NFL | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

“Football Passport” A Great Digital Addition As The Season Kicks Off…

Last spring our colleague Peter Casey launched an ambitious online tool where baseball fans could create a mosaic of all the great places they had seen games, and marry those events to a narrative that matched any fans passion for baseball. It followed a similar launch last winter for basketball fans. It was called “Hardball  Passport,” a first of its kind way to catalogue and track all the stadia where games have been played. No need for ticket stubs saved, “Hardball Passport” helped you bring back the memories in a virtual world just like “Basketball Passport” had done for hoops fans not just on the NBA level but on the college level as well.

This past week, as the NFL and college seasons began, Casey and his partners unveiled their latest tracking tool, one which might even be a bigger hit that its first two. It is “Football Passport,”  an easy-to-use web tool that lets football fans track every football game they’ve attended over the years.

“Football Passport” allows fans to find and log almost every game they’ve attended with simple search functionality. Leveraging a comprehensive games database that goes back several decades, the tool serves as a repository for game-going memories. Fans can share stories and ticket stubs, and upload photos to complement their game histories. As fans log their games, “Football  Passport” dishes out personalized stats – number of games attended, stadiums seen, best performances witnessed, and each team’s record for games fans personally attended – to compare year over year or even against other fans. “Football Passport” allows future-oriented fans to easily create and track their stadium bucket lists, plan road trips and compete in head-to-head stadium challenges. Fans that complete a stadium challenge or achieve game-specific accomplishments earn unique digital stamps for their Passport. Combined with active leaderboards for “Most Games Logged,” it  creates a friendly culture of competition among avid game goers.

Will it gain more traction than “Basketball Passport”  or “Hardball Passport” have done in season one? Hopefully. Football has less games which makes it easier to catalogue, and college football is all about passion and tribal following. Fantasy football is also massive now, so that can also play into more interest for football than hoops or baseball, both of which are being refined for the next go-round.

From a business perspective, all have a nice upside. Brands can integrate perks into the platform for fans who engage regularly, and the model remains scalable to any sport, with probably soccer coming next. At some point as the platform expands you will also be able to share across sports, and with soccer, hopefully grow internationally. The biggest need however, especially to engage with millennials, is to have mobile capability and instant social media sharing. That still remains as a gap in the process, but one that is closing quickly. The download is easy, the work to be engaged is minimal, and the idea of being able to share memories and experiences is key for engagement. While not yet perfect, Casey’s “passports” are growing in popularity and make a nice addition as football kicks off. A great continue to watch idea for the digital sports space, “Football Passport” is worth the download.

Smart Like A Fox…

With the NFL season on the horizon, Tanner Simkins caught up with recent NFLPA President and current Harvard MBA President Domonique Foxworth to talk about the league and where he is today in Cambridge…

Domonique Foxworth, former NFL cornerback and NFLPA President, is now an MBA candidate at Harvard Business School. Recently, we caught up with Foxworth for a discussion on his NFLPA Presidency, his MBA progress at HBS, and more. (A detailed biography for Foxworth is provided after the Q&A). You can connect with Foxworth on Twitter.

Full Court Press: You helped shape the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, what was the biggest lesson you learned from that process?

Domonique Foxworth: I found myself in a room full of billionaires. Before the negotiations started, I had this impression that everyone in the room was out-of-this-world smart. After the first couple meetings, I realized that I am just as smart and just as capable as they are. This experience motivated me to attend business school.

FCP: What inspired you to run for NFLPA President?

DF: It wasn’t a snap decision. It was a process. It was important for me to take a larger role in the [governing] body that I belong to, and to me there was no better way than being President.

FCP: Now you’re getting your MBA. How has the transition into Harvard Business School been going?

DF: It’s been tough but I am no stranger to working very hard. It is definitely a different culture than one I was in before. But I am happy to be a part of it and I feel like I fit in well.

FCP: What’s more difficult playing an NFL season or a HBS semester?

DF: The NFL, hands down. No one is trying to hurt me when I am studying. Competing against a book or competing in the class for comments is much different than competing against super humans who are physically going after me on a weekly or daily basis. At Harvard they are super humans too, with their intelligence. But, everybody can win [in the classroom] and that’s the biggest difference. When there are confrontations here, [at HBS] we can all win – and that’s not how it works in sports.

FCP: What are your post-graduation plans?

DF: I am very interested in entrepreneurship and venture capitalism especially related to something in the sports arena.

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

DF: The sports industry is no different than any other. Technology can provide quality improvements. That’s what I am excited about. I’m already working with entrepreneurs and young companies to apply tech to improve the quality of life for athletes.

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

DF: Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss. Classic! [Foxworth has a toddler and baby at home.]

