First Look podcast: World Congress 2017 PBC plots path to maximize distribution NBA Turnstile Tracker Baseball returns to Kinston, N.C. David Stern investing in tech startups NBA regular season sees ratings drop Faces and Places at World Congress Are sponsors wary of outspoken athletes? On Deck With: Mike Unger, USA Swimming Labor & Agents: Rosenthal takes charge
We have made some changes in our editorial department and wanted to share details with you.
First, SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily welcome Fred Dreier as a reporter in our New York City office. Dreier is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and worked at VeloNews from 2005 to 2009, covering stories in 13 countries on six continents. He has worked for Inside Triathlon magazine and Triathlete magazine. Dreier will cover hockey, soccer and endurance sports.
Meanwhile, several other writers are adding or switching beats. Tripp Mickle has relocated to the Charlotte office and will take over the motorsports beat from Michael Smith as well as maintain his Olympic and action sports responsibilities. Smith keeps college sports and adds golf and lacrosse, three beats we see as significant growth areas. Bill King will handle boxing and mixed martial arts and maintain his role as senior writer. He also will be our point person on sports business education programs.
We believe these changes will provide more quality and depth in our coverage. Below is a list of staff writers, their contact information and their beats:
Endurance sports, hockey, soccer
Action sports, motorsports, Olympics
Baseball, digital media
Horse racing, labor/agents
Finance, football (NFL), tennis
Boxing, mixed martial arts,
sports business education
Colleges, golf, lacrosse
Basketball, football (AFL)
In the good old days companies were just sponsors. They might dress it up by adding such words as “official” or “exclusive,” even “proud,” but at the end of the day they purchased the rights to associate their brand with an event or a league, and this gave them signage and access to tickets.
As the relationships grew, and the expenses increased, simple awareness and hospitality were no longer enough. The enlightened among the corporate world wanted to become partners. They wanted to share goals, values and even start to work together on expected results. Smart properties invested in areas such as research, and started to look at themselves as brands that needed to be protected, grown and managed. And corporate sponsorship dollars provided the fuel to stoke that engine.
Now, as the economy remains tight and the cost of a sponsorship/partnership continues to escalate, the expectations on the property have increased. You need to deliver an ROI; you are now responsible for building a platform where I, your sponsor, can be successful, build brand loyalty, sell more product. If you don’t help me achieve my objectives, how can you expect me to renew, especially at these prices?
The risk here is that as sponsor/partners become more demanding, and the pressure falls on the property to deliver, the concept of partnership can get lost. One of Webster’s definitions of partner is “a player on the same team.” In that definition, both partners have responsibilities, and both should look for ways to achieve objectives in tandem. Allow me to illustrate through two examples:
Procter & Gamble announced it would help Team USA moms get to the Vancouver Olympic Games as part of the “Thanks, Mom” program. P&G committed to help defray the cost of travel and accommodations so that the mom behind each and every Team USA athlete could share their child’s Olympic Winter Games experience. The chief marketing officer of P&G even stated, “P&G is in the business of helping moms.” The U.S. Olympic Committee benefited greatly from this investment by being able to ensure that families had the opportunity to feel a true part of Team USA.
Deloitte chose to activate its sponsorship of the U.S. Paralympic Team by becoming the presenting sponsor of the “Warrior Games.” These inaugural Games featured Paralympic athletes from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard competing in seven Paralympic sports. Many of these athletes had recently returned from combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, many using these Games as a motivator to initiate re-engagement into society after military service. Deloitte’s sponsorship, volunteers and support made the event not only possible, but a true inspiration for many.
If you took a classic view of ROI, neither of these activities would seem to pass muster. P&G didn’t try to sell the families any products, and Deloitte did not ask the athletes to use or recommend any of its services. Both saw an opportunity to help the property achieve a key objective. Both took a longer-term view to the true spirit of partnership. Both brands will benefit from their association, and in the long run both will probably be able to measure a return. However, they undertook these efforts by understanding specific needs of the property and offering their assistance as true partners.
We all want the events, programs and properties we support to be successful. It is in our best interests. The opportunity exists to make their success self-fulfilling by truly working with the property to develop programs that help them achieve a positive return from a sponsorship, to help them achieve their objectives.
