No Bull…PBR Gets A Chance To Ride A Quiet NY Weekend To Success

This weekend the New York area will be without a boxing match, an MMA card, the NFL, the NHL, arena football and indoor soccer. There is a smattering of college hoops and a little NBA, but what can someone with a hankering for some action check out. Well the PBR is back for its annual stop at Madison Square Garden. From its bulls to its interactive displays, its riders and its clowns, the PBR experience is certainly a unique one for sports branding coming through New York for what is its only east coast appearance.

In previous years the PBR has tested jousting, marched the bulls through Times Square and offered up first hand visits to try and distinguish themselves from other events in the area. There is usually a Giants playoff game or some NHL looking to draw attention. This year, the sports card is pretty much all bull for a weekend which the Tour uses to kick off its season and remind Madison Avenue that its fans and its product are unique to sport.

Why MSG in January? Even with a slower economy than when the circuit first came to MSG, the PBR still pulls some major brands from Ford to Stanley Tools to Wrangler to Cooper Tires, and even a new official chainsaw in Echo Power Tools (try selling that category, MLB). Their exclusive TV partner, CBS, also needs to entertain and engage partners in the buying capital of the sports world, especially since the PBR does not come any closer than Fayetteville, North Carolina at any point in 2013. We do live in a global sports environment now, but being able to experience an event like the PBR for skeptical brand buyers is very important, and there is no better way than hosting a showcase event in their backyard.

Families may be looking for a post-holiday event to attend that is both affordable and a bit different, and the casual sports fan is looking for some live event that is not of the norm and is a ways away from a normal trip to “The World’s Most famous Arena.” Add in the NASCAR-like appeal of the bull riders, the spectacle and drama of the bulls and you have an event that can actually draw attention and pull in a strong weekend crowd in a very fickle environment.

Aside from the spectacle of PBR, the fact that it is a stand-alone East Coast event for the sport, at the same time every year, can even make the weekend a destination spot for staycationers in the burbs, but also for fans of the sport from up and down the east coast and parts inland. All that works because of the consistency of the calendar, and a willing partner in Madison Square Garden. If the event moved from time to time, or if it had to go up against better weather or any host of other events in the crowded New York schedule, the event would be nowhere near as successful. Casual fans would not seek it out, or be able to circle the date with consistency. Even diehard fans would have to adjust from the rigors of daily life, and any stretch from annual consistency could spell doom.

Consistent and effective year in, year out branding and timing leads to a good churn of the casual fan and builds brand loyalty for the core follower, which translates into three days of an enthused, supportive and engaged fan, which is what all events strive to deliver in these challenging times, especially in the largest media market in the country.

So is the PBR season opener a model for branding success for niche events? It has many of the elements for a good one off, most important of which is exciting live content in a weekend which is as quiet in the area on the sports calendar as any. If it spectacle you like, the PBR certainly delivers.

Bruin Love, Taxing The Bulls, and Intimate Track…

As we reach the mid-point of February, a look at some good moves this weekend in the sports branding world.

DUNKIN LOVE: Dunkin Donuts continues to find new ways to grow its sports marketing platform, especially around its hometown New England teams. The latest promo involves Boston Bruins star Tyler Seguin, who will host a Romance/ Bromance meet and greet lunch with Seguin on Monday, February 13. Male and female fans can show their love for #19 by entering for a chance to win The Romance & Bromance Tyler Seguin Sweepstakes by clicking on the ”Tyler Seguin Sweeps” tab on the Dunkin’ Donuts Facebook page through February 9. Six lucky fans will win lunch with Tyler Seguin for themselves and a friend, a $19 Dunkin’ Donuts card and Boston Bruins gear. As part of the agreement, Seguin will appear in radio commercials to help promote campaigns such as “What Are You Drinkin’?” and “Caught Cold,” the company’s iced coffee marketing campaign. He will also be featured in Dunkin’ Donuts’ social media campaigns in 2012, conducting Facebook chats with fans and promoting the local Boston-area Twitter handle, @DunkinBoston. Seguin will also promote Dunkin’ Donuts Turbo Shot® coffee to provide an extra boost to fans and pro hockey stars alike.

It is a solid move for the defending Stanley Cup champs to again expand their relationship between one of their star players and casual fans and backs up DD’s work with creativity, social media and a nice activation just ahead of Valentine’s Day.