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

DF: The major tip I give to anyone who wants to get in sports is: know that your day-to-day job will have very little to do with the actual sport. If you want to get in to sports business because you love the game of football or basketball, you are going to be very disappointed because you’re so far removed from the game. (Unless you are a coach.) Evaluate why you want to be in sports. If you are crazy sports fan, you may be disappointed with the [minimal] access you receive.

Domonique Foxworth, a former NFL cornerback, is a respected leader and in March 2012 was elected by his peers to serve as the NFL Players Association President.

First elected to the NFLPA as a player representative in 2007, he became one of the youngest vice presidents ever to be voted onto the executive committee. Foxworth played a pivotal role in the NFL collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations in 2011 which resulted in: a longer off-season, allowing players time for recovery and academic pursuits; the elimination of two-a-day practices as a health and safety measure—several youth leagues followed suit; a minimum threshold for spending under the salary cap; and the creation of a “Legacy Fund” pension resource for former NFL players, among other things. During his tenure, the union has also instituted several new committees, composed of staff and players, to encourage greater involvement among members; established a unique 10-year $100 million partnership with Harvard Medical School to research new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent injuries and illness affecting football players; and created a lifecycle initiative for members which includes a series of resources and programs to help players excel during and after their NFL career. His current term as NFLPA President runs through 2014.

Foxworth was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2005, and played in the NFL over seven years for the Broncos, the Atlanta Falcons and his hometown Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos nominated Foxworth for the 2007 Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award for his work in the community which included: serving as spokesperson for “College and Colorado,” a nonprofit devoted to increasing enrollment and improving academic success of low income students; raising money to build a teen center in the name of slain teammate; and penning a weekly column for the Denver Post—the collection was later published as a book with proceeds befitting a Denver nonprofit.

He completed high school in 3.5 years, enrolled early at the University of Maryland, and began training with the school’s football team. Foxworth graduated from Maryland with an B.A. in American Studies in 2004 and was awarded as Maryland Student Athlete of the Year. He will matriculate at Harvard Business School in fall 2013.

A student of the civil right movement, Foxworth collects artifacts and historical treasures from African American history in his spare time.

 

Mixing Sports and Broadway…

Below is the latest q and a by Tanner Simkins, this one with sports marketing legend Tony Ponturo (who I have had the honor to personally work with on four projects in recent years).

We sat down with sports marketing legend, Tony Ponturo, to discuss his role as producing partner for Broadway productions like Bronx Bombers, Lombardi and Magic/Bird and how theater and his longtime career in sports marketing play together. He and producing partner Fran Kirmser also recently acquired the rights to the life story of Joe Louis for film and stage, and have numerous other projects in the pipeline, including bringing Lombardi to the screen in the next few years.

Full Court Press: After a heralded sports business career, how was the transition from marketing executive to Broadway producer?

Tony Ponturo: I graduated with an economics degree but quickly realized that wasn’t for me.  I always wanted something that had both a creative and business dynamic.  I gravitated to sports marketing because it quenched both the creative and business side.  Just like how marketing is the business of sports, producing is very much the business of entertainment.  After building credibility with my sports marketing career, the transition into Broadway was natural.

FCP: Any crossover between the two?

TP: It’s really no different than how we did it at [Anheuser-Busch], but this time it’s a show.  The important question to answer is how to use the mark.  For example with Bronx Bombers, using the Yankee logos, official uniforms, etc added necessary value to the production.  Without this authenticity, consumers can easily see through it and lose interest.

FCP: Any development or trends you are closely watching?

TP: I am intrigued by the growth of fantasy sports.  It has created a new dialogue away from following your local sports team.  Now there is interest and passion at many levels for many reasons.  There will be continued efforts to capture this revenue in new and creative ways.

FCP: Any tips or advice for the aspiring sports professional?

TP: Reputation and trust are big things in business that get overlooked. Always keep those in mind while getting experience. Don’t have a high bar; get in anywhere as along as there is a focused path.  Impatience is the biggest barrier; don’t overlook a sense of direction & foundation.  Good people rise to the top wherever they are.

FCP: What is your favorite book?

TP: I enjoy reading historical biographies like of the Kennedy family for example.  I appreciate these real life stories and their practicality.

Sports and marketing executive Tony Ponturo’s name and reputation have been synonymous with quality, innovation and attention to brand detail for over 30 years. First in the advertising world, then in a landmark career at Anheuser-Busch, Tony Ponturo has been responsible for some of the most influential partnerships that have shaped the sports and entertainment landscape as we know it today.

