Why The NFL Draft Delivers…

It’s not the most compelling TV for those looking for fast action, and some media folks have criticized it for being too over the top with hype, but as a platform it is hard to argue that the NFL Draft as it stands today does not deliver for brand partners, fans, buzz and media content.

Perhaps this year was a bit of an outlier, because of the added hype of Johnny Manziel on round one and then Michael Sam on Saturday, and the event was bolstered in advance by the buzz and marketing around the film “Draft Day” that hit theaters less than three weeks before. However by doing all the “little things,” this year’s Draft had something for everyone by telling so many of the stories across so many outlets behind the scenes.

Want to know about how the names now get sewn on uniforms as players are picked and come to the podium? There was a story for that. What music to the draftees prefer? The NFL let players do their walkout music and then made sure the list was circulated (great artist hype and something the NBA will probably glean off of). Who dresses the athletes? More than one outlet brought us the story of the tailors to the stars. Want to connect with the history of the league, let’s bring in NFL Legends on Day Two to announce the picks and then let them speak about the glory of the game. How about some celebrity splash? There is the red carpet at Radio City filled with entertainment press.  In market buzz? How about live drop in’s from mega- parties conducted by teams all weekend long in each of their markets. Make the event a travelling road show beyond just New York? Let’s have other cities talk about hosting the draft going forward.

That is all in addition to key sponsor events by Budweiser, Verizon and many others where clients can be engaged leading up to the draft and fans can experience the elongated show by getting free tickets to sit in the audience at Radio City as the event goes on.

The result? A huge win weekend during a time when games are months away, now netter placed strategically between the Super Bowl and the start of training camp, with equal time on both sides. Record buzz, record social media attention, and the building of new stars underway.  Is there too much hype placed on all the trappings of The Draft? While some say yes, the career of the non-guaranteed contract in the salary capped NFL of today provides a limited window for some talent to shine, so giving everyone drafted the chance for some exposure is a valuable service provided to all the young players who walk through the door. It is much more enhanced than years before, but it is a great example of a property effectively taking advantage of a window in time to tell its story in unison to an audience that is both deeply engaged and one that may just be passing by for a look.

There were certainly best practices that the NBA, which has a similar format, can pull in for their draft, and perhaps event then NHL, MLS and MLB can also grab on to, although the development of stars for those three is a much more elongated process in most cases than hoops and football. Now all of the extras were certainly not just invented; many come from the hype and buzz surrounding the yearly entertainment show gatherings, like the Oscars or the Grammy’s or the Tony’s or even the MTV Music Awards.  However the big difference is the honoring of young people here really BEFORE they achieve greatness, not after their career success is cast in stone.

There is talk of the Draft going to four days as well. Too much too long? Maybe. But if the content, the brands and the fans say go, why not? If you are the NFL or any of its partners you want feel good stories to be told year round, and the controlled environment and drama of The Draft presents the perfect launch pad for those stories to begin, and then to be extended throughout years and careers.

It’s a great celebration of a property in a very controlled environment with all the trappings, with the games still way off in the distance.  

The Real Super Bowl Winner? Madison Avenue and Wall Street

As we reach pre-Super Bowl weekend the debate rages on as to why a cold weather game vs. the warm weather locations, and it could this game ever happen again? After all, some say, it’s being played between two teams from thousands of miles away, local fans can’t get tickets, it will clog restaurants and highways, and then there is the weather. So who wins other than the Broncos or Seahawks and the select few who can afford to be involved?

The answer really is much broader, and it will probably get a New York game a second consideration down the line should there not be some logistical disaster like the one that happened with bad weather in Dallas a few years ago. Former President Calvin Coolidge once said “The Business of America is Business,” and that couldn’t be more true for the reason this year’s Super Bowl will be a success for being in the New York area.

Aside from the fact that thousands of hotel rooms on both sides of the river will make more money in a week than some will in a typical six month period, or limo drivers will rake in large sums at a time of year that is pretty quiet, or restaurants during the slowest time of the year will be fully booked, or even the millions that will be part of the legacy of the Snowflake Youth Foundation which will help young people and others for years to come with added resources, the business done away from the game will be unparalleled.

Over 500 events, both public  and private, are already underway as everyone from Wall Street executives to advertising agencies to the window dressers at Macy’s get some part of the Super Bowl business experience.  Those who work with hundreds of current and former players, coaches and even announcers who have some distant relationship to the Super Bowl have had a never-ending stream of requests for appearances, from intimate gatherings for clients to shopping mall appearances.  Companies big and small who have never had a chance to logistically experience even part of the world’s largest sports and entertainment event can sample some of what it is like to be in and around the game for the first time, all because of location.

