Why Mayweather Is Money…

For those ‘Rocky” fans, the business side of Floyd Mayweather is a lot like the image of Apollo Creed before he takes on “The Italian Stallion.” Pick the venue, but the flowers for the Mayor’s Wife, create the package for your challenger and collect the big pay day in the best suits. Control the brand image. Just don’t lose.

And although Argentinian Marcos Maidana isn’t quite the Latino “Rocky,” he nearly did what 45 other fighters couldn’t, taking the fight to Mayweather before losing a 12-round majority decision at MGM Grand arena. Regardless, the champ and all the piece around him went on to a mega payday and the close result will soon be a memory.

What won’t be forgotten is again the way Mayweather and his team carefully orchestrated every aspect of his fight, from ticket and TV sales to fighter purses, venue choices and every marketing deal in and around the bout. Nothing was left to chance, and all came back to the man they call “Money.”

Mayweather is in the middle of a six-fight deal with the Showtime network and is supposed to fight again in September. He has almost 7 million Twitter and Instagram followers, more than 4.1 million likes on Facebook, and a social networking team so that he is in constant contact with his fans. He negotiates all deals for its promoted fighters, receives all revenues generated by his fighters and then pays fighters, other promoters (if it is a co-promotion), and other expenses (operating costs toward the promotion) out of the revenue generated. The result is something that few single sport athletes can achieve; net worth of close to a billion dollars with all aspects of the brand coming back to its owner.  It is the rarest of opportunities that comes to an elite boxer who understands the business; even tennis or golf, where success is based on the individual; still have to negotiate a course, the field or the draw. Boxing it’s one on one. Even the UFC, with all its power, is still controlled by Zuffa Inc. Elite MMA athletes can do really well, but when they go to the UFC, like in a team sport, there are certain elements that get negotiated away.

Now of course the issue becomes what happens if Mayweather loses a fight? Does much of that brand equity built up immediately fly out of the ring? Some might, but because of the longevity of his career and the guaranteed TV money that comes win or lose, the Mayweather gravy train continues on. Besides, who doesn’t like a comeback after a surprising loss?

Is the Mayweather model an anomaly or a new trend in fight sports? Right now there are others Pacquaio, Dela Hoya, who can control a good part of the marketing pie, but Mayweather is the one who appears to want, and have total control, something which can be very, very difficult to duplicate should another mega-star come along early and maintain the brand power for such an elongated tome. For sure he has his critics, but it is hard to argue with his success in business or the ring. Apollo would be proud.

We talked Mayweather on CBS this past Saturday as well, here is a link to the clip.   

New Tool Helps Sport Think Globally, Speak Locally…

One of the biggest challenges for American brands, teams and leagues today is literally getting lost in translation. As sport continues to expand globally, understanding culture, language and tradition becomes more and more important, and with the advent of social media, the ability to make a misstep and be deemed “the ugly American” can happen in seconds, with huge amounts of time and money being spent to help right the faux pas.

We see it constantly in the Latino space, where teams or leagues or even athletes try to reach the “Hispanic” audience and throw “Los” on something and play some mariachi music without really understanding if they are marketing or speaking to the culture in Brazil (where you are better off with Portuguese and even Japanese), Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico or even Spain. One team’s “Spanish” is not the same for everyone. The sports that do it best in the Hispanic or Latino world remain in soccer and are growing more in basketball in baseball, where the sport itself is part of the culture. It is a growing embrace, but total understanding and marketing to each part of a cultural base is still costly and years away.

As American sport looks east, to Asia, especially, the challenges become even more daunting, albeit enticing. You have not just spoken language and cultural issues but written language issues, as well as select governments that carefully control the use of social media, often times the prime engagement vehicle when going in-country.  China presents one of the biggest challenges and opportunities.  

Key social media channels like Facebook and Twitter are blocked, so it’s hard for athletes, teams, leagues, and agencies around the world to tap into the this growing market. In turn, the leagues need to find strategic ways to engage in the space that are both seamless and respectful of all going on around them in real time, as one misstep can have devastating results.

