared private aviation, or shared luxury vacation models. The key difference between those and LXL is our membership is all-inclusive. Members pay monthly and everything is included, there are no additional costs – which gives the member cost certainty, value certainty, and simplicity.

Coming from a career in the NFL, what are the lessons learned you brought to this business?

LOTS! First and foremost people do business with people, not necessarily a company, product or service – therefore developing relationships is a vital business function. Second, people will pay a premium price, if they receive a premium value. LXL is a combination of these two leanings. Sports teams win or lose – you can’t control that – but you can control the guest experience – and if done right — you create a memory and the guest will never forget how you made them feel. LXL has put a firm stake in the ground around this learning.

What has been the response thus far?

“Ahh, I get it!” That’s how I sum up the response. It’s a new model so I have to walk prospects through it – and once I do, “Ahh, I get it!” is the reaction. So in short, the response has been outstanding. Over and over, executives have been telling me they are looking for a seamless, all-inclusive solution for (client) entertainment that gives them variety and enables them to focus on their business. We take the pain out of business hospitality and that has great value to executives and companies. We do all the work — provide memorable experiences and all of details that go into that — and our members just chose with whom they want to share these occasions.

Anything has surprised you thus far in the reaction of clients?

Yes, two big surprises. First, people do not push back on price – – which I’m admittedly accustomed to. People in NY will tell you exactly what they think, so this lack of push back is a clear indication the price – value comparison matches. Second, people’s surprise when they realize the LXL model in its entirety doesn’t exist elsewhere.

Is this a model that is purely American for sport or can it be replicated globally?

Building and nurturing relationships is not geographically contained, and we believe the LXL membership model is as effective in NYC as it will be in LA, Europe, and Asia.

How have you been able to tie the luxury experience with sport to entertainment? ?

Sports is only about half of what we do. We continue to move closer to other lifestyle experiences: culinary excursions; music of all types; inside fashion; television and movie celebrity interactions. We will always offer sports experiences – it’s in my blood and it has value, but it is clear that businesses have clients with interests far beyond sports. The culinary, fashion, music experiences combined with a healthy staple of football, baseball and tennis experiences is part of our unique value to LXL members.

Is it similar to the customer experience you tried to help create with the Jets?

Yes – without a doubt. People are paying a premium for certain hospitality and sponsorship assets at the Jets. We would remind ourselves regularly getting the deal done was only a quarter of the work. Making that partnership come to life was the harder, more sustainable piece of the business, and I was fortunate to work with some very talented colleagues that did a great job with that.

What teams do the best at taking care of their high-end customers?

The interesting part here is that teams are getting more and more pressure here. Providing more value – aka “taking care of the high-end customer” is now a competitive necessity as opposed to competitive advantage. I’m undeniably partial so I’m going to recognize the Jets. I think MSG has done a good job in reacting to the changes in the marketplace and working to provide more value. Likewise, my experience has been teams in smaller markets have to work harder to maintain that high end customer because there are less of them.

Where would you like to have the business at the end of 2015, and what’s the benchmark for success at that point? ?

We have started signing Founding Members and are only taking 40 in total for the first year. This number will allow us to be nimble, work directly with our members to set the path for growth and deliver the optimal member experience in NY, as well as other markets.

As President and CEO, Mr. Riccio leads the LXL team and brings to it a depth of experience and a deep understanding of the professional sports arena and team business. As Senior Vice President with the New York Jets, he was responsible for all aspects of team and stadium business affairs and overall strategic planning. He directed corporate sales, new business development, corporate partnerships and the merchandise division. Mr. Riccio was also responsible for the New York Jets’ special events, game-day operations and multimedia product. He knows what it takes to create a superior luxury experience within a major entertainment venue or stadium. Mr. Riccio is also an adjunct associate professor at Hofstra University, teaching graduate and undergraduate classes in the Frank G. Zarb School of Business and has served as director of marketing and development for intercollegiate athletics at Hofstra University. Mr. Riccio holds a BA in communications and an MBA in marketing from Hofstra University, and a JD from St. John’s School of Law. He is a member of the New York State Bar Association.