Yes, for every Super Bowl there is a great amount of travel and entertainment. Annual parties like the one Maxim does, are annual “must visits” for the rich and famous. However by having the event in the center of the advertising and business world, the New York area, corporations can amplify their involvement with clients and employees because there is no cost prohibitive travel involved to get people to the events around the game. That means more business can be done face to face over a longer period of time, and more money can be spent actually entertaining and engaging than travelling.  Maybe it doesn’t have the “escape” feel of getting from cold and snowy New York or New Jersey to golf or sit poolside, but the area has ample spaces to keep people warm, engaged and involved, and for those wanting an outdoor experience, there are plenty of cold weather activities at least for short periods of time.

No matter where the Super Bowl is played, it is big business. However when you can bring an event like this to the place where big business takes place, it amplifies the opportunities. That certainly is not lost on the NFL or other mega-event hosts which want to engage a large public audience but also make sure the long and short term business needs of the entity are being  addressed.  It is why NASCAR, the Barclays Premier League, Formula One and every other global sporting event looks to engage in New York no matter what the cost. It is why tennis keeps the US Open in New York every year, and why broadcasters and business partners spend millions to engage with the USTA whether they use tennis as a tool the rest of the year or not.  It is a business and entertainment destination, and until you can bring an event to Madison Avenue, at least once, you are selling yourself short.

Will there be hiccups this week? Sure. Will there be hand wringing about the weather? Of course. Will some people wish they were walking along a beach rather than chatting someone up in a ballroom? Yes. But at the end of the day the success of this experiment will be measured more on long term business relationships than on who wins on the field. The Super Bowl is here, make the most of it. President Coolidge would probably agree.

Potential Blackout A Black Eye Or A Learning Experience For All?

Small markets, holiday spending issues, surprise home games, viewing enhancements, fan apathy, weather, elite opponents. All factored into the firestorm the NFL came under for three of its four wild card home games this weekend as teams rallied to hit sellout modes and avoid being blacked out. Only better prepared, large market Philadelphia avoided the controversy, selling out in minutes despite the fact that it is cold and plenty of people owned the latest TV’s from Camden through The Main Line.

In the end all three cities, Green Bay, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, hit their numbers with some corporate sponsor help, and we move on to the story of the day which is the actual games on the field. However even with the sellout, the weekend served as another problem that any type of live viewing experience from movies and plays to sports events, will have to continue to deal with; how to make the in-venue experience a “must be” place for those willing to spend discretionary dollars.

Now maybe this weekend was an outlier for the NFL, who point out that blackouts are at an all-time low and that the huge excitement of last-minute playoff qualifying games last week is what is really important. It is also noteworthy that opponents for the three games…Kansas City, San Francisco, and San Diego…aren’t exactly easy drives from where they are playing this weekend, further adding to the movement of distressed seats.

We are also talking about a few thousand seats not the swaths of open sections that Bowl Games and many other sports have to deal with even in postseason, and at the end of the day the NFL Playoff experience is a shared one by fans in stadiums and millions engaging on broadcasts and in any host of second screen experiences.  Politicians maintain that the blackout rule is archaic and needs to be changed to better serve the fans, while the leagues and broadcasters argue the law needs to be upheld in order to keep the games away from a pay per view scenario which could be forced by loss of gate revenue and other factors. It is not something that can be solved overnight, but in the end can brand enhancements come out of the controversy that the NFL and its local teams stemmed in the first week of the playoffs? Here are some thoughts.  Is the issue an embarrassment for the NFL? Not really. What it is is the next amplification of a business challenge that has been a long time in coming for all live events, with the NFL being the largest stage.

What are some of the potential answers?

Lower the ticket prices? The NFL sets the market for the playoffs, based on each market’s ability to pay.  Elite events naturally deserve elite prices, but with the secondary market in full swing now does a lower price mean more tickets would move, and at what price point will those seats be filled on short notice? Also this is still a business, and although the gate is no longer the biggest driver, it is still vital to the mix on the revenue side so teams cannot afford to throw hundreds of thousand dollars away in lower costs because of the fixed number of home games. Each team has their own formula for success…the Colts and many others have group plans for example that they could not activate with such a short turnaround this week for example. In the end, the teams looked to local brands to buy blocks of tickets, in Indy, Meijer used them to donate to military groups and deserving families, which was a nice added perk, while in Green Bay  Associated Bank, local Fox affiliates and Mills Fleet Farm and Bellin Health came in and used the tickets for customers and other partners as a thank you. However how many of those sold actually will get used in frigid temperatures, and is the bottom line more important at that point than the fan experience? Hard to say. Are there incentives that can be created for those who purchased in advance that would make the outlay more important to them beyond the game? Perhaps, but only those experts in the marketplace will know what buttons are best pushed to get the handful of distressed seats filled. At the price point being asked, its not T-shirts and hats, maybe it’s working with partners to get a break on heating prices or free gas cards or even a slight break on college tuition or a high end meal service that gets written off. Each market will be different.

