SBJ/20090921/This Week's News

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  • CMO Baird outlines marketing strategy

    Lisa Baird joined the U.S. Olympic Committee as chief marketer in January. Last week, she opened a permanent USOC office in New York and spoke to staff writer Tripp Mickle about the organization’s marketing efforts since her arrival.

    Looking ahead to Vancouver, what’s your sense of how the recession will impact sponsor activation?
    We’re pretty encouraged by the activation programs that we’ve seen from our sponsors. While everybody is conscious of spending in the recession, our partners have very long track records of doing Olympic activation. We’ll see interesting stuff at USA House, which is a property we’ve grown over time. The property has gotten more appealing and fits our sponsors and their need to be associated with a U.S. property. That’s maybe one difference we’ve seen.

    When do you anticipate we’ll begin seeing activation programs?
    Our partner NBC really drives a lot of that. You’ll start to see NBC promotions and there will be a ramp-up. It will begin in the fourth quarter and become big time in January and February.

    What strategy will the USOC employ in order to increase the number of sponsors it has at a time when sponsorship dollars largely have dried up?
    We’ve tried to stick to the market leaders in their categories. That’s always been important to us and I know it’s been true at the [International Olympic Committee] level. We want to stick with partners who will be with us long term and really collaborate with us to bring athlete stories and Team USA to the market.

    Broadly, across the industry, you’re seeing partners willing to work with companies to make sure activations are strong for partners by having the right marketing program. That’s been our focus. We launched our first [marketing program] this summer with America Supports Team USA. In total, we delivered $5 million of marketing support to our sponsors through that program, and we’re looking on building a few more [programs]. I don’t think we’ll ever be a 365-day-a-year property, but the right marketing programs are what we’re looking to create.

    Should Chicago clinch the 2016 Olympics, the USOC’s value proposition to sponsors will be self-evident. But what happens if Chicago doesn’t win and how is the USOC’s marketing department preparing for that possibility?
    There’s no doubt having a home Games would be a huge game-changer for us. In addition to having Team USA to support, that’s how America responds best to Games activation, (but) no one on my team is sitting there doing what-if scenarios. We’re focused on building recognizable athletes who will help our sponsors, and building the right programs to help build interest before and after the Games is important. We’re going to do that with the (Chicago) Games or not because it’s the right thing to do. We’re going to look at new revenue streams like any property — where and how is media being consumed? It’s not a result of what-if scenarios but what we’re doing anyway.

    What categories are out there that present an opportunity for the USOC in the current economic climate?
    One thing that I’d really like to put into place as a building block is a stronger licensing business. The licensing business can’t be developed by waving a magic wand, but we’ve taken a number of steps to establish a framework for a stronger licensing business. Chicago has a chance to be a catalyst, but either way, if we can get people to buy and wear Team USA apparel, that’s a big strategic underpinning for a successful sports property.

  • Companies gear up should Chicago win Olympic bid

    The International Olympic Committee won’t name the host city for the 2016 Olympics until Oct. 2, but at least two Midwest companies are making sponsorship preparations should Chicago win.

    Global equipment manufacturer Caterpillar and local energy company Exelon have both put out requests for proposals to find advisers who can evaluate the value of an Olympic sponsorship if Chicago wins the 2016 Games, sources said. Neither of the companies has a history of being involved in the Olympics, but both want to understand how those sponsorships work should an opportunity become available in Chicago.

    Those deals would be negotiated with a Chicago organizing committee and run from the date of signing through the 2016 Games.

    The requests for proposals illustrate the potential corporate interest a Chicago Olympics could generate in the Midwest. Bid organizers often have pointed to the depth and variety of Chicago’s corporate community as one of the bid’s strengths and noted that 32 of the world’s Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in the state.

    A Chicago 2016 spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

    Caterpillar is one of the state’s Fortune 500 companies. The equipment manufacturer has limited its sports sponsorship in the past to NASCAR and the Nashville Predators, and a partnership with an Olympic organizing committee would represent a significant evolution in its sports marketing strategy. The company met with a number of agencies regarding Chicago 2016, including IMG and IEG, sources said.

    IMG and IEG declined to comment.

    A Caterpillar spokesman said, “Given the size and business footprint of Caterpillar we are evaluating a wide range of business opportunities at any given time. Our normal practice is to only comment or make an announcement once we have made a final determination for a given business opportunity.”

    Exelon is one of the largest utility companies in the U.S. with approximately $19 billion in revenue. It provides electricity to 5.4 million customers in Illinois and Pennsylvania. The company was among four key partners that sponsored an environmental summit that Chicago 2016 hosted earlier this month. Exelon’s subsidiary, ComEd, has sponsorship ties to the Chicago Bears, Bulls, White Sox and Fire.