Following a six year stint in the New York advertising business, Ponturo spent 26 years at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, MFCPouri, leading a team that built one of the most iconic sports and event marketing brands in the world. He joined AB in 1991, and until his departure in 2008, served as the President and CEO of Busch Media Group and the Vice President of Global Media, Sports and Entertainment Marketing of Anheuser-Busch Inc. Ponturo managed over $700mm in media, sports and entertainment properties per annum and oversaw broadcast exclusives for the Super Bowl and the FIFA World Cup, as well as multifaceted relationships with the United States and International Olympic Committees. He helped vastly expand Anheuser-Busch’s leadership stake in the sports business, carving official beer sponsorships with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and NASCAR in North America, as well as landmark international deals with Formula One Racing and the English Premier League in soccer. Anheuser-Busch also increased its position in the local and regional areas of sports sponsorship, securing scores of team and event partnerships during this time as well. Brand growth was also not limited to sports, as the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards all became key activation and sponsorship elements of the Anheuser- Busch family. As a member of the Anheuser-Busch Strategy Committee, Ponturo also served on the Board of Directors of both Anheuser-Busch, Inc. and Anheuser-Busch International, Inc, playing an integral role in developing the brand’s successful corporate media and sports structure.

His latest ventures have him balancing his passions in both sports and entertainment. He is a producer of Broadway hits and Tony Award winning shows such as the 2009 revival of “Hair” and the original musical “Memphis,” which opened in the fall of 2009. Along with the creative vision of entrepreneur and Producing Partner Fran Kirmser, together Tony and Fran negotiated the first time ever NFL and NBA marketing partnership deals for Broadway for productions Lombardi and Magic Bird. Both the NFL and the NBA trusted Kirmser Ponturo with their trademarks and provided, in addition to marketing support, an authentication to the creative process.

 

The Dr. James Andrews Brand…

Here is the latest q and a conducted by Tanner Simkins; this one with Dr. James R. Andrews the world’s leading physician and orthopaedic surgeon for sport-related injuries. He talks about building his business and brand in sports medicine…

Many regard Dr. James R. Andrews as world’s leading physician and orthopaedic surgeon for sport-related injuries. His treatment and evaluation of superstar athletes has positioned Andrews as the foremost sports medicine authority in the eyes of leagues and teams everywhere. We sat down with Dr. James Andrews for discussion on his experiences, injury prevention and treatment, modern medicinal advancements, and more. [A detailed biography of Dr. James Andrews is provided following the Q&A]

Full Court Press: You are widely described as the father of sports medicine – Early on, did you ever dream this would be you?

Dr. James Andrews: To be modest and with some humility that is an overstatement. The fathers of sports medicine we started with Herodicus back in the 5th century. For me to claim [that title] would be of boisterous. There have been a lot of people that were instrumental in developing sports medicine in the 50s 60s and 70s before the field really became known. These guys like Donald Donahue, for example, who took care of University of Oklahoma athletic teams; he was proclaimed a father of sports medicine. I trained with Jack Hughston who was also named a father of sports medicine. If people feel they have to say something like that about me: I would feel more comfortable being labeled as one of the fathers of modern sports medicine as we know it today. But, no I never dreamed about it. If you try to plan your life around establishing your reputation you are probably not going to be successful. In medicine you have to take care of patients on a day to day routine and at all levels. If you work hard enough you will be naturally rewarded with a good reputation. It’s not something you can think about as your goal or plan. Obviously we all have goals to be the best that we can be but I never dreamed or planned it – I just let it happen.

 FCP: What fundamental experiences drove your career to this point?

JA: This is a pretty simple answer. The keys to success, in general, and in sports medicine are availability and communication. If you can make yourself readily available to take care of patients, to do interviews like I’m doing today, if you can communicate on a down-to-earth level with patients then that’s really the two things that drive success.

FCP: You advise both college and professional sports teams. How did you develop this consultant side of your business?

JA: I started off taking care of high school athletes at all levels. I also worked at small colleges who didn’t have doctors to help take care of them. Places like Division II Division III, and other small colleges in rural Alabama that really had no medical care. I made myself available to them. As things grew, the kids I took care in high school like Bo Jackson, for example, all of the sudden were playing college ball where I continued to take care of them. The ones that were elite were playing pro sports like baseball, football, basketball or whatever and they came back to me because they knew me and valued my work. Particularly as you get in the pro ranks, players and teams that I work with pass their positive opinions of my work on to the next potential patient. It is sort of an athlete referral basis that started way back when I worked in high schools. We sort of grew up together. Key signature clients came to me when they saw my quality of work, and it grew from there.

FCP: All of this, plus you operate the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. What is the favorite part of your job?