Lower the blackout threshold? This is perhaps the most viable short-term option, if the threshold is for short notice games the first week of the playoffs. It probably shouldn’t apply after that to make sense, and if it was at 90 to 95 percent of capacity for week one, the issue would be avoided.  This would also go along way with public perception, as most people probably believed there were huge swaths of unsold seats, not a few thousand in stadia that are gargantuan compared to other sports outside of NASCAR. The 95 pct threshold also gives teams a few more precious days to get last minute groups and walkups into place, and if weather and hype hold, will push some folks into purchasing even on game day, which is not such a bad thing either.

Better Education of the Secondary Ticket Marketplace? The leagues and teams have done a good job of trying to manage the marketplace and see what the options are. However searches by the uninformed will see very high prices and very low prices for elute games. Giving fans a better primer on what is available and where can also be a better driver for distressed seats, even at a discount offered by the primary seller at the last minute.

Enhance The Fan Experience? Colleague Darren Heitner pointed out new ways the Dolphins, along with other teams are doing more to help fans better enjoy the in-stadium experience. A lot of that enhancement has to do with mobile, and many teams are still struggling with better connectivity in stadia that are older. The investment in “stadium only” enhancements is still risky for some teams not willing to invest, because for the NFL at least, you are not talking about a majority of ticketholders who need such enhancements to plunk down their dollars. You are talking about that less than five percent, and are enhancements worth the cost of investment. The reality is though, that a larger number of fans will start questioning ROI as the out of stadium value grows, so investing now as a hedge against the churn in sales is worthwhile.  Why is mobile so important? Look abroad for the reason.

There will be a time when the well-connected in stadium fan will be able to use his or her mobile device for everything they need; from tracking seat location improvements to special meals to better parking spots, to video and yes, the revenue stream of online wagering on all that goes on in the game.  You see many of these enhancements being used by corporations like Disney to better control crowd flow and offer more incentives by geo targeting where and what their consumers are doing at their parks…you see it in the music business with crowd sourcing at concerts, and you see it in better equipped stadia in the UK and elsewhere where fans are constantly engaged and interact with all going on around the event. Part of the sports experience elsewhere is through the gaming and gambling experience on mobile, and there will come a time when that enhancement becomes legal and federally regulated in the U.S. It is an inevitability. That investment in better connectivity is perhaps the best part of the draw for the casual fan going forward. Making the stadium a place where you can only get something…the amplification of the giveaway…is the key part of moving the distressed fan away from his or her living room.

Is there a simple answer? No. Does the NFL have issues that almost every other sports or media company wishes they had as their biggest challenge today? For sure. In the end, for the short term, the seats are filled and most importantly the millions of local eyeballs watching the broadcast will be sated for the postseason. That means big TV ratings, happy sponsors,  and a respite from the controversy.

There are some that think that technology has made the in-game experience obsolete, and that we will head the way of “Slamball,” a once made for TV sport that was taped in a huge hangar with a few hundred spectators.  That is more an issue for concerts and other entertainment properties which are more repeats time and again. An event like the Harlem Globetrotters for example, would be in more danger than a live sporting event.  Live sports, unlike anything else in entertainment, is still a tribal shared experience where you have the ability of seeing something in person that you never thought possible. Ask those at Auburn-Alabama or someone who has seen a no-hitter or a shootout in the NHL or a golden goal in soccer or the final point at the US Open or Tiger’s winner at The Masters if they would trade that experience for anything and the answer is no. Does it mean somewhere down the line that mega-events will become pay per view? Doubtful, given the larger scale dollars and viewership needed to make the finals of a sport viable, and the billions already invested in broadcast for the long term. Boxing, the UFC and the WWE have taken the path of using free events to feed a pay per view build, but for team sports that approach would be much more drastic and detrimental to the brand that each team has in the marketplace. It is not entirely out of the question, but it is not on the horizon for now.

What has to happen for the in-stadium experience is evolution. Maybe it is a smaller crowd threshold, but it is definitely enhanced wireless capability and the ability for teams to tap new streams of revenue to offset rising ticketing costs that are passed through because of the cost of talent on the field and other cost amplifications that the marketplace puts upon other businesses in addition to sport.

In the end for the NFL is the blackout a black eye? Nope. It’s a punch that a mature savvy business needs to take and come back with long term viable answers that will make not just football, but any live even effective, profitable and worthwhile for those who will continue to follow their passions and attend. There is not one solution, there are many that need to be combined, and the eventual answers will come from the digital, the traditional and the still to be developing marketplace globally, not just from one weekend of play across the States.  Take notice and learn sports business, the NFL offered up some painful, and hopefully short term, business lessons for all to learn from this weekend.

