Yankees, Prudential Create A Great Senior Moment

We have talked from time to time about the lack of activation in sport for one of the most vibrant and engaged audiences out there; seniors and baby boomers. It is a segment of the population that has vast consumer experience, knows how to activate in groups, has defined spending habits and in many cases a large amount of disposable time and purchases more high ticket items, like cars, more than any other segment of the population. They influence spending habits, young people, voting patterns and public policy. Yet for all the time sports looks to engage the young and the first adopter, the larger group (albeit sometimes with less disposable income) still goes largely ignored.

However in the last few weeks one innovative brand in a major market has created an opportunity to engage that audience directly, in the sport which has one of the oldest demographic group in professional sport in North America. WFAN-AM (660), the Yankees Radio Network and their brand partner Prudential are offering an opportunity to bring an older audience a chance to create  “chapter two” in their careers with  their “Play by Play Challenge” contest.

One lucky winner will call a recorded inning at the WFAN studios with Yankees broadcaster John Sterling. The winner will also receive a tour of the Yankee Radio Network broadcast booth, a meet and greet with Sterling and co-announcer Suzyn Waldman and a tour of CBS New York Studios.

The contest makes great sense for Prudential, a financial services firm which understands the spending power of seniors, and also understands the time and interests of the demo. While finding a new “young” voice has been done tine and again, rarely has a franchise gone looking for a distinctive older voice; one which  may not be a staple in broadcasting for decades to come, but one which may be distinctive fun and appreciative of the effort. Sometimes we forget the legacy of seniors and the stories they can tell, especially with the memory of a lifetime of sports experience. While there is no doubt that young people would cherish the opportunity to jump in with the voice of the Yankees, there could be even more appeal, and a better ROI for the investing brand, by looking to older.

Smart move by the Yankees and their media partner, and for their brand for finding a unique way to cut through the clutter.

A Year In, A Year Away, NYCFC Keeps Building…

A year ago this coming week the New York soccer world was all abuzz with the announcement of the latest entry into Major League Soccer, and arguably the last startup sports team New York will ever see in New York City Football Club.  Manchester City, Major League Soccer and the New York Yankees announced a long rumored deal to bring the 20th MLS franchise to New York City. The deal pushed soccer to the front pages of every newspaper and broadcast outlet, created buzz and excitement in the New York City area that hasn’t been seen for soccer really since the original Cosmos…the ones that played games vs. the team out there now in the lower tier NASL later this summer…last took the turf at Giants Stadium.

Part of the excitement was that interesting mix of timing…the announcement fell miraculously at a point on the sports calendar where hoops was finished with the Knicks exit from the playoffs over the weekend, the Jets and Giants in a lull before offseason workouts begin, the Yankees on the road, two of the three NHL teams done and the Rangers coming close to ending the season, and no extraordinary other sports events, to contend with. The Red Bulls were even quiet, having played a marquee matchup with the LA Galaxy over the weekend, and even fans of global soccer were waiting for that weekend’s Champions League matchup. It was a rare spot where crickets could be heard through the usual noise of a spring sports week in Gotham, and fit well with Man City’s exhibition which was to be played that Saturday against rival Chelsea at Yankee Stadium already on the calendar. A better stage could not have been set from a timing perspective.

So a year in and less than a year to go before kickoff, how is NYCFC doing? By most  accounts pretty well. The club has the deep pockets of Barclays Premier League champion Manchester City and the New York Yankees, as well as their two iconic brand names, to bolster support. They built a strong social campaign to find a badge created by their interested fans and have used their time expanding grassroots support with every soccer club that will hear them speak and be part of their launch. They sent clear messages about culture by sending their soccer heads, Claudio Reyna and Jason Kreis, to learn the system they will use by embedding themselves in Man City football. They have secured local TV and even radio deals well in advance of their start, and they take every second they can to engage fans on all things football in the digital space. They sell tickets without players, sponsorship without star value. The star right now is the idea of bring in on the ground floor of something special. When talk of a training facility in the City of New York fell apart, they looked to the affluent community just to the north of the Bronx and finally found a willing partner in Manhattanville College, where they can cultivate an additional fan base who is used to having the elite call their county home. When plans for a stadium became (and remain) taxing, they returned to their co-owner and devised a glitzy plan to use the Yankees assets, and their stadium for now, to have a home. The announcement came replete with technological talk of keeping the grass new and vibrant and moving the pitchers mound in and out. Even the shining star of Mariano Rivera signed on symbolically for the first few season tickets. Yankees pinstripes lifted the new blue brand in town.

