Manning, Nationwide Score With Smart Promo…

Maybe it’s something about quarterbacks and insurance; the fact they need more on the field is one thing, but the fact that their low key personalities tend to make them good brand ambassadors is probably more important. Aaron Rodgers discount double check campaign for State Farm was and continues to be a huge hit, as it showed a side of the Packers star that was just really being known by the casual fan; self-deprecating, dry sense of humor and the ability to deliver a line as well as he can a pass.

Along with Rodgers, both of the Manning brothers have been no slouch in the endorsement space. Their choices have been well timed and well picked, just like their play. But one of the bigger winners this year for either Peyton of the Broncos or Eli of the Giants has been the senior Manning’s work with Nationwide Insurance. Manning’s recitation of the Nationwide “Jingle” has been one pf the most sticky campaigns the company has ever had, combining their well-known theme that millions can recite with one of America’s most high-profile and recognizable athletes. Manning’s work has had more than 20 million organic social media impressions on Facebook and Twitter, with the number growing every day.

However what made the campaign golden was Manning’s off-play line of “Chicken Parm you taste so good.” The little extra got the brand some even extra play amongst Manning’s teammates and both local and national media, who played along with the line and the outtakes beyond what the brand had ever envisioned. The line, and Manning’s delivery, has actually become more of the story, much like all of Rodgers antics and the other celebrities that have been brought in to his campaign for State Farm over the past few years.

So how does Nationwide capitalize immediately on the “Chicken Parm” opportunity? Feed em. On December 28 at Invesco Field, Nationwide will give out thousands of free Chicken Parm sliders to any fan that sings the Nationwide jingle, with fans being encouraged to come up with their own creative lyrics. Additionally, Nationwide is also distributing 40,000 free orange t-shirts with that magic phrase to fans who, assuming the weather cooperates, will fill the already orange-clad stadium with yet more viral branding opportunities. Naturally the company will capture the best clips and outtakes to share on social, and maybe, just maybe, can get a critique of some from the Broncos quarterback himself as Denver heads for the playoffs.

The insurance business nationally is a competitive as it gets, and brands are in a constant battle to gain both market share and name recognition, with sports being a key target for the most elite brands. While spending millions in traditional marketing helps, creativity gets the added boost, and when you can take creative and amplify it with a smart promotion, you can sometime catch lightning in a bottle. So far Nationwide has scored with Manning, now it will be interesting to see if the latest onsite activation will amp up not just coverage, but brand recognition for the Denver faithful, both in Colorado and in the social space.

Smart, quick play by Nationwide. We will watch with great interest how the campaign grows even further from here.

Strike A Pose: “Johnny Football” Delivers On Instagram

It’s a good weekend to be “Johnny Football” or the brands that have engaged with him. He gets to play for one for the Cleveland Browns this week, and the folks at MVP Index did some work to show that of all the NFL athletes they track, no one is more engaging on Instagram. Now that’s engaging…and winning.

In terms of total followers, it doesn’t get much better than Vernon Davis, Colin Kaepernick and Johnny Manziel on Instagram. Manziel and Kaepernick lead the pack in the NFL with over 1.3 million each, and Davis isn’t far behind with over 1.2 million. Davis is prolific when it comes to posting photographs, with over 1,300 pictures on the platform to date. Kaepernick isn’t afraid to talk to the media through his Instagram and loves promoting his sponsors and event appearances through the platform.

But the honor of the number one NFL Instagram account goes to none other than Johnny Football. Manziel’s last 30 Instagram posts average over 81 thousand likes per post, which is over 1 thousand, more than the capacity of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Every time he posts. He holds 8 of the top ten and 31 of the top 100 posts in the NFL on Instagram for 2014.

Johnny Football understands how Instagram works. He constantly gives fans insight into his life, cheers on his alma mater and shows himself becoming a part of the Cleveland community. Johnny’s authenticity is what drives followers to engage. Nothing about his Instagram presence seems corporate, and since he’s been doing this since his college days, he’s an expert at showing fans what they want to see.

Healthcare Coalition Uses Athletes To Deliver Its Message…

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

Sports Biz Thoughts On Giving Back Tuesday From A Leader In The Field

On this Giving Back Tuesday we thought it appropriate to talk to someone about sports and philanthropy, so we reached out to our colleague Harrie Bakst. Harrie has really helped shape the world of sports, entertainment and philanthropy through his work at Weinstein Carnegie with business partner Sara Weinstein. They work with athletes, celebrities, brands and causes to maximize exposure and dollars, and have found very creative ways to drive cause marketing messages across a host of platforms. (his bio follows)


Are you surprised at how quickly the field of sports business and philanthropy has grown?
I am but in a good way. I think the integration of business and philanthropy has happened much quicker than I thought compared to when I started this business. I am pleasantly surprised and hope it continues to grow as it has been.