Brands, Buzz Continue To Build For Game Changing Super Bowl…

It hasn’t been the brightest of falls for football in the tri-state area, or even down the Turnpike to Philadelphia, but this year’s Super Bowl has certainly generated more buzz, brand activation and long-term talk than probably any other, and for a league that seems like it’s under constant siege these days that’s good news for Brand NFL.

From  2014 Super Bowl Boulevard down Broadway from West 34th Street, a televised NFL Honors awards show,  media day…a ticketed event for almost 15,000 people, at Newark’s Prudential Center, the opening of “Bronx Bombers” (a play about the Yankees, the use of cruise ships as hospitality and a tailgating and pregame tailgating event at the  Meadowlands Racetrack, contacts weather discussions, the largest effort to ever raise philanthropic dollars and put money back into the economy for Super Bowl, a host of outdoor hockey games, transportation tests, security technology which will be a bellwether for future mass events and countless economic impact studies over as large a population as has ever hosted the game, the task of making all sail right (barring an ice storm) will be one for the ages, and will set the bar for a host of other cities hosting an event in cold weather, which after all, is what football is played in.

So if you are a brand why or how can Super Bowl 2014 be a differentiator for you in the biggest media market in the world?

One way is capitalizing on the location, regardless of weather. The US Open in tennis has an amazing appeal to brands not because of its great athleticism and state of the art facilities, but because it is the one and only global sports event that takes place just a few miles from Madison Avenue each and every year in the same time period. Brands can build hospitality and marketing programs that lead toward the end of the summer every year, and not have to worry if the “home team” is in the mix. In many ways the same goes for the Knicks and the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.   No matter whether the teams win or lose, the buzz of the Garden is always palpable, and it makes for a tremendous entertainment platform, with fix dates, only minutes from hundreds of brand decision makers who call New York home, either full or part-time. And if a brand is not using New York as its home base, rest assured its media company is. The old axiom for business success still holds true today… “location, location, location,” and for the 2014 Super Bowl, the location is New York, the media capital of the world.

Now we are seeing brands get out in front with innovative programs…philanthropic events like playground builds and restoration events for victims of Hurricane Sandy, volunteer rewards programs for all the workers that will be needed around all the events,  legacy school programs that can enhance learning, consumer activation programs that can give fans special access to a series of events leading toward the game, getting a much needed edge as well, something that will be tested this year and probably engaged on larger scales beyond this year.

Jaguar, a new Super Bowl partner unveiled an ad during broadcasts of NFL football and on BBC America that tipped some of its hand for its strategy, while Intuit, another first year brand, has launched a contest in which it’s giving away the actual ad to a winning small business. The financial-software brand has set the stage where a winning small company will be the subject of their ad.  A story this past week also said that U2 is searching for a partner to introduce their next album live during Super Bowl. Not at halftime but during a spot or a series, with the requisite social media to follow, which would be a first for a music entity.  That type of offer is not just because of the game itself, but because of all the scrutiny that has come through the NFL stage that has been created for a “first,” this outdoor in the elements event.

While in past years Super Bowl engagement was about the one-time buzz, the implement of social media and the long tail this game has will actually give brands and businesses who have invested in the game a much longer window not just for success, but for correcting some issues that can come up during the lead up. If someone sees that an ad or a platform is slow to respond around the game now, they can adjust to make sure the message is properly delivered. It’s not all one and done as it has been in the past.

The great irony about the “outdoor” game is that every other sport, even baseball, has dealt with cold in their own ways before, and football last time we looked, is more a game about the elements than any other. However the game here is not for the players, the game of the elements is for the marketers and those who need this event to go well and garner the audience and market share so that others can benefit in similar climates going forward, roof be damned. Super Bowl or NFL in Europe is great to talk about, but a success in New York in February will be a huge push for a mature, business savvy and forward thinking brand like the NFL. Let the Super Bowl business games continue to grow.  

NFL Brings More “There” Over There…But Why? Some Thoughts…

The NFL continues to amp up its marketing agenda both domestically and abroad from mandating elite teams participate in “Hard Knocks” to expanding the number of games in London going forward, and making sure that elite teams like the Dallas Cowboys (next year) help augment the sometimes iffy matchups served up by longtime stakeholder the Jacksonville Jaguars and others. Strong record or not, the Cowboys presence abroad draws interest, much like other elite global brands like the New York Giants would.

It is all a smart amplification of NFL business, putting the pedal to the medal while things are going well as opposed to riding out the good years and hoping no bad comes about that can’t be overcome.  The look to become more “global” as a sport makes great sense from a brand standpoint vs. an actual permanent team boots on the ground position, as the digital world shrinks boundaries of the way casual fans can engage either consistently or from time to time with the gridiron.

