USTA | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Set The Ground Rules, Save The Aggravation…

A little over 10 years ago, during a Davis Cup trip to Zimbabwe, the U.S. team passed a street in front of Robert Mugabe’s palace. In big letters there was a warning; “If you take a photo on this street you will be shot.” No one took pictures. Yes that is extreme, but it is a pretty clear way to set ground rules that all understood.

A few weeks ago one of our Columbia classes taught by Neal Pilson had an open invite for staff, alumni, current students and potential students to come in and listen to a q and a with ESPN President John Skipper. The room was filled to listen to Skipper talk about his days in publishing, the challenges of having launched ESPN.com, and a host of anecdotes about life, sports business, broadcasting and the like. Lots of little tidbits that could have made their way out of the room. Nothing overtly controversial, but very insightful from a man who is usually frank and direct but willing to give of his time. As the room filled to capacity, several young socially engaged students prepped their mobile devices for a tweet or two. After all, this is the era of information, and Skipper and Pilson were ready to share. However to the disappointment of some at least, the ground rules were very carefully planned out. No tweeting, posting or recording could take place, in order to keep the session for those invited guests. The result? An open, frank discussion that respected the speakers wishes and a solid time was had by all. The ground rules were set, and the respect was in place.

Juxtapose that discussion, where the rules were set, to a pair of other recent incidents, one involving the Boston Red Sox and President Barack Obama and the other involving Rutgers Athletic Director Julie Hermann. In the first case, POTUS and David Ortiz willingly posed for a selfie that one of Ortiz’s sponsors, Samsung, turned into a marketing push without the consent of the President in any way. Then the Newark Star Ledger broke a story where Hermann was quoted while speaking to a student group at Rutgers as saying she hoped the paper, which had just gone through massive layoffs and is perhaps the media outlet that covers activities on the campus, would essentially go out of business. Whether it was meant sarcastically, or was even taken slightly out of context, it created a firestorm again with the media around the Scarlet Knights. The result? More brand damage and distraction for Rutgers.

What do all four anecdotes show? Pretty simple. We live in an age where media of all kinds is available for consumption willingly or unwillingly, and unless one takes the proper steps to guard against public-facing statements or information, as Skipper did, then anyone is fair game. Was the selfie with Ortiz innocent on the part of the President and Big Papi? Probably. Was there someone on the savvy marketing side waiting or planning to take advantage of the innocent moment? Seems so. In Hermann’s case, was she trying to make news in a frank discussion with students? Probably not. Did she set herself up for an issue by not setting ground rules prior, as happened at Columbia. Looks like that is the case. Now this is not to say setting ground rules can always lead to people acting honorably or responsibly. The thought of embargoes on news stories seem to be more and more a thing of the past, with media outlets scrambling to break news on any platform willing to sometimes ask forgiveness now more than permission, and a tweet, no matter how innocent, just seconds before a story breaks can have career implications for all involved.  Does the Ortiz incident mean that events at White House or other official gatherings will now be like some elite weddings or courtrooms, where any mobile devices need to be confiscated to avoid potential conflict? Could be. We did live in a world not too long ago where images were not captured on phones, they were done by cameras on film and then shared by those who wanted those images distributed and we all seemed fine with it. Taking temptation away can have its benefits in such cases, as can very clear ground rules. The more you think and know your audience, the better off all will be. Image creation and media consumption are great, and by no means should the free flow of ideas be curtailed in most cases. However the higher the image the higher the risk, as we saw again this week, both in DC and New Brunswick. Without setting the rules going in, all bets are off coming out and a news cycle, no matter how innocent or unintentional begins and creates even more distractions for the parties involved.  

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.

Davis Cup Served A Not So “Super” Hand…Again

There are few team sports competitions with such a long history and tradition as Davis Cup in men’s tennis. Similar to Ryder Cup in golf, Davis Cup takes usually the best of the best in an individual men’s sports and brings those players together in the rarest of rare, as a team, to play for their country  against the greatest tennis-playing nations around the globe. In many countries the interest can rival that of World Cup or the Olympics, and for many tennis federations the ability to bring the best players in the world together in some very unique venues is a great way to showcase the game, grow interest and bring in much needed revenue to fuel junior programs and keep the sport healthy. Few who have ever attended a Davis Cup tie will ever forget the experience, one which is different from anything else seen in the sport, with the exception of World Team Tennis and Fed Cup (which is the women’s equivalent). It is a loud, raucous, fan friendly event.