Best of all NYCFC has sold hype, the hype of an event that everyone will want to be part of. Their ads are about the brand, not the coaches. There is a slight mention of Man City and the Yankees (and a lot of their marketing muscle), bit no real allusions that the players from “over there,” some of the biggest names in soccer, will be the ones here all the time. For a visit now and again sure, but this team, right now faceless, will be one that will be home grown, with an identity born of two brands, created into one. Like a good wedding, NYCFC thus far has something old (the tradition of Man City), something new (expansion in NY), something norrowed (Yankee Stadium), and something blue (its colors).

How long will the Honeymoon go on? Well for now it will be quite a while. Viewing parties in the boroughs will probably go on through World Cup, visits of elite celebrities and big name soccer stars will traverse through, and the constant buzz of interest will continue to build. Somewhere down the road there will even be players and uniforms and new brands on board, and eventually a match or two next spring that will have solid numbers in the house. However that’s not what all this buzz is really about, the opening day. It is to build community, build affinity and build loyalty for the days after the opener, the dreary spring nights when fans will question whether to bring their discretionary dollars for another night of MLS action or stay home to watch “Modern Family.” It will be for those days when the spring sports calendar is cluttered with baseball, postseason hockey and hoops and even the NF Draft a time when media will have to cover because of demand and interest rather than the need. That will be the true test of how strong the foundation being built for NYCFC will be.

We all like new, like hype and like being a part of something special. Is that what NYCFC will be? So far, even with their warts, they seem to be playing the role as well as can be expected with the payoff still a year away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Challenges of An Indy Ball Brand: Are Bears Extinct Or Hibernating?

There are 14 minor league baseball clubs within a 90 minute drive of anywhere in the New York area, all with various promises of affordable family fun and entertainment. However according to an announcement that came very quietly  on the day after Thanksgiving, that total for 2014 at least will only be 13 with the demise of one of the clubs that started the buzz for minor league baseball in the area, the Newark Bears.

The Bears, with a myriad of ownership groups and affiliations over the years, brought great promise to a city with a long baseball tradition, and helped re-energize  and relaunch the careers of a host of former MLB players, along with giving work experience to scores of young people entering the growing sports business field from sales to marketing to game operations throughout their history.  They were seen by some as a unique mix in a triangle of sports and entertainment possibilities in Brick City, with the Prudential Center off to the right of Bears and Eagles Stadium and Red Bull Arena across the Passaic River in the distance. The Stadium, when it first opened, could also be an entertainment compliment, some thought, to the revitalized New Jersey Performing Arts Center right down the street, helping bring families and fans back to merchants who had long struggled for business.  All of those plans, along with a stadium in need of repairs, appear to be gone for the summer now, along with some jobs and opportunities for young people looking to carve their own niche in sport.

Now it is not the first time that the Bears have been left for dead. Debt-ridden former ownership groups have looked to pull the plug before, only to have a savior with great intentions come along to re-start the club again. However this time without any ties in either the Minor League Baseball affiliated system or with any of the struggling independent leagues (The four team Can-Am league has merged with the Midwestern American Association to keep all their clubs still functioning) the outlook for baseball in Newark appears to be bleak once again.