One recent launch we have been watching is KAWO, a social media management tool that helps businesses repurpose and automate existing social media content onto Chinese channels like Weibo and WeChat, which launched a sports-specific portal early in the spring.

Founded by Australian entrepreneur Andrew Collins, the Shanghai-based social media agency gives brands digital access to over 600 million people by automatically pulling their existing Facebook and Twitter content onto a central dashboard, where moderators translate and then push it via KAWO directly on a brand’s Chinese social network accounts.

While many large properties like the NBA and MLB have invested large dollars into building up a presence with staff in China, other emerging sports and entertainment properties and leagues will not have the ability to do so because of financial constraints, yet the opportunity for engagement in the market with millions of interested consumers exists. That’s where a platform like KAWO can provide benefit; it clears the social barriers and carefully orchestrates the buzz and the content into a form that is respectful, efficient and monetizable. While we all may understand that English is the international language of business, speaking to an emerging consumer in their language, with the right nuance, is irreplaceable.

Will platforms like KAWO attain scale, or will there be more efficient copy-cat platforms, or ones that large scale media companies and leagues can launch on their own to attain a similar level of service? Possibly. However for the here and now, and we are all about here and now, a service like this to speak proactively and smartly to the growing Asian consumer market could be an interesting investment, and one certainly to watch as we continue to go more global. While staying true locally.  

UFC Takes Its Brand Punch, Re-Emerges Stronger Than Ever Going Into 2014…

It was a night that maybe in other years would have sent the UFC leadership scurrying for new spin. There was their vaunted former champion, Anderson Silva, screaming with a horrific broken leg; night over, maybe career over. It comes just a few weeks after another of the promotion’s biggest stars, Georges St. Pierre, announced his unexpected retirement. In a business where pay per view is a life blood those two names disappearing could be really tough to overcome.

However this is the UFC of 2013-14, and the results from a Saturday night card give more insight into what the future may be than the past. First you have Ronda Rousey, the promotion’s marketing darling with Danica Patrick-like drawing power (and unlike Patrick, results to back it up), not just winning, but winning a match that went longer than expected (giving hope that women’s MMA for those who like it, is becoming deeper) and immediately announcing her next match against a former Olympic wrestler, Sara McMann, already fueling hype, sales and probably an even broader audience.

Then you have the defending champion, somewhat of a surprise, in Chris Weidman, now having beaten Silva twice, and if you are the UFC looking at an American audience you have to be somewhat pleased with the marketing potential of a college educated, well spoken, community-oriented star from the one market you still cannot compete in; New York.

There is no doubt that as a worldwide property the UFC is still a dominant and evolving brand, especially in key younger male demos that crave action and engagement.  They have continued to look globally for more dollars and engagement, and they saw that success in 2013. In the U.S. however, the brand has hot a bit of a stagnation point, and new stars, new stories, and some new controversies are what was needed, and the end of 2013 seems to have provided all. The promotion’s deal with Fox Sports has steadily grown but has not really provided the mega-brand push that some had predicted right away, however the wall to wall coverage Saturday that ESPN provided to augment the Fox coverage again showed how much star power UFC has now and will continue to develop with its new stars on the rise.

Silva was an established star with huge credibility in the MMA world but not mega-marketing potential in the mainstream in the U.S. Polished and effective, Silva is a great fighter, but not someone who could be loved by English-speaking Madison Avenue. He also lacked a great deal of edge or controversy that some other mainstream brands could gravitate to. Was he a successful ambassador for the sport in emerging countries? Absolutely. Does he resonate with casual fans? Not so much and that’s maybe where Weidman now steps in more, along with established names and personalities like Rashard Evans.