What are the ways you assess potential clients?
Each of our different departments has different checklists. For example, in our talent department, we ask ourselves a lot of questions regarding assessment; do they have good management in place? Why are they doing this or starting this? Are they doing this for the right reasons? Can we deliver with respect to what their goals are? Where is the money going? To run program? To support programs in place? We really need to evaluate clients properly because this industry is small and at the end of the day, all you have is your reputation.



Who are some athletes and entertainers that you don’t work with who do it right and why?
We just asked ourselves this question last week. Bradley Cooper, LeBron James, and Adam Driver were some of the names that came up. I think it’s a mix of the stories behind the philanthropy that they want to do, why they want to do it and their marketability as well as what we can do to raise money on their behalf.

You and your partner Sara Weinstein have made a pointed effort to mix athlete and entertainment, how has it worked and why?



Sports are entertainment, plain and simple and the two industries are very similar. I think Sara and I have done a really good job integrating the two. For example, we got Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization as an official charity partner of the TCS NYC Marathon and raised over $550,000 over two years with Pamela Anderson and Teri Hatcher running in support as well as brand partnerships with Asics, Jet Blue and St. Regis. The really cool part of this initiative is that they are creating a Haitian running club to train the next generation of Haitian athletes and the money raised from this program will go to fund that and create jobs in Haiti for deserving people. Who would of that that Sean Penn and the marathon would have mixed, but it works. The sports media wants to reach out to new areas, and new fans and this was a perfect example of that. When we managed Pamela’s campaign in 2013, it opened up the sports media’s eyes to new media that they have never received before and it was only because of Pamela. This created new opportunities for the marathon and made it a win win.

Which brands do you think do the best work in the space?
Nike does a great job over the years with Livestrong, The (RED) campaign, and The Nike Foundation. I really love what Todd Jacobson at NBA Cares does. They really get it and are so smart from the league perspective. We also have an exciting announcement at the beginning of the year with a major apparel company and our client Cycle For Survival which raises over $20M in 2014 to support rare cancer research and is the fastest growing athletic fundraising event in the country. That brand partnership will be a great one to keep your eye on.

What’s the worst assumption athletes or entertainers make when trying to work with brands in the space?
Brands will stay far, far away from you if you don’t have your philanthropy in check. It’s not that simple.

Is there a property or a team that surprises you with the impact they can make?
The PGA raises so much money for charity and I don’t feel like they get enough attention. Same with the TCS New York City Marathon. Over $22M was raised in 2014 alone across 300 charitable partners. It’s one of the best events and charitable fundraisers in sports. That’s real impact.

How do you define success in a space that maybe be a little more fluid when looking at ROI?



We try to evaluate our success just like the regular sports marketing world does. First of all, we want to show impact. We helped raise $X and that helped Y children or Z research. Real impactful metrics that are clear. And, then we want to show the traditional marketing, sponsorship, and media value that a brand or athlete/celebrity gets with respect to supporting something. So, in other words, we want to demonstrate a double ROI – impact and partnership benefits.

What do you tell brands looking to get into the space when they say they want to identify an athlete spokesperson?



Be authentic. Have it make sense. Activate well. Be clear about your business goals that you want to achieve through this and it’s ok to achieve business goals through philanthropy. Have it all be integrated into one seamless program.


Is there a sport or a property you think is poised to really make an impact in 2015?


Great question. I think with the growth of US soccer, MLS and Jan Greenberg over there are doing great things. We were just speaking with the St. Louis Marathon, and they can make some serious impact in 2015 with respect to what is happening in Ferguson, and how the power of sport can help bring people together. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that comes out and hope that we can be part of it. I also think Crowdrise, Ed Norton and Robert Wolfe over there, are just pushing and pushing the limits with respect to crowd funding and are just so innovative.
About Harrie Bakst
Harrie has worked with clients such as Grassroot Soccer, (Official Charity of FIFA), Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Entertainment Industry Foundation, the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, The Cole Hamels Foundation, The James Blake Foundation, Curtis Granderson, CC Sabathia’s PitCCH In Foundation, Adrian Peterson’s All Day Foundation, Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization, Tiki Barber, Meb Keflezighi, Paul Pierce, Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. New York Knicks event, Jerry Seinfeld 2008 with Stand Up For A Cure, among others. Additionally, Bakst has brokered sponsorship agreements with some of the top organizations and properties in the world including Coca Cola Co., AT&T, Heineken, Foot Locker, Nike, Garmin, CBS, PUMA, Chipotle Mexican Grill, GM, New York Road Runners, Major League Soccer, Reebok, The James Beard Foundation, and Memorial Sloan Kettering-Cancer Center, among others. He has also been featured in The Wall Street Journal,, FOX News, The New York Times, The New York Post, and the Sports Business Journal.