That’s the good news. The bad news is the event continues to be lost in the global landscape, especially in the United States. It’s annual schedule is cumbersome and not easy to understand; countries who win the title in the late fall rarely have time to enjoy their benefits, as the new schedule starts in mid-Winter, right after the Australian Open, and an early round setback kills all the equity built from the year before. The annual must-commit schedule also makes it very difficult for the best players to consistently compete, and Davis Cup suffers from some of the same things that make the World Baseball Classic just a notch below what its goal is’ in theory it is the best of the best but without all the top players committed it can become an also-ran. Yes Davis Cup is well funded globally and the International Tennis Federation outs large resources behind it. It is usually well attended locally and the potential television audience globally is considerable. But in the landscape of sport, especially in the United States, Davis Cup is continuing to fall off the map.

Now this is not to say in any way the United States Tennis Association does not do a good job of finding creative ways to promote their home events. The staff continually finds creative and enthusiastic venues, from Idaho to Jacksonville to this year’s first round in Petco Park in San Diego, California. They engage the local community, invest hard dollars into marketing and event presentation, and always deliver a top notch show with sizable crowds.  The players are treated first class, and the support they are given is reflective of their commitment to play in the event. This year’s first round matchup is even more historic than others; a meeting with Great Britain, the U.S.’ longtime rival in the Cup, and playing it outdoors, on clay, in the home of the San Diego Padres should be a treat for all involved.

So what’s the problem? Schedule. For the second year in a row the U.S. will host a first round matchup on perhaps the worst weekend of the year in the country, unless you happen to be playing American football. Super Bowl weekend. Last year a sellout crowd in Jacksonville, Florida cheered the U.S. to a stunning win over Brazil…on Super Bowl weekend. Outside of North Florida, with the exception of some tennis diehards tuning in on The Tennis Channel, who knew? Few. The crush of media attention for Super Bowl makes it a virtual impossibility to leverage the excitement of Davis Cup in the States when you go head to head with the world’s largest single day sports and entertainment spectacle. You can market locally and bring the fans in, but playing the event on the eve of Super Bowl…again…is a disservice to all involved, and certainly does not help grow the sport of tennis in its largest country or help get the committed players the exposure deserved.  What should be a huge national celebration of a great sport turns into an afterthought and is something the USTA does not have control over.

So what to do? The suggestions have long been in place; move the event to a World Cup or Ryder Cup format over a period of years to build equity; take notice of other global events so as not to clash; move off of a weekend-only format to capture a prime time audience in the States have all been out forward, with the argument being that internationally the U.S. is not the only country that needs to be considered. That is fine and good, but against The Super Bowl? An event which will draw millions not just in the U.S. but around the globe? It is again a bad hand tennis has been dealt in the U.S., at a time when overall professional interest in the game is at a crossroads. It certainly is not dying, but it is plateaued as the casual fan waits for the next American male star to emerge. There are lots of compelling stories for sure, but in a society that loves winners, especially home grown ones, tennis needs a U.S. face to cross-over, and playing Davis Cup on Super Bowl weekend in the U.S. certainly doesn’t help.

It’s not a new issue but it certainly is one of frustration for those who look to market not just the sport of tennis, but all the ancillary properties around the game, as an iconic platform continues to struggle find its place in an ever changing and fast-evolving global sports community. The sport in the States is again served a bad hand, and because of the schedule, few may even notice in two weeks time.

Beach Games A New One To Watch…

Two things the world has enough of are sand and water, and more than enough resorts and beaches to try and lure tourists. So it was not a great deal of surprise that this week SportAccord announced that it will be the creator of the World Beach Games at a predetermined location starting in 2015.

Sand castle building? Not quite. What the WBG could be is the X Games of the water, with some of the most popular existing Olympic sports like beach volleyball, and one popular Olympic wannabe, beach soccer, thrown in (along with beach tennis and some other hybrids).  

Now the concept is not altogether new, as  Asia has been hosting Beach Games since 2008, the last of which took place in Chinese resort Haiyang last year. The initial contests were a great success and incorporated events like wakeboarding and dragon boat racing which have long tried for Olympic inclusion but could never find success. They are not huge on attendance numbers, do not need large stadia, and fit a demo that Olympic sports crave (young and athletic) and are ripe for made for TV and digital, in the same way that the America’s Cup captured the tech space with their innovative broadcasts this past September.