JA: It is seeing athletes that you operated, treated or had some influence on continue with their playing careers and to be successful at them. For example, last night while watching SNF it was very pleasing to see players I previously operated on playing at a high level. Another example, this past week the Redskins were playing the Chargers, I had multiple players in the game and from both teams that I operated on. Seeing them all play at a high level was great, this was a real joy to see them compete and successful on and off the field.

 FCP: In your recent book, Any Given Monday, you lay out advice to for injury prevention in young athletes. What motivated your interest in this area?

JA: Around the year 2000 all of the sudden I noticed my exam rooms were filled up with young athletes in junior high or high school with adult type injuries. I began to wonder, Why is this young kid who hasn’t even reached half of his athletic potential in here with a rotator cuff tear, Tommy John elbow injury, or an ACL tear, for example? With the American sports medicine institute in Alabama we started tracking the injuries trying to figure out why the escalation of injuries was taking place. We learned that from the year 2000 on there was a nearly 7-time increase in youth sports injuries. These shocking findings are what first really got me into it. To be candid with you, we as sports medicine physicians and as orthopedics too, for the past 40-50 years time have largely focused on surgical techniques and advancements. There has not been much done or researched conducted on the injury prevention side. In the latter years of my career, it is a perfect time to lead the charge in this area of prevention and research of injuries particularly in youth sports. I simply had to do something about it. Since then, The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine [AOSSM] and the Andrews Research & Education Institute have been devoted to this field of research and that’s where the idea for the book came from. The point is to raise awareness on the escalation of youth injuries to athletes, coaches, parents, grandparents, and all those involved.

FCP: With new research, there’s a movement away from youth football and other impact sports. Is there any particular sport youth athletes should avoid? On the flip side is there a sport that stands out for healthy athletic progress?

JA: The first thing that has to be done is to make the parents aware of the potential injuries involved. We’re not trying to keep kids out of sports. Sports are a very important physical and social aspect of any child’s life. We are trying to promote ports in a healthy manner. Football, still leads the way relative to injuries in sports. I certainly don’t want to see football outlawed – we need better coaching, equipment, preseason physical exams, and we need to monitor fatigue. Fatigue is the biggest factor in injuries in any sport. Rules related to safety are also a priority. Coaching and referees at all levels are vital. Same with having a certified athletic trainer; these efforts are the difference between minor problems and major problems. We need them to identify head-to-head contact and prevent it. We can make football a safer sport. There is no sport that is perfectly safe. But, the benefits of sport far outweigh the negatives. I sure would hate to see the public get behind the demise of American football, I think that would be disastrous – we can still keep football out there.

FCP: What is your take on platelet-rich-plasma therapy, stem cells, biologics, and other alternative treatments? What is the distinction between these therapies and PED’s?

JA: The difference is that PED’s have a deleterious effect that goes along with their benefit. PED’s will always be banned or illegal for these negative effects. Contrarily, the biologics are there to enhance the healing process. These techniques can biologically treat existing injuries faster and better than ever before. Other than the a handful of elite professionals, the recovery time is very substantial for these major FCPues. So any increase in recovery is very significant. Overall, the two major advancements in sports medicine in my time was the noninvasive arthroscope [introduced in the 70s] and now this coming wave of biologics, stem cell therapy, gene therapy, tFCPue engineering, and the like. Robotic surgery is also coming. All of this isn’t here yet but it will be in the near future. We will never be able to use performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals because of their deleterious effects. These new therapies aren’t designed to provide an enhancement of performance at all. That’s not what it’s designed to be and they won’t be in that category.

FCP: Are there any other developments in sports medicine or sports training that you are closely following?

JA: Everyone talks about advancements in surgical techniques but the most unappreciated advancements come in the rehabilitation process with physical therapists. There have been many developments in pre-habilitation, which is done to prepare for any surgical treatment. Many times this is more important than the surgery and often is the real reason why athletes can get back to their sport, period. Things like rapid rehab and pre-rehab are great examples. This area of sports medicine does not get enough credit or attention.

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

JA: I do not usually read novels, but my favorite book is The Bible. I love the history related to the teaching of the bible. A personal hobby of mine is learning about history, you can learn a lot of history from reading The Bible.

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

JA: FOCUS. I think there are a lot of keys to success, but for someone young they need to set their goals early and high, apply themselves and work hard. To me, its good to have a general background but you need to set your mind early on what to do. Many have the aptitude to succeed but mFCP the opportunity because of a lack of focus. A straight course to your goals is best.