The demise of the Bears appears to once again call in to question how much is enough in minor league baseball in a major market. Affiliated teams like the Lakewood Blue Claws, the Trenton Thunder, the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees do well because of the bottom line support of their parent clubs. They also have consistency of brand and a steady flow of professional staff to keep the books balanced and find every way to effectively sell and market what essentially is a small to medium size business year-round. Their facilities are pristine, the talent level on the field is professional and developing, and the best practices off the field help define success for the industry.  The independent clubs in the area, from those in the Atlantic league to the Can Am, have much bigger challenges. They don’t have the marketing or financial support of Major League Baseball, so they go it alone. Some, like the Somerset Patriots, have found a strong and consistent ownership group who support the community and have a solid enough sponsor and fan base to continue to move along. Others like the Jersey Jackals, have the benefit of playing in a college-run facility at Montclair State University that help offset some bottom line costs and provides entertainment to a diverse community.  The Rockland Boulders, just north of the New Jersey state line, have tried to position themselves as a comer, with a state of the art facility close by a vibrant and affluent Bergen County fan base while serving what is the smallest and in some ways most underserved, county in New York State, with another affluent community in Westchester County not far on the other side of the Hudson River. The Indy teams also point to the fact that their level of play on the field is higher than any of the affiliated teams in the area, whose players are under very tight controls from the MLB parent clubs. Only  in Indy ball, they maintain, can you see a former MLB name, like a Bartolo Colon or even a Rickey Henderson, given a shot at returning to the majors late in a career.  So in addition to the promotions you get an occasional falling or shooting star. The Indy teams also maintain an ability to bring back local heroes, ones who excelled in college or high school but never got that shot at the majors, and they maintain, that their proximity to the bright lights of New York make them more of a draw for those former stars whose agents can remind teams from New York and Philly where they can watch those players a bit more closely.

Still even with all that promise, Indy teams continue to struggle with both identity and dollars. The advent of social media and digital technology, not to mention the growth of marketing savvy, has given the affiliated teams a chance to expand their borders virtually, reaching fans of their parent teams and drawing them just a bit further than usual to come to games in gleaming ballparks with slick promotions.   Fans can follow minor league clubs online much easier than ever before, and the parent clubs are now using partnerships to better connect the dots between the minors and the majors than ever before. The Yankees for example, expanded their popular “Hope Week” program to include all their affiliates in 2013, reminding not just fans, but local brands, that they not only support Trenton and Staten Island and Scranton-Wilkes Barre, they support and are part of the big team in The Bronx as well. That type of subtle reminder is invaluable, and something which Indy teams lack, despite their promises of quality value. That is not to say Indy teams do not have their place, as the successful Somerset team and others like the Long Island Ducks have proven with promotions that are maybe a little more edgy, or game innovations like quicker innings (tried by the Atlantic League last year) a little more progressive than what affiliated leagues and teams can do as well.  The question is how much, or how many, are enough for the consumer and for supporting brand partners?

Would it be great for teams like the Newark Bears to be successful? Sure. Inner-city youth needs jobs, and the continued growth for sport for business is a natural fit for some who may not find their way elsewhere. The Stadium that now sits along McCarter Highway will serve as another dark reminder that times are still tough in many of America’s cities, and even “The National Pastime” cannot provide a respite this year for some. However the expansive growth of digital marketing combined with the fight for discretionary income, may mean that although we would like to have 13 vibrant and fun minor league teams in a certain geographic area, maybe there is not the need to run these high functioning and somewhat expensive businesses at this time. Maybe the market is 10 or 11, not 12 or 13 or even 14, and maybe those dollars, if there is a sports business interest, can go into better marketing of local colleges or even high schools or youth sports, who also have some seats to fill with affordable and fun entertainment.

There was certainly a time for the Newark Bears, and the lives the franchise impacted over the years is probably immeasurable. However for now, it seems like the idea of Indy baseball en masse in New Jersey as is the case in many regions across the country, at least seems to be on the slide.  No doubt minor league baseball continues to thrive as a business and as a fabric of hundreds of communities nationwide. Whether that number has reached a critical mass is probably up for debate, with a club and a stadium that were once seen as a harbinger of growth now gone, at least for the forseeable future.  Even in the business of baseball, sometimes the best intentions don’t make for good business.

