2011 IMG World Congress of Sports 2011 IMG World Congress of Sports 2011 IMG World Congress of Sports Industry leaders meet in California Photos from the IMG World Congress of Sports HBO leads Sports Emmy pack with 31 nominations Can sports weather storm? Lauer: Solving digital rights issues a key to wireless revolution Sports, politics collide in Beijing Johnson thinks her blueprint will serve WNBA well
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SBJ/March 17 - 23, 2008/World Congress Of Sports
Industry leaders meet in California
Published March 17, 2008
There was a palpable buzz in the ballroom at The St. Regis Resort as introductions were made for members of the opening panel — MLS Commissioner Don Garber, sports team owner George Gillett, Coca-Cola’s Bea Perez, Anheuser-Busch’s Tony Ponturo and Mark Steinberg, global managing director for IMG Golf. The discussion was lively from the minute the first topic was rolled out.
The Reason: Capitol Hill officials have become heavily involved in investigating drugs in sports in recent years in reaction to the claims of athletes such as former slugger Jose Canseco that the use of performance enhancers is widespread.
The Skinny: Garber said, “At some point, those checks and balances have done things that are better for the sport.”
Greatest Hit: Steinberg, thinking about the fan perspective, said he thinks fans, and therefore the media, will continue to pay attention because they “come to see the freak-show element. I hope that’s not an indictment on our society, but I’m not sure it’s an element I think society wants to go away.”
The Reason: Six months after reports initially surfaced that the Patriots had spied on an opponent, the story remains well-covered by national media, particularly in the wake of recent attempts by Congress to get involved.
The Skinny: Gillett, alluding to the current facts available about the situation, said, “All of us need to have further information before jumping to an opinion.”
Added Garber: “This is more about the ridiculousness of the issue than the integrity of Congress.”
Greatest Hit: Gillett talked candidly about the presence of unrecognizable individuals — described by him as people who claim to be members of the media — carrying the latest in photographic technology in the pit areas at NASCAR races. Gillett said that in NASCAR circles, “there is a great deal of inquiry going on” as far as making sure that the sport stays clean and spy-free.
The Reason: Audience members were asked whether they time-shift any of the sports they watch, or whether, as many people claim, sports is “TiVo-proof.” The vote showed that 45 percent of the audience had recorded sports events to watch later.
The Skinny: Perez admitted she did not believe the audience, saying “I’m one of those guilty people because I want to know what’s going on. (TiVo) enables us to watch everything instead of having to choose when everything is going on at once.”
Ponturo said he believes “live sports are TiVo-proof,” but added that by placing products where they can’t be missed, such as on stadium signs, a sponsor can be sure that its product will be noticed. “If you have a Bud Light sign in left field at Shea Stadium, you’re going to be on television.”
Greatest Hit: Steinberg said golf has learned a lot from the way on-court and on-field advertising has become an essential strategy in marketing on the major sports level. “What we can deliver with product placement on the golf course is becoming a critical element,” he said.
RUNNING WITH THE CHANGES: With Paul Harrington out and Uli Becker moved from CMO to president and CEO at Reebok, we’re expecting to see some changes. Exactly what the new course will be is something that’s still being figured out inside Reebok’s Canton, Mass., headquarters.
“We’ve got a leader who’s more marketing focused, and remember, Uli has been an integral part of charting our course already, so I’d expect more consistency than change,” saidJohn Lynch,Reebok head of global brand communications.
As for whether Lynch will succeed Becker as head of global marketing? “Stay tuned on that one,” he said.
NBA 3D HD: Word around the World Congress was that FSN Southwest will be rolling out a 3D HD telecast March 25 for its matchup between the Clippers and Mavericks. The game will be carried in Mark Cuban’s Landmark Theatres.
The NBA rolled out its first 3D HD offering last year during an invitation-only event at the All-Star Game in Las Vegas. It then went public during the Finals in June, when about 14,000 people watched Game 2 between the Spurs and Cavs in 3D HD at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
FIGHT CLUB: Mixed martial arts, perhaps better known as MMA, didn’t receive a lot of attention during IMG World Congress of Sports discussions, but Anheuser-Busch’sTony Ponturotalked in the opening session about why his company has become involved in the sport.
“The key is to know your consumer and follow your consumer,” he said. “We’ve seen a study that shows a young male can identify 10 UFC fighters, but not 10 players on the (St. Louis) Rams.”
Coca-Cola’s Bea Perezcautioned that MMA advertisers have to be “very cognizant” of the potential reaction of their consumer base, particularly mothers.
“If we’re going to invest in something that (offends) her,” she said, “we’re going to lose an important consumer who really has some pull.”