TAXING THE BULLS: The PBR seems to be making a new partnership announcement every week, and their latest one is yet another departure from the traditional. The Colorado-based league has brought on board Los Angeles’ Blue Tax Service as the official “Tax Liason Solution” of the PBR for the time leading up to and through April 15. It is a new, unique brand expansion for the PBR as they look to find ways to provide new services to their existing fan base and activate against a fickle casual fan that may follow when an event is in market but then drifts away the rest of the year. While at first glance it looks like a first year plan that is all about brand visibility in a very cluttered marketplace for Blue, the on-site advice and unique digital platform that the PBR can provide may give the brand new followers when choosing who to best assist when Uncle Sam comes calling in a month or so. Brands like TurboTax and H and R Block have infiltrated the sports market for years, but the PBR’s brand loyalty may help Blue aquire a foothold from which it can test and build off of for future years.

MILLROSE FILLS THE HOUSE: Even with huge global purses, a larger push toward fitness and an Olympic year, track and field on the professional level in the United States continues to be an afterthought in the eyes of most sports fans. One of the sport’s hallmark events, the annual Millrose Games, is looking to re-invigorate the sport by going small this weekend, moving out of cavernous Madison Square Garden and into The Armory in upper Manhattan (also the home of the Track and Field Hall of Fame) for the first time in over 100 years. Many officials saw this as a controversial step back again for track, but it may actually prove to be a very smart move for those at the core looking to embrace the sport. By filling the Armory and building the demand back up, organizers can re-create excitement which has been lacking for years. That excitement can bring in newer sponsors, casual fans and partners and stem the tide of disappointment and lack of interest in what can still be a very exciting sport. Even more fodder for the move was seen just a few weeks ago, when another elite track event was staged at Madison Square Garden to offset the loss of the Millrose and drew less than 5,000 fans. Those same 5,000 would create a raucous environment at The Armory, perhaps the most undervalued venues in the sport, which will again get a chance to shine.

Squash, Twitter Trouble and The Growth Of Andrew Shaw…

Once again it seems like ideas good, bad and indifferent are flowing in groups the last few days, so here’s a look at some other best practices and some issues.

Squashing A Brand: The sport of squash is fast, ultra-athletic and pretty much refined to clubs and select colleges and high schools in the United States. It has never been “mainstream.” The International Squash Federation, with a large amount of support in India and Pakistan, has tried in vain to get the sport on the Olympic programme. Women’s Professional Squash, even more of an afterthought than the men’s game by the casual fan, is trying to resurrect itself as a viable alternative for a more edgy audience, and is slowly cutting its own course.

However this past week and coming up, a few lucky balances may give squash at least a little more play in the eye of the casual public sports fan. First, Trinity College, whose streak of National Championships and years without a loss, came to an end with a loss to Yale. The streak, 252 matches and 13 years, was great for Trinity, but not so great for the sport overall. Fans love winners and champions, but not total dominance which eliminates story lines. So by losing, trinity probably generated more publicity for the sport than at any one time in its admirable winning streak. Secondly, the professional sport of squash gets its biggest stage this week by playing in front of thousands…of commuters.

The J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions commenced in Vanderbuilt Hall of Grand Central Station in New York, bringing some of the world’s most gifted players to a glass cube for a chance at prize money, a title, and the curious eyes of all coming to and from work. Like the PBR recently (at Madison Square Garden), squash comes to a different place to get exposure with a brand (J.P. Morgan) that can court its high end customers who are interested in the game, as well as find a little extra brand recognition for those going to and fro their workplace. It brings the sport right to a large group of consumers who may never have seen the game before, and could take an interest. Will that interest mean that more people will run out to get squash racquets and balls/ Well, if there is not a lot of public access to play the game, probably not. What the event does do is create the potential for other showcase events, while also serving as a potential platform to tell the stories of the elite athletes who are competing. It’s not like squash will suddenly overtake any other racquet sport in popularity, but it is an interesting (and probably expensive) incremental awareness play, that coupled with Trinity’s loss, may have squash on the minds of more consumers this January than ever before.