Harrie’s remarkable story is highlighted in A Race Like No Other (Harper Collins) by The New York Times sportswriter Liz Robbins, where he overcame cancer, started WCPG, and ran the New York City Marathon a mere 5 months after his 33rd and ?nal treatment. He also serves on a number of boards and committees including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, and UJA Federation of New York’s Sports For Youth Executive Board.

Harrie was born in New York City (from the only borough worthy of a “The” in front of it), and is a graduate with Magna Cum Laude honors from New York University, where he was presented the Allie Sherman Business Leadership Award & the President’s Service Award. Harrie was also named by Partnership Activation as one of forty-eight Rising Stars in the sports and entertainment industries in addition to being listed as a top executive under 30-years old by In 2011, Harrie was named by the Ivy Sports Symposium and SportsPro Magazine as a “10 NEXT” recipient that recognizes sports industry leaders from around the world who will shape the business in the next decade. He continues to compete in marathons and triathlons raising money and awareness for cancer research.

McManus, March of Dimes Sports Lunch Sets A High Bar For Fundraising…

It’s hard to get anyone in sports business to agree on anything, let alone a charity of choice. However one thing that is universally accepted this time of year is that the March of Dimes annual sports luncheon is the place to be every December. Over 600 attendees fill the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria for a well-run two hour event that features a host of sports broadcasting names spread around the room, from athletes turned commentators like Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason to longtime local favorites like Bruce Beck and Warner Wolf, all joining with an “A list” of honorees to raise funds for the March of Dimes. Every year the event also has a decidedly Jersey flair, especially because so many of the committee members are high level sports execs who live in and around the State.
This year’s lunch will take place just a few days after Thanksgiving, December 3, and will honor Howard Katz of the NFL (Sports Leadership), Kevin Plank of Under Armour (Corporate Leadership), Michelle Wie, Women’s Professional Golf Champion (Sportswoman of the Year Award), and Mark Messier, Captain of the New York Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup Championship Team (Sports Achievement Award). Emceed by Norah O’Donnell, Co-Host, CBS This Morning and Willie Geist (Co-Host, NBC’s TODAY & MSNBC’S Morning Joe) the lunch has raised over $10 million and is run by one of the most impressive steering committees you can find anywhere.
Chairing the committee since 1997 is CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus. Under his leadership, the March of Dimes Sports lunch has really re-defined and re-shaped how such an event can assist a philanthropic effort. We caught up with McManus to talk about the growth of the event, where it is today, and how it got here.
When you first got involved with the Sports Luncheon, did you ever think it could become the massive event it is today?
Not really. When we first got involved our goal was to get the event back to being a major fundraiser for March of Dimes and go from there. The first few years it became a dinner and we had to scramble to sell just 10 or 11 tables ourselves. Now we as a group have grown it into an amazing yearly event, and a great story that helps babies and their families through the funds the community raises.
 Do you have a favorite memory from over the years?
 There are so many. Brian Williams had such a funny and memorable introduction for NBC’s Ken Schanzer one year; Billie Jean King, always such an amazing speaker introducing Lindsay Davenport, who was very touched and overwhelmed by the stories of the kids; Turner’s Ernie Johnson, whose son has faced some enormous physical challenges, with a very emotional and heartfelt plea for the organization, were all very memorable. However the one that touched so many people was when we honored Steve Sabol of NFL Films. Steve meant, and still does mean, so much to so many people in this industry because of the way he carried himself and the way he helped shape this industry. His acceptance was certainly one I will always remember, especially since he is no longer with us.
However the most touching stories, and the most memorable, are those of the families and the kids who have been directly affected by the monies raised and the great work the March of Dimes does. Seeing those kids creates the lasting memories that really make this all worthwhile.
On a personal side, how do you think your father, the late Jim McKay, would have handled all the digital/social immediacy that goes into being a media member today?
My father probably would have resisted all the changes at first, but he loved communicating and learning and I think he would have adapted very well. He really enjoyed being around people, and those who he worked with in the media, so if those tools that exist today would have helped him stay connected to so many people around the world, he would have used social media as a positive influence.
What he would have not enjoyed is the mean-spirited and petty ways social media has been used to spread rumors and denigrate people. He was a man of great thoughtfulness and always taught all around him about respect, and he would be very upset to see members of his profession, or people in the public eye in general, using the tools of the trade irresponsibility or to promote ill will. 
 In your professional career, what has been the biggest change you have had to deal with?
 It really is the change of the immediacy in which we all have to communicate and the quickness in which we have to adapt, react and tell the news. It has brought is closer together in some ways but it has created a rush to judgment in minutes or seconds that can be problematic sometimes. The explosion of the cable networks and the amount of content we have to consider, and all the platforms we have to use now, is also something that has changed our business, and we continue to adapt and grow. 
We have now gone through the “Ice Bucket Challenge” era which boosted  ALS research; does a cause need such events today to stay relevant?
Not really. I think what we have built with this lunch as an annual get-together for the media world is very special, and it’s for a great cause. It doesn’t need a gimmick, it sets the standard and it is very effective. The Ice Bucket Challenge did wonders for ALS Awareness and it was great to see, but we are very proud of this event and it doesn’t have to change in any way. The quality of our honorees goes above anything we could ever dream up as a gimmick or a stunt.
 What is the one thing you hope people who leave the lunch every year remember?
That they are making an immediate different in the lives of young people. Every year people come for the first time and are really blown away by the stories they hear and the kids and families they meet, and we want that to continue. We are very grateful that the sports media industry turns out every year and takes time from such busy schedules to not just support, but attend the lunch, and we think that combined with the stories of the recipients, it makes for a memorable few hours every year.