 Dr. James Andrews is internationally known and recognized for his scientific and clinical research contributions in knee, shoulder and elbow injuries, as well as his skill as an orthopaedic surgeon. Dr. Andrews is a founding partner and medical director for the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Florida. In addition, he is a founding member of the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI).Dr. Andrews has been the mentor for more than 250 orthopaedic/sports medicine fellows and more than 45 primary care sports medicine fellows. Involved in education and research in sports medicine and orthopaedic surgery, he has made major presentations on every continent, and has authored numerous scientific articles and books. Dr. Andrews graduated from Louisiana State University in 1963, where he was Southeastern Conference indoor and outdoor pole vault champion. He completed LSU School of Medicine in 1967, and completed his orthopaedic residency at Tulane Medical School in 1972. He had surgical fellowships in sports medicine at the University of Virginia Medical School in 1972 with Dr. Frank McCue, III, and at the University of Lyon, Lyon, France in 1972 with the late professor Albert Trillat, M.D., who was known as the Father of European Knee Surgery. Dr. Andrews is a member of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. He has served on the Board of Directors of the American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine, and served as Secretary of that Board from May 2004 to May 2005. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Arthroscopy Association of North America and the International Knee Society. He is Clinical Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Alabama Birmingham Medical School, the University of Virginia School of Medicine, the University of Kentucky Medical Center, and the University of South Carolina Medical School. He has been awarded a Doctor of Laws Degree from Livingston University, Doctor of Science Degree from Troy State University and a Doctor of Science Degree from Louisiana State University.

At present, Dr. Andrews serves as Co–Medical Director for Intercollegiate Sports at Auburn University. He is Senior Orthopaedic Consultant for Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Alabama. He is the orthopaedic consultant for the athletic teams of Troy University, University of West Alabama, Tuskegee University and Grambling University.

 

 

Yogurt Takes A Dip Into Colleges; Hummus Next?

Hummus and Yogurt, smart brand fits for the college marketplace, and both now have really started their engagement through athletic branding.

This week, Chobani announced a 17 school partnership through IMG College to engage with colleges through athletics on a broad platform; from digital and game promotions to health awareness campaigns, sampling and access to athletes. The launch schools include Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas, UCLA and several others, and more comes at a great time since the NCAA’s rule change allowing universities to serve student-athletes unlimited meals.  Yogurt as a healthy choice makes great sense, and Chobani taking the broadest activation platform with some large programs is a great next step. It certainly won’t be the mega-deal for income that beer will be as more schools start opening up the taps at games, but from a messaging and branding standpoint the yogurt play hits on many levels.

Then there is  hummus, growing as fast as any in the snack food category. Major brands are investing millions in the chick pea snack, combined with their own crackers and pretzel brands that fans are accustomed to, and dropping in various flavors to make hummus as appealing and healthier than your standard nachos or other dips on game day.  The growth at retail in large ethnically diverse metropolitan areas has been tremendous, and now the key hummus brands are looking to extend more into sport by dipping crackers into various partnerships. Last winter Olympian Tim Morehouse and his quest to bring of all sports, worked with the Sabra brand to create a “Fencing In The Cities” program as a way to promote active lives for young people in urban areas, and Sabra was a great fit. The brand has also partnered with the NFL to be the official dip of the league, but investing and activating at the level to break through with one of the most elite platforms on the planet can have its challenges. So how about hummus on the college level?

Like yogurt, hummus plays well on college campuses as a snack alternative. It can fit really well with student-athletes at the training table and can have much more of a cost-effective activation at mid-major schools. Maybe not Michigan, but how about Harvard-Yale to start?  For schools looking for great messaging and healthy lifestyles with brands looking to break through in snacks, hummus could match yogurt as a great fit.

Let the healthy dipping begin.

A Great American Journey Reaches Its End…

It is a tradition at almost every sporting event across the country, the pre-game singing of The Star Spangled Banner. It has been done via guitar, and choir, with simplicity and comic relief, and in some cases bungled beyond recognition. It is not an easy song to do, but it never ceases to bring a crowd of a few hundred or thousands to their feet to pause and reflect if only for a few seconds.  The National Anthem at sports events is as American as it gets.

The song has inspired many an athlete to feats of greatness once kickoff or first pitch comes, however there is another person making her way across the country to a date with history that Francis Scott Key’s melody has inspired as well. Her name is Janine Stange, and she has come to be known as “The National Anthem Girl,” in ballparks across the country. A Long island native, Strange will make history by completing her mission to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” in all 50 states in time for the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key penning the lyrics for the hallowed song on September 14, 2014., She ‘officially’ began her journey to all 50 states on July 3, 2012 at a Rays-Yankees game, and since then, audiences big and small have witnessed her journey, from Madison Square Garden and The Great American Ballpark, to NASCAR and PBR, NHL and Drag Racing.