“Brand Rivera” Closes Sports’ Biggest Annual Call To Action

It was only fitting that New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera served as the closer – albeit this time for an event that has a major impact on the future, not the present. The impact however, was less about baseball and more about legacy. It was the end of the 30th March of Dimes Sports Luncheon, the brainchild of former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson and some other network heads, and Rivera was making the latest, of not last stop in a post-season tour that has seen him add endorsements and awards to mark the end of his storied career. However this award, the Sportsman of the Year, seemed to be even that much more special, as it honored him not just for his on field accomplishments but for his work with young people, and was helping raise millions for those struggling to get through the first stages of life, and for those parents who are dealing with that type of adversity every day.

“This is helping babies. Babies who come with defects, and they didn’t ask for that. But here comes March of Dimes to help these babies, to help these families,” Rivera said Wednesday at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. “The amount of money we are raising is for a great cause. Me being here is a great honor and a pleasure, because we are giving back. That’s what it is all about — giving back.”

Rivera’s acceptance put the cap on one of the most special days in the sports business community every year; a day where almost 800 people take the time to gather, listen, share stories and donate their support to the March of Dimes, just like they have for 30 years. Maybe the cause doesn’t have the glitz or glamour of some others these days, but this event brings business star power like no other. Now chaired by Sean McManus, President of CBS Sports, the lunch pulls in some of the brightest names in sports and broadcasting to honor, observe and pay tribute on their own dime. From Olympic stars like Mike Eruzione and Tara Hughes to broadcast luminaries like Bob Costas and Michael Kay, one cannot go a few feet in the Waldorf on the day without recognizing a familiar face.

However the stars of the day are really the children and the volunteers of the March of Dimes, who have benefited to the tune of over $10 Million that the lunch has raised, and this year set a record with over $1 Million alone coming in from gifts. The issue of babies struggling, and the challenges everyone share in raising young people to be healthy, was not lost on even the biggest names in attendance. That was made clear during the festivities, when host Ernie Johnson of TNT, himself a cancer survivor, told the story of his adopted son Michael who has muscular dystrophy lives on a ventilator, and when Jon Miller of NBC Sports, the winner of the Corporate Leadership Award, described the harrowing times his family went through when his oldest son was born prematurely. Sportswoman of the year Skylar Diggans, became very emotional in her acceptance speech when she talked of her love for children and how her parents influenced her life as well, and Brett Yormark of the Brooklyn Nets  discussed very passionately the need for MOD work to help eliminate premature infant issues in their team’s new home borough of Brooklyn.

The event itself again served as a respite and a time for brief reflection from the craziness of the sports business world. For a few hours, the senior staffs of the Nets and Red Bulls, the Devils and the Sixers, the Mets and the Yankees, all put aside their worries of wins and losses and ticket sales and headlines and were able to mingle and focus on a greater cause, and what the impact of sport business as a motivator for helping those less fortunate can do.

Now the Sports Luncheon wasn’t the only event during the week that helped focus sports business on philanthropy. Thursday night tennis stars Andy Roddick, James Blake and Jon Isner held a Manhattan fundraising exhibition for memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and this past Tuesday the group Sports For Social Change seized on the platform of “Giving Tuesday” to launch “Give An Assist, ” a call to action for fans to help those in need through Donations, Volunteering, Coaching, Fundraising, Shopping for Socially Responsible Gifts and more. Those are just a few of the selfless acts that “brand sport” continue to take on away from the limelight, acts which can and do impact the lives of millions for the better.

While much of what we view “brand sport” as being is clearly based on the results on the field and in the marketplace, the March of Dimes Sports Lunch, and other events like it, serve as a great reminder to all who work in the space that there remains a bigger picture that sport and sport business should aspire to embrace…using the power of all the brands to better the lives of those who watch, spend and even play the games on some level. Wednesday was a great reminder not just of that responsibility, but of the power and impact that sports business can bring to literally change and transform lives. While Rivera’s trademark was the save, his appearance, and the contributions of the other recipients and those in attendance, will be marked down as wins in the bigger picture, wins not for him or the Bronx Bombers, but for thousands of future fans and their families who will be impacted positively from the event.

Red Bulls Make Strides On and Off The Pitch…

Maybe it was a combination of new leadership on the business side in the States, new leadership in the coaching ranks and a swift kick of reality by two other clubs…one on Long Island, the other not even in existence yet, but the New York Red Bulls brand made some solid strides on many levels this year.