Can “Black Fives” Score As A Great Marketing/History Platform?

There has been a big push in recent years for professional sports in the United States to return to their roots and honor those who came first. MLB has done a tremendous job in and around all things Jackie Robinson and has worked to raise the profile of the Negro Leagues; the NFL recently helped honor their trailblazers with the film “Forgotten Four.” But what about basketball? While there are constant efforts by the NBA to look back at those who told the early stories of integration with the league, some feel the NBA has not fully embraced this history of players of color in the early stages of the sport.
One of those people pushing for more recognition is Claude Johnson, President and Executive Director of Black Fives. Johnson has worked tirelessly over the years to tell the story of some of the original, and most colorful (no pun intended) athletes in the early stages of when hoops became popular. (Claude’s bio follows the q and a)
We caught up with Claude to talk about those characters, his plans, and if the NBA can mix those great retro uniforms of clubs gone by into their marketing plans soon.
How did Black Fives come about as a property and what have you seen as your biggest success?
Our mission is to showcase and teach the pre-NBA history of African Americans in basketball, a period known as the Black Fives Era, as well as to honor those pioneers and their accomplishments. What started as a hobby that into a commercial business, Black Fives, Inc., which at first developed trademarks, then produced wholesale apparel including throwback jerseys, and finally sought licensing revenue from intellectual property and content. All the while, I spent a huge amount of time researching, documenting, and sharing this history with schools, descendants, and a growing number of online followers. This “side” activity is what I enjoyed the most, it was the most rewarding, and I felt it was making the biggest difference to others.
So in early 2013, I organized a public not-for-profit charity, the Black Fives Foundation to replace the old company, which I dissolved, and then donated all of its assets to the new foundation, including its entire portfolio of IP and its archive of historical artifacts. We got our tax exempt 501-c-3 status in August 2014, so we’re still fresh. Now there’s a better alignment between our org structure, our efforts, and our passion. I didn’t mind selling tee shirts, but dedication to a cause definitely resonates better with me.

For example, we believe we’re making the subject of history more interesting to certain students, which in its own small way helps close our country’s persistent academic achievement gap. We also include content and messaging that’s relevant today, in areas like leadership, teamwork, inclusion, business, problem solving, and finding common ground. Our slogan is “Make History Now.”

When reaching out to people to tell the story of the teams, what do you find most surprising that people don’t know?

People are probably most surprised to learn that dozens of African American basketball teams were playing well over 100 years ago. Those same people wonder– and some are even upset about it–why it’s taken so long for this history to “come out” … and conversely, why it was “kept hidden” for so long. All-black teams were playing all-white teams before 1910. The ball had laces. The basket was closed at the bottom. African American barnstorming teams had lucrative operations even during the Great Depression. There were 10 world championships in professional basketball before the NBA even began, with two all-black teams–the New York Rens and the Washington Bears–winning the first two titles. That’s just the beginning.

MLB and the NFL have done a great job of embracing their long-ago history. How do you feel the NBA has done in that regard?

The NBA has not done much if anything with this history. Yet. When the Barclays Center celebrated its opening by permanently installing a compilation of six mural-sized vintage Brooklyn-related African American basketball images that we provided to them, when the Mayor’s Office declared February 10, 2013, as “Black Fives Day” for the City of New York with a special proclamation, and when this year the New-York Historical Society borrowed over 200 artifacts from our historical archive to stage the first-ever Black Fives museum exhibition in their Civil Rights Gallery, with the tremendous media coverage that these milestones received, it truly made this history come to life. The NBA and its licensees now have a great opportunity to capitalize on this new virtually untapped vintage sports genre. I hope they consider it. The timing seems to be right.

Has there been any talk of the teams being recognized with throwback jerseys during NBA games?