To date  she has hit her notes in 43 states with the Tennessee Titans being her 50th state, prior to  a preseason game in Nashville on August 28 at 7:00pm CST.  Janine has also been invited to perform for MLB’s Detroit Tigers (Aug. 16), aboard the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor (Aug. 22), and she will open the festivities of the 200th Anniversary for the Star Spangled Spectacular at Baltimore’s Ft. McHenry (Sept. 14).

At each stop on her largely self-funded journey (although she now has a not-for-profit to defray costs and raise awareness), Janine sets up a table after she performs and provides blank “thank you” cards for attendees to write messages to our deployed military and veterans. Each card goes into an Operation Gratitude military care package that is shared with trips around the world.

Ironically brands have not been part of Stange’s epic journey. One would think that an All-American brand like Chevy or even Cracker Jack with its new initiative, would find a way to tie to her trek to 50, and maybe beyond. To this point, she has forgone corporate assistance and is doing it for the challenge and the glory of paying tribute to Old Glory in a special way.  At a time when brands are looking for simple RPI and buzz, Stange’s trip seems like a novel one; one that is worthy of all the recognition she has gotten and a best practice on how simple ideas can turn into a road trip of epic, and historic proportions as she rounds the final turn toward Baltimore harbor next month. A nice sports philanthropy story to get August off to a bang.

High School Media Day Scores In Concept

The overall potential for high school sports properties regionally and nationally remains a hot button for media and marketers, with many bullish on the future as national brands seek hyper local activity, cash strapped school districts look for ways to bring in revenue and media use cost-efficient tools to tell very worthy stories and capture the drama of high school athletics both on a local and national stage. While some have criticized the commercialization and added media attention for national elite high school programs, the fact remains that local media coverage and brand engagement for programs has existed for as long as high school sports have been around. The local hero and legendary coach have always been there; there is more of a means to tell the story to a larger audience now.

A good example of the power and reach of the high school platform took place this past week in Seattle. MaxPreps, along with USA Football and the Seattle Seahawks, hosted the inaugural High School Media Day, inviting some of the area’s elite athletes and coaches to the practice facility of the reigning Super Bowl champs for a day of interaction amongst themselves and assembled media from across the region. It also served as a great opportunity for USA Football to unveil its latest best practice programs for proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting and to introduce to Heads Up Football® tackling fundamentals to both the athletes and to the media in attendance.

The concept served many purposes and will probably be set forth as a best practice for areas where football especially is king, and basketball is a close second . The event gave a wide swath of media a chance to talk to coaches and players they will be covering in an efficient time window, as opposed to the usual practice of tracking down coaches one at a time on the phone for several weeks. It also gave media the opportunity to learn more some additional coaches and student-athletes they might not get a chance to interact with once practice starts and schedules tighten, and exposed all more to the human side of sport rather than just the numbers or the video media may see during a hectic fall season. For MaxPreps, the day was also a great opportunity to gather regional content and place their brand front and center as one of the key sources for creative coverage of high school football.

For the coaches and student-athletes, the day served as an opportunity for them to get a feel for what the limelight can possibly be like going forward, when college or other opportunities come calling for many of the participants. For some it may be the only time they ever see such bright lights as well, and gives them an interesting time getting some deserved recognition.  The Seahawks media team stepped in prior to the sessions to do some prep work with the students and the coaches, face time that can be invaluable going forward when media come calling and there is no seasoned communications professional around to lend an opinion or assist in making sure an interview goes well.

Is there any downside to such an event on a regional level? Some may say doing this in July again increases the window for student-athletes when they should be away from the spotlight, but in reality it actually lessens distractions when camp starts and gives the coaches a chance to get comfortable with the media before the pressure of winning is out on more squarely.  Some may say casting the national shadow of MaxPreps on more local kids is undue pressure, but in reality the exposure with social and digital media is there regardless of this type of event, and the media day streamlines and organizes the process and makes it more well-rounded for all the schools in the area.  The cooperation of the local NFL team also creates even additional goodwill in the region, not to mention some memories for the athletes that will last a lifetime.

In the end, the high school media day really served as proof  concept for MaxPreps and for USA Football, and can probably be a revenue generator in partnership for the local district going forward should a sponsor be found that makes sense. It is an event that can be replicated in key geographic areas, and brings a level of professionalism (in a good way) to the media process surrounding high school athletics. It looks good, it sounds good and it takes pressure off of student-athletes and coaches which would have been applied once practice starts. The day was a help to the media in advancing and telling stories, and was a strong-cost efficient best practice for the coverage of high school sports, a hot platform that is growing by the week.

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.