YAHOO! SPECULATION: Chatter around the corridors was at a steady froth regarding what will ultimately happen to Yahoo!, which is the subject of a buyout offer from Microsoft. Most attendees believed Yahoo!, losing market share in many non-sports areas (including searches) and under mounting financial pressure, will eventually have no choice but to accept Microsoft’s overtures — a notion burnished by Rupert Murdoch’s recently stated stance to not have News Corp. challenge Microsoft for control of the company.
“That is way above my pay grade,” said Yahoo! Sports general managerJimmy Pitaro.”“All I can do is keep my head down and keep working to build the product, which is what we are doing. We’re still investing and building in sports.”
CHASING THE ACTION: A month after leaving his job as chief growth officer for the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour to join Omnicom’s action sports event company, ASA Entertainment, Gabby Roe said he is still overwhelmed by the size of the action sports industry.
“If I’ve learned one thing, it’s gigantic,” he said. “The genre of action sports is so much larger than I anticipated.”
GATORADE, TIGER NEWS: When Mark Steinberg of IMG was asked about Gatorade Tiger, Gatorade executive Scott Paddock tapped the table in front of him and smiled at General Sports and Entertainment’s Tim Hinchey, who was seated to his left. The product, Tiger Woods’ own brand of sports drink, launched last month in three flavors nationwide.
“Early trends are good,” Paddock said. “Advertising will hit in the next couple of weeks.”
YOU CAN’T WIN ’EM ALL: EA President Peter Moore became the bearer of bad news when he stopped in the hallway late in the day to share the score of the Chelsea-Derby County game with Derby owner Andy Appleby.
“Tough break,” Moore said, holding up six fingers.
“What do you mean?” asked Appleby, chairman and CEO of General Sports and Entertainment.
“Six,” Moore said, referring to Derby’s loss. “Six to one.”
“Not good,” said Appleby, who watched Derby’s slow march toward relegation from the English Premier League.
CHOOSE WISELY: When George Gillett was asked if he would remain an owner of Liverpool FC, which he co-owns with Tom Hicks, Gillett paused before answering and then told an anecdote about a doctor who gave a speech on living a long life. The key was to choose your parents wisely. “I would say, ‘Choose your partner wisely,’” Gillett said. He paused a few seconds and added, “He’s a great guy. He’s just got a different perspective on the media.”
HBO TARGETS 1960 U.S. OPEN: HBO insiders said that HBO Sports has started production on its newest documentary, which will chronicle the 1960 U.S. Open Golf Championship. That’s the tournament at which Arnold Palmer defeated the amateur Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan in a memorable finish. The hourlong program is slated to run June 11, the day before the 2008 tournament starts.
MORE TIME TO TALK: Ed Policy, president and deputy commissioner of the Arena Football League, ran across his boss, Commissioner David Baker, in the World Congress exhibit hall. Policy stopped to see what was on Baker’s mind. At about that time, though, Mike Ornstein, marketing agent for Matt Leinart, stopped to ask Baker about his son, Sam, a USC lineman who is a projected first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Immediately, Policy headed off. “I’ve got plenty of time now,” he said. “David was just asked how much his son is bench pressing. That’s the start of at least a 15-minute conversation.”
DIG IT: Fox Sports President Ed Goren said the network was preparing to sell merchandise around “Gopher Cam.” The broadcasters will sell T-shirts featuring the cartoon gopher known as Digger at trackside merchandise rigs and online for the rest of the season.
Day two of the IMG World Congress of Sports opened with a look into the immediate future of sports media. Fox’s Ed Goren, HBO’s Ross Greenburg, NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, ESPN’s John Skipper and Turner Sports’ David Levy discussed topics confronting the industry.
The Reason: NBA Commissioner David Stern recently lashed out at ESPN The Magazine for an article about his league’s reputation, titled “Perception Is Not Reality,” that ran the week of the All-Star Game.
The Skinny: Silver defended Stern’s remarks, saying, “I don’t know why there’s the connotation that the broadcasters and commentators can be critical of the league, and we can’t give them the same type of feedback.”
Greenburg welcomed such a back-and-forth between the leagues and networks, admitting, “We have to be that vibrant in this industry or the industry will crash.”
Greatest Hit: Skipper offered ESPN’s side and dismissed any notion that this was the first time the two entities had butted heads. “David has given me his thoughts before,” Skipper said.
The Reason: Cell-phone text-messaging, broadband streaming and many other avenues of advanced communication have become prominent in live sports coverage.
The Skinny: Levy was thrilled with the boost that the components to TNT’s live broadcast of All-Star Saturday seemed to provide: “We had streaming, we had text participation with the audience voting and we ended up with our highest ratings ever for the slam dunk contest.”
Skipper backed Levy’s suggestion that Nielsen should establish an aggregate ratings system in which advertisers are able to gauge the number of viewers tuned in across different media platforms.