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told me that he went to see the Black Fives exhibit at New-York Historical and that it was terrific, which was profound considering this was right after the Donald Sterling drama. I expressed to Adam how great it would be if the Knicks wore Rens jerseys one day, to commemorate this history, and for other NBA teams to follow suit with the jerseys of Black Fives Era teams that overlapped in their cities. He said that that was a wonderful idea. Of course the Knicks would have to agree. And so would Adidas, which makes the official NBA uniforms. We see this starting off as perhaps a small, organic initiative that focuses on students, educational achievement, and community building in local NBA markets.

One of the most unique partnerships could be between the New York Rens and the Knicks or the Nets, especially with the Renaissance Ballroom now slated for destruction. Have either team embraced the idea recently?

We previously had reached out to Knicks and Adidas execs, as well as to the Brooklyn Nets, but that was prior to the foundation and these new developments. What is so interesting in life is that sometimes everything could be right about a situation, but the timing so wrong. Or vice versa. When it all comes together, that’s a beautiful thing. We’ve since reached out again, because we feel these ideas are at least worth a discussion to explore the what-ifs, to see if the timing is right, and to consider possible next steps.

What organizations or brands have been most supportive of your work?

In 2006, we had a solid but very short-lived licensing partnership with Nike and Converse. That’s how they roll and we were happy to partner with them. More recently, Barclays Center has been tremendously supportive with their murals and coverage. The New-York Historical Society with their unprecedented exhibition of our artifacts, for which I was invited be their guest curator. Now the Brooklyn Nets have asked us to develop an educational program for them, which will take a graphic panel version of our museum exhibition into some of their local schools, along with a short film, actual artifacts for show & tell, and a presentation followed by discussion. Another development, so recent it’s not yet formally announced, is that we have joined into a long term licensing partnership with the popular youth-oriented lifestyle apparel company ’47 Brand, f.k.a. Twins. They are an existing NBA licensee, which indirectly brings us closer to the league, and their first collections of team-identified merchandise will drop at retail in May 2015. Although there is so much room to expand in this landscape, our DNA as a brand right now is to proceed always in an organic, authentic way.

Hollywood has embraced the stories of pioneers like Jackie Robinson, have there been any plans to tell the stories of the teams and their personalities?

None yet, partly because our bandwidth is so full. But as you can imagine there are vast numbers of stories from which to choose … a quick look at the array of articles in our blog will illustrate that.

What is the next big step your forsee for Black Fives as a business/foundation?

We see the Brooklyn Nets educational program as pilot that might expand into more Brooklyn schools next year as well as potentially to schools in other NBA cities. Adding an academic curriculum would be logical, and would give a generous underwriting corporate sponsor some very meaningful community visibility.

Another big project for us is that we are planning to launch a community-based campaign in Pittsburgh seeking to enshrine local native Cumberland Posey, Jr. in the Basketball Hall of Fame. During the 1910s he was one of the greatest basketball players of his time, black or white, and he later owned the Homestead Grays baseball team, perennial Negro National League champions, earning him a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame. We believe he would be the first individual enshrined in both Cooperstown and Springfield. Depending on how it goes, we hope to apply that same grass roots model to other Black Fives Era pioneers who are deserving candidates for enshrinement.

We just got our official tax exemption in August 2014, so we will be applying to grant-making institutions for funding for the first time, which if successful will allow us to add much-needed basic staffing, such as more interns, an administrative assistant, and a development resource.

Finally, next week we will be launching our first-ever annual fundraising campaign! Anyone wishing to contribute could visit

Claude Johnson, an author and a historian, is President & Executive Director of the Black Fives Foundation, a public 501(c)3 charity whose mission is to use the pre-1950 history of African-American basketball to engage, teach, and inspire youth, while honoring its pioneers and their descendants.

Claude enjoyed a 20-year corporate career with best-in-class brands including IBM, American Express, NBA Properties, Nike, Phat Farm, and Benetton Sportsystem, gaining extensive experience in sports marketing, sports licensing, and apparel merchandising, before launching Black Fives, Inc., the commercial predecessor to the Foundation.

He is the author of “Black Fives: The Alpha Physical Culture Club,” the history of a pioneering early 20th century all-black basketball team, and is working on his second book. Editorial coverage of Claude and the Black Fives Foundation includes The New York Times, AP News, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Jay Z’s Life+Times, The Root, The New York Daily News, New York Newsday, Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated for Kids, ESPN, and in many others. A former regular columnist with the Greenwich (CT) Post, he also has been published in SLAM Magazine, Bounce Magazine, and on

Claude was born in Vienna, Austria. His father is African American, from the South Side of Chicago, and his mother was German, from the Römerstadt section of Frankfurt am Main. He lived in the Republic of the Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) before moving to the USA with his parents at age six, attending public schools outside Boston and then in Cincinnati. Claude has a BS in Civil Engineering and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, and an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.