Events like these are also a great draw for off-season resort locations which maybe could never attract world class international events before. The Bahamas, for example has made a big push into college sports with basketball and football, and a Beach games international competition in months where the resorts need to draw attention are a great fit.

Now there are some natural drawbacks. Even temporary stadia and facilities are costly, as organizations like the AVP found out when running their tour. You can’t just use any sand for high level beach competition; it needs to be pristine, and in many instances had to be trucked in from other locales. Building even temporary venues can also be a logistical nightmare, and you are also subject to the unpredictable wind, rain and currents that will crop up, not to mention having to stage many of the events at a time when there is daylight, as night or twilight competitions may look beautiful but can be very challenging. There is also a limitation on venues, but even staging games on massive lakes are an option (Chicago or Lake Victoria anyone?)

The opportunities far outweigh the drawbacks though. The IOC has long wanted to bring in new sports, and the ones on the water pose an opportunity, one that is lower cost than most large scale team events. The water and sand, albeit pricey to set up in some cases, is still a natural existing setting, and the ability for new sponsor dollars to flow in, as well as countries looking to host, are very wide. New faces, in many cases with lots of athletic skin to show, can present a very enticing package for broadcasters and corporations looking to find a breakthrough niche in global sport at a reasonable cost could gravitate to a competition that is sure to draw both core fans and a solid casual audience.

If you had to draw a line in the sand on whether the Beach games will succeed as an emerging, hip, fan friendly property, now with an international backing, it would be fair to give it a fighting chance, much in the way the recently staged “Combat Games” have worked for fight sports and the “Urban Games” can work for the innercity.

Sand and water can bring lots of fun and new stars to global sport, making The Beach Games experiment one to follow.

Sport Becomes More Global: TCS and The NYC Marathon

There is no event more New York than the New York City Marathon. There is also no event in New York that annually draws a global participant base than the Marathon as well. So it should come as no surprise that the new title sponsor of the Marathon will be an Indian technology company, whose CEO is an avid runner.

What is impressive is where yet another multibillion dollar global company will go next as it enters the American sports business marketplace more formally.  Now Tata Consultancy Services, or TCS, is not a newbie in the running space. It has held a sponsorship on a lower level with the Marathon, and with the Chicago and Boston Marathons as well, developing apps for the race and engaging with the millions who have used tech to engage with friends and family around road race events.

However this move represents a bold new step for the company, one that brings added opportunity, and added attention not just in the running space but in the sports and lifestyle space for the consumer.   The $12 billion company employs 280,000 people around the world, with 50% of its business derived in the U.S. right now, and a platform like the Marathon, which will bring exposure and opportunity not just race weekend but virtually all year round with the scores of events the New York Roadrunners hold and the aggressive marketing stance the organization takes.

The running and lifestyle space is an interesting one for tech companies whose audience matches well with those who engage in participatory activities as well. It is the platform that ING Direct aggressively engaged in road running and cycling as it pushed into the crowded online banking space in the States over a decade ago, with the plan to continue to use active first adopters as their key to growth. Unfortunately the shift in the global economy along with a change in leadership wreaked havoc with that plan, and ING has gone on to focus on more traditional ad buys and sponsorship of events like Formula 1 to re-engage with high level consumers vs. those who may take time to cultivate at the grassroots though participatory sports.

So if TCS is taking the road of marathoning, will it open doors for forward-facing brands activations in the exploding endurance space, with triathlons and circuits like Tough Mudder, Muddy Buddy, Rock N Roll marathon, US Roadsports and others that are very aggressive in their growth? Cycling has also had a huge exit from brands, but it is a sport that remains key for growth amongst consumers who are active…is there a spot there for TCS as well?

Then there is the oath that other global brands have taken to engage with American consumers. Turkish Airways, Lenovo, Ethiad Airways, Emirates Airways and several others have looked to tennis, golf, even soccer and horse racing, as entry points before going into the big spend, big reward area of the professional leagues in the States. Will TCS follow those playbooks and use road running as the key way into the minds and pocketbooks of the American business consumer?