  • Concert highlights Coca-Cola’s plans for PGA Tour event

    Coca-Cola, which serves as presenting sponsor of this week’s Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club, is breaking out its largest collection of local promotions to date around the event, which is the finale in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup.

    The highlight of the week is a concert on Friday night with Darius Rucker in downtown Atlanta’s World of Coca-Cola museum, which will be decorated with tournament information and displays throughout the week. Other elements primarily consist of ticket promotions at grocery stores, retail outlets and restaurant chains.

    John Egan, sports marketing group director for Coca-Cola, said the added promotions were part of the company’s effort to build awareness of the event in the local community. The tournament, which has been sponsored by Coca-Cola since 2002, failed to sell out last year.

    “Engaging our employees and customers is key, but to really increase our reach, it’s about engaging the Atlanta community,” Egan said.

    Coca-Cola is supporting a ticket sales drive in 132 Atlanta-area Kroger stores that includes television and radio ads, as well as point-of-sale, circular ads and in-store audio.

    The company also gave two weekly ticket books to all 120 Chick-fil-A restaurants in Atlanta to support a Coke Zero ballot box sweepstakes. Programs distributed at the tournament include a coupon for a free sandwich with the purchase of a Coke Zero at Chick-fil-A stores.

  • Courtside LED signs give Knicks flexibility

    The New York Knicks are the first NBA franchise to install LED courtside technology that aims to drive advertising revenue while adding more dynamic messaging during games at Madison Square Garden.

    Until now, the NBA prohibited teams from using LED technology along the scorer’s table mainly because of player safety issues from the surface-mounted lights protruding from the LED signs.

    But league officials gave the Knicks the green light on a new LED system after a test this summer during the WNBA Liberty home games with new LED signs by Mitsubishi that are recessed and spring mounted to the scorer’s table to protect players. ANC worked with the Knicks to create the software integration of the new signage.

    The result is a new LED system that Knicks and NBA officials said allows for more customized courtside advertising inventory along with the ability for teams to tie all their scoreboard and ribbon-board LED down to court level, improving the in-game presentation.

    New technology was tested at a WNBA
    Liberty game.

    The Knicks can run real-time statistics, fan prompts and other game information along with the advertising on the courtside LED signage. The system will be in place for the Knicks’ first home preseason game on Oct. 13.

    “The advantages are it allows us to drive revenue and offer full integration opportunities with our sponsors,” said MSG Sports President Scott O’Neil. “But it allows us to better entertain fans as well.” O’Neil would not disclose the cost of the new system and said that the Knicks are repricing the value of their courtside advertising.

    Twenty of the 30 NBA teams use rotational signs for their courtside advertising, with 10 teams employing DLP systems, or rear digital projection courtside advertising systems.

    Steve Hellmuth, executive vice president of operations and technology for the NBA, said the DLP systems are more cumbersome than the sleeker new LED panel.

    “The LED is thinner and more compact,” Hellmuth said. “The viewing angles are better, but just as important is that you can run game information and statistics, which makes it more valuable to advertisers because people will look at the signage more.”

  • Gophers’ golden moment

    The defining image from college football’s return to the University of Minnesota campus came during the opening night’s pregame ceremonies at TCF Bank Stadium.

    At midfield, there stood Bud Grant, the old Vikings coach and a nine-time letter winner, among the few living Gophers football legends introduced to the crowd of 50,000-plus.

    Tears streamed down the face of a man NFL fans remember as “stone-faced Bud,” the ultimate symbol of Minnesotans’ stoicism. The crowd roared.

    Their applause was self-congratulatory, as well: The stadium’s private fundraising campaign topped $90 million, $5 million above its goal, and raised an additional $70 million for academic scholarships and other school initiatives.

    More than 500 people who had never contributed a dime to the university felt compelled to donate money for the $303 million project, which speaks to the emotional attachment they had to the state’s only Division I school, said Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi.

    Minnesota broke ranks with the many schools that renovate their aging stadiums rather than build new, and it’s worth noting the school has developed a first-class venue. TCF Bank Stadium’s open concourse, HD video screens and LED ribbon boards, loge boxes, two-level team store and meeting spaces fall more in line with modern NFL facilities.“We could have built the stadium for $100 million and wouldn’t have had much, but in all honesty, I think we could have built one for $500 million and I don’t know if it would have had any more,” Maturi said.

     “We are just so pleased, we put in every amenity that we wanted,” he said. “It’s collegiate, not lavish compared with professional standards.”