Hashing Andrew Shaw: Andrew Shaw is a fast-raising talent with the marketing-savvy Chicago Blackhawks, an athletes with flair on the ice and a good grasp of how to grab the attention of the casual and die-hard hockey fan. He is funny, outspoken, and engaging in a marketplace which has again embraced its Blackhawks at a time when the media-hungry NHL is scrambling a bit to find new storylines with the injuries to Sidney Crosby and the slow year being had by Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. So into the mix steps Shaw, who has gotten support in the social media space with his own hashtag following (#shawfacts) about various musings of the day on and off the ice. The Shaw world got an even bigger test this week, when followers were put forth to win a signed Shaw jersey for the most engaging or interesting post. The social media world reacted really well, and the traditional media coverage followed suit, generating lots of buzz, traffic and awareness for the young star. What’s next? Maybe a charity tie to raise some funds, a brand hopping on board or maybe even a one off #shawfacts showing up on an actual game or practice jersey. Regardless it seems like Andrew Shaw is a star in the making, one who has effectively worked with those around him to get hos career on and off the ice on a fast track by blending an engaging story with the right media medium.

The Dark Side of Social Media: this week also showed us two downsides of social media, which detractors had a field day with. The first happened in new Jersey, when top college football recruit Yuri Wright was expelled from powerhouse Don Bosco Prep for posting explicit tweets under his tag. The school, rightly so, took a zero tolerance stance in a region that has had more than its share of sexting scandals on the high school level. It was the most recent reminder for all who can unknowingly be in the public eye, whether you are in high school or the pros or a private citizen. There are few if any filters available for what you speak about in a public forum. It is your responsibility and you always have to think before you act, because once its out there, it’s not coming back. Tough lesson for a young man with a bright future.

The second difficult incident was with regard to Joe Paterno, who as we know did pass away this morning. The rush to be first with Paterno’s death led to many erroneous and unconfirmed reports last night, one of which created an embarassing situation for CBSSports.com, who published without confirmation from the family. The rest of the night was spent backtracking and updating by many news sources, all of whom held CBS above reproach as credible. Now Paterno’s passing a few hours later doesn’t really change the fact that in the rush to be first, the loss of credibility and accuracy is called into play. Is it better to be accurate or first? This is also not a new issue, just look at “Dewey Beats Truman.” What it is, is another example of how fast our world has become, and the trouble that news sources of the highest level have in making sure that what is being reported is really beyond reproach. The death of anyone should not be taken lightly, and it is much more serious than something like Rob Lowe deciding to be the source for Payton Manning’s alleged retirement. Either way, the incidents point out the challenges all have in dealing with a fluid news cycle, with more questions and less answers as to what is right to do and what generates buzz, news, and dollars for those who report.

Lancing A New Niche Sport

This coming weekend the Professional Bull Riders will kick off their new season with their annual stop at Madison square Garden. One of the more innovative sports brands in fan engagement and experience, the PBR has survived the economic woes of some of its biggest partners to again become a property worth following for new ways to test the digital marketplace (especially in the mobile space) to keep their core fans interested while the Tour goes around to some far outposts, while also finding angles to lure in casual fans who may never see a bull but who like thrill sports and the various platforms that can be created to follow and have some fun in the digital space.

New York has been a critical stop for the PBR for its kickoff event each January, a time when they can show brands that a sport with western roots can holds its own on Madison Avenue. Every year some new engagement is brought to the front by the PBR in New York, whether it is a parade of bulls on Sixth Avenue, new television partners, new gaming opportunities or the ability to bring companies into the space for the first time. This year however, the PBR, along with the History Channel, may be bringing another niche to the forefront in the manicured dirt of MSG. It is professional jousting, and like the PBR, is a sport which is long on action and personality but unlike the PBR is short on grassroots and mainstream engagement. However it is a made for TV spectacle, and needs really little explanation.

Now jousting has been on the come as an event for several years, both abroad and in the United States. The current form looks to take tough guys from varied backgrounds (think a little early MMA on horseback) and drop them into a storied competition with new age technology and branding opportunities. The PBR partnership, with the startup Full Metal Jousting group, will try and ride the core of PBR followers in both New York and later on in Anaheim, to grow awareness and interest. The thought is that if you enjoy the thrill of bull riding, can lances and armor be that far away. Jousting does have all the elements for modern TV spectacle, short of Snooki being the damsel in distress. Most of all it has a TV partner willing to promote, and an event partner willing to share the spotlight to grow together.