Then there is the association with a BRIC-based company and where that can go. India, like China, is a prime growth area for sports like basketball, so is there an opportunity for TCS to dance with the NBA? Maybe not in the US first but in their work in those countries as a tech partner? Also what does this mean for more established tech support companies that have been in American sports, like IBM, in the future? The scuttlebutt is that TCS spend was larger than anything else the Marathon has ever had. Does that mean that they now become a player for key events outside of running as well, like the US Open for tennis and golf, or even bowl games in college football?

At the end of the day the TCS, NYRR marriage is an interesting one for many reasons. It introduces a newer brand in American sports business, but it comes because the CEO is an engaged runner  who has sampled and enjoyed the space. It unites a solutions company with a sport that has opportunities in tech solutions, since timing and logistics in a marathon is key. It uses a b to b play that can build equity much more than a consumer play despite the impressions TCS will get. It’s not like every day someone is running out looking for a new tech solutions company, but this partnership, for those who do engage in that space, will push TCS to be more top of mind for those who run, or even the casual followers of the marathon. It also shows the continued evolution of sponsor branding for elite, high profile events. While consumer brands can use events and partnerships to directly show how their bottom line is impacted, a partnership like this will be much more of a long term fit in the overall strategy of the company, with ROI taking time to develop as people get more educated about what TCS is doing.

Regardless it’s another example of sport becoming more global, and global brands finding ways to engage with an American audience. Well times, and one worth watching for sure.

Golf, Tennis Take Manhattan…Sort Of.

The perception is, if you want to succeed on Madison Avenue fully, then you need to bring the game to those making the decision. Every team sport, as well as air racing, triathlons, hot dog eating, even surfing, have tried to show the value of their product by coming as perilously close to Gotham as possible at least every few years. Formula 1 will try it again next year…NASCAR, for its mega success, still scratches its head with the closest race a few hours away at “The Tricky Triangle” at Pocono, and the same goes for Indy Car. You can bring the personalities, the drivers, the noise for special events, but to experience the event, you still have to go just that much further, and that much further makes a big difference for a distracted media and advertising and brand activation business that sometimes doesn’t like to leave the confines of the Big Apple. We really like you, but until you can come to our house we can’t really have a full relationship.

That’s why tennis’ biggest event, The US Open, with its most widespread brand activation platform, will kick off within eyeshot of Broadway, at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. Meanwhile a huge event for golf, the annual Barclays, will have Manhattan for its backdrop at the swanky Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City. With its sweeping views of lower Manhattan in the not too long distance, Liberty National serves as a not too subtle reminder for the PGA that big brands and even bigger dollars lurk just across the Hudson, and it is a very easy ride to bring those who spend the dollars of brands to see the stars. It is not Bedminster or Montclair, it is Jersey City, a growing suburban of young urban professionals rivaled only by Brooklyn in its upward mobility, making the course, like the National Tennis Center, an easy stop for the hip, the swanky and the brands who can activate so close to the office.

For sure, elite courses like Trump National and Bethpage Black and Winged Foot have served golf very well from a business perspective, but to have such an amazing facility, with most of golf’s elite players on board, so close to the business capital of the world is invaluable to brand golf. It is a once a year stop that can bring golf close to the office, and while decision makers visit over the weekend, can serve as a reminder to how close all the activation opportunities that come with the golfing clientele can come to Manhattan. It is a strategy that can and will work well as a marketing tool for the sport; one that other sports who aren’t so close to New York City can try to replicate, but still may fall short. Yes you can do junkets to close in and far off events to capture the experience of the live event but having the event so close to home makes it just that more memorable, and provides just that more of an opportunity for brands to cozy up and spend those large discretionary dollars.

Now is that the only reason Liberty National ended up so close to Manhattan? No. It is an accessible course for millions who might want to take a shot at recreational golf, but in the end, to fund those programs, the PGA needs to raise the dollars, and having such an event so close to decision makers is key.

It is a model the USTA has played so well for years, using their two week window to raise millions to fund the game across the country at the grassroots level, and although this short week at The Barclays won’t be the huge windfall that the US Open is for tennis in the same location every year, it sure goes a long way in helping grow the game of golf on the corporate level, and with that growth comes a spillover to help the game expand. That is smart business, and why Liberty National gives golf a strategic advantage that didn’t exist just a few years ago, bringing the game as close to the seat of business as it ever has been.  That value, in a time when ROI is placed at a higher value than ever before, is immeasurable, and helps the perception of success for  he business of golf, become much more of a reality for all involved.