    The facility gives a nod to old Memorial Stadium, its on-campus predecessor that was in disrepair and torn down in 1992. The school made the decision after the 1981 season to move downtown — and indoors — to the Metrodome, which opened one year later.

    Names of the state’s 87 counties are engraved around the stadium’s exterior (inset).
    TCF Bank Stadium
    City: Minneapolis
    Owner: State of Minnesota
    Operator: University of Minnesota athletic department
    Tenant: Golden Gophers football
    Architects: Populous, Architectural Alliance, Studio Hive
    General contractor: Mortenson
    Cost: $303,386,606
    Funding: School financing 52 percent of the project cost through private donors and gifts, game-day revenue, premium-seat sales, student fees and athletic department funds. State of Minnesota financing 48 percent through annual payments on bonds sold by the school.
    Naming rights: TCF Bank, $35 million over 25 years
    Corporate partners and philanthropic donors: Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Federated Insurance, Norwest Equity Partners, Dairy Queen, Best Buy, Target, Dodge, Subway, General Mills, Cargill, Caribou Coffee, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Yum Brands
    Suites: 37
    Club seats: 1,250 outdoor club seats, 259 indoor club seats, 57 loge box seats
    Sponsored spaces: DQ Club
    Seats: 50,805
    Square footage: 1.2 million square feet
    Ticketing agent: Audience View
    Team store: Goldy’s Locker Room
    Food concessionaire: Aramark
    Retail concessionaire: Gold Country
    Pouring rights: Coca-Cola
    Security: Contemporary Services
    Seating: Irwin Seating, Southern Bleacher
    Scoreboard: Daktronics
    Football surface: FieldTurf
    Source: Minnesota athletic department

    TCF Bank Stadium’s horseshoe-shaped bowl, brick facade and archways were adapted from the former brick-clad home of Bronko Nagurski, Bobby Bell and Charlie Sanders, three Gophers who went on to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    The building’s predesign had the structure running north and south, similar to other stadiums. Populous, the stadium’s architect, wanted to turn it around with the ends facing east and west. The adjustment created more space to build the plaza and took advantage of the view back to campus and the downtown Minneapolis skyline. After studying wind, shade and sun patterns, talking to fans and discussing the potential effects on TV broadcasts with network officials, the athletic department approved the change, said Phil Esten, the school’s associate athletic director in charge of the project.

    “It wouldn’t have been as engaging if it was north and south,” said Populous designer Jeff Spear. The 20-foot-tall iron entry gates on the west side, another throwback design element, pose a commanding presence as they swing open to let fans into the building. It’s one of Spear’s favorite aspects of the facility.

    “We wanted to have a large impressive front door and have the gates be part of the ceremony,” he said. The brick wall laid on top of concrete at field level, a late addition after a donor gave $500,000 for the project, completes a look that says this is a stage for college football.

    Inside, the DQ Club, exclusive to suite and club seat holders on the third level, is modeled after LP Field’s club in Nashville, where the Gophers played in three Music City Bowls. The dominant image is a diagram of former Gophers coach Murray Warmath’s favorite call, a counter play, superimposed on a photograph of old Memorial.

    Gopher diehards will also recognize the words to the school’s fight song, “The Rouser,” printed in gold on the club’s maroon-cushioned chairs.Three floors above on the top level, indoor club seat holders enjoy the best seats in the house, according to David Crum, associate athletic director for development. They stretch from the 35-yard line to the corner of the west end zone and the $2,250 season-ticket price includes a buffet meal in an expansive lounge. Of the 250 available, about 100 are left to sell, primarily because most Gophers supporters now prefer to watch football outdoors.

    “The best way for us to sell this is on a cold or windy or rainy day and get them up here,” Crum said.

    Up top in the seating bowl, the windscreens protecting fans from the elements list the bowl games the Gophers have played in over the years, a space that could turn into a second concourse with the stadium’s flexibility to add 30,000 seats in the future.

    It’s all part of the school’s effort to rebuild its brand after spending the past 28 seasons as tenant in the dome, a building it shared with the Vikings and Twins. Now students don’t have to worry about a commute to the game. They can tailgate up the street, walk to the new facility in minutes and line Oak Street to cheer the football team’s procession from the alumni center to the stadium.

    It’s that sense of collegial spirit that was sorely lacking at the dome, project officials said. The students and alumni are just starting to realize what they’ve been missing all these years, Maturi said.

    “I don’t think they have a clue what they’re in for,” he said before the home opener. “I think the game-day experience is going to be greater than people thought.”

  • Indie-agent for U.S. Open champ savors win

    Juan Martin del Potro was not the only underdog triumphant at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships last Monday, with his stunning, five-set upset of heavily favored Roger Federer. Count del Potro’s agent, Ugo Colombini, as an unexpected winner, too.