Will it find it’s niche? Hard to say. Already there is competition in the jousting arena, with National Geographic well into its own jousting stars show, “Knights of Mayhem.” one thing any edgy startup doesn’t need to sell to brands and potential fans is confusion as to who is with who, so a little working together would be great. Second, one other barrier are the competitors themselves. One of MMA’s greatest hooks is that you get to see the human emotion up close and personal, with little barrier in place. The jousting participants (hopefully) are sheathed in armour (Under Armour sponsor anyone?) and riding horses. Yes we get lots of backstory for a taped reality show, and we can learn and feel for the contestants and their stories (also one of MMA’s greatest selling points) but the drama beneath the armour loses some of the appeal for the spectator. Can jousting continue its comeback from Medieval Times? It has action, science, an appeal to a male demo and great in arena drama, as well as those nice broadcast partners. Do we need night after night of jousting? Probably not.

More importantly than whether jousting succeeds, what we may be seeing is that the mainstream interest and acceptance of the PBR is growing to a point where 0ther startups can partner to test new waters for activation and engagement. We have sen it in the digital space with the PBR and now in the event space. Jousting and bulls may make for an interesting combination, whether they make great business sense will be TBD. Sharpen your lances and lock away the bulls.

Big Events, Great Apps…PBR and NYC Marathon…

For experience, there are few niche events that beat the PBR and the ING New York City Marathon. However both have always had trouble growing their platform outside the event and into a global experience in a crowded fall landscape. As the PBR conducts its Championship at a sold out Thomas and Mack Center this weekend, they battle the NFL, college football, end of NASCAR, MLS Playoffs and the World Series for position, not to mention high school sports and other activities. Next weekend, the Marathon, easily not just the best one day spectacle bit one of the biggest revenue generators for sport for New York, will have a similar battle to gain interest outside of the millions in the New York area and race-specific fans around the world (it is not televised live outside of New York).

So as an answer to that problem, both properties are going all in on the digital side. The Marathon has launched an app this week that will not just give people the ability to follow anyone on the course, it will also give partner brands like Dunkin Donuts the chance to activate with promotions at all their spots along the route, as well as provide fitness tips to anyone looking to improve their own health and well being. Want to follow celebrities like Christy Turlington or Apollo Ohno? Their is a place on the app for that. Brands will also be able to capture data and engage with followers not just in New York, but from wherever they are following along around the world, so the potential for ING to ping and promote to customers who they know are brand loyal and interested in healthy activities brings even more added value. It is not the same as live national TV, but it is a great next step in brand engagement for an event that grows in stature every year and can really morph into an event and experience that lives well beyond the five boroughs of New York.

The PBR is a little different. The circuit has continued to make great strides in embracing and growing its core followers, those who fill arenas year round watching the bulls and riders battle it out. They have made some strides in expanding into popular culture, but now will take the next step in lifting that experience from just the arena into the digital space like never before. PBR is a natural for casual gaming expansion, and the relative speed of the rides makes it perfect for a male audience that wants things quick and exciting. By pushing the emphasis to more of a digital play, the PBR can enhance their TV partnerships and really give their loyal partner brands the chance to engage not just at events, but in instant online contests and rewards programs like never before. Like the Marathon, millions of fans of the sport won’t be at the events in Vegas. However they now have a better, richer online experience to stay engaged and involved, and one which can compliment the live television broadcast from wherever they are as fans on a busy fall weekend. Mobile changes the perameters of that engagement for the active, and now the PBR has a better way to engage those fast-moving fans.

Neither app will ever replace the live event for the Marathon or the PBR, but growing that footprint is key, and be spending time effort and dollars to engage in the mobile space, both organizations can take a broad step forward for those who choose to follow, as well as for the brands or choose to grow with them.