Great Cross-Promo For An Iconic Gift: The Hess Toy Truck Hits 50…

This weekend I received a call to action postcard about the 50th anniversary of a collectable icon; The Hess Toy Truck. In a time of quick and easy, fast and fun and on to the next thing, the Hess Toy Truck has endured for generations. It has stayed true to its brand; solid, well designed always with a surprise or two, and always with batteries included. Kids, especially boys, of almost every generation love the trucks, and as they get older even keep it on the holiday list as a collectable even in places where Hess gas stations at least may be a thing of the past.

Now Hess is no small mom and pop organization. Founded originally in 1919, the company has been in the oil and gas business since that time and today operates largely in the Northeast, with refineries throughout the world. Its ties to sport, especially in football, stem from the 1960’s when President Leon Hess bought and operated the New York jets, which his family controlled for decades. The Hess Company green and white ties directly to the Jets colors still worn today.  

Over the years Hess has been involved in various forms of sports sponsorship outside of the Jets (where they still put in a good amount of time and effort), ranging from the NY/NJ Super Bowl to the Boston Red Sox, the Tampa Rays, the Pinstripe Bowl, Special Olympics, the Yankees, Arthur Ashe Kids Day, and even projects like the fields at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. The sponsorships have always bled over to their retail stations who hosted and housed promotions around the teams they sponsored, usually in the traditional forms of giveaways. No huge TV campaigns or social promotions; very basic and effective calls to action that helped draw in consumers and raise some awareness of the Hess brand in a crowded marketplace.

However nothing draws interest like the Hess trucks. Still sold at gas stations as well as online, the trucks and their accessories probably have more brand awareness with consumers than the gas stations themselves, or the teams the brand has sponsored over the years, and making it to 50 with a strong annual consumer promotion these days is certainly the stuff of legend, at least a consistent legend anyway.

So as the Hess toy truck hits 50 this winter, are there sports brands that can tie in to amplify the program and get some additional brand affinity. While not a major tie, is there a little NASCAR driver promo that can create awareness, maybe even as a giveaway? Can some of the Hess partners; the Jets, the Yankees etc., find a way to tie to the truck with some of their own living legends for a promo?

For sure the Hess toy trucks, especially with such a grand anniversary, will move this year with consumers. The question is will some of the sports brands long affiliated with Hess find some creative ways to share the spotlight? We shall see. Anniversaries for such a hallmark promotion don’t come along every day.

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.

Football And Finance…

With the NFL season here, Tanner Simkins spent some time talking the finance side of football with two industry leaders, Brian Friedman Chief Financial Officer, New York Jets and Adam Raiken Vice President Finance, MetLife Stadium.

Full Cout Press: For those looking to get into sport finance – What experiences fundamentally drove your careers?

Brian Friedman: For the most part it is typical finance and accounting experience. I have a broad range of experience mostly in the consumer product area but also in the services industry. I had always had a goal of getting into sports so when the opportunity presented itself I was very interested and it worked out.

Adam Raiken: My background is a little funky. I started college as chemical engineering major; I always wanted to go in business after and figured a technical background would be interesting and helpful. But I hated engineering so I figured why not just study business, so I specialized in accounting. I always loved sports and then landed a job with PWC, and [naturally] I found myself auditing the NBA, NFL, and baseball. When you are working on audits in sports teams the natural progression is to then work for a team. Who knows more about their company than auditors do? You are looking from at their financial statements top down, therefore it is typical for a finance department to call their auditors when looking for new hires. The Yankees called one day, I was recommended for the job – then I was working for the Yankees. Now, six years later, I am here at MetLife.

FCP: What has been the biggest challenge thus far as in your role? How have you overcome it?

BF: The biggest challenge for me was learning a new industry. I feel like I am still learning every day. Ultimately though all businesses operate in a similar manner. You generate revenue, you collect cash and you pay people and your bills. At the end of the day the first part better be larger than the last. As long as you stay focused on that, it is easy to overcome the challenges of a new industry.

AR: I think my biggest challenge here is working with two different organizations run this one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing, in fact I welcome the challenge. But the two teams have occasionally had different philosophies on things and bringing them together to one entity, to one stadium, is tough. The only way to overcome something like that is constant communication between both teams and all those involved.

FCP: Favorite part of your job?

BF: Easy. It is Sundays, specifically, Sundays when we play at home. I really enjoy being a part of something that tens of thousands of people feel so passionate about.