He is a former trustee of the Greenwich Public Library, a former candidate for the Connecticut State House of Representatives, a hobby photographer, and a volunteer youth football coach.

Claude lives with his wife and their three boys in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Lessons From A Lifer At ESPN…

When we were lucky enough to be asked to update our text “Sports Publicity” in 2013, we called on several of those in the media industry who have been around the evolving world of communications for a while, and asked them what they have seen in terms of changes and how they have been able to adapt to the changing world and remain successful.
The sampling of sports communications execs ranged from those at media companies like NBC and Sports Illustrated to agencies like Taylor and leagues like the NBA. However one of the stories that struck is the most was the narrative told by ESPN, and its longtime communications head Chris LaPlaca. LaPlaca, one of a handful of original employees at “The Worldwide Leader,” has always looked to find ways to learn, and encourages his staff to do the same. By doing so, ESPN has taken a unique and aggressive approach to communications, teaching everyone on the staff to be “360 degree communicators;” using every medium possible to make sure that the story behind the ESPN story is being told. The staff learns how to use video, audio and every form of digital device to capture the unique goings-on behind the scenes, and make it into a communications experience in addition to what major story is being covered.
We were able to more clearly document the practice in 2013 with a blog post  so today we caught up with LaPlaca to ask him more about his thoughts on the industry today, where it’s going, and what he is most proud of with all the time he has logged in Bristol (his bio follows the story).



What is the biggest challenge you see in the communications business today, and how is it best overcome?

Information flow these days begins at warp speed and accelerates from there, often bringing a lack of context and at worst, complete misinformation along for the ride. All you can do is be savvy about which issues are worth the time spent and then use all the tools you have at your disposal to insert your point of view.

Who is the person you learned the most from in your career and why?

I learned work ethic and integrity from my dad, how to communicate in writing from a variety of professors at St. Bonaventure University, how to be a member of a team from my high school football and basketball coaches, how to hustle from Joe Goldstein, and the intricacies of corporate communications from Tom McElroy, Hank Rieger and especially Rosa Gatti, who took a shot on me right out of college and then again, nine months later, when we both joined ESPN within its first year. I am still learning today from tons of people who have no idea I am stealing from them.

What are you most proud of from a work perspective?

I’m proud to be among a dwindling group of ESPN folks working here who joined the company in its first year…clearly, I was just a kid then! None of us spend much time looking back when the present is so fun and challenging and the future is bright…but when we do, we quietly express pride and gratitude for having started from scratch and contributed to what we’ve built, brick by brick, over 35 years. The reason we’re still here isn’t because we signed a lifetime contract: it’s because we learned how to adapt, evolve, get in front and work like challengers to stay there.

Who do you learn the most from today?

The way this industry is evolving, I learn something new every day. And it can come from anywhere if you are open to it.

What has been your biggest disappointment?

I don’t spend much time on “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” It’s over, I can’t change it and I’ve already deposited whatever I’ve processed from any disappointments. I much prefer to channel whatever emotional energy I have into the present and future. If pressed, I would likely say Game 6 of the ’86 World Series…..but the Red Sox have won three Series since so I’ve let that go.

Who were a few of the people you enjoyed working with the most and why?

It’s really difficult to condense 35 jam-packed, fun years to answer that question. I love my current team, for example, some of whom were kids when I got to Bristol and some of whom weren’t even born. That’s simultaneously scary and wonderful. If pressed, I would say those of us who were here in the very early days will always have a special bond. When we run into one another – those still here or those who have retired – there’s an unspoken but palpable and very special connection.

What is your biggest concern with the business of media and entertainment?

Speed’s impact on veracity and context from a journalistic perspective. From a business perspective, I’m confident about ESPN’s future in a rapidly changing environment. We used to be the toy department…, live sports is arguably the most powerful entertainment genre in this country.

What’s the most positive change you have seen recently in business?

I have three: Mobility in consuming content. The ability to personalize. Sports as a preeminent genre. There has never been a better time to be a sports fan.

What’s the thing that makes you stay focused and positive in your life?

I’ve been blessed with a “glass half-full” outlook no matter my circumstance. Sometimes I have to spend a lot of energy to get to half-full, but it’s always worth it. That said, my wife and I have two little girls at home, ages 6.5 and 8, and to be able to see the world through their eyes at this stage of my life is a wonderful gift. They make me laugh every day.
Chris LaPlaca was named ESPN, Inc.’s senior vice president, corporate communications in June 2008. He is responsible for the Company’s worldwide internal, public and media relations strategies, including oversight of consumer, corporate and employee communications for ESPN’s 50 business units. He also oversees the company’s day-to-day working relationship with The Walt Disney Company’s corporate communications and investor relations groups.