    Operating solo out of Milan, Italy, Colombini, 41, got his start in the business a decade ago with a Florida sports agency that soon after filed for bankruptcy protection, leaving him as a creditor. Since then, Colombini, one of only three people in del Potro’s box during the Open final, has done business with and for a handful of clients, including Victor Hanescu, Juan Monaco and Gilles Muller, along with del Potro. None, however, has been a household name.

    With tennis dominated by big agencies like IMG, Octagon and BEST, and newcomers in the business like CAA Sports and Lagardère Sports targeting the sport as well, stand-alone agents are a dying breed. Tennis insiders say it may be unprecedented for the U.S. Open champion’s agent to be someone of Colombini’s pedigree.

    Colombini reaches out to Juan Martin
    del Potro as the player celebrates
    his upset victory.

    There is no company to call. It’s just Colombini’s cell phone number.

    “It is challenging work, a challenging business. Big companies are involved,” said Colombini, speaking in the lobby of an upscale Manhattan hotel where his client had just met the media the morning after the big win. “Sometimes you get lucky. Let’s put it that way.”

    Colombini signed del Potro, 20, when the Argentinean at age 12 was playing on the Nike Junior Tour in his home country. Colombini’s brother, Riccardo, ran Nike’s tennis business at the time, and he credits Ugo with identifying del Potro for the sneaker giant. Despite repeated recruiting entreaties from large agencies wooing del Potro over the years, Colombini kept the shy, 6-foot-6 budding star as a client. In fact, other agents said Colombini is currently talking about moving to IMG with del Potro, talk Colombini does not deny.

    “There have been some talks with different companies to try and find some kind of … marketing opportunities,” he said last week, hours after his client’s win. “Those are just talks; nothing is done. For the moment, I am the only agent, and we have the same structures, and there is nothing concrete.”

    IMG, which represents Federer, declined to comment.

    Ken Meyerson, who runs Lagardère’s fledgling tennis group and who previously headed BEST Tennis, praised Colombini for his hard work.

    This year’s U.S. Open set an attendance record for the third consecutive year: 721, 059, up from 720,227 in 2008. The tournament also saw its average viewership on cable increase. This was the first year of ESPN2’s coverage of the event, following USA Network in previous years.
      2009 2008
    Men’s final: Avg. rating 2.4 (CBS) 1.7 (CBS)
    Women’s final: Avg. no. of viewers 1.828 million (ESPN2) 4.849 million (CBS)
    Avg. no. of viewers (cable) 1.004 million (ESPN2) 845,000 (USA)
    Avg. no. of viewers: prime-time (cable) 1.479 million (ESPN2) 1.111 million (USA)
    NA: Not applicable
    Note: Ratings for Tennis Channel’s coverage were not available.
    Sources: CBS, ESPN

    “It really does amaze me how an independent can single-handedly beat some of the groups who have 10 to 15 full-time agents on payroll,” Meyerson said. “Definitely kudos. I have tried to hire Ugo several times, but [it] never materialized.”

    Said another agent, who requested anonymity, “Agents have been lurking around del Potro for awhile, but Ugo has hung on to him throughout.”

    In January, del Potro renewed his deals with Nike and Wilson tennis rackets. Colombini declined to disclose the financials, but sources said that with Grand Slam bonuses and top rankings, the deals could be worth millions of dollars annually. With an agent’s cut anywhere between 10 percent to 20 percent, those two contracts could be seen as a financial windfall for Colombini after years of far smaller deals. Del Potro also has endorsements with Sony Ericsson and Pepsi, but just in Argentina.

    For Colombini, he’s come a long way from Sports Marketing Consultants, the company he joined in 2000 after a career as a low-level pro on the playing circuit and as a coach. SMC wanted to make a splash in tennis, but it quickly garnered a poor reputation in the sport and ultimately filed for bankruptcy protection in late 2002. The big question for Colombini now is whether del Potro will stay loyal to him, or leave for an agency that can offer global marketing reach.

    “For the moment,” Colombini said of his relationship with del Potro, “we are fine.”

  • IOC tabs Prazmark/Shepard to study TOP program

    Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    The International Olympic Committee hired longtime Olympic marketers Rob Prazmark and Tom Shepard to develop plans and outline potential changes to The Olympic Partner program.

    The TOP program was a pioneer in the sports sponsorship world when it debuted in 1985, but critics say the program has failed to evolve as the sponsorship landscape has changed in the last decade. Prazmark, a longtime Olympics salesman and the founder of 21 Marketing, and Shepard, a former Visa sponsorship executive who is now the chief partnership officer with Maryland-based Partner Concepts, will use their familiarity with the program to outline proposals for how TOP can evolve to meet future needs of international corporations.