Is Volunteerism About To Have A Pricetag?

Some of the most successful people in the sports and entertainment fields all started at the same place…the bottom; as volunteers, freelancers, and interns trying to get some experience and learn on the job. It was rarely about the money; it was about following your passion and being part of the experience. The value that these volunteers have brought to massive events can’t be quantified, and many times the value of the exposure that volunteers get, or the memories they have or the contacts made, can’t have a dollar value either. It is a business of networking and climbing the ladder and many times some of those best experiences aren’t done for the love of the dollar, they are done for the love of the game or the event.

That’s not to say that there isn’t abuse by organizations who willfully take advantage of passionate volunteers for personal gain, or use hordes of volunteers for menial and mundane tasks without any thought of the person.  There are also those volunteers whose expectations may be set too high and don’t have a positive experience, that can happen anywhere, or those who try something and realize it’s not for them. It’s all part of the experience, and that experience both good and bad, is invaluable.

In recent years I have been lucky enough to work with Dr. Harvey Schiller. Dr. Schiller is one of the most accomplished executives in any field, having had careers in the military, as a teacher, as a television executive, as a team owner, even as commissioner of a professional wrestling organization. However his time in sport, started as a volunteer…in his 40’s. It was at the Los Angeles Olympics  working with Peter Uberroth that Dr. Schiller actually began moving quickly towards a paid career which has spanned over 30 years and included stints as SEC Commissioner,  Chairman of the USOC, President of YankeeNets, President of Turner Sports and on and on. All the while Dr. Schiller continued to volunteer for service to others as well, serving on boards and assisting young people selflessly without asking for a wage. He is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of executives who have positively come up through the system and found ways to pay that spirit forward, or give people a chance as a volunteer at an event…and he always says thank you.

The spirit and success gained through volunteerism is invaluable, especially in the challenging landscape sports and entertainment is in today. This past week there was a story in the press about a volunteer for the MLB Fan Fest in New York who sought wages in a lawsuit against Major League Baseball. The man, and thousands of others, volunteered to work at MLB Fan fest, received tickets and other opportunities, and for sure was one of thousands who were essential to the success of All-Star Week. His suit maintains that because MLB is a for-profit industry he should have been compensated more.   While not knowing all the details, it seems to fly in the face of volunteerism for any for-profit event.  The experience gained by many working such events, from the Super Bowl to the US Open to the PGA Championships, is not about a few dollars…it is about being part of the collective.  There is no doubt that MLB is a money-making organization…no professional sports entity has ever claimed to be not-for-profit…but to not understand that going into a volunteering situation seems silly from the outset. Perhaps the person filing the suit was misled or happened into a job as a volunteer that did not meet his skill set. That happens and he can gladly walk away. However to look for compensation every time one volunteers for the experience is troublesome. It should not always be about the hard dollar, many times it should be about the dollar value one gets from learning, meeting and growing oneself.

Maybe this lawsuit is proved to have merit, and that for-profit events have to compensate their volunteers, or provide more paperwork or value to those who pony up for the thrill of it. Maybe the spirit of volunteerism has died to the point where everyone needs to be paid for everything. Maybe t is just not-for-profit events like the New York City Marathon that should ask for volunteers. If that’s the case than there are many people who may not get the chance going forward to be included in gaining valuable experience firsthand, or building relationships to last a lifetime, because for-profit events cannot afford to pay thousands of volunteers.  

There are certainly two sides to every story, and there is certainly some abuse in a system where there are thousands looking for an “in” for only hundreds of spots. But there is a lot to be said about being part of an event experience that is priceless for many, and you can’t put a price on experience gained.

Volunteerism…whether it is Little League coaching or interning at a network or minor league ballpark, or helping drive athletes to and from the US Open…has value and always will. Whether that value now has a price tag will be interesting to watch and see what the courts have to say.  It could change the way the business of sport is done, maybe not for the better.

How To Use The TWO Quietest Days In Sports…

It happens every year and this year we got a double dose. The two days (used to be one) after the MLB All-Star Game are the days with almost no professional game in North America…Wednesday has become ESPY Day…a day also this year when Keith Olberman returned to ESPN and the NCAA announced it was dropping  its license with EA Sports.  Thursday golf also starts to grab its headlines with the Open Championships starting in Scotland. MLS is around, but their All-Star event is still a ways away on a day or days where it may be able to grab some additional eyeballs on these quiet days.