So now you have a solid belt holder in Weidman. A former college wrestler with a passion to help that sport grow gives him added gravitas. He has a strong but not over the top personality, which will resonate with mainstream MMA fans. He is New York born, bred and educated, so there is a tie to marketing in and around big business.  Add on his two surprising wins over a legendary champion, and the build that the UFC can now do around him for 2014 and marketers should breathe a little easier about engaging with the promotion, and maybe even enhancing their investment with such a mature and social savvy company like UFC in the USA.

By the way on the marketing side, how savvy is Rousey? Less than four hour s after her title defense she was on twitter plugging one of her sponsors, Metro-PCS, in a contest giveaway. Of course it was planned in advance, but many an athlete would take a step back rather than attack after any kind of performance, and the beauty of social media made the MMA star a business star yet again.

The business of MMA, be it UFC or even its best competitor in Bellator, still has its issues with violence which do not make it a fit for many. However for an audience that craves action and engagement UFC is again proving that it has taken a punch and is even stronger on its feet than before, and in its home country having marketable American stars going into a new year is a great help.

Can E-Cigs Find A Sports Niche?

They are unregulated by the FDA, claim to be safer than the regular brands, are environmentally friendly, have started to sign u celebrity endorsers and have the large budgets for marketing that could all be part of a new category on the rise, especially amongst a younger demo. So will E-cigarettes find their way into the sports sponsorship mix?

With endorsement deals that include Jenny McCarthy and Courtney Love, photos with Leonardo DiCaprio and Charlie Sheen and flavors like chocolate and “cherry crush,” and a wide ranging radio campaign and print and digital to match, e-cigs are definitely becoming a tempting play for media salespeople starved for new revenue sources. Online gambling is still in the distance, some hard liquor is still questionable, condoms have not yet taken ahold in the sports and action space, so e-cigs could fill the massive void of vices that are not yet regulated. Smokeless tobacco still has its spot in some fight sports and other places, so the e-cig route could be a natural.

Now for sure the top American sports leagues, and probably circuits like golf and tennis, are going to take a long hard look at e-cigs before taking the money that is growing in the sponsorship pool. Recent reports have also shown E-cigarette use has doubled among middle- and high-school kids — and experts fear the devices are creating a new generation of smokers rather than helping people kick the habit. Factor in that ten percent of US high-schoolers admitted having tried e-cigs last year, up from 4.7 percent in 2011, according to a survey by the National Youth Tobacco Survey, and the number of middle-school students who tried them also doubled, rising from 1.4 percent in 2011 to 2.7 percent last year.

Even with the team market probably off limits for now, fight sports, maybe even auto racing could embrace the big dollars of the e-cigarette market, one which appeals to a less traditional and sometimes a bit edgier marketplace. While the UFC or Bellator might not let e-cigs in the cage, there is room for on-site offers and other promotions that could be tied to athletes, much like they are now tied to a rising list of celebrities. And while athletes have shunned, or been forced to shun, direct endorsements of tobacco products for years, that has not stopped athletes and celebs from cigar ads and promotions, and e-cigs could fall into that slightly less addictive area where cigars reside to this day. There also remains a huge global event audience, which could draw eyeballs in the plethora of broadcast offerings now out there, where e-cig promotions could also pop up. Formula 1 could also be a natural for the new devices which are growing in popularity.

So while we won’t suddenly see e-cig promotions in the manner of Joe Camel or The Marlboro man tied to game promotions or signage for the foreseeable future, the lucrative e-cig market will test the waters to see what the response will be from sports business partners always looking for acceptable marketing dollars. Those producers’ pockets are deep and creative, and with some celebs now on board, the push to ask athletes will not be very far behind.

Weidman’s Win Lifts The UFC Tide…

Make no mistake that the UFC is still a dominant and evolving global brand in sport, especially in key younger male demos that crave action and engagement.  However like all large brands, there is a tendency from time to time to get caught in a routine of success without looking for more innovation or testing new boundaries. Now thankfully for the UFC their anxious followers won’t let them sit tight for very long, and if they do sit tight their followers can migrate to other things to keep them engaged, so the need not just for news ways to activate, but to also have new faces emerge is really important to keeping story lines, rivalries and the business flow fresh. That’s why “The Ultimate Fighter” still remains a key strategic point, and it’s why Chris Weidman’s surprise title last weekend was important for the brand going forward.