So does all this London play really mean a franchise is going to go across the pond permanently? Not necessarily. The cost of putting just one franchise in Europe, or anywhere outside North America is a huge challenge, especially for a sport like American football that does not have huge grassroots ties abroad. American expats, casual followers, brands looking to engage in American sport. Sure. But football is not basketball or soccer or even hockey, with thousands of club teams and youth programs already engaged. It’s not even baseball, who has made some stronger forays into not just Latin America and Asia but into Europe (countries like Italy, Germany and the Netherlands) and will now have a larger test in Australia to start 2014. But it is just a test, and a brand activation platform, much like the London games are really for the NFL. Now sure the NFL, like soccer, has a distinct advantage over other team sports in that the games are once a week and an argument could be made that travel is no worse these days than a cross country flight from Miami to Seattle for a weekend.  Still the tax implications, differing workman’s compensation rules, the extra few hours of broadcast time all play against a solo franchise abroad.

Where is the benefit? Branding for one. The NFL and its merchandise and licensees are global and a steady foothold to point to every year in London gives a destination to market around every year, much like brands do with the US Open in the States. Knowing the time and location every year makes for great long-term planning.

Another key move is the introduction of new brands to the NFL and American sports culture. By having a more steady presence abroad, there are a host of brands from across the world who can safely sample the American sports landscape in their own back yard before dipping in whole hog. Want to touch and feel American football in a great setting before travelling across the world, then the NFL London stop, in a regular season game, is the place to give it a shot.

For the Jacksonville Jaguars, whose owner Shahid Khan now also owns Fulham of the Barclays Premier League, the consistent presence in London each year is both a fan cultivation and business cross-pollination tool. Jacksonville is not a major market with tons of major brands, even in successful years for the team. Exposure not just to London, but to other business on the continent, can help out ancillary income short and long term into the Jags coffers, in addition to boosting all sales of the NFL.  Sharing healthy best practices between EPL teams looking to market more aggressively, and the masters of marketing in the US at the NFL, and with the new Jags front office, also makes great sense. It beats struggling to fill an eighth home game in North Florida.

There is also another unspoken but interesting opportunity that will come more into focus as a revenue stream in the coming years, and that is the testing of sports wagering on the NFL. While taboo still to be looked at in the States, gambling rules the roost in the UK. Could the NFL strike some bookmaker deals for solid revenue for games being played in the UK to test the waters for when gambling becomes legal on sport at some point in the US? It would make for a very good litmus test to see the level of interest, and revenue, that would be brought to the table.

There are also other brand tests that could occur for brand NFL beyond the shores of North America.  Could the NFL London games test a uniform patch for a new exclusive partner, could those games also test on field advertising of elite brands to see what will and won’t work.  Are there broadcasters…a Netflix, an Al Jazeera, a Google…who would take the Europe games as their first foray as a live sports partner maybe not as a US broadcaster but as a digital or non-US test?

All the London activity also doesn’t mean that American football is the must-see for sports fans across the continent. You don’t see Cologne, which had one of the stronger entries in NFL Europe, rising up for a franchise, or Barcelona, or The Hague or even Berlin.  What NFL London has become is a very strong business beachhead with great possibilities as a destination for all partners and fans. When it was one preseason game it was a curiosity, when it was a regular season game it became a branding event, when the Jags threw consistency in it became a consistent business play, now with multiple games it becomes a series with economies of scale and consistency for the fall. All of which makes great sense and has nothing but a solid business upside.

In the end, will there be NFL teams in Europe? The reality is that the best chance of global clubs still rests with soccer, which could have elite clubs…at least two in the U.S., which is now a more mature soccer market than ever before. Its schedule lends to it and the culture of soccer, at least for elite clubs, now exists in the States where the NFL does not have that solid culture abroad.

Can NFL every week work across The Atlantic? Tough to say, but it’s not really needed if the brand business proposition as it is now structured continues to grow. Football in Europe is still all things soccer, and changing that culture or finding a stranglehold on a critical mass around soccer or even rugby and cricket, is a huge mountain to climb. Does it have to be climbed to be a success? No. It’s just a matter of defining the role and expanding the niche incrementally, and that’s what the NFL has done.

Smart business by some of the smartest in the game.  

Next Stop: The Frozen Apple

Late during the bye week officials from New York and New Jersey joined NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to give an update on the plans that will immediately surround the 2014 Super Bowl,  to be held at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey, the first time the sports and entertainment spectacle will not be held in a warm weather environment.

Among the events discussed were the usual  fan festival (at a site still TBD), a 2014 Super Bowl Boulevard down Broadway from West 34th Street to West 44th Street for the week before the game, a televised NFL Honors awards show,  media day…a ticketed event for almost 15,000 people, at Newark’s Prudential Center and a tailgating and pregame tailgating event at the  Meadowlands Racetrack, which will host the NFL’s pre-game tailgate party.

All those events will be new to the New York area for sure, but not really new to any brand or marketer who is used to being in the mix for Super Bowl. More spread out, and with lots of plans for inclement weather? Sure. But certainly not new. So if you are a brand why or how can Super Bowl 2014 be a differentiator for you in the biggest media market in the world?

