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ESPN on Thursday announced that it was shuttering its Global X Games property after one year and concentrating instead on its Winter and Summer X events in the U.S. The company said the economics of events in Barcelona, Munich, Foz do Iguacu and Tignes were not sustainable. The announcement brings an end to an expansion of X Games that began two years ago when ESPN turned it into a global property and held a bid process for three new X Games. ESPN hoped to sell eight to 10 global sponsorships for its four international and two domestic X Games, but it sold only four (Red Bull, Go Pro, Ford and U.S. Navy). The company also ran into significant production costs associated with the event (Tripp Mickle, Staff Writer). In Denver, Jason Blevins noted ESPN "promised it remained 'fully committed' to the X Games and its competitions in Aspen and Austin." Still, Aspen is "waiting for word from the network about Winter X contests" beyond '14. The latest two-year contract between the Aspen Skiing Co. and ESPN expires after the January '14 event, "after 13 years of X Games at the ski company’s Buttermilk ski area." Aspen has bid to "retain the winter circus," but two Lake Tahoe-area ski sites have "submitted a joint bid." ESPN has said that an announcement about the Winter X host "will land this fall" (DENVERPOST.com, 10/3). Aspen Skiing Co. VP/Sales & Events John Rigney said that he has been "in regular communication" with ESPN officials about "a long-term X Games contract extension." Rigney said that he was "caught off guard" by the shuttering of the Global X Games, but he believes that Aspen is now "in a better position to hold on to the valuable event." Rigney: "Regardless of what went on with their global expansion, their focus on Aspen and now Austin is a testament to our community" (ASPEN DAILY NEWS, 10/4).
N.Y. Marathon organizers are instituting several security restrictions, including searching "all bags brought anywhere near" the event, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, according to Mary Pilon of the N.Y. TIMES. In addition, family members of runners "heading to the finish line will go through a special screening," and people "marching in the kickoff parade will not be allowed to carry bags of any kind." Race organizers are "overhauling their approach to road racing security." NYRR President & CEO Mary Wittenberg "almost immediately after the Boston bombings in April" consulted with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. Wittenberg said that NYRR "hired an international private security firm, MSA Security, to conduct 'a top-to-bottom analysis' of the organization’s existing security plan." NYRR Exec VP/Event Development & Broadcast Production Peter Ciaccia said that event organizers are "trying to seal off more areas, perhaps most notably at the family reunion area, where new bag checks will be installed along Central Park West." Pilon reports other security elements will include "clear plastic bags used to store goods; an expansion of baggage inspection areas" at the starting line and "an increase of assigned police officers, uniformed and undercover." N.Y.-based security consultant Anthony Roman said that he expected the NYPD to "use some combination of its extensive counterterrorism tools." But Ciaccia said, "We’re not trying to create a police state." Pilon notes marathons "have long posed security challenges." While the NFL can "seal off stadiums, the paradelike, sprawling layout of a marathon" creates a "security headache" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/4). The AP's Rachel Cohen reported the added security will include an increase in "bomb-sniffing dogs." Also, key staffers and volunteers will "receive new training in emergency management." However, NYRR "decided it would be impractical to ban bags from the finish area." Wittenberg said that NYRR had "heard little concern from entrants about security risks" (AP, 10/3).
The evolution of data on social media usage and how brands can use it to better connect with consumers was a major topic during the final panel of the '13 CSE Social Media & Sports Series. During a session titled “Social Trends Impacting Consumer Engagement,” MediaLink Senior VP Eric Fernandez said the challenge is, “How do you take first-party data that you have on your customer and start to match that up with what’s happening on a third-party basis, and using a social conversation?” He added, “You can take all the social conversations out there and you can ingest that data, and if you've got the right platform and right technology that can overlay that, you can start to pull out the right nuggets that are going to help you as a brand on the planning side.” Turner Sports VP/Marketing Jeff Mirman said the company is constantly monitoring the behavior of its consumers on social media, because by “understanding what they like, or don’t like, for that matter, we can make better content.” CSE Senior VP/Strategy John Mitchell echoed that sentiment, saying, “As marketers our job is to make good content and cut down on the noise. ... If you’re putting it out there, make sure it’s something people are wanting.” The panel saw social media as a way to create something of a loyalty program, because fans are able to choose who they follow and engage with. Along the same lines, they felt it was important that those fans be rewarded with unique content. Mirman said, “You have to give content and great access and things that you might not get if you weren't a fan. It’s a unique opportunity to connect.”