LaPlaca, a 34-year veteran of ESPN, had been senior vice president, communications (2006-08), overseeing public and media relations. Prior to that he was senior vice president, consumer communications (2003-06), overseeing consumer media and public relations efforts for domestic services ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic, ESPN and ESPN2 HD,, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Radio, Mobile ESPN, and several other brand extensions. He is based in ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. headquarters.
Prior to joining ESPN, LaPlaca worked for one year (1979 80) as assistant sports information director at Brown University.
LaPlaca received a bachelor of arts degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University in 1979, and remains active in support of the University’s Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
ESPN’s Communications team has earned many accolades over the years, including PR Week’s “Team of the Year” for large corporations in 2005, and CableFAX Magazine’s “Team of the Year” for 2012.
LaPlaca was honored by his alma mater in 1995 with the Jandoli School’s Alumnus of the Year Award, given to a graduate who exemplifies the highest professional standards and for service to the journalism program at St. Bonaventure. In April 2003, LaPlaca became the seventh alum in the program’s 54-year history to be inducted onto the J/MC school’s “wall of fame,” which includes five Pulitzer Prize winners.
LaPlaca is active within the industry and the community. He is a member of the NCTA’s Public Affairs Committee, and co-chaired the Association for Cable Communicators’ annual conference in 2013. In 2010, he was a keynote speaker at the PR News annual Media Relations Forum, and presented at the Conference for Corporate Communication at Notre Dame in 2013.

“Up For Whatever” Scores Locally…

Last year during Super Bowl,  Bud Light’s “Up for Whatever” campaign scored huge marks for buzz, digital engagement and creativity, and the campaign continued to gain steam and eyeballs, and hopefully sales and brand awareness, throughout the year.

New elements have been introduced throughout the year to give the campaign more steam and re-engage consumers who liked the first go-round, and were interested in seeing what could be next for the characters of “Up For Whatever.”

However with such a buzz-worthy high end national platform, the question existed, could this become hyper-local as well? Could local distributors take the platform and drill it down with their own creative engagement in their local markets. Well if you are in Texas, the answer is yes.

In and around the state, one of the most ultra-competitive beer markets in the country, distributors sought out an idea to take the buzz ad viral awareness of “Up For Whatever” tie it to an efficient and noteworthy micro-campaign of their own; one that would engage their local consumers and keep the beat going through local events. The result was a highly effective digital campaign, manufactured and executed by our friends at Huddle Productions, that brought all sorts of “Up For Whatever” messaging, branding and fun to the people of the Lone Star State.

The group highlighted eight high traffic events tied to sports and music; from the Bud Light Hotel at the Final Four to World Cup events to a Dallas Mavericks game to an MLB game with the Texas Rangers and others, and captured fans enjoying all elements of a Bud Light experience and sharing their thoughts and experiences on “Up For Whatever.” The crews encouraged fans to share videos and photos, drop in celebrity references and surprise appearances, and bring the noise, as well as the fun, of the national “Up for Whatever” campaign back to the local market. They tied it back with all elements of social and digital including the campaigns own microsite for fans to engage and share more content.

The result was impressive, especially for a controlled cost experience. Over 20 million social impressions, thousands of shared photos and videos and hours of good will and brand engagement for Bud Light and their local distributors that set them apart from their competitors and tied in very nicely to the mage-sized national campaign.

While there are scores of examples of brands activating locally around a national campaign, the low cost, high impact benefit that Bud Light got locally for their brand, and the awareness that was generated for a national campaign with a hyper-local effort, was impressive, and certainly worth a few cold ones for the media crew who pulled the effort together and for the execs who saw a unique way to engage locally and exploit a national viral trend.

Well done, well executed and a great best practice for the brand.

The Most Loyal of Fans; The Military, Start To Get Their Due…

The “Salute To Troops” initiative the NFL staged this week, along with all the efforts that MLB put on in and around the World Series and NASCAR and others have done is beyond praise for the men and women who not only do so much to keep us safe, but who are amongst the most passionate and biggest supporters of sport on the planet. They are also the most loyal, remembering what brands, teams and leagues gave them hope when they needed it, and repaying that loyalty tenfold not just today, but down the line as well.
For years the military families were amongst the most underserved constituents and consumers tied to sport, and as Veteran’s Day arrives, it is nice to see them get their due.
One area that is sometimes over looked in terms of loyalty is on the college side. Putting the Service Academies and a few select Universities aside, the engagement of local military families is sometimes forgotten as a key marketing and engagement strategy by colleges. However that too is changing.
IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions and college football fans this year are joining to say “thank you” to those who sacrifice so much for our country more than ever before. Through a growing IMGLTS program, fans this year were encouraged to purchase tickets to a Military Appreciation game. The seats were then donated to active or retired military members. This year, 22 schools participated – double last year’s number – donating more than 21,000 tickets to our Armed Forces. Many of the active service members and veterans receiving free tickets had previously never attended a college football game.
The participating schools were and are: Penn State, which began the program in 2012 and donated more than 5,000 tickets, Akron, Arkansas, Auburn, Boston College, Colorado, Duke, Florida, Georgia State, NC State, New Mexico. Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, South Carolina, Southern Miss, Temple, Tulsa, USF, UTSA, Utah State, West Virginia and Wyoming.