One way is capitalizing on the location, regardless of weather. The US Open in tennis has an amazing appeal to brands not because of its great athleticism and state of the art facilities, but because it is the one and only global sports event that takes place just a few miles from Madison Avenue each and every year in the same time period. Brands can build hospitality and marketing programs that lead toward the end of the summer every year, and not have to worry if the “home team” is in the mix. In many ways the same goes for the Knicks and the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.   No matter whether the teams win or lose, the buzz of the Garden is always palpable, and it makes for a tremendous entertainment platform, with fix dates, only minutes from hundreds of brand decision makers who call New York home, either full or part-time. And if a brand is not using New York as its home base, rest assured its media company is. The old axiom for business success still holds true today… “location, location, location,” and for the 2014 Super Bowl, the location is New York, the media capital of the world.

So while the game may still be far off in the immediate consciousness of the fan, it should be front and center with brands looking to innovate, entertain and take advantage of a rare time where the sports and entertainment world will focus on a sports event in New York with a long lead time. How does one do that? Start today.

Brands who can get out in front with innovative programs…philanthropic events like playground builds and restoration events for victims of Hurricane Sandy, volunteer rewards programs for all the workers that will be needed around all the events,  legacy school programs that can enhance learning, consumer activation programs that can give fans special access to a series of events leading toward the game, can give those looking to get a much needed edge simply  because the frequency of connecting will be there now, not next January when the fight for those same eyeballs will be immense from long-time partners who roll in annually regardless of where the game is held.

Tickets to the actual game will be scarce for local residents, but the equity that can be built into fans being part of the “experience” is going to be very high. The Super Bowl host Committee needs to continue to find ways to cut through the clutter and make that “experience” top of mind, not just the week of the game, but in all 52 weeks leading up. They need to incent fans to buy tickets to all the ancillary events well in advance, to purchase merchandise and most importantly to patronize the brands that are heavily invested as both NFL partners and as stakeholders in the event itself.

It is very rare to have such a mega-event in the largest media market in the world at a time of year where there is precious little competition. The baseball All-Star Game comes to New York in July at CitiField, and that will have lots of trappings and engagement, but nothing on par globally like a Super Bowl.

If you are a brand looking to take advantage, the kickoff should really be now. By the time you get to the fourth quarter (of 2013) you may not have a chance to win the consumer engagement game. The investment while consumers are still thinking Super Bowl…in the next few weeks…can provide a great roadmap to success as the game comes to New York next February.

An Alternative Pro Bowl Idea With A Great Impact…

Sunday night as Super Bowl week began the NFL brought everyone the Pro Bowl, which for any number of reasons seems to have become the least interesting and most controversial of any professional all-star event. Instead of championing the great players of the season past, the Pro Bowl continues to become more of an afterthought, even lodged into the week before the Super Bowl. Other than the obvious difference…all other All-Star games fit into a break in the regular season…the game has become one to avoid as many players look to heal, relax and avoid injury for the future.

Now the game has some great benefits for the NFL…it is a big sponsor perk for companies who invest heavily in the game throughout the year. It provides a nice financial bump for the state of Hawaii and for those fans who would never get a chance to see the NFL live…especially those in the military stationed in and around the Islands. The trip is a very nice reward for the players and their families not moving on to the Super Bowl, and in recent years the game has served as a mice way for the league to test some fun and innovative digital and sponsor initiatives in a real-time setting that usually can’t even happen during the preseason. The give and take for the game will probably go on for a while longer, as the league weighs the cost benefit of putting on the event, which will still draw OK ratings on NBC despite its perceived lack of interest…it still does have many, albeit not most, of the league’s biggest faces, many of whom are its rising stars.

So if the game is scrapped, is there something the NFL could do that would benefit a wide audience, maybe not millions on TV, that would showcase these stars in another setting? How about a league-wide day of service. Now this is not to say in any way the NFL and the NFLPA do not give back to their communities. They do, in the form of millions each year. But instead of playing the game, have each of those selected for the game…either in the city they play in or their home town, use the Sunday between the Championship Games and the Super Bowl to give back. It is somewhat along the lines of the Yankees Hope Week, but here, as a homage to the season, every top star takes one more day to work in the community of his choice. There is no risk of injury, it could combine teammates, and benefit the charities of their choice. The publicity received, as well as the opportunity to lift brand partners with a CR initiative, could not be beat in market and would make for a very interesting one day compilation of best practices to send off into the craziness of Super Bowl week. Heck, you could even send a contingent to Hawaii to work on a charity initiative if that is needed.