One of the inherent problems with marketing MMA is its unpredictability. Over the years, promotions have invested huge efforts into building a star, only to have someone come along with an expertise in one of the disciplines to unhinge the champion.  That parity is something few sports have to deal with all the time…the ATP is probably a close second for not having predictable long term star power…so the UFC investment in recent years has been again on veterans and the careful matchmaking of rising stars.

Legend Anderson Silva was an established star with huge credibility in the MMA world but nit mega-marketing potential in the mainstream in the U.S. Polished and effective, Silva is a great fighter, but not someone who could be loved by English-speaking Madison Avenue. He also lacked a great deal of edge or controversy that some other mainstream brands could gravitate to. Is he a successful ambassador for the sport in emerging countries? Absolutely. Does he resonate with casual fans, especially with partners like Fox ? Not so much.

So now you have a new belt holder in Weidman. A former college wrestler with a passion to help that sport get back into the Olympics when their vote comes up in September gives him added gravitas. He has a strong bit not over the top personality, which will resonate with mainstream MMA fans. He is New York born, bred and educated, so there is a tie to marketing in and around big business. He also hails from one of the few states still yet to legalize MMA, so his presence and his reputation can help in lobbying as well. Add on his surprising KO of a champion, and the build that the UFC can now do with a tear-end rematch, and Weidman is a great fit to help the UFC re-engage and move forward yet again.  Fans love a little controversy, they love undefeated (he is), and they love the hype of the rematch. Their new titleholder fits all those things.

For sure there is probably a little long term equity risk in investing in Weidman for some brands looking for long term planning. But for the short term it is all good news for the UFC, a brand which is rock solid but always in need to find what’s next in the marketplace.        

Can The UFC Take A Page From The WWE For A New York Brand Win?

Two weeks ago the WWE was everywhere and anywhere in the New York Area as Wrestlemania became the lynchpin for all things about the brand. Community projects, brand partnerships, education news, appearances on Wall Street, meet and greets with celebrities, panels on broadcasting, economic viability studies…you name it the WWE rolled it out as they headed up and through their record-setting event at Met Life Stadium, with over 80,000 turning out in what was a good model for testing the limits and challenges for next year’s Super Bowl.

 This week another vibrant brand this one in a cage not a ring, will roll into the area looking to showcase all its marketing muscle and extol its virtues to Madison Avenue, Wall Street and to the seat of government in New York State in Albany. It is the UFC’s chance to sell itself even larger, with a mega-card and pay per view at the Prudential Center in Newark. Athletes, ring card girls, organizational head Dana White as well as a host of athletes talking up the brand even as the NFL Draft descends on Gotham this week as well. The challenges for both the UFC and the WWE similar in many regards…they are both testosterone driven entertainment, which use cable and broadcast TV to fuel very lucrative pay per view events. They have engaging stars and storylines and a charismatic leader as the face of the company. They have been dogged in their use of social media to engage fans, and their events have worldwide appeal especially in a demo, the young male early adopter, that many traditional sports and entertainment events find elusive. The two brands also struggle with critics who say they are too violent, too misogynistic and are part of a continued dumbing down of society. 

 There are also some distinct differences between the two. The WWE is a publicly traded company, the UFC is privately held. The UFC is real sport, the WWE is pure entertainment. And for the UFC, the WWE is allowed to hold events in the State of New York, while professional MMA remains outlawed in New York. Wrestlemania could always return to Madison Square Garden, while the UFC still awaits the day when it could call MSG or The Barclays Center or The First Niagara Center or any upstate casino home.