Investing In a Heartbeat; q and a with Fantex

The latest in Tanner Simkins sitdowns with key executives is with Fantex CEO Buck French and their unique, and controversial, approach to literally investing in athletes…

Buck French is Co-Founder and CEO of Fantex Holdings, a company that offers investable securities linked to the performance of athlete entertainer brands. French, who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS from West Point, has been building successful businesses for nearly 20 years.  We recently caught up with French for a discussion on Fantex and more. A brief bio of French follows the Q&A.

 Full Court Press: For those who may be unfamiliar tell us a little about yourself and Fantex Holdings.

Buck French: I am cofounder and CEO of Fantex. I’ve spent close to 20 years as entrepreneur building tech companies. I built a tech company called OnLink Technology and sold that for $609M to Siebel Systems. I then built a $200M side of Siebel Systems into the largest eCommerce business in the world at the time. I built a network security turnaround company called build Securify which turned into Secure Computing. Basically, I’ve been building companies for 20 years.  The idea behind Fantex was to change the approach of building an athlete entertainer brand [in two main ways].  One, You can apply additional brand marketing techniques to athletes entertainer. And two, you have the ability to develop a security linked to the value and performance of the athlete brand. [The idea is] that these would lead to a level of advocacy out in the marketplace. If you were able to sell a security to the general public and they had an ownership interest…we felt one day that would marry well with social media and advocacy to help build the brands into the post-career.

FCP: How did the idea originate?

BF: Dave Bur, my fellow cofounder, came up with original idea. He was working with john Elway, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretsky on a company called MVP.com. Dave, also was one of the leading partners at Benchmark Capital, a leading silicon valley VC firm. [Benchmark Capital] was involved with eBay and companies like that. Dave noticed that these athlete brands had unique attributes. And it wasn’t that they were the greatest to have ever played the position. That didn’t mean you had a consumable brand like Elway, Jordan, Gretsky.  [Identifying those that do] really became the nexus to start investigating this concept.  Again maybe you do not obtain this level of brand status as a Jordan or Elway but [brands] are about creating audiences of various sizes. Dave felt there was an approach where we could ultimately do that. That was really the genesis. [Prior] Dave brought me into Securify where he was on the board. After we sold that company he approached me and said ‘are you interested in building this company [Fantex]?’ That was the start.

FCP: Tell us about the business model

BF: Our business model is to increase the branding associated with athlete entertainers. Ultimately everyone’s interests are aligned. If we can generate awareness and interest with the brand then the brand can activate on that awareness.  This turns into income, which then flows into Fantex. This is all positive for everyone.

FCP: Thus far, what is the greatest success at Fantex?

BF: Milestone is better word in my opinion. The best milestone is happening right now: our ability to actually offer shares in an IPO to the general public.  This security is linked to the value and performance of the athlete’s brand. This is a tremendous milestone that we worked 2 years to achieve.

FCP: What is one challenge you had to overcome?  What have you learned from that?

BF: To generate enough awareness and education where someone feels comfortable investing dollars into Fantex. Approximately 10 shares of Fantex Vernon Davis cost the same as a jersey; but there is a mental barrier. It is crucial to build up the level of trust and awareness and that’s what are building right now

FCP: What qualities do you look for with the athletes?

BF: We have a defined methodology for the athlete brands that we are interested in working in. They have to have a high degree of character, and their brand has to be multidimensional. They’re not just great athletes because you can’t really build a sustainable brand on that. Therefore, we look for multidimensional aspects that many of these athletes and entertainers do have, but we as the general public aren’t exposed to this. We look for character, a multidimensional aspect, interesting, articulate; those are the key big bucket items. We are not looking to work with everyone – it doesn’t fit everyone. But there is a large pool out there where this does fit, and we want to work with as many of them as possible.

FCP: Where do you see Fantex in 5 years?

BF: Today’s the first step and the process of getting the first offering out the door. In 5 years, hopefully there’s a lot [Fantex users] across the world of sport and entertainment. Its been tried before in different flavors people have not been able to achieve it. At the end the day competitors just tell you have a good idea. I welcome it I jump on in and the waters warm

FCP: Are you working on any other projects we should know about?

BF: No, all I work on is Fantex.  If you’ve never done an early stage business, if you get distracted on iota, you have it give it your all everything you got. And that’s what I’m doing. That’s paid good dividends in the past and I expect it to do so in the future. Everyone here, the entire team, is focused on building a great company that helps build great brands out in the marketplace. Hopefully, the plan is to make everyone successful. That’s the only thing I’m doing. [laughs] And occasionally I see my family, that’s my hobby.