What do those days mean? A chance for other second tier sports…other events, to own a day with the right spin and marketing spend. What do we have ? We have the ESPY’s, again well positioned to dominate the night and able to draw star power from every sport imaginable into LA. What was started as a gimmicky celebration has really turned into a major awards event for sports and entertainment, now with all the social media trappings pulled right in. We also had well placed SEC Media Day and its Johnny Manziel hype, the official unveiling of a smattering of NBA signings and the Las Vegas Summer League,  a handful of minor league baseball,  as well as a trade or two, but the quietest days remained pretty quiet.

Now maybe because it is the summer and brands don’t like to launch new platforms with a challenged audience base, but if there is an emerging sport or brands around it, the Wednesday post-All Star remains the day to grab attention and even this year a Thursday without some MLB. Some ideas:

Youth sports: Much has been made in recent years about the segmented structure that youth sports now takes in our society. Some groups have launched “Sandlot Day,” which encourages kids to play without adult supervision. Maybe the day after All-Star becomes just that…youth sports day, with activation programs tied to camps around the country, supported with the loud voice of the White House as a vehicle for anti-bullying and the “Let’s Move” campaign. Maybe it was time for the world’s biggest game of checkers or chess, some stunt that united youth sports across the country.

Pro Lacrosse: Professional lacrosse still moves in fits and starts, indoor and out. Could they take advantage of the day after All-Star to stage their own mega-event. It would draw coverage and interest if positioned right, and mid-summer is not a bad spot for the outdoor game.

Tennis: It is the right time to stage promotions, Mylan World Team Tennis is winding down its breakneck schedule, the summer hardcourt season is going on out west, so could tennis use the day…or days for a strong grassroots push leading to the US Open? It used to be May being branded Tennis Month, but a period in mud-July could also stoke the interest and give some brands additional ROI

Now maybe it’s best that the sports hangover day is quiet, as people need some time off and maybe there is not the market to rally enough support for a July Wednesday for a mega-event. However brands and entities in sport are always looking for a window, a clear one, to launch and promote. One thing is for sure, if you were enterprising enough to find your way into AP’s transaction column Wednesday, your name was all over America’s papers and websites, as you could hear crickets coming from the world of professional sports this past Wednesday. Unless you were partying with the superstars in LA. Just a thought.

“Brand Tennis” Gets A Bounce…

It’s never easy to create a global initiative in anything for one day, let alone anything to do with sport…on a weekday at a time of year when most of the sporting world is thinking soccer, pitchers and catchers, basketball, ice hockey, lacrosse or any myriad of ideas. Tennis? The hard courts of Melbourne are a memory, the clay of Roland Garros and the grass of Wimbledon is still covered and even in the US the spring outdoor events at places like Key Biscayne and Indian Wells are only starting to come into focus. Then you lop on schedules for indoor events both exhibitions and scheduled tournaments, Davis and Fed Cup, and getting casual fans and the media to focus on tennis  on a Monday in march seems like quite a challenge.

 However the International Tennis Federation, with a huge lift from two mega-exhibitions in New York and, and the support of over 40 countries have put a stake in the ground, proclaiming Monday March 4 World Tennis Day…a day where lessons indoor and out, events big and small, will serve as a call to action to remind people of the benefits and star power that the sport has, as the weather in many places gets warmer and people start to look for outdoor activity. It will also serve as a good call to action to event promoters around the globe with tickets to sell for upcoming events to give media and fans a chance to engage with them at a time when thoughts may still be elsewhere for tournaments this summer.

World Tennis Day is centered around two high-profile events; BNP Paribas Showdown in New York’s Madison Square Garden that this year will see Rafa Nadal highlight a card that also has  World No. 1, Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams and  Juan Martin del Potro,  and a new event of the same name to be played at the AsiaWorld-Arena in Hong Kong with Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.

In the US, The United States Tennis Association (USTA) has already established promotion were clubs are asked to open their doors as part of a month-long drive to get children playing the sport. Over 2,200 clubs in the United States took part in this initiative in 2012 and the goal is to eclipse that number this year.

For their part, the ITF has offered up their own simpler grassroots style event to clubs around the world with a similar goal…so the question is, will it work?