It certainly doesn’t have the flash and buzz of an All-Star Game, and yes it would be complicated and probably more work market by market than staging the game in Hawaii, but if the game is going away and the stars want to align, why not do it for the greater good that would put a nice cap on am amazing season for top stars of the NFL, not to mention a very nice give-back to the communities that have supported the team and its stars throughout the year and into the future.

Big Market or Small, The NFL Beat Goes On…

When your regular season ends in the United States and for the first time in your history all five of the top television markets in the country are not involved in the post-season, there may be cause for concern. Not if you are the National Football League. While other team-based properties will never say publicly but need to have the major markets involved in the postseason, the NFL continues to enjoy a ratings bonanza which will build toward another landmark global audience for The Super Bowl, probably regardless of which teams make it through the playoffs.

How it an era of numbers and analytics can a property continue to grow without the hometown eyeballs assured by a local team? In fairness, while the top five markets are not playing, those right behind the five…Washington, San Francisco, Boston…are in the mix, and the smallest market (Green Bay) is perhaps the league’s most legendary, so its not like the playoffs are full of the Oklahoma City’s and the Omaha’s.

Partly by design, partly by luck, the NFL has become destination viewing for most of America, especially during the playoffs. The design is parity, a combination of salary cup and competition and scheduling which gives most franchises a chance to be successful over the haul of the season. Throw in the fact that the NFL. drawn out over 18 weeks with one game per team a week becomes appointment TV for fans and a building of storylines throughout the regular season, and success is never tied to having one team go through the playoffs to have casual fans engaged. The flow of the regular season week by week gives media and fans the time to follow stars and build stories, whether it is a veteran like Peyton Manning ending up in Denver or the emergence of a series of young new quarterback faces. The broadcasts are national with lots of shoulder programming each week in each market to reinforce the action on a weekend, and brands who partner with the NFL not only activate in the market of their stars, they bring them into the national light (Greg Jennings of the Packers has THREE national sponsors...that would be tough to find for a small market athlete in baseball or even the NBA). Because of the time between games the access to telling  the stories of the games and the athletes is plotted out day by day, and it all builds towards the postseason.

Another reason markets are not as vital to NFL success…one and done. The NFL, other than the MLS Cup which is winner take all at the end…is the only North American sports platform that is not ties to a best of series. Win or go home. Pretty clear. There is no deflating series sweep that can throw off the momentum and equity built towards a final, as we have seen with both MLB and the NHL in recent years. The matchup is decided on one day, with the only parallel  being the NCAA basketball tournament. The week builds to the game, the winner moves on, the loser goes home. The games are events and spectacles, not just a game you may or may not watch…and of course they are on the weekends, not late into a school or work night.

Now has the NFL had some issues this year? Of course. It is a violent and complex mature business that has all of its dirty laundry covered by legions of media 24/7. However it is a rare business that can play in the smallest market in professional sports and still be successful on Madison Avenue. Yes MLB and the NBA and MLS (maybe the NHL if it comes back too) have their own success and growth stories, and all are wonderful and vibrant businesses.It is also true that success for a brand ties to a sports property today is not just tied to a TV rating. There is in-market activation, multicultural marketing, a mobile story, social media and direct sales which also play a very larger role. But TV eyeballs are still a very big barometer of success.

However the one sport that seems to continually find success regardless of those on the field is the NFL. Luck is the residue of design, and no property is probably better designed to be success for the crowded marketplace of the US today than the NFL.

Yes, everyone is ready for some football, regardless of the home city.




The Ying and Yang of Breaking News…The NFL vs. The Jets

The 24 hour period on Wednesday and Thursday of this week saw something that most people would have never predicted six, eight…well weeks ago. That March Madness and Linsanity could take a back seat in the beginning of spring to…Tim Tebow and the New York Jets. In less than 12 hours the NFL again rose up and showed the power it has in popular culture, first with the announcements of the suspensions brought down on the New Orleans Saints, and then through the Tim Tebow trade, untrade, negotiation and finally move to New York. The debate will rage on for months, but the medium of how the story carried out showed again how social media, without brands, without large dollars, took over the conversation, broke news, broke news again, led controversy and sent everyone scurrying for their smart phones.

Now the entire day was not ruled by the latest way to get news out. The NFL stuck with the traditional. Large scale statements and press releases, a formal media availability, q and a and much much followup for their decisions against the Saints staff and the organization. Well planned, thought out and effectively messaged.

Then the medium and the conversation changed. The Record newspaper on Thursday provided a very interesting
“Anatomy Of The Deal” that eventually brought the mercurial Broncos quarterback east to Gotham
. It showed very clearly that the first line of information changed from the NFL’s stance in the morning to a media and public conscious team just a few hours later. At 12:50, the timeline shows, the Jets announce an agreement on a trade with Denver…not on their website or on radio or through a press release or conference call. It was on twitter. Then at 1:03 the Jets contact their media members that they have reached an agreement with the Broncos…via text message. The next piece of news comes from ESPN’s Adam Schefter that there is a hangup because of contract language…again on twitter. 5:18 Schefter, one of sports’ most well connected media members…reports…again on twitter…that the Jacksonville Jaguars are again in the mix. While many other pundits are friending, monitoring and following every player, coach and media member connected with everyone from Florida to Broadway. While players like Antonio Cromartie vilified his team and others chimed in with opinion…officially…nothing. The Broncos official twitter feed? crickets. Finally at 8:47…Schefter again tweets that the trade is done.