Indy Car Shouldn’t Shoot The Messenger So Quickly…

The IZOD Indy Car Series was making slow, steady strides back to relevance in a sport that had left the circuit almost for dead a few years ago. The infusion of Phillips Van Heusen as title sponsor brought millions of dollars in promotions, other new sponsors had come aboard and brands were working together on co-promotions to re-engage a consumer that had forgotten the sports glory years in the 1970’s. A new technology initiative had brought interest from science and the tech community, and even with Danica Patrick’s coming departure to NASCAR there was a young, diverse group of drivers that was appealing to a larger multicultural audience. Old events that were not effective were jettisoned, new events like one in Baltimore were launched, and it was hoped that the relationship with Comcast would lead to more television growth than in recent years. There was a renewed push for social media activation, and the leadership, led by former head of the PBR Randy Bernard, was looking to overturn every sterotype, clique, and issue the sport had in a very short time. Not every innovation was working, but there was progress.

Then came last Sunday, when popular driver and Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrific accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. As expected, the naysayers who talked about the race course being too flat, the sport being pushed to far and too fast, rose to the top. IRL officials handled the immediacy of the tragedy and then retreated from the public eye to ,mourn, give pause, and examine next steps away from the media circus. The issue was also amplified because it was really the first high profile death in racing since the real push for the immediacy of social media, and the fact that it was the last race of the Indy Car season. There was no next race to go to and address, which means the drivers and leadership would be scattered to many points, without a natural “next” spot to gather and get back to business.

Through all the questions this week came silence from IRL leadership, while those in the shadows questioned Bernard’s ability to lead the circuit as an outsider. Whaterever the reason for silence this week, and whether the situation was handled correctly or fast enough on the days following the tragedy is still up for debate. There are many, many legal issues to be sorted through with a loss of this magnitude, and the mourning period for the IRL family will come to a head this week. However one thing, when looking back over the year as a whole is pretty clear. Bernard was brought in by leadership to change the image of a dying sport circuit. Many of the changes throughout the year brought increased coverage and value to the sport as a whole, which is a good thing for a slow turnaround with the world’s fastest sport. It is also clear as the head of the circuit that Bernard’s decisions were not made in a vacuum…racing perhaps more than any other sport is not a dictatorship. The drivers and their teams have a seat at the table. Thus, the season-ending race decision to have Wheldon try and race for the win from the back of the back for increased prize money and visibility was risky, but not one that Bernard himself forced along. Yes he had the final say and was the face of the sport, but he was not alone.

The death of Dale Earnhardt brought many positive changes to NASCAR, as many tragedies do. Whether Wheldon’s death will do the same for Indy Car remains to be seen. Whether the risks drivers assume are too great even for them to fully understand is also up for debate. So while IRL struggles to come to grips with the tragedy and its next steps, hopefully some good for the future of the sport can come from such a horrific event. It is hard to deny that Indy Car has moved forward, not back, under Bernard’s leadership, and it would be an even bigger tragedy to sacrifice the head when the body was improving.

Maybe this week will bring more answers than silence from IRL. Maybe that will help silence the critics a bit, but maybe more importantly the lessons learned will be as important than the issues that arose for a sport that appeared to be moving back in the racing world.

UFC, PBR Roll The Twitter Dice For Attention…

Sean Gleason has been a key member of the leadership team for the PBR, helping lead the circuit into a more, aggressive, positive and mainstream era for the sport. He has been key in having the PBR enter new markets, grow its corporate base and find ways to engage with new fans while not alienating the core. So it should come as no surprise that Gleason frequently scans the social media scene for ways to engage and grow, and encourages others in the organization to do the same. The last few weeks Gleason noticed social media hound Chad Ocho Cinco posting information about PBR, interest and his upcoming travels, so through twitter Gleason reached out and challenged the wide receiver to come join the PBR in suburban Atlanta and try out a ride on a bull, complete with dollars and some other prizes if he can stay on. The result has been a homer for the PBR in their quest to draw new eyeballs, especially in a time of year that has every distraction imaginable in sport, from the coming Indy 500 centennial to the NBA and NHL Playoffs, MLB, and the impending NFL lockout etc etc. Not exactly a time of year for PBR to rise up on a national level. However by effectively mining and then using social media, the PBR took a chance and came through for the sport, and for the effective of a PR stunt. MLS grabbed some space when Ocho Cinco showed interest in giving soccer a tryout, and he has drawn requests from leagues, brands and other areas looking to grab on to his social status and buzz factor. Most have failed, but PBR did not. They were sincere, timed it right, came up with the right pitch and made the pitch work. Best of all it was lead not by someone looking just to exploit, it was led by an organization leader, which gave it credibility both in the business world and in the sport itself. Here’s hoping Ty Murray’s coaching works, and Chad doesn’t break anything.