    Prazmark and Shepard confirmed that they have been hired to consult with the IOC but declined to comment further. The IOC did not return a call seeking comment.

    The TOP program serves as the IOC’s largest source of revenue outside of media rights. Corporations typically buy four-year sponsorships valued at more than $100 million that give them category exclusivity and rights to activate worldwide around a Summer and Winter Olympics. Today’s TOP partners include Acer, Atos Origin, General Electric, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa. Johnson & Johnson dropped its TOP partnership after the Beijing Olympics.

    In addition to developing proposals for the structure of future TOP programs, Prazmark and Shepard will develop strategies for pitching companies on future TOP partnerships. They are developing strategies for measuring and showing TOP partners’ historical return on investment and brainstorming how TOP presentations will look for the 2016-2019, 2020-2023 and 2024-2027 quadrennials.

    Prazmark and Shepard are identifying corporations that have a potential future with the TOP program that the IOC should begin to build relationships with today. Companies such as India’s Tata, which boasts $70.8 billion in revenue across seven sectors including communications and energy, and Japan’s Komatsu, an equipment manufacturer with $20 billion in net sales, have emerged as powerful global companies during the last decade. The IOC hopes to identify the next generation of global companies and begin building relationships with them as they climb onto the world stage.

    The IOC’s move to hire Prazmark and Shepard comes on the heels of news that it hired CAA Sports to do media consulting in the U.S.

  • K-Swiss eyes key endorser to drive business

    K-Swiss is looking to make a splash with a major tennis endorsement, having already made a run at Andy Murray and continuing to talk with Novak Djokovic, whose contract with Adidas expires at the end of this year.

    The company, whose revenue fell 33 percent to $340 million from the end of 2005 to the close of last year, is switching gears and wants to add a signature endorser to drive its performance business. That sector accounts for just 16 percent of K-Swiss’ sneaker sales; 83 percent comes from the lifestyle category that has been the company’s focus, with the balance from other categories.

    “We are looking for a brand changer, one that will move the needle,” said Erik Vervloet, K-Swiss director of sports marketing. “We went down the road with Murray, and our pursuit of him proves our brand is serious.”

    Several tennis agents and sneaker executives agreed that they had never seen K-Swiss so serious about signing top players.

    Tommy Haas is on the roster of K-Swiss
    endorsers, but the company wants a mega-star.

    Murray, the No. 3-ranked player in the world, will command at least $5 million annually when his deal with Fred Perry expires later this year. He is expected to sign with Adidas, sources said, though no deal has been struck.

    Terms for a deal with a Djokovic, the world’s No. 4-ranked player, could be far different. Djokovic is from Serbia, a smaller global market than Murray’s Great Britain. In addition, Djokovic’s image has taken a hit over the last year for his comments at the 2008 U.S. Open criticizing crowd favorite Andy Roddick, as well as for pulling out of matches for assorted maladies.

    Still, Djokovic would likely get a guarantee of around $1.5 million to $2 million annually in a deal, sources said. To put that figure into context for K-Swiss, the California-based company at the end of 2008 had $1.9 million in total endorsement obligations stretched out over the next three years, according to the company’s annual report.

    Djokovic’s agent at CAA Sports, Allon Khakshouri, did not reply for comment.

    K-Swiss is perhaps best known for its endorsement with Anna Kournikova, a deal that is unlikely to be extended, a well-placed source said, because the company is now focused more on performance than lifestyle. That deal, which expires in February, was signed in 2007, after Kournikova had retired from competition.

    Other players signed include Tommy Haas, Vera Zvonareva and Mardy Fish. None of them, however, gives the company a mega-star.

    Vervloet, a former tennis coach, grew up a mile from Nike’s Oregon campus. K-Swiss hired him three years ago to build the company’s tennis and running business. He said the company is also expanding into skateboarding shoes, an area expected to launch in 2011, and that there may be another sport the company will tap soon for endorsers, though he declined to provide details. The company has a number of triathlete endorsers and sponsors the Ironman events, as well.

    The majority of publicly traded K-Swiss is controlled by Steven Nichols, who holds 70 percent of the total voting power of the company. Nichols, the company’s president and chairman, has signed off on the endorsement spending, Vervloet said.

    The company earned $21 million last year.

  • LPGA wants to unite events for global series

    The LPGA is trying to secure a group of events to be part of a global series starting in 2011 that would be comparable to the World Golf Championship events on the PGA Tour.

    LPGA officials have worked on the plan for the last year, but progress has stalled while they try to sign up participating events and sponsors, and, at the same time, search for someone to fill the commissioner’s job full time.