 New Jersey meanwhile has thrived as a focal point for legal MMA both large and small, and will welcome the UFC back this week. However in the midst of all the events, the expo of goods, the sponsor in store autograph signings will be a look by all at Albany with the continued message that the UFC and its larger competitors have done all that has been asked to make the sport OK in New York, like it is in a majority of the country and around the world. What will all that glad-handing and lobbying do for the brand? It will probably help push some consumer brands still reticent to engage off the fence and into the sport, especially if ad decision makers can go down 6th Avenue to see an event without crossing a river. It will also help open more key venues and raise competition for large scale shows, which will help the bottom line for the UFC or a promotion like Bellator, which is the industry’s number two promotion.

The drumbeat for next Saturday has already begin, with appearances UFC athletes in a number of places, including the booth for Saturday’s Mets-Nationals game on FOX. While much of that talk was about tune in for the live event that was on Fox Saturday night, the message to a national audience about the New York issue was spelled out pretty clearly and articulately be UFC fighter Uriah Hall. It was simple…we are mainstream, we are legit, we can deliver a product and we can help New York.

The lack of pushback by anyone on Wrestlemania should serve as a good template for what the UFC could do as they return to the New York area this week. It was big time glitz, big time promotion and all clear messaging. It helped lift the brand of the WWE on all fronts, and a similar effort can help float the rising tide of the UFC, one which still needs a little push to win their fight in The Big Apple.

Mixed Martial Arts Winning A Perception Fight…

If you have been to New York’s Times Square in the last five or six years toy would have seen it, the billboard towering over the Marriott Marquis. Amidst the glowing brand ads throughout the square and the endless video displays is the huge promotion board for the UFC, always telling the tale of their next upcoming pay per view. Every big name in the sport has been featured on the billboard as their event came and went, a constant reminder to everyone that the largest Mixed Martial Arts promotion is alive and growing around the world. Except of course in New York, where the sport remains illegal, one of the few states in the U.S. where professional MMA cannot be held.

However that long battle may soon end, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated this week that he is now open to having the sport legalized in New York, which can open the doors even more for Madison Avenue and others to ramp up their support of MMA. Why and how is this move important for the UFC and other promotions like Spike’s Bellator brand? Simple. There are few sports as experiential as professional MMA for the fan, and as close as New Jersey is, it is still not New York for companies who want to engage in the brand, and an OK in New York will boost the image, and the marketing appeal beyond what it currently is.

Now the legalization move won’t mean that suddenly the Nets at the Barclay’s Center or the Knicks and Rangers at Madison Square Garden are going to suddenly be cast out for cage fighting. In reality, the move will help the State’s casinos upstate even more that the large facilities in New York. Those smaller venues can host profitable smaller promotions that will draw a younger demo into their gambling establishments more consistently. For companies like Fox, the UFC broadcast partner, and Spike, the Bellator broadcast partner, it will give a chance to showcase an elite event a few times a year right down the street from where its main advertisers live and work. It will also provide a new backdrop for the programmers reality shows on the sport, should they choose to use it.  The use of New York as a marketing tool is certainly not new for the sport…like NASCAR and recently Major League Soccer, the UFC and Bellator have brought their athletes into New York for press events and trainings. Now they can deliver the complete package to the Big Apple, probably helping erase some of the doubt of brands that are still on the fence about the sport. No longer will they say…if it’s so hot why can’t you compete here in New York. It is one less objection to battle, and more legitimacy for the sport.

Is the change potentially in New York the be all and end all for the sport? No. Does it mean that suddenly promoters and fighters will have a huge new stream of get rich quick cash? No. Events are still expensive to produce and will be very carefully regulated. However for the promotions like the UFC and Bellator potentially, the legalization in New York is a big win in perception and value, and a nice next step for their business, whether you like fighting or not.