A note from an Air Force veteran was like hundreds of others sent from thankful military members: “It was very special for me and my family to be able to attend such a high-profile event and to see the fellow veterans at the game enjoying themselves. It really touched my spirit and made me proud of the fact that someone took the time to think of us. I am truly proud to be a U.S. veteran. May God continue to bless you and the United States of America!”
While the effort by these elite schools on football is great, the outreach should extend down to the smallest schools with distressed tickets looking to do good as well. Military families big and small are in every community, and the positive spin coming off such an activation will pay dividends and should be a “must do” vs. an alternate opportunity. Many of these families of returning young veterans have young kids who can become instant fans of a local school they knew little about; heroes can be made of stent-athletes and coaches who connect with the vets and their families right away, and those bonds can grow over time, with a spillover effect that won’t just put butts in seats, it can lead to jobs, life lessons and even sponsorship as these new vets get back on their feet and work with growing businesses in the community. The effort shouldn’t stop just on the college level either. High schools, now seen by many as the next great marketing frontier, especially in the digital space and with hyper local sponsorships, should also look to engage their local military vets, and fond ways again to make these heroes even bigger heroes through sport.
We have come a long way on every level in recognizing and engaging the military to say thank you through sport, but we still have a great way to go away from the brightest of lights on NFL Sundays and during the World Series. That start has been amazing, the next steps can be even greater, and the payoff both in loyalty and brand value, will continue to be immeasurable.

“Movember” Gets More Skin In The Game…

As the calendar turns from the mega-awareness month for Breast Cancer and the amazing viral phenomenon of the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS in the past, we can applaud the work the ever-growing (no pun intended) groups for Movember are doing specially tied to Prostate Cancer Awareness.

Originally launched in Australia, the theme for “Movember” is to get primarily men (although women can help out with a fake one) to grow a mustache or not shave for the 30 days of the month, and then gain dollars through pledges for growing their ‘stache. Given the always intriguing Beard-A-Thons that happen in the spring, and around the MLB post-season, Movember has been a natural fit, and now it has gained even more traction from previous years, with some new corporate sponsors as well.

Last year Major League Soccer was on board in a big way with Movember, with clubs throughout the League growing ‘Mo’s (moustaches). Players, supporters, staff and partners were clean-shaven on November 1st and grew their moustaches throughout the month. Participants document progress on their ‘MoSpace pages as part of the MLS Movember Network, on the Movember website. Women participated by becoming ‘Mo Sistas’ and created their own ‘MoSpaces to support the men they love.
The NHL has also been a long supporter, following on their yearly ritual of not shaving during the playoffs. The Washington Capitals Karl Alzner, the then-Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo and a wide-ranging group from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment all signed on for 2013.
This year a host of new sports brands on both sides of the Atlantic have come on board to support the initiative. One big one was adidas, who through the NFL ties enlisted the support of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins), wide receiver Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), linebacker Von Miller (Denver Broncos) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (Buffalo Bills) to join in and encourage others to do the same.
In the UK, Mitre and the Football League have teamed up to support the Movember charity campaign, turning out their new ball with a “Mo” all of its own.
The new ball was be provided to all 72 Football League clubs for their first matches of Movember and will feature in the 34 Sky Bet Football League matches that kicked-off on Saturday including Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Birmingham City and AFC Bournemouth vs Brighton & Hove Albion, both broadcast live on Sky Sports.
McLaren Formula One drivers, as well as all 12 English Premiership Rugby clubs have also joined in more this year than ever, and brands like Gillette, Toms and Playstation have also been key parts of the expanded call to action.
Now “Movember” has some shortcomings still; guys have to look a little unkempt in a month not known for vacations, and it is not as easy to activate such a program as it is with a “Wear Pink” campaign. Also other sports, especially Major League Baseball, do activate against prostate cancer with blue bats and other events around Father’s Day each year. Still “Movember” continues to have a great upside, with the potential of thousands of fake ‘staches being given out at games during the month, maybe even tied to Coaches vs. Cancer events in college hoops. The fake handouts are low cost and would make for great digital integration and TV. Still it does cost money to engage nationally or internationally, but with the increased interest in social media, the campaign and its awareness keeps growing and new partners onboard will amplify the message around the world.
A simple idea gaining steam year over year, with an excellent cause behind it.