Silver was more concerned that too many mediums of coverage might wear TV viewership thin, saying, “Trends show ratings are generally down. [The NBA believes that] by going long on TV, all the other platforms will follow and lead consumers back to their sets.”
Greatest Hit: Goren has been baffled with NASCAR viewers’ fascination with his network’s “Gopher Cam” inside racing vehicles. “We must have had 2 million votes come in when we asked what they wanted to name this stupid camera,” he said. “People don’t seem to have time to do anything anymore, but they have time to vote on how we should refer to this damn camera.”
But for a few minutes during his keynote address, Ueberroth played the part of a concerned doctor.
“America has a disease,” Ueberroth said. “We see and we monitor countries all around the world, we look at how they change. Yet we don’t think we change.
“If you are close to something, you can’t see change.”
That diagnosis was the theme that Ueberroth, now the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, tied into several areas of his speech.
When going over the hot topic of performance-enhancing drugs, Ueberroth stressed the need to realize that studies show that high school girls are more prone to substance misuse than professional baseball stars and to consider creating an affordable “test not for athletes.”
He pointed out that the “sponsorship business didn’t exist” at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, and how that has dramatically changed in 20 years thanks to “work in the private sector.”
His address centered on this summer’s Olympics in Beijing — not how they will affect China in the future, but how they are affecting its mood now. “They’re going to open their country like they never have before, times five,” he said. “These Games will be terrific.
“[China has] changed the way sponsorships are being done. This country will be of more significance in the international marketplace than the U.S. in many aspects … because some old, agrarian economy started to change.”
Ueberroth wrapped up his address by urging members in attendance to stay on “the razor’s edge of change.” “You can build ties between nations, ties between cultures,” he said. “That builds peace between nations, and business prospers.”
For the most part, marketers are thrilled to be part of the sports business, since sports hits the right demos and invokes such strong passions. Occasionally, though, sports don’t work as well, such as last summer when Barry Bonds was breaking Major League Baseball’s home run record.
The ball Bonds hit in AT&T Park that night flew right over a Charles Schwab “Talk to Chuck” sign, which should be great news for the company, right?
Not necessarily, said Becky Saeger, Charles Schwab’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “I’ll take the publicity,” she said. “I’m not 100 percent certain that it’s all good.”
AT&T, which holds the naming rights to the park, faced a similar problem. Both AT&T and Schwab made peace with being part of an allegedly tainted record by identifying more closely with the team — the Giants — rather than the player.
“The Giants are a pillar in San Francisco,” said Wendy Clark, AT&T senior vice president of advertising. “The community of San Francisco is incredibly proud of their team. That’s why we’re there.”
On the flip side, one of Reebok’s athletes, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, admitted to using human growth hormone. Since he handled the allegations gracefully, Reebok’s head of global marketing communications, John Lynch, said the company would continue to work with the player.
“The way he’s handled it has been 100 percent appropriate,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with him continuing to be part of our team.”
Would I have preferred for it to have stayed an exclusive product of the NFL Network? Sure,” said DirecTV CEO Chase Carey on the NFL’s decision to let over-the-air broadcasters carry the final regular-season game between the New England Patriots and New York Giants.
Carey acknowledged that the satellite television provider was not thrilled that the NFL had agreed to allow other networks to broadcast the game, though he understood the regulatory and other pressures under which the NFL was operating.
He declined to reveal the nature of DirecTV’s talks with the NFL on the subject, saying, “We address those issues privately between us.”
During the interview, Carey addressed a wide range of issues, including the dangers of too much fragmentation of sports broadcasting, balancing the costs and the benefits of broadcasting sports and how the current economic downturn was affecting DirecTV.
Carey said the “quality” of the company’s 17 million subscribers had thus far insulated it from the economic effects of the subprime mortgage meltdown. Although the company is continuing to keep an eye on the economy, “It really hasn’t affected our business in a meaningful way.”
Carey said that because DirecTV’s customer base is passionate about sports and willing to pay for it, the satellite provider is more able to make deals like the one it recently signed with Big Ten Network. But, he added, “Make no mistake about it, cost in sports is an issue for us as it is for everybody else.”
News Corp. sold its controlling interest in DirecTV to Liberty Media in February. Carey indicated there could be some changes for the satellite company with the new ownership. “I think that the changes that will evolve over time will be that Liberty … will have a degree more flexibility to pursue what opportunities make sense for us,” Carey said.
Carey expressed an interest in broadcasting more international sports on DirecTV, but was not as optimistic about broadcasting high school sporting events. “It’s an area that a lot of people have talked about, but not a lot has happened,” he said, adding that it was hard to balance the costs of producing games against the small viewership.
Asked what sports he thought had the biggest growth potential, Carey said soccer. He added that despite the perception that the NFL has no room to grow, “it actually gets stronger.”