Bowling and Brawling, Thoughts For The Weekend…

We arrive in the middle of November and as NCAA hoops tips off and football hits its stride some thoughts…

Nice Try, Bowling: Even with its ESPN presence, bowling hasn’t had much of a wow factor in years. The latest try is professional team bowling, city vs. city, in addition to the traditional tour. The thought, like other individual sports have tried, is that casual fans may have an interest in rooting for the guys and women from their cities, or at least their teams. Ok, but how do you draw with it, or at least get some additional buzz? Celebrity owners who bowl. So the PBA announced that Chris Paul, Jerome Bettis,  Terrell Owens and Kris Hart have become “celebrity owners” of teams. All love bowling and have agreed to participate in promotions and other competitions to help the league. Nice idea, and the guys will probably have a nice equity stake if the thing takes off but… The PBA has tried lots of things…rivalries, outdoor bowling, different scoring, million dollar purses etc etc over the year. Not much has resonated in bringing in casual fans. Now professional teams have used bowling for charity events for years with great success, and inner-city bowling centers, built up in buildings, not out, have become reasonably successful in recent years.

Chasing celebrity is certainly worth a shot for the PBA. Bowling is a fun casual game which is probably under appreciated. Other sports who have tried teams and celebrity have never really succeeded, so there’s really no formula which would lead anyone to believe that thousands are going to start showing up in bowling centers to watch pro bowling or to follow “celebrities.” It hasn’t succeeded in sports from MMA to boxing to golf to volleyball, but if bowling can make a team concept work without great loss of dollars, great.

Does MMA Need A Hertz? This week the rumors got louder that Strikeforce, one of the best well run regional professional Mixed Martial Arts promotions; will fold their tent in January after a long run in the business. The company, based in Northern California, was purchased by Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC last year, and will now be the latest MMA brand acquired by the UFC to go out of business. Strikeforce follows Pride, the World Fighting Alliance and World Extreme Cagefighting as brands that were strong on their own, were absorbed into the UFC and then disappeared. It also comes at a time when the UFC has expanded even more into Asia and is now bringing Ronda Rousey, a Strikeforce champion in as their first ever female fighter, something UFC head Dana White had said for years would never happen (Female fighters in the UFC).

There are many who feel that the professional side of MMA in the U.S. will plateau without a competing promotion to drive interest. Yet others say like the NFL, there is no need for a major second promotion when the UFC fills the bill. Sure there are smaller regional promotions that do well but does the demise of Strikeforce mean that the market is a one trick pony now more than ever…UFC or nothing?

We shall find out more in the coming months when The Bellator Fighting Championships, easily the number two national promotion now, will push forward with their new deal on Spike TV, the network that helped make the UFC before the promotion departed for  FUEL. Bellator has made its name with a tournament style competition in mid-sized arenas and has worked hard to embrace all areas of MMA fandom. What will the market, sponsors and fans tell the sport through TV ratings, attendance and brands? Is the UFC enough or is there a national market for a competitor for the long haul. The late Jay Larkin, who ran Showtime’s boxing division when it was at its peak, always said the the Showtime/HBO rivalry was best for the sport of boxing, because it forced both companies to push the other to be successful. HBO was Avis, which drove Showtime like Hertz, using the metaphor from the car rental companies. Without that push, the industry and the competition become stale.

Will that be true for professional MMA? The fight really begins in January.

The Troops Still Remain A Largely Untapped Platform…

As Memorial Day is upon us here in the States, it is interesting to take a quick look at a group that is passionate, young, loyal, appreciative, athletic, budget conscious and enthusiastic, yet is among one of the most underserved groups for brands looking to reach the male demo and grow a fan base…the men and women of the military. While the Federal Government recently announced a big cutback in sports spending on recruiting advertising (over $80 million affecting properties like fishing and NASCAR at first), it remains a mystery as to why many brands looking for that young active male demo don’t go right to the bases and places where these loyal families and “captive” audiences sit. Armed Forces Radio and TV remains a very fertile and cost efficient ground for sports brands to reach a loyal audience, and bases are always looking for programs to keep the troops and their families busy and connected to mainstream America. More importantly, these groups, once discharged, remain very loyal to those who supported them while serving their country, with NASCAR-like brand buying and affinity. So why don’t more brands look to use sports to activate with the troop. Is it because of the perception of Red Tape? The sometimes transient nature of the military and their families? Neither are clear but for those brands who can figure it out, the captive audience waiting to attach to their products, services and even teams as potential viewers and ticket buyers, is huge. Now there are a number of strong programs that serve as one-offs for honoring military men and women once at the game to give them and their families a chance to attend events. Camoflage Kids is one great one, and on Memorial Day MLB will have a series of ceremonies at all games, but those are all outbound programs once these young people are on site. Brands should look to base activation programs, tied to sports, to really make a sound investment.