Wednesday night’s loss to the Houston Dynamo prematurely ended the season for the team and its supporters, but the 2013 campaign seems to have brought an expansion of brand and a more positive future for a club that always seemed to be stuck on status quo.

On the field, the leadership and openness for homegrown coach Mike Petke was a refreshing change of pace, and his down to earth style and understanding of the business side of the club off the pitch, coupled with leading New York to its first-ever Supporters’ Shield for the best record in MLS, was a huge step forward in stability. The infectious play and personality of Tim Cahill gave New York star power on and off the field, and even Thierry Henry, in the twilight of his career but still bolstering the Red Bull attack on the field, broke from his standoffish mode with doing more press and promotions to help create more awareness and interest away from the game than at any time since he signed with the club.

The marketing push leading into their inaugural NASL season by the New York Cosmos certainly identified a growing legion of soccer-conscious fans willing to give the professional game a try if they were embraced more, and the announcement and hoopla in the spring of New York City Football Club’s arrival, and subsequent hiring of former Rutgers AD and longtime sports insider Tim Pernetti to run the club, again showed the growing interest in the sport and the void that the Red Bulls weren’t filling.

The result was an increased marketing and branding focus by the club; holding viewing parties in places like Brooklyn, expanding an ad campaign to areas like Fort Lee, a larger community presence on the grassroots side, and of course the success on the field. The results saw larger crowds as the season came to a conclusion, and although there were surprising swaths of empty seats in Red Bull Arena Wednesday night, the recognition by casual fans in the area of what the club has been doing was certainly felt more this fall than in previous years.

Is it all perfect? Not yet. The Red Bull domination on the marketing side is a blessing for those who activate and enjoy the brand, but it puts a hindrance on adding brand partners who can co-market the club through other partnerships. The lack of baseball success in the area during the fall led to some advanced media opportunities, but the lack of radio in English (even at a time when NYCFC has already signed WFAN as their English language radio home two years from now) or even streaming is still a loss for exposure.  The club has rising and established international stars, but adding a top flight and marketable American to the mix would also do wonders. The ramped up work on MSG Network…the only live sporting programs all summer on the channel…is certainly a help as well but more integrated and expanded broadcast coverage can certainly be a plus going forward. There was growth on the grassroots side, but a look around the malls of New Jersey still sees young people wearing more Real Madrid or Chelsea apparel than a Red Bulls kit. The Red Bulls supporters are growing, but still more needs to be done to tell their stories and expand the brand. Red Bull Arena remains one of the gems of stadium builds in the area in recent years, but its Spartan appearance inside still leaves it feeling cold and without a great deal of character and personality, and the ongoing parking issues around the stadium remain a work in progress.

In the end, the club’s March to the best record and their increased presence in the marketplace was a huge step forward, and going into a World Cup year can only help accelerate the growth of the Red Bulls brand, especially with an anticipated marketing and branding pitch coming from across the river as NYCFC finds its home and solidifies its presence.  The season fell short of a title, but it was a season of growth for New Jersey’s soccer club, one which was very much welcomed and should be noticed not just now, but in the years to come.

Like Rivera, Brand Brodeur One To Appreciate…

Watching the amazingly eloquent tributes done for Mariano Rivera these past few weeks has New Jersey Devils fans, and for that matter most of hockey at least pondering for a second, what will the sport do for Martin Brodeur when he makes his exit. While the Yankees future hall of famer is certainly beyond reproach in so many ways, including the fact that he is the last Major Leaguer ever to wear the famed 42 of Jackie Robinson and clearly defined a position and a legacy both on and off the diamond, the imprint that Brodeur has had upon his sport, and certainly is franchise, is probably a close second.