    Industry sources said the series would consist of three or four prominent tournaments from among the international and domestic tournaments that have a perceived level of importance above that of a weekly LPGA tournament.

    The LPGA has discussed the series with the organizers of the Evian Masters in France and the CN Canadian Women’s Open, but neither has formally committed to be a part of it, sources said. Each tournament has grown in stature in recent years, but neither has succeeded in its quest to become a major tournament.

    Sources said the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, which is not under contract for 2010, has also been targeted by the LPGA. HSBC also title sponsors one of the World Golf Championship events on the PGA Tour.

    The LPGA has  discussed the proposal with other events, tournament sources said.

    In a statement, the LPGA said, “We are open to new ideas and regularly present tournaments with options on how they can enhance their events.” The tour declined to comment further.

    Coverage of the series presumably would air on Golf Channel under the LPGA’s new exclusive cable deal that starts next year, but weekend coverage could be sold to network television if title sponsors opted to incur the additional time and production expenses.

    The concept is similar to the PGA Tour’s World Golf Championship events created in 1999. The four tournaments attract some of the top player fields in golf competing for the highest purses outside The Players Championship.

  • MLS Cup to appear in prime time on ESPN, opposite ‘Sunday Night Football’

    For the first time in its 14-year history, the MLS championship game will be televised on cable, rather than broadcast television.

    ESPN will carry MLS Cup 2009 on Nov. 22 at 8:30 p.m., where it will be opposite the highly rated “Sunday Night Football” on NBC.

    Previously games aired Sunday afternoons on ABC.

    Executives from both the league and the network decided to move the match to ESPN so that it could start later at its West Coast site, Seattle’s Qwest Field. They believe a later start will enhance the in-stadium atmosphere, which should make it more appealing on television.

    The Sunday evening prime-time slot is not available on ABC, which has a highly rated block of entertainment programming, including “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Desperate Housewives.”

    “[We] decided to make this move to allow us the opportunity to play the game later in the day,” MLS President Mark Abbott wrote in an e-mail. “MLS Cup had traditionally taken place during the early afternoon on Sunday, and we collectively decided to move it to the evening.”

    ESPN and MLS officials say they have not yet decided whether the 2010 game will be on ABC or ESPN, saying this year’s decision was made given the specific circumstances of having a West Coast city host the match.

    “We have the flexibility within the partnership to try different things,” said Scott Guglielmino, vice president of programming and acquisitions at ESPN. “We’re going to continue to do that.”

    With the regular season coming to a close, network and league officials say they are happy with the slight uptick in viewership. Through 20 games on ESPN2, MLS is averaging a flat 0.2 cable rating compared with last year, but its average of 292,000 viewers represents a 7 percent audience increase over last year’s 272,000 viewers through 19 games. Executives caution that they still don’t have enough data to determine whether the league’s move away from a dedicated Thursday night telecast has been successful.

    “In general, we’re happy,” Guglielmino said.

  • NFL labor fears affect deals for execs, coaches

    Some NFL clubs are asking top-level employees to take pay cuts as steep as 50 percent or agree to be terminated with little notice if there is a work stoppage in 2011.

    Clauses to that effect began appearing in coaches’ contracts about six months ago, and have been included in contracts of other high-level NFL club employees as well, sources said, including contracts for scouts and high-level business-side executives.

    The NFL collective-bargaining agreement with players expires in March 2011, and owners are expected to lock players out if there is no deal. That would mean little or no work for thousands of other NFL club employees.

    The vast majority of non-player employees at NFL clubs can quit or be fired “at will,” and do not have employment agreements. But many top executives on the business side have contracts, as do all general managers and coaches.

    Many of the work-stoppage clauses differ from club to club but some of the same language appears in multiple contracts, said Larry Kennan, staff director of the NFL Coaches Association, a trade association that represents the about 600 NFL coaches, from head coaches to the lowest-level assistant coaches.

    Some clauses in recent contracts of top team executives, coaches and general managers give clubs new rights to cut compensation and terminate contracts. Some examples, according to multiple sources, include language allowing clubs to:
    Reduce, terminate or suspend the contract on 20 days’ notice.
    Reduce salary by 50 percent if the lockout continues for more than 90 days.
    Terminate the employee without pay on 60 days’ notice.
    Extend the contract another year at same terms as 2011 if at least eight NFL games are canceled.

    “There are multiple contracts with the same terms. For instance, a lot of them have that the club can impose a 25 percent salary reduction in the event of the lockout,” he said.

    The language in some contracts goes even further, according to multiple sources (see box).