EXPANDING REACH AND CONVERSATION: The panelists agreed that it was important not to spend too much time focused on one specific social platform, but to have a hand in all the different mediums to expand reach and further conversations. Mitchell said, “You want to be on all these different platforms because you have different consumers consuming the different stories across all those. ... What’s important when you have a big event is to make sure you are everywhere socially. You have to start the conversation on all these different platforms.” Mirman added, “We try to look at what is right for the moment and what’s right for the fan or brand. So we try to spread as much of this stuff as we can to try to get a better net and get as many different impressions as we can.”
Mitchell emphasized the importance of presence
on multiple social platforms for big events
KEEPING AN EYE ON IN THE NEXT YEAR? Mirman: "It’s all about understanding data. It’s the Wild West right now." Mitchell: "It’s also the context, and how brands start responding to that (data). That’s going to be something that’s going to be very powerful that brands haven’t completely attacked yet. What brands haven’t fully tapped yet is this ability to reach out and reward people all the time." Fernandez: "Vine is 6-8 months old and that caused Instagram to come up with video. ... What’s going to be the next device or what’s going to be the next platform that people really gravitate towards?"
"Connecting with Consumers through Sports and Entertainment Platforms" was the theme of the final session of the '13 CSE Sports Marketing Symposium. Discussing the success and pitfalls of the intersection of sports and entertainment were Time Inc. Sports Group President Mark Ford, Gillette Global Sports Marketing Dir Greg Via, WWE Senior VP/Global Sales & Partnership Marketing Michael Pine, and NASCAR VP/Entertainment Marketing Zane Stoddard. "Entertainment is a vehicle to deliver new audiences to our story," said Stoddard. "What was happening with Jeff Gordon around the track five years ago was adequate. Now people want to see him around his house. We're seeing more stuff happening off-field and off-track. You want stories that are appealing to general audiences." Stoddard shared one example of how merging pop culture with NASCAR could go wrong and right. "We had 50 Cent at the Daytona 500 and he tweeted a few things that we would not have scripted," said Stoddard. “There are inherent risks, but there is upside. He followed up with a few tweets about how amazing the race is and how there was more diversity than he expected. It got more than 10 million views." Ford said that the desire to merge sports and entertainment led to the creation of Extra Mustard, the pop culture section of Sports Illustrated and SI.com. "We need new franchises," Ford said. Asked how he would decide if any new initiative was not working, Ford said, "If they're not sharing it, it doesn't stay very long." Citing Gillette's association with athletes such as NFLers Victor Cruz and Clay Matthews, Via said, "We wanted people that appeal to general audiences. We do 360 degree activation. It's on TV, digital, it's in-store, it's everywhere. We don't sit on the sidelines with it. We need guys with a bigger personality that are willing to come along with us."
--Pine, on pro wrestling's seamless integration of entertainment: "We control our own story lines. It's scripted! Sorry, for anyone who didn't know. Entertainment and sports comes together for us in one nice package."
--Ford, on the annual SI Swimsuit Issue: "There's no question that swimsuit is a great franchise for this legendary franchise. It reaches 70 million people and has generated a billion dollars in revenue. "
--Stoddard, on the aftermath of the limited appeal of Ron Howard's F1-themed movie, "Rush," which cost $30M to make and grossed $10M in the U.S. in its opening weekend of wide release: "It's doing okay, not great. (NASCAR) has a project at Universal. If our movie was ready to come out now, they might be in more of a wait-and-see mode."