On the other side you have another group that has done really well activating its fans in the social media space, the UFC, which according to some reports, will now create a competition for its fighters to use twitter effectively. There is no brand that probably does the male demo activation better than the UFC, and no better leader of manipulation of the space and spectacle than their head Dana White. He says what he wants, worries little about consequence, and their fans enjoy the banter. It is great that their athletes have been given the ability to effectively use all areas of media, and hopefully that will continue to open doors for sponsors, fan engagement, and for their stories, which for the most part are pretty interesting. Whether incenting people to use social media in a competition is worthwhile remains to be seen. What it will do is create a cottage industry for guys to glam on to followers and engage friends, publicists etc. to tweet for them. It also will create some additional buzz for the brand overall. Does size matter? Does it make sense for guys who should be worrying about training to be worrying about how many followers or likes they have? Like the rest of the population, social media isn’t for everyone, so why add the extra pressure for those who just shouldn’t engage? Will inappropriate or off color comments that could create distractions be worth the time and effort? Will the UFC care? Probably not. The athletes are indy contractors, there is no collective bargaining and they don’t have to participate. The edginess adds to the spectacle, and the UFC is all about spectacle. It will be fun for the fans and fun for the media to see what develops, so that’s probably worthwhile. Some fighters, like George St-Pierre, have found and used the digital space very effectively. But it is not for everyone, and by placing a dollar based incentive on creativity on any level problems could arise. It is an interesting incentive, but whether it works for the whole remains to be seen. Regardless, the UFC again found a way to engage and motivate its fans in a way other sports and even entertainment brands have not.

End of the day, both the UFC and the PBR leadership found a way to generate interest in the new media space that may not have been there before. The PBR’s was through outreach targeted at one event and with someone who already had a following, the UFC’s is more internal, long term and designed to generate buzz and new characters amongst its own core of athletes. Whether both or either will be successful is TBD, but both are certainly worth of note this week.

The Crossroads of the (Sports Event) World…

New York’s Times Square has always been known as “The Crossroads of the World.” Millions have gathered there to celebrate the end of wars, New Year’s Eve, election results etc etc…the events that mark the passage of time. Even at its seediest in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Time Square was always a place known the world over as a must visit. Into the late 1980’s and ’90’s the Giuliani administration, area businesses and the Disney Company worked ling and hard to restore Times Square, and then the Bloomberg administration took it one step further by removing traffic lanes in two key areas with pedestrian areas to make the area much more mall and much less auto madness. Throw in lots of new digital technology, the home of Nasdaq, Reuters, Viacom, and Good Morning America, and the Times Square of today has become a “must be” place for anyone in the media world looking to impact a brand. Even with its various agencies and red tape, the high cost of unions, and its cluttered environment, the ability to capture a moment in Times Square is unparalleled.

So what does this mean for sports? Lots. In recent years, from NFL kickoff events, to Nascar drive-by’s to the PBR, Times Square has become the lynchpin for kicking off multilevel sports activation and awareness campaigns. There has been beach volleyball, Izod Indy Car’s jumping off walls, grassroots hoops festivals, and on and on, all with the idea of bringing awareness through the convergence of massive amounts of casual fans from around the world, broadcast positions from major networks and lots and lots of general buzz. The Nets want to tweak the Knicks? They take out a billboard and build a buzz campaign in Times Square. The UFC needs to promote its pay per view? Times Square is the place. In the past week and this coming week, EA Sports unveiled their new video cover with a large event in the square around NFL Draft and the support the league got on massive video boards on both sides of The Square, and this coming Thursday USA Wrestling and “Beat The Streets,” a grassroots organization that brings wresting as life lessons to inner city kids, will stage a USA-Russia wrestling match right on the street in Duffy Square. Yes there is lots of competition and non-sports events happen there all the time, but because of the availability of space with less cars, and the use of large scale media that projects blocks away to reach large groups, Times Square has become the home for some of the best marketing launches and publicity events for the industry. The area also is prime for guerrilla marketing oppts. for those with small budgets as well, and the ability to use social media to drive awareness to a Times Square event…bringing in thousands of people with the right placement…also makes the area a must consider not just for a New York event, but for one that can gain large scale international exposure. There are thousands of people with cameras, smart phones and social media accounts in the Square every day, so word of mouth, if played correctly, can help a viral spread very quickly. Is it easy? no. Is a large scale event cheap? No. is it a bee all, end all for a campaign? Nope. Does the loss of ESPN Zone as a hub make it less attractive for sports? To some extent yes, but the vacancy of that space actually opened up a new plaza for onsite activation.