While the image of the Devils in the eye of the casual fan lags far behind that of the Yankees, the impact Brodeur has had on the team certainly does not. During their long championship-caliber run, New Jersey operated in general anonymity, putting the indelible mark of team way ahead of individual accomplishments, but Brodeur was the one constant that even the most distant of hockey fans could identify with for Lou Lamoriello’s club. He was the stalwart, the last line of defense and a consistent symbol of class and quiet success both on and off the ice. You may have hated the Devils, but it was hard to hate Marty. Even in recent years, as the club made a more concerted and effective effort to grow its brand off the ice, pioneering cutting edge digital fan engagement programs that were best in class not just in the NHL bit in professional sport, the player of choice for the fan remained Brodeur, and he rarely disappointed with his performance on the ice as well, leading New jersey to an unexpected strike-shortened run to the NHL Finals just a few years ago. When there were opportunities to go elsewhere,  better hockey markets that were less crowded, maybe even ones where one more championship ring could be had, Brodeur and team chose to stand pat, hopefully finishing out a legendary run in Devils colors, where it started, a rarity among professional athletes these days.

Yes the Brodeur run has had its blemishes both personally and professionally, but like Rivera’s occasional shortfalls, those should make him even more special to a New York area sports fan that is all about getting it done today. He is one of us, and one of use with amazing ability, longevity, consistency and an amazing legacy. Had Martin Brodeur played across the river, maybe traded places with the equally effervescent, slightly younger and slightly more outwardly marketable Henrik Lundquist (one who has no Stanley Cup rings to his credit yet), maybe there would be a coronation starting already, like the one Rivera went through across the league and in The Bronx. Maybe there would be billboards and ads and marketing deals lined up for a once in a lifetime star reaching his end somewhere in the not too distant future. However this is New Jersey, and marketing success is not as bright for those who call The Pru home just yet. Maybe in the future as new ownership picks up on the push the Jeff Vanderbeek  ownership started but not just yet.

In the end, as hockey starts the 2013-14 season, fans not just in New Jersey should pause to appreciated the legacy, and the grandeur of the resume Martin Brodeur has amassed, not just as a Devil but as an elite athlete in the most competitive marketplace in the world. Leadership by quiet example and loyalty probably has lost some luster in the bright lights and get it done today world we live in today, but Mariano Rivera’s curtain call of excellence reminded us that those qualities still have great value and marketability, whether they are on the diamond or the ice.  No the Brodeur era is not yet in its final hours, but it is in the foreseeable future, and there is no time to start appreciating and planning not just as a team, but as a league and as a sport, than now.

Let’s enjoy the time, and the season, stars like this don’t always shine as bright and for as long, especially in New Jersey.

 

Rutgers, NYCFC Face Similar Challenges With One Common Tie

Finding and engaging new revenue partners, helping to guide major facility changes, learning the in’s and outs of broadcast relationships, dealing with an evolving support base, trying to negotiate a solid and growing niche in a very crowded sports marketplace and helping forge a new and engaging brand that can be many things to many people.  These were probably some of the huge challenges then-Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti  was looking at as the Scarlet Knights went through their Big East football schedule last fall, while the campus was gaining its footing with the start of the new semester. No one could probably predict the well documented roller coaster Rutgers would go through in the coming months, from the elation of joining the Big Ten and all its challenges and opportunities to the highly publicized changes that came about on so many levels following Mike Rice’s ouster and the subsequent moves that changed the leadership of the Scarlet Knights.

All those moves are now in the past, and the athletic department, under new AD Julie Hermann is looking to regain its footing, re-inspire and engage donors and heal its wounds from the ugliness of scandal as it looks ahead to a future that could bring bigger dollars, brand awareness, and overall exposure hopefully for all aspects of the University as well as athletics.

For Pernetti, his “to do” list is probably very similar, although instead of worrying about a host of sports he is focused on one ball, and the building of a new brand in the tri-state area as the new head of the business side of New York City Football Club. While different in many ways, the core challenges with NYCFC will be very similar…creating a thriving business culture and developing an elite sport brand in the most crowded marketplace in the country, if not the world. He will have a core base of passionate soccer fans who will need to be wooed to spend their time and dollars not to follow elite clubs like Chelsea or Manchester United, but to engage with the new kid in town, one with the large packets of the New York Yankees and Manchester City Football Club behind them. However with those bug pockets come big expectations…the announcement of NYCFC stole the back pages of the New York tabloids for days, and seemed to have awakened the rival Red Bulls into a new brand expansion across the Hudson and into New York, where NYCFC will eventually be home when they kick off in two years.