Now virtually every sports property honors a local vet during a break in play. Those moments are inspirational for sure. Some teams have set about hiring programs for those returning in droves from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. All good. However sustaining programs that support the military and their families at the core rather than just a base visit here or there is really what would be unique. It may not sell huge amounts of tickets at first, but the word of mouth amongst the military is very powerful, and the legacy built in for what will be a long future of a solid fan base or a consumer alliance is probably well worth the initial investment. Several lifestyle sports…NASCAR, the UFC, Ironman…have done a good job with putting their brand with the core of the military. Finding a brand to activate with that sport is still not easy though, but combining that powerful sports brand with a solid consumer program is something that is worth cracking as we hopefully move toward more troops coming back to the States and entering civilian life.

Horse Racing, Boxing Reach A Window Together…Again

It is another test weekend for the star-crossed sports of horse racing and boxing, brought together to the stage in the form of the Kentucky Derby and Saturday’s Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Miguel Cotto fight on pay-per-view. In many ways it is not dissimilar from last May, when Manny Pacquaio’s win over Shane Mosley matched Animal Kingdom’s Kentucky Derby win amidst record attendance at Churchill Downs. In a year has much changed for the two former kings of the sports world, and can Saturday be a chance again for the two to step forward?

This time around the two sports are facing greater short term challenges for attention. The NHL and NBA Playoffs have had more drama than they gave had in years, and the UFC will bring a solid but not blockbuster card to free TV via FOX Saturday, and of course there is always baseball and various other May activities to contend with. Where will the casual fan go with their attention, and has either sport done anything in a year to raise their image to take advantage of the big stage?

In the case of horse racing the answer is yes. In the past year the NTRA and The Jockey Club have worked very hard to create awareness campaigns, new video programs, social media platforms and a series of studies to address the shortcomings of the sport. They have improved and streamlined their television coverage with partner NBC and have presented a more consistent and unified front which will help them in the long run. It has been a good year of laying the foundation to rebuild the sport from the public’s perspective with elements officials can control. The issues of abuse of horses, the viability of tracks and the increased attention on a daily basis for the sport remain problems that are being dealt with, but horse racing overall is stronger in leadership and vision than it was a year ago, and that can help lift the ship when the tide comes in, in the form of more casual viewers for a Triple Crown Saturday. Can there be better promotion of personalities like jockeys, trainers and horses over time? Sure. But those things will come and will be easier to do once we have a Derby winner who will hopefully be a compelling story, and maybe, maybe a Triple Crown contender. Microsoft jumping into the fold this week to use the Derby as a platform to pump their new phone on Hanson is certainly a refreshing sign that brands are taking notice of horse racing’s efforts, and that the future is brighter than it has been in a long while.

In boxing, the last year has really brought stagnation as the world waits for Pacquaio and Mayweather to meet. Talk of Top Rank bringing more fights to broadcast TV have not really gone anywhere, and the same routine of pay-per-view, even with the heavy hype and promotion of partners like HBO hasn’t done a great deal to really move the needle for the sport overall. Mayweather himself remains a promotional machine and a huge asset, but for the sport in general it seems to be stuck still in neutral, certainly not worse but not gaining steam as a brand in the eyes of the consumer or the industry. A blockbuster battle between the two superstars at some point could do it, but unlike horse racing, not much has changed in a year. Could a rise of excitement with the London Olympics change that?

It certainly couldn’t hurt. But right now, even with a telegenic star like Mayweather, the race between the ponies and the studs in the ring seems to be going towards the horses on the track.