Tim Pernetti | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Best Practices: Pole sitting, Chiefs score for fans, Rutgers scores for Sandy

Time for a little best practices roundup from the past few days…from Arizona to New Jersey…

Stunts Gone Wrong Still Pay Off: There is the adage that any publicity is good publicity, so the Arizona Sundogs of the Central Hockey League should take note. The minor league team sent its captain and three members of the front office staff aloft on a scissor lift with a vow not to come down until they sold 300 season tickets. Trouble is season subs for hockey are hard to find in the desert, and five days layer they hadn’t hit their goal.

With a small ad budget the hope was that the stunt would go viral and drive sales, and after a slow start they came close without ever coming down. While the team didn’t hit their number they did get the exposure they were looking for, with Fox Sports and Deadspin, grabbing the story, which made for a PR coups for the Phoenix Coyotes affiliate. Viral as many have learned doesn’t equate into dollars right away usually, but it put their brand forward and may lead to more creativity and a bigger payoff down the line. Maybe they won’t get full season subs, bit the creativity led to casual exposure and maybe an additional sponsor or two, as well as individual game sales as well. Bottom line, while some may deem the promo a failure, it was un reality a great success on many levels…with over 200 season subs during a week when the team would have been an afterthought, as well as some great viral and local press, play on Sundogs, great example of spinning a negative into a plus.

 Chiefs Go To The Fans: One of the positives if having the first pick in the NFL Draft is the ability to plan outreach a little better than those picking behind you. You also are usually the worst team in the league from the year before, so there is a lot of work to be done with casual fans and brand restoration. The Kansas City Chiefs found another way to go one step farther in grabbing some props with fans and also getting some additional national exposure.

Moments after the team selected offensive lineman Eric Fisher as the top puck in the draft they made him available first…to their fans instead of the local media. Ten season-ticket holders entered a makeshift studio at the team’s training complex to ask Fisher questions via a Google Plus Hangout, one of several platforms the property had created with the NFL and the NFLPA this past week…

The fans from as far away as Wisconsin and Iowa, lined up, slipped on headsets, stared into a laptop and found Fisher staring one on one with them.  The questions ranged from his interest in the city to his knowledge of Chiefs history. Not hard hitting journalism but a nice perk for those who may need a little more ROI and TLC from the downtrodden team.

 Maybe a few years ago this type of access to fans first would have been pooh pooed by the local media on deadline. Now it was accepted. It took less than 10 minutes, didn’t slow down the access to media by a great amount of time, was not done behind closed doors and was a feel good for all. Media got all the access needed after the brief interlude, which other years could have been done in a back room at Radio City Music Hall before Fisher entered a spot to do his first presser, so it was all transparent, and it sent the message that the team is liking to perk their fans, and that they understand the need for more access.

 Little damage, good upside and another innovation dropped into play through technology. A winning move by a team that needs more wins on the field and off.

 Rutgers Wins For Sandy:  The past winter has not been overly kind to Rutgers athletes on a national scale. However on Saturday the football team scored some much needed points with its community, wearing jerseys with the names of all the towns affected by Super Storm Sandy on player’s uniforms for their annual spring game. The team also dropped a “B” on their helmets for the tragedy in Boston, and carried out a series of recognition programs to raise money and awareness for the victims in their state still struggling to recover from the devastating storm. New Jersey seems to be all about recovery from tragedy of all kinds this spring, and the Scarlet Knights, in a time where it seems college athletic uniforms are all about bold and silly fashion statements, took the time to make a statement of their own for the people of their state. Good messaging and effective promotion, a nice legacy statement crated by former Athletic Director Tim Pernetti.

What’s In A Stadium Name? More Than Dollars….

A few years ago the new owners of the Miami Dolphins were met with a skeptical eye when they effectively came up with a creative and short term naming rights solution for their oft-confused stadium. Land Shark Stadium, part inspired by a minority investor (Jimmy Buffett) became the temporary name of the home of the Dolphins and the Marlins. Those in the business community wondered if the short term fix for cash and publicity would become the standard and effectively devalue the naming rights deals around the country and around the world. After all, the naming rights business, like the economy, had taken a heavy hit in recent years, with corporations thinking twice and three times about spending millions to slap a name on a buildings, and owners thinking even more about the investment in branding only to have a company be sold and change its name. The always skeptical media also had their own issues, trying to figure out what to call a building once a name changes, and how far the corporate rights went into editorial.

Since the Land Shark deal, there hasn’t been a flurry of short term deals coming to the table. What we have seen is the retention of team names in lieu of short term, and then some creative naming deals that look to other assets to play with in addition to just the building names. In Kansas City the value of the newly opened and recently named Livestrong Sporting Park (profiled in SBJ this week) is not in a dollar for naming rights, it is in a community branding partnership that will make the team (Sporting Kansas City) more of a public trust than just a brand that plays in the area. That feeling of public trust, which makes the players, the logo, the coaches, a part of the community year-round was felt to be more valuable than the dollars a local company may have invested as a good buy. It is a co-investment designed to grow the Livestrong brand and the MLS franchise, while at the same time finding other like-minded paying partnerships that could capitalize on the relationship. Risky? Yes. Was there an alternative? Perhaps. Can it work? TBD.

Then there is the deal that Rutgers University cut this week to sell its football naming rights to New Jersey-based High Point Solutions
. Critics say that the deal sullies tradition and further corporatizes college sports. Proponents see it as a way for Rutgers to keep funding and growing their athletic programs without dipping into the public til, which is strapped in New Jersey for anything education related, let alone sports related. What the deal essentially does is help Rutgers, and grow a New Jersey based company’s awareness and visibility at no loss to the taxpayer. Rutgers becomes only a handful of colleges to effectively sell its naming rights at a price that the market dictated. Is Rutgers the last University to do so? No. it probably set a new standard for such deals. Those who worry about “tradition” at the birthplace of college football should be more encouraged about a new tradition that Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti, and those who helped broker the deal at Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, created. One where a local or state-owned rising corporation can partner to find private sector dollars to fund public projects. An endowment it is not. But an opportunity to tie a technology company to an institute of higher learning is smart and creative and was not done in a vacuum. It is not selling scholarships, it is showing the value that Rutgers football has to the business community in New Jersey, in a way that makes sense for all involved.

Lastly, there is this feeling by some that the selling of such rights and packaging them as large scale partnerships will cheapen team brands or tradition. There are some team brands…Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park etc…that transcend the value of corporations. Those brands are multimillion dollar investments on their own and can stand above a flood of alternative dollars. They are however, the exception and not the rule. The cash challenged environment sports works in today has created both challenges and opportunities, and the creative ways to address those concerns are showing up in many places, even in naming rights deals. Maybe in a better economy these deals would not exist. However we are challenged today to fund and grow businesses in non-traditional ways, and these are the latest examples of how to generate interest, offset cost and grow brand in a new way. It’s not easy, it may be a bit controversial, but it certainly is creative.