The new team business head will have to find ways to keep brands engaged without team or players and build excitement about the future, much like he and his team did in Piscataway as RU expanded its facilities and started the process moving toward being the New York home of arguably the most powerful college conference in the country.  Much like with Rutgers, there will be media deals to be struck, a stadium to be build and many brand decisions to be made on the look, feel and culture of the club, which arguably could be the last startup sports franchise ever in the tri-state area.

Unlike with Rutgers, NYCFC will not have to answer to those opponents of athletics who believe that college athletics sends many of the wrong messages and misspends millions of dollars. Instead, NYCFC will have to negotiate the politics of stadium placement in a community and all the expenses that go along with it. Different challenges both with the same goal…building a brand and a business that is representative of the community and can show effective ROI with passionate fans and big expectations, all on a challenging budget. As big as the brands behind NYCFC are, this is still cost controlled major League Soccer, a league which is still finding its way in most markets east of the Mississippi, including New York where the Red Bulls brand success still ebbs and flows. It’s also a market where the NASL Cosmos created a good deal of soccer noise with their Long Island launch before fading into the background. Both are challenges NYCFC will have to deal with…a fickle audience with lots of choices and limited disposable income on professional soccer, and the balance of sizzle over steak.

The good news for Pernetti is that the grassroots for his new brand are very strong, thanks to decades of young people running around in short pants every fall, many of whom are now savvy consumers of global soccer. The market for the franchise is for sure New York and east, but New Jersey and north still also have hankering for the sport, and engaging those families now with a taste of what is to come will go a long way in drawing fans to a new stadium and a new brand once the lights go on. For now, selling hope and hype will have to do, something the Rutgers grad did well as he built consensus and popularity for his business brand in Central New Jersey before the floor fell out late last winter.

As a challenge, NYCFC will be a different one than Rutgers was and is, and in many ways both are in various stages of startup. The Scarlet Knights are transitioning to a new neighborhood in the Big 10, the soccer club coming into existence from the ground up. Where they both are in the fall of 2015 will be interesting to watch as their challenges come to a head, one in football of a global nature, the other partly with the old American kind of football along with all the other opportunities and pratfalls that exist at The State University of New Jersey. One thing is for sure, Tim Pernetti’s prints will be on both brands, one albeit a little more recent than the other.  It will be interesting to see which gets the headlines, positive ones, two falls hence.  The measurement for success in Gotham and Piscataway will be quite complex.

Collateral Damage, ARod Style

As we have mentioned before, the fallout from controversy involving high level athletes and celebrities often goes way beyond the personalities themselves.  The collateral damage effects hordes of people who had little to nothing to do directly with the offending party, and many times that fallout…restaurants that lose income from lockouts, memorabilia deemed worthless because of off-field transgressions, donations to charity lost because of selfish mistakes…can be even more devastating to those people than the ones who are front and center in controversy. The latest example came to light this past week in the ongoing Alex Rodriguez saga.  It wasn’t another player on the field indicted, or more damning evidence provided by an anonymous witness. It came in the words of a New York Post  story  that discussed the hundreds of thousands of dollars that a film, created for charity and geared at young people, will lose because the Yankees controversial star has to be edited out and replaced when the independent project goes to theaters.

The film is  “Henry & Me,” and Rodriguez will be removed from the final version due to fears from investors that the Yankees third baseman will hurt the marketability and profitability of the picture. The animated story, based on a popular children’s book by longtime Yankees front office member, advisor and community liaison Ray Negron, tells the story of a young boy who overcomes cancer and his fears with the help of some of the Yankees brightest stars from the history. It stars Richard Gere, Chazz Palminteri and Paul Simon, along with Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Bernie Williams, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and now Rodriguez in a wide variety of roles, and each actor in the film agreed to donate their salary from the film to their individual charities, with $2 from each DVD sale going to charity.

The film has been in development for several years and was poised to debut this fall. But Rodriguez’s role will now be switched to recently retired slugger Hideki Matsui, causing more delays and taking a big bite out of the budget that was forecast to finish the film. Rodriguez is featured in 49 sequences.