    NFL spokesman Greg Aiello declined to discuss the contracts of team coaches or executives, saying, “The terms are negotiated individually by the clubs and the employees.” He said he was not aware of similar language being inserted into the contracts of league employees.

    Aiello declined to estimate the number of club employees at the 32 NFL teams, but industry sources said many NFL clubs employ about 100 people and sometimes more.

    The number can vary greatly depending on whether the club owns and operates its stadium or is a tenant in a government-owned stadium, said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp. Ltd., a Chicago-based sports business consulting firm. Employees in football operations, including the entire coaching staff, are contract employees. “And then, on the business side, you will have your executives, your top marketing people, your top financial people, your top administrator [under contracts],” Ganis said.

    During the last major work stoppage in sports, the 2004-05 NHL lockout, about 1,000 jobs were eliminated at NHL clubs, business partners and the league itself. Some clubs chose not to lay off any employees while others did, and many employees whose compensation was based on sales commissions quit. At one club, the Dallas Stars, upper management, including full-time scouts and coaches, took 20 percent to 25 percent pay cuts.

    Kennan said many coaches are not aware of the new contract language because they haven’t negotiated their contracts for the potential lockout year. He did say that some of the language in the contracts ties coaches down. “In most cases the club is saying we can renew this thing when the lockout ends,” he said. On the other hand, there are some clauses which allow coaches to work in college football, he said.

    Some coaches are refusing to sign contracts that contain the work-stoppage language, according to Kennan and agents who represent coaches.

    Agents, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals against their clients, say some coaches have fought successfully to get the lockout clauses stricken. “Like anyone else, it depends on how much leverage you have and if a team wants a coach badly enough,” one agent said.

    Unlike NFL players, NFL coaches are not part of a collective-bargaining unit and have no union to fight against the changes in their contracts. (The NFL Coaches Association is funded by dues, which about two-thirds of the 600 coaches pay voluntarily. The association is not funded by the NFL Players Association, but the players union provides office space and services, including administrative and legal services, to the coaches group.)

    Kennan said coaches are upset about the new contracts and feel caught in the middle between owners and players.

    “I don’t want to say we will be on the players’ side,” Kennan said. “We will be on the side that will be most friendly to coaches. If the owners are trying to lock us out, that is not very friendly.”

  • NHLPA begins search for new chief

    The NHL Players’ Association hopes to find a new union chief by as early as the end of the year,  and perhaps without the help of an executive search firm.

    The union will begin the work of finding a new executive director to replace Paul Kelly, who was fired by a vote of player reps Aug. 31, after holding a conference call with the executive board later this month.

    Interested candidates have already been contacting the union about the job, NHLPA interim Executive Director Ian Penny said last week. “We definitely have had expressions of interest,” he said. He would not say how many potential candidates contacted the union nor provide their names.

    Penny, who was general counsel before being named interim executive director, reiterated last week that he is not a candidate.

    Kelly was fired by a vote of 22-5 after a meeting of player representatives in Chicago at which representatives heard two reports critical of his leadership.

    “I think the players are committed to getting the search process moving and getting it completed within a reasonable time frame,” Penny said. A new executive director could be selected “ideally by the new year,” he said, adding, “it’s a target.”

    Players will hold a conference call before the Oct. 1 opening of the NHL season to discuss the search in detail, including potentially forming a search committee,  and discussing the qualifications of the job and the search process, Penny said.

    Penny said some players at the meeting in Chicago questioned whether using a search firm “that places corporate CEOs” was the best model to use to find a new union head. They “said we should take a fresh look at the search process and see if there is a new way to go about it,” Penny said.

    Chicago-based search firm Reilly Partners was involved in placing Kelly.

    Reilly also was involved in placing Kevin Lovitt, who left his post as the union’s marketing director earlier this month. NHLPA staff will seek guidance from players on the conference call on how and when to replace Lovitt. The NHLPA would not discuss Lovitt’s departure other than to say he is no longer working there.

    Under the NHLPA constitution, any member may participate in the board’s conference calls. “We will answer any question that any player poses,” Penny said.

  • SportsTweets to aggregate Twitter posts

    Los Angeles-based Sports Media Ventures Inc. has created, the third Twitter aggregation site the company has built this year.

    Set for a formal launch this week, will collate tweets  from individual fans, official team and league feeds, and select media outlets. The site will form a triumvirate of sorts with SMV’s two other Twitter aggregations:, which focuses on player feeds; and, which collects more than 260 sports blogger feeds, including ones from Deadspin and Pro Football Talk.