Also in a world where news does not hold, the Jets finalize the deal, rally their parties and hold an extensive conference call…not a tweet up…late into the night, at a time when back in the day deadlines would have passed (they no longer really exist)…answering questions with all interested parties. In the postmortem and debate that will continue to rage on, the social media using Jets post 23 tweets, retweets or statements from press conferences, positive statements from players…one tweet saying an unauthorized tweet was posted…to continue to manage their message. GM Mike Tannenbaum, coach Rex Ryan, Tebow himself all use the traditional airwaves to tell their story lest it be lost in the fast moving public opinion of the day.

Now one thing is for sure. Nothing will really be settled until games are played in the fall. Debate will rage on but in a bottom line game, results are what count, and results are what will heal any wounds, tweets, or feelings. What is really interesting in the announcement was the choice of medium not just once, but almost every time news broke in the story. The Jets started the fire on twitter…a very short, sometimes effective to get a message out, if that message is not complicated. The debate then raged back and forth until the clearer news, and the traditional official statement, was released by both parties involved. Throughout the debate there was no use of TV or radio to communicate the first message from a news source…it came from social media and the spin went from there. Whether that is a healthy or consistent way to break news in today’s 24/7 world is probably a matter of style and circumstance.

The Jets choose to use the medium more to communicate hard news and speak directly to their fans, and to the media, than most, and it will be interesting to see if others follow. Years ago the Toronto Maple Leafs were vilified for being the first team to break a trade on their website. Now such a move would be considered quaint.

Regardless in what was a headline grabbing news cycle for the NFL, the mix of traditional news sourcing (which the league used) and a more helter skelter new age approach used by the Jets showed how diverse breaking coverage can be. Which is more effective? That’s probably a debate still to be settled, if ever. Or until the next medium of choice takes hold.

Beyond Sport Unites, Makes An Impact

On Tuesday at Yankee Stadium several hundred professionals, many in community relations from teams from around the world, gathered for the Beyond Sport United “Sports Teams For Social Change” conference. While cynical may say that the event was a chance to have professional sport gather to network and then go back about their business of making money, in truth, the assemblage was so much more.

What the event really was, was an affirmation to those “in the game” of the volume and depth of potential sport has to positively impact the lives of others around the world. The gathering of MLS Commissioner Don Garber, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for a pre-lunch roundtable hosted by CNBC’s Darren Rovell gave each of the league leaders a chance not just to pat themselves and their leagues on the back, but to really address the breath of what each league can do in areas ranging from global warming to combating malaria around the world. The panelists and stories throughout the day looked at sport as a driver of change not just in the United States, but in leagues and organizations across each continent, and perhaps for the first time gave those who run vast community programs from the mega-leagues of Europe to actually engage in peer to peer discussions with those who do similar work across North America. The discussions were frank and not rose colored, and the obvious need for more work to be done to better coordinate all the efforts that are done locally was evident throughout all the sessions.

It was not a day of pollyanna promises and boasts, it was a day to look constructively at best practices and hopefully learn how to improve on what is done on community outreach locally, regionally and nationally. The call to continue pushing ahead was clear, and the importance of both fundraising and allocating adequate dollars in a challenged economy from cash-strapped organizations was also evident. Another key point touched on time and again was the need for better and clearer communication on the good works sport does in a community…the need to tie the business side of sport with the philanthropic, and to find creative ways to best tell the positive stories of athletes, leagues, brands and teams with a unified push.

Now of course when the smoke clears and the passions wain that teams still have their own agenda on how to promote sport for good in a community. Each market, each athlete, each cause has its own challenges and opportunities, and the call for more assistance is never ending. What emerged from the event from such a wide range of senior leadership is the value that cause marketing has for brands, teams and leagues, and the commonality of purpose all the efforts have…the ability to use sport to change the lives of those around the world.

It is not an easy task, and is probably not at the top of the list of most organizations today who are looking to find positive business solutions and combat the image that sport at the professional level is all about the dollars. However what became clear by the sheer numbers of attendees on Tuesday is that the ability to impact social change and the passion to do so does not exist in a vacuum. It was a great opportunity to share thoughts and take back ideas that may not have been considered before, as well as reinforcing the mission of positive impact for sport across the board. An amazing assemblage of talent, thought and leadership, and a great set of examples as to what sport can do to impact and deliver good.