Though Rodriguez had admitted to steroid-use in his time with the Texas Rangers before being cast in the film, the film’s producers, and the Yankees, thought those issues were no longer a problem and that he was the right player for the film dedicated to former owner George Steinbrenner. The recent developments obviously changed that sentiment, and will now have reverberations way beyond the field of play, or the business scope that most may think could be pulled in to the ARod saga. A tough day for the “little guys” around The Bronx Bombers, both those involved in a worthy film and those young people who could already be enjoying and earning from a credible project, which now involves a star lacking in credibility.   

Red Bulls Get A Chance To Ride A Wave…Again

Last week the sports world was all abuzz with soccer talk. Trouble is, it was not the talk about the current first place team in MLS, the only team currently playing a full schedule in the area, the Red Bulls. It was about Manchester City and Chelsea, the Champions League Final, even the pesky still to play an NASL match Cosmos tried to find some ink with a late Friday announcement of a kit deal with Nike. The Red Bulls on the brand side? Silence, other than the calls of some in the media and some politicians to have the club drop “New York” from their name and fully embrace their New Jersey home, like the Devils have.

Now on the pitch, the club has enjoyed a string start, holding down first place with a mix of solid scoring and balanced defense. It is one of their best starts in years, and brings a welcomed stability to the club that they can build on. Off the field?

The club has a solid fan base of loyal supporters who turn out every game. There also remains a group of casual soccer fans and youth groups who will make the trek to Red Bull Arena a few times a season, as well as a mix of multicultural fans who enjoy the game and will look to get a fix of live soccer time and again. However to embrace the larger audience, more widely tell the stories of their players and staff, and get more fans actively involved in the Red Bull soccer brand as they are the Red Bull lifestyle in other areas of sport and entertainment, the click is now ticking.

While some may say that the Yankees/MCFC partnership will crush the chance for the Red Bulls to embrace a larger community, especially one across the Hudson which has never taken to the gleaming stadium in Harrison, New Jersey that remains to be seen. Red Bull is not a brand that backs down easily from a challenge, even one as potentially large as another franchise in their back yard. The excitement generated by the announcement, as well as a full slate of friendlies in the area this summer, should be a big opportunity for the resident MLS club to hit the marketplace strong at the grassroots level and capture an audience interested in the game more than they have. It is a chance to blanket market not just parts of New Jersey but the entire region like never before. Players should be out more in force, clinics should abound, media opportunities should be more prevalent, celebrities can be imported and built, fan stories told more, not just through traditional media which can be fickle, but through controlled and digital media. NBC Sports net, MSG Networks and radio, yes radio, needs to be blanketed consistently to build market share, but as a one off experiment. The red Bulls remain the only professional or major college team in the area with no live audio of their game on broadcast or a digital platform. That is a big miss for the casual fan out and about on spring and summer weekends. We may know Thierry Henry, but who else resonates with the casual fan in the region? Time to tell the stories and embrace the rising tide of soccer.

Now there are many that say that is not the Red Bull marketing way. It is an immersive, interactive brand with lots of sizzle that works with their highly successful platforms. However this is a different type of animal, this soccer Red Bull. It is one that has to be brought to casual fans with lots of choices, not one that can be drawn in large numbers just with the allure of the brand. People know the name, know the product, but don’t know the makeup of the club…and that’s what team sports is in this country. It is much more the personality than the club.

For now, the Red Bulls have the benefit of a winning team, some engaging stars, a gleaming state of the art facility, a growing fan base of their sport, a league that is aggressive and forward thinking in its approach, and a great deal of excitement created by a new presence in the area somewhere off in the distance, a presence which in just a week swept up great excitement and lots and lots of buzz. They also have the benefit of time, and the opportunity to have fans come now and embrace all things soccer.

It’s a great chance to grow the brand, the team and the marketplace, and really grease the skids for what could be a wonderful rivalry for all somewhere down the road. Will they take advantage? We shall see.  The opportunity is there, yet again for the club. The time to take advantage is now, not just fr the team but for the visibility of the league as well.