    SMV also operates the news aggregation and social-networking-oriented site

    The site formally launches this week. seeks to build on its predecessors by offering a dual-stream rivalry mode in which feeds devoted to two separate teams can be viewed simultaneously. The rivalry mode is foremost intended for when two teams are playing each other.

    The tweets are collated using a combination of hashtags and SMV’s internally designed filtering algorithms and will be available for every team in the four major pro leagues and most major college athletic programs.

    “This really completes the circle, because we’re now really incorporating the voice of the fan,” said David Katz, SMV founder and chief executive. “This represents a real-time look at what fans of a certain team or program are thinking and feeling.” will compete against a variety of Twitter aggregation vehicles, including Octagon’s, and a fast-growing group of sports media and league entities that incorporate Twitter feeds into other pieces of content. SMV, however, is among a smaller group of outlets that have been able to attach a direct revenue component to Twitter activity, signing sponsorship deals with Samsung and Capital One.

    The advent of helped spur both deals, but display advertising for the TV manufacturer and financial services company will appear on all four SMV sites for the bulk of the college football season.

  • USOC opens New York office

    The U.S. Olympic Committee last week opened a New York office, giving its marketing department a toehold near some of the nation’s biggest advertising decision-makers along Madison Avenue.

    The 3,500-square-foot office, located at 521 Fifth Avenue, will be home to seven full-time employees. It also will be used by USA Track & Field, which will rent an office suite from the USOC large enough to accommodate three to four employees. The USOC marketing department plans to open it to corporate partners and other USOC departments when they visit New York.

    USOC’s New York office:
    Executive Title
    Lisa Baird Chief marketing officer
    Jennifer Brown Executive assistant to CMO
    Peter Zeytoonjian Managing director, consumer products and licensing
    Mitch Poll Managing director, business accounts
    Mallika Pereira Manager, technology/media
    Rachel Barkan Manager, retail/services
    Sarah Cantwell Manager, major gifts

    The USOC evaluated a number of locations in New York but ultimately chose a location in midtown because of the site’s proximity to its media partner, NBC, and other sports properties.

    “New York real estate is challenging even in this environment,” said Lisa Baird, the USOC’s chief marketer. “We really wanted to find the right place with the right length of term and something really turnkey and ready for us to move into.”

    The office space won’t require any construction. Consumer products head Peter Zeytoonjian is charged with decorating the office space and will establish an office that mirrors the style of the USOC’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., Baird said.

    The USOC signed a multiyear lease for the office space. Though Baird doesn’t plan to hire any more employees for the marketing department in New York, she expects the number of people working out of the office will evolve.

    “It depends on what happens when we get Chicago (in 2016), if that’s not too bold, and how we’re evolving as the USOC,” she said. “We want to be flexible, and right now we want to take the right steps to be (in New York) and have a beachhead there.”

  • With title deal unsure, WTA saves

    The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour is significantly increasing the size of its reserve fund to provide a buffer in the event the group is unable to secure a renewal with its financially struggling title sponsor, Sony Ericsson, whose deal expires at the end of next year.


    Stacey Allaster, the circuit’s chief executive, said that while talks with Sony Ericsson began recently, the company gave no indication whether it would renew.

    In part because of that uncertainty, but also because of the down economy, the tour is in the midst of bolstering its reserves from $9.2 million at the start of 2009 to as high as $16.5 million by the end of next season.

    “If we get to $16.5 million,” Allaster said, “we can run the business for 2 1/2 years without much impact.”

    Sony Ericsson is in the fifth year of a six-year, $88 million sponsorship.

    Earlier this month, Allaster said the tour had already reached $10.6 million in reserves, with a projected $800,000 annual savings coming from reduced travel expenses.

    In 2007, the most recent year for which the group’s tax return is available, the WTA listed travel expenses of $2 million.

    Allaster said the tour also is saving on the salary of its CEO, though she declined to disclose her salary in that role. Allaster in July replaced Larry Scott, who in 2007 earned $1.6 million, according to the tax document.

    The tour anticipates a 2009 surplus of several million dollars. Allaster expects the tour board in November will vote to plow that money into the reserves, bringing the total to $13 million. She is uncertain, however, if there is another $3.5 million of savings to be wrung out of the tour’s budget, the amount necessary to get to the $16.5 million goal.

    In July, Sony Ericsson reported a fourth straight quarterly loss, $300 million, with sales down 40 percent. The company subsequently announced Bert Nordberg as a new co-president and that Howard Stringer would become chairman of the board. Allaster pointed to the executive moves as a reflection of the uncertainty regarding Sony Ericsson and the title sponsorship.

    Sony Ericsson could not immediately be reached for comment.

    The tour has presented research to the company that it has received more than $2 billion worth of media exposure in the five years of its deal, Allaster said.

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