AR: I got a lot of favorite parts. I love my job, I really do. I love the interactions with people, everyone from those with us full-time, to game-day staff, and to part time employees. I love the game day and seeing what the fan is interested in. If I had to pick one favorite part, it would be the fan experience. There’s so much going on at a stadium like ours. I love that.

 FCP: Financially, how hard is it operating in a two-team stadium?

BF: It sometimes requires a bit more discussion but overall the benefits far outweigh any additional complexities.

AR: Honestly, it is no different than running a one-team stadium except there’s more people with more input. As long as you are doing everything you can for your fans and for the building, I would argue it’s not much different than running a single team stadium. Look at it this way, we still have to take the garbage out, we still have to turn the lights on, we still have to repair the building, etc. The difference comes down to capital budgeting projects where the Jets feel one way and the Giants may feel another

FCP: For many reasons there has been a lot of talks on either side…will the Super Bowl at MetLife be a success?

BF: Yes, it will be great.

AR: Were not going to let it fail. As the first open air cold weather stadium. If we have so many eyes on us and willing to help us because our success will open the doors for many other cities to have a subsequent Super Bowl. It’s going to work. What’s the worst that going to happen, it will snows and then we will move it next year?

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

BF: The sports landscape is changing. A continual improvement to the home experience continues to challenge all of us to produce more creative fan experiences beyond the game. Fans expect more than just admission to a game they expect to be entertained and have a great game to watch. I am also following the growth and expansion of the secondary market. Teams are no longer the only ones selling access; there is significant competition to sell that access.

AR: Buying and selling stock in athletes. It’s a neat trend, both good and bad; it has the potential to seriously change a lot of things.

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

BF: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

AR: The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

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

BF: Make sure you enjoy the job not just that it is in sports. It is important to enjoy what you are doing not just enjoy working for a sports entity.

AR: A lot of people think working hard is the most important thing and you do have to work hard. But in my opinion, it’s more important to work smart. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Not knowing doesn’t make you look bad.

Brian Friedman is the Chief Financial Officer of the New York Jets. He is responsible for all strategic and financial planning for the Jets, daily accounting operations for the team, and all internal and external reporting to the NFL and various other agencies.

Adam Raiken is Vice President Finance, MetLife Stadium.  Amidst many responsibilities, Raiken supervises financial operations for stadium and serves as an integral member of the senior management team

 

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.

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.

Patching In Brand Success…

It is now in its fourth season with little push back, the patch program the NFL has implemented on regular season and training camp jerseys. Like the NBA, and the NHL, the patch program, with its limited size and scope, is designed to give added value and continue to serve as a litmus test for what will be accepted and what can be expanded for key added value for brands as the noise for more ROI and more access increases un the coming years. Full blown jersey advertising it is not yet, but it still provides an interesting look at who will buy, what will be sold and how can the real estate on players uniforms be used to best serve partners without impeding on the over commercialization of the sport.

In 2013, according to the NFL, all but six teams have some form of patch program for affiliated brands. One, the Atlanta Falcons, has split the program between preseason (Kimberly Clark-Professionals) and regular season (McDonalds), while nine teams have the patch program tied to a medical or health care provider (The New York Jets prominent Atlantic Healthcare is one of the most visible on their white or red  practice uniforms). The majority of the others are tied to larger deals that clubs have…Visa for the 49ers, Verizon for the Vikings, Gillette for the Patriots…with some unusual ones mixed in (Thomas Tull, part owner of the Steelers, had a deal cut for his Legendary Pictures brand…which explains why Heinz Field was Bain’s choice of destruction in “Dark Knight Rises” for Batman fans).

There is no ambush, no one-off’s for particular weeks yet (a practice for patches which can be done very effectively in sponsoring a tennis or golf athlete for a particular event) and nothing that is out of the ordinary in terms of activation. Most are clean and simple with a few…the Bengals, the feature team for HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this year, have a really crowded patch with logo and writing for sponsor Fifth Third bank that gets lost in the visibility game…needing a little more scrutiny for visibility. Another interesting and very visible patch is worn this year by the Denver Broncos who sport a Buick patch on the practice uni’s. Do many Broncos drive Buicks? Well not a great deal probably, but their most visible player…Peyton Manning…does and grabbing the team patch as part of a deal prevents any kind of ambush in the category for the company. Porsche can’t walk in the door and suddenly have Peyton sporting a patch away from game days.