--Via said that the company's agreement with Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin calls for his facial hair to be, "well-trimmed, not Grizzly Adams." During the NHL playoffs, when growing beards has become a tradition for players, Ovechkin is entitled to go grizzly. Via also said that Gillette has some endorsement deals with a few international soccer players that will be announced soon.
Movie director Ivan Reitman took the '13 CSE Sports Marketing Symposium audience behind the scenes of his new film, “Draft Day,” as part of a Hollywood-focused panel on Thursday. Reitman said the first step in making the movie was “to find out if the NFL was interested, because to really make it the way it had to be, we needed their cooperation.” He added, “We couldn't make up team names the way certain films have and create our own league or our own draft, because then the film really wouldn't have any power. It wouldn't have the energy that the story had.” Convincing the NFL to be fully invested in the project was no easy task. NFL VP/Entertainment Marketing & Promotions Tracy Perlman said, “When we got the script originally, there were some things in it that made me a little bit nervous and we weren't sure where it was going.” But a meeting with Reitman allayed those concerns. Perlman: “I could see that he wanted to make an authentic film about the NFL and about what the Draft was truly about. After we spoke, I brought it around the building and said Ivan’s the right partner, he wants this to be exactly what it is. He wants to show the drama of being on the clock and the humanity of having to save your job on this day, the humanity of being a football player and trying to wait to see what’s going to happen to you.” The script had to go through a long list of NFL departments for approval, including legal, PR, marketing, events, football operations, NFL Films and the individual teams that would be involved. Reitman said, “It was a really difficult process finally to get all the pieces together -- actors, money, distribution - in time to make the film. And we just made it by the skin of our teeth to be able to shoot with the Draft.”
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: It was important to both Reitman and the NFL that the league and the Draft be portrayed in an authentic way. All of the NFL’s sponsors -- include Gatorade, Pepsi, Frito Lay and GMC -- are represented in the film, without any kind of separate deal. Perlman said, “All of our partners are in the film because it’s authentic to who we are. It’s authentic to what happens at the Draft.” The NFL Network and ESPN also play large roles in the film. Reitman said, “They are the great commentators of sports events, particularly football. They are the Draft as it’s portrayed on television and so they had to be a very big part of this film.” Producer Ali Bell said of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s role in the film, “There’s nothing more credible than having the actual commissioner show up.” Meanwhile, Reitman said of Texans RB Arian Foster, who has a role in the film, “I think he’s got a future as an actor. He has this lovely quality. For a guy who pounds it up the field, he has extraordinary sensitivity in a close up. I actually moved him up to a larger part after I saw it.” Lionsgate next week will begin pre-screening “Draft Day,” and the hope is the film will come out sometime between Super Bowl XLVIII in February and the ’14 NFL Draft in April.
MILLION DOLLAR ARM: The makers of "Million Dollar Arm," the forthcoming movie chronicling the unlikely bid by agent J.B. Bernstein to turn two young Indian men into professional baseball players, portrayed it as more of a universal human interest story than a sports-centric film. The movie, set for release in May, chronicles Bernstein's efforts in India to stage a reality show in search of baseball's version of Yao Ming. The two winning players, Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh, were both drafted by the Pirates in '09, with Singh still in their system as one of their top left-handed pitching prospects. But rather than sell this as primarily an underdog baseball film, the producers intend to position "Million Dollar Arm" as more of a quirkier, inspirational story. A large part of the reasoning is financial, as American-made sports movies traditionally have been limited in their global audience appeal. "Sports movies are not easy. They're usually not what the studios are looking for, they're looking for big international hits with a lot of potential," said producer Mark Ciardi, whose prior credits include "The Rookie," “Invincible," and "Miracle." "This is more of a double fish-out-of-water story, J.B. being in India, the boys being in America, with an inspirational twist. And because of that, we think there's a lot of international potential," Ciardi said.