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

BF: The major one is what we are partaking in, the ongoing development of athlete brands beyond just there on field performance. I think Fantex is just the next step on what social media started, which was giving the athlete brand a voice. That was step 1. This next step is the brand development that Fantex is providing. I think that is a natural trend. The team brands will always sustain and be out there. But as you see this fragmentation of media, which we are living through, pools of hyper localized audiences will be created. Athlete entertainer brands will be much more granularly applied to that audience. We’re just one piece of what a larger overall trend of athlete brands that can potentially drive an audience. 

FCP: What is your favorite book?

BF: Unbroken.  If you are going to be an entrepreneur read that book. Its not about being an entrepreneur. It’s about perseverance, strength of will, dedication, never giving up, and belief, all core attributes you need to be successful as an entrepreneur. Its an amazing story.

FCP: Lastly, do you have advice or tips for young people? This could be general or related to finance, sports business, etc

BF: The best tip I can give anyone is to know your passion.  Don’t follow the paycheck. That will come if you follow your passion and what you are really truly deep down in your core interested in. Don’t say I got to pay my student loan or pay my bill; those are short term. If you go after what you are passionate about, whatever it is, you will be great at it because you will love it.  If you are great at it you will be paid for it. …I love what I do every day its awesome. I get to build a company and work with great people. …You got to love it or you will be average and who wants to be average. I don’t.

Buck serves as our Chief Executive Officer and a Co-Founder of Fantex Holdings. Buck brings to Fantex Holdings his extensive management, business development, financial and strategic planning experience. Previously, Buck founded and served as CEO of OnLink, which sold to Siebel systems. He then built and ran Siebel Systems eCommerce business unit. He was also CEO & Chairman of Securify and led its sale to Secure Computing. Buck holds an MBA from Harvard University and a BS in Economics and General Engineering from West Point.

 

It’s Early On A Weekend Morning, And The Peacock Couldn’t Be Prouder…

There is no doubt that the power NBC has in the world of sports broadcasting these days. From the Olympics to Sunday Night Football to golf and the NHL the Peacock has maybe never been prouder for what it stands for in sports and sports business, across both of tis networks and into its digital platforms.

However another area where its niche has grown, and where it continues to push new properties is not in prime time but in the early hours on the weekends. An area once seen as the home of cartoons and talk shows and more than a few infomercials, NBC has looked at the space and seen sports; global sports. Much like they did with the little used time in late, late night, the powers that be have sliced up morning on the east coast to bring you Formula 1 and the Barclays Premier League, and have so far splashed in some tennis like the French Open as well, all live and catering on the network to an audience that is more and more in focus with global sport. In late night, the network found a home for Poker After Dark and several MMA franchises and brought new value to a time that was almost a throwaway. That same formula has been amped up for the weekend mornings, with identifiable global athletes and lots of star power and buzz.

Is it easy to grow a live TV platform early in the morning? Probably not, unless you have the right content, and NBC seems to have found some great critical mass. Soccer, especially the Barclays Premier League, has become a hot property not just with expats and niche club fans, but with some other early risers, kids who because of the digital world they are now in, know as much about Manchester United and Arsenal than they do in some cases about their hometown teams. NBC saw the opportunity and fed the audience, and as a result the audience has grown, and the sponsor value with it. The same with Formula 1, arguably the biggest sport on the planet the US has never fully understood or embraced. Americans love stars, fast cars and big names, and Formula 1, when marketed correctly has all of those. Drop in a race in Texas and potentially another in the States and you have a growth platform that can make its own space on select Sunday mornings.

Now of course none of this happens in a vacuum. There is ample support on NBC Sports Network and marketing across all the Comcast platforms for all of the live programming, assets which didn’t exist years ago if such a thing was tried. There is also more awareness of elite global events than there has ever been before, and all of that awareness builds into seeding a core fan base while also pulling in casual fans for a look-see, many of whom return time and again.

The plan for early morning live sports isn’t fool proof in any way. It still has to stay novel and innovative to keep the casual and compel the die hard to watch. It also has to overcome the wee hours that you get when you venture west on the North American continent. Fans in LA may tune in at eight for live soccer, but at six AM as well? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  Still for a way to build a stake in the ground, NBC Sports seems to have found a spot. So what’s next as we head towards the Olympics in 2016 for early morning viewing? Cricket? Rugby (a sport which NBC has invested in)?  NFL overseas? Would some American sports move to a breakfast time occasionally to grab a showcase? College hoops maybe? All to be determined.

However one thing is sure. Like they did in late night, and even with such programming as dog shows, NBC Sports looked  not to the unusual but to the compelling to find ways to grab live content and give it a home on their network. It has worked for soccer and F1, and it may work for others. We get little sleep as it is, so why not watch some sports?