Obviously the program is heavily regulated by the league and the teams against ambush and issues. The cost is probably too prohibitive at this point for smaller local brands to grab, and there is little room for direct call to action featuring a website or hashtag, but maybe down the line those tests can be performed to see the increased viability of patches as marketing tools. One area that screams for patch development is not with the players, but with coaches and medical staff, especially in the preseason. Many times the coaches, and the staff when they go on field to treat injury, get more photo and air time than the individual players, so expanding the patch to include those key personnel could be a big win if a deal can be cut, especially with so many healthcare providers tied into patch deals.

The six teams not yet patch involved for 2013…the Lions, Saints, Raiders, Rams, Bucs and Redskins…probably haven’t found the right brand married to price point to make a program work yet, but it is an area of strong exposure and great added value…if not one off value…for companies looking to make the non-traditional splash. It is not an easy decision…the name has to be something that the local consumer or the national market “gets” in a second, because the space is so limited, but for the right brands, patches have scored thus far and will continue to provide valuable intel going forward as leagues in the States look for more real estate to sell without further compromising the merchandise business for the long run.

NFL Stays Home For The Summer…Builds Brand

 In 2000, only five NFL teams stayed in their own practice facility for the rigors of preseason training camp, this year with the New York Giants returning to the newly-named Quest Diagnostics facility and the Philadelphia Eagles leaving Lehigh University for the Nova Care Center in South Philly, 19 of the 30 NFL clubs will stay home for the summer.  The Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens have also done the same. Given the investment teams make in building facilities, the cost associated with travel, and the ability to showcase their players and their brand in front of hometown fans who don’t need to travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles, to see their favorite players early on, the idea of staying home seems like one that is smarter and smarter for both the on and off field growth of an NFL team.

Ironically one of the teams that traditionally stayed home years ago was the Jets, who trained year round at Hofstra University on Long Island. The team was one of the first to open training camp to its fans, and in doing so helped build long-standing credibility with its core and casual fans who would turn out in droves to see their favorite players. It was only in the last 10 or 15 years or so, since the teams full migration to New Jersey, that the team went on the road for training camp, which is now held in Cortland, New York. Originally the idea made great sense, as the teams new training facility, the Atlantic Health Care Facility in Florham Park, was not yet finished. Now however, with a gleaming new facility, one of the best in professional sports, it makes sense for the Jets to join the Giants and stay home for the summer. 

Why? It makes great business sense.  Teams are all about year-round routine, and keeping players and staff together in a first class environment that the team has invested millions in helps strengthen ties to the community and to each other. Even with the best of college facilities and the ability to physically transport thousands of pounds of equipment from New Jersey to Cortland, the experience is still not 100 percent the same. The idea of “getting away” to focus on training camp in an era where social media rules, and players are not used to such isolation is quickly passing by…no one can really hide any more, and the creature comforts the teams take to make their facilities best in show make staying home more of a natural these days than ever before.

Then there’s the off-field question of ROI. Teams are doing everything possible to hold on to and cultivate brand and fan relationships in times that are still somewhat challenging for the discretionary dollar. Moving a team hundreds of miles away, which limits access and in some ways keeps the team a bit out of mind of the consumer and the team’s core brands, can slow growth and affinity with the team at a time when access is probably greater than at any other time of the year. Granted most major media will travel wherever a team trains, but keeping the team closer to home does ensure even more consistent coverage, which re-building teams like the Jets covet.  On the brand side, a company like Atlantic Health Care has spent a good amount of money associating itself with the jets brand, and to have SUNY-Cortland in the press vs. their name during the preseason is a bit of a disconnect. Other brands who would love more activation with the team and its thousands of fans who still go to training camp in upstate New York would also probably do more should the jets, like the Giants and Eagles, now stay home for camp.

Yes there is some perceived value to getting away for the three weeks. It may help grow the team brand away from its core and it certainly pouts dollars back into the small town where the teams go. However for the long run, from a business and player development standpoint, the trend of not travelling for training camp is a growing one, and one which the Jets, when their deal with SUNY-Cortland ends, is one that should be strongly considered. There is no place like home, especially with the billion dollar investment of an NFL team.

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.