End of the day, Times Square is a great property, and those who have sought the area and used it effectively have gained great exposure well beyond the traditional print and TV for an event launch. It is an innovative area which needs to be well thought out, but it continues to be a growing gem to build or launch good news sports events around, every day of the week.

Racing To Find More Fans…

It has been a few years since Indy Car began its healing process, unifying under what is now the IZOD Indy Car Series. With the Centennial of the Indianapolis 500 coming up next month, the circuit is making a big push to continue to gain back fans, brands, and market share from its NASCAR brethren and all others that are clamoring for the casual fan interest. Can it work? A few reasons as to why it can.

1- Leadership. Randy Bernard came on to lead the circuit last year after great success lifting the PBR to greater recognition. Building consensus, cultivating partnerships, solving problems and unifying all parties was key in the growth of the PBR, and is essential in the success and growth of Indy Car

2- Speed and Size. At first blush some may say there aren’t great similarities between bulls and the fast machines that circle speedways at over 200 miles per hour, but there actually are. Riders and drivers are the personalities that drive the sport, but bulls and the cars are actually as much, and sometimes even more, of the story that is told every event weekend. The personalities of the bulls, the size and power, and unpredictability, make them into a big part of the spectacle. In Indy Car, the speed, technology and risk that the cars pose are just as much a story as a 500 pound bull, and finding ways to help communicate that man vs. machine story is critical not just in maintaining audience but in finding new casual fans.

3- Brands In Unison. There is no doubt IZOD has spent as much, if not more, marketing the Indy Car name than any other titles sponsor in any sport the last two years. The Indy Car lifestyle has become one with the IZOD brand. However along with that growth is the cultivation of multi-level campaigns involving other league sponsors as well. The latest is Honda’s ride-along campaign with the legendary Mario Andretti. The commercial spend for the call to action of the sweepstakes crosses every national sports event, but it is mixed in seamlessly with mentions for other sponsors as well. Not unheard of, but certainly unusual for most sports properties, where brands tend to work in a silo without the support of others. Also a little innovation doesn’t hurt, so the league’s attempt with Mattel to set a Hot Wheels jump world record at Indy will also pull in partners from across the sport. Also factor in Telemundo’s new partnership with driver Oriol Servia and the pass-thru that can give to new brand partners, and there is a great deal of strength in unison for all concerned.

4- Transcendence of cultures. Formula One will give the united States another shot this year, but for the most part racing has maintained its borders geographically. NASCAR Looks north and south but is still an American race property, F1 takes on large parts of the world, but only Indy car races across North America (into Baltimore this year) as well as South and to the Far East. The speed of the cars and the personalities of the drivers cross cultures, which makes it a truly international property at a time when brands are looking for that established link around the world.

5- Everybody Loves A Comeback. There is no doubt Indy Car was close to, if not, king of the hill at one point. The splitting of the circuit, lost TV exposure, the economy, a smart play by NASCAR, all contributed to drive the sport down. However the signature race, the Indy 500, remained as the jewel, making the sport somewhat known by almost any sports fan. Now with smarter spends, better leadership, and unification the sport stands a chance of returning to its place in the sports lexicon. Won’t be easy, but if it can keep coming back, there is a void to be filled and glory to be returned to.

Now none of this will be easy. Attention spans are shorter, TV relationships need to be improved more, additional brands have to see the sport as a good fit, the schedule needs to become even more clear, and most importantly, the economy needs to keep bouncing back to create the casual dollar spend needed for attending races in far off places. However what Indy Car now has, as much as any other property, is hope. Hope driven by speed, excitement, an international reach, and a growing list of partners who can put some money back into the development till. Whether it is enough to drive the sport back to where it was is TBD…however now, with the 100th anniversary of the 500 on the horizon, there is more than a glimmer of hope for a sport many recently thought was on life support.