An initiative of this size needs two part…star power and commitment to follow through at the grassroots. For the two anchor events, New York and Hong Kong, the stars for the night are in places, and the global television audience should effectively help merchandise the benefits and the fun of the sport at a time when many won’t be thinking tennis top of mind. The mobilization of thousands of club pros around the world not just on the day, but n the weekend prior and the weeks following, is also key to making the promotion effective.

 Now is this a global media event with millions watching live? No. Does it need more brand opportunities away from New York and Hong Kong to activate at a consumer level? For sure. Will it suddenly vault tennis back into a higher level of daily awareness? No. What this event does do is give those casual fans a strong reminder to start picking up a racquet, it creates some nice brand awareness in two key markets for the stars of the game (especially Nadal whose injuries have kept him out of the spotlight as one of the game’s most telegenic faces) and it gives the hyper local a great rallying point. Sure it needs lots of follow-up to sustain the bounce the game will get for a night, but as an attempt to create buzz and grow the game, the concept of World Tennis Day is a good one, and one that as it expands can have even more impact on healthy lifestyles than it will on finding the next Grand Slam Champion.

 A good promotion, and a nice next step for a game that needs the boost.   

Grabbing The Quietest Weekend In Sports…

A blizzard blanketed the Northeastern United States (kudos to The Weather Channel folks by the way, who took a lot of heat from The National Weather Service when they started naming winter storms like hurricanes but struck gold with Nemo!) this weekend, leaving millions with nothing to do but dig out and turn on the TV and fire up the computer. With the Super Bowl buzz a distant memory, and the NBA All-Star game a week away, there is a surprising gaping hole in the sports calendar this weekend that teams and brands may look to exploit in future years. The NHL for example, would have had its All-Star weekend the week before the Super Bowl (in Columbus, Ohio, helping a franchise…the Blue Jackets... that may be the least known of any team amongst the five major North American sports leagues), but that weekend still had the rise to Super Bowl and even the Pro Bowl. This weekend? Other than regular season NBA and NHL and college hoops? Nothing. USA Hockey has made NEXT weekend Hockey Weekend Across America, but it butts against the NBA All-Star Weekend…why not this weekend?

Now next year will be a bit different, as we will slide into the first weekend of the Sochi Olympics. But even the Winter Olympics will be six hours away from the States,  and usually the first few days do not bring the major events. Can the NHL take advantage and drop some elite early round pool matchups into those days, and in turn make the weekend in the States all about brand hockey? Peewee, minor league and college? Would be a great play. Could NASCAR  move Daytona back into the quiet week? How about a sport like lacrosse, with its indoor pro game, finding a place in the crowded schedule? Gold is tied to warm weather, tennis is indoors in Europe, but how about Davis Cup, which somehow decided to play a US-Brazil tie LAST WEEKEND in Jacksonville, Florida. Going up against the Super Bowl, even for a sport that says it is more global and doesn’t concern itself with local events, did not help the USTA or the sport, and a very exciting 3-2 result was lost amidst commercials for Super Bowl and mega pre game shows.

How about amateur and fitness sports? This past Wednesday was National Girls and  Women in Sports Day…yet it garnered little coverage and was lost in the post-Super Bowl hangover, the one year to Sochi campaigns and other mid-week happenings. How could such an important demo…from moms who are decision makers to young women who need to be active as part of a healthy lifestyle to elite and telegenic female athletes…be lost in the mix by brands and Madison Avenue. This week Sports Illustrated will unveil its swimsuit issue as part of Fashion Week in New York, and that well marketed “tribute ” to beauty and sport for sure will not get lost in the shuffle. Baseball? Pitchers and catchers have started to report and some teams will hold fan fests, but the logistic transition of most teams make this a difficult weekend to convene in most major markets, unless you are a warm weather club lie the Marlins or DBacks who don’t have to go far.

Now maybe the psyche needs a respite from the Super Bowl, and we needed a weekend of nothing. However if you are a league, a sport, a brand looking to engage and carve a niche, this weekend seems to be a good annual one. The NFL has found a great spot opening their season the Thursday after Labor Day unencumbered. The Kentucky Derby has its spot. The Masters has its own place on the calendar. The weekend after Super Bowl seems ripe for someone to claim and build upon, lets see if someone grabs it.