When cities vie for the honor to host the Olympic Games, one of the criteria is legacy. Namely, what are your Games going to offer that will leave a lasting enhancement to your city, your country and your world?
Moving forward, I humbly suggest that sponsors ask themselves: What is our sponsorship legacy? How are we going to leave a lasting enhancement through this association?
When those questions are answered, true partnership is achieved.
Gordon Kane (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of Victory Sports Marketing, a sponsorship consultancy. He is the former director of marketing for the U.S. Olympic Committee and is assisting Deloitte with its Olympic sponsorship planning and execution.
What do fans want? The question is almost as intimidating as the eternal quandary of “What do women want?”
In sports, it is easiest to say fans want to see a winning team, and while that is true and most organizations strive for just that, the very definition demands that other teams must lose in order for someone to be victorious.
If it were really just the winning, we all know that some teams would not consistently be sold out while other more successful teams struggle to fill their stadiums. If women just wanted the nice, polite guys, accountants would reign supreme and movie stars would be on Match.com. Nothing is that simple.
So what do fans want?
Here is the rub: Fans cannot specifically tell us what they want, and those of us who work in the sports industry are the worst people possible to try to figure it out.
It is not our fault. We have the best of intentions in trying to understand our fans, but the problem is that fundamentally, we are no longer fans. We have crossed to the other side, and it is almost impossible to go back. We are the middle-aged folks planning the high school prom: Try as hard as we might, we are going to host a pretty lame dance if we just guess what is “cool” these days or, even worse, put on a prom that we would enjoy.
For those who work for a specific team, when was the last time you arrived at your own stadium/arena/ballpark right in the middle of the pregame rush from the major highway? Did you park five blocks away with the other fans? Did you study your own seating chart online before arriving and then stand in line hoping seats were still available in that special section you picked out? Did you go through your own security and need to follow signs to find your seat? Did you stand in line for concessions or the bathroom?
I think most of us have to say “no” to almost all of the above. Yet, aren’t we the stewards of our fans’ experience?
Just to compound our challenge, when do we go to a sporting event elsewhere and not receive preferential treatment from a colleague in the industry? One of the perks of working in sports is that we are usually able to get really good tickets, free tickets, parking passes, etc. This is not the experience of regular fans.
Then, when we are at games, we talk to our friends and family about how we “just can’t enjoy a game for what it is anymore.” We are so caught up in identifying sponsors, networking with our peers and, if we are honest with ourselves, critiquing the game-day presentation, that we completely lose sight of what regular Joe Fan is experiencing.
We do not cheer for our favorite teams, buy their merchandise or read their websites the same way as others because we are forced to see it through the eyes of a sports businessperson, not a fan.
We try, though. We survey our fans, take customer feedback, maybe even run focus groups. However, people in general have a hard time understanding why they do what they do. We are poor predictors of our own behavior; we must benchmark everything, and we are limited by our own frame of reference (i.e., I never could have told Apple I wanted an iPod, but I am certainly glad they figured out it was exactly what I wanted).
Most people want to be rational, so they answer surveys as if they have and will behave rationally, but our emotions and feelings dictate most of our behaviors, and the decision-making lies primarily in the subconscious. That’s a bummer, but it can be overcome.
Ethnography and depth interviews are both effective tools to create a robust understanding of fans. Ethnography in the context of market research is the study of people in their “native” environments, essentially jumping directly into the shoes of those we want to learn about. It is crucial for uncovering exactly what people are doing and finding new opportunities for innovation. A trained researcher can learn so much about fans through astute observation as well as accompanying fans through their game-day experience.
Depth interviews dig at the subconscious and pull those instructional emotions to the surface. Using pictures, metaphors, stories and more, various depth interview techniques lead interviewees into their emotions to get at the heart of their behavior.
Customer insight tools enable your organization to anticipate fans’ needs and responses. Decisions can then be made off a deep knowledge about them, not from gut instinct or an average on a survey.
Empathy is key; we must do everything we can to get into the heads and hearts of our fans. Numerous customer insight tools are being used at consumer packaged goods companies all across the world to understand what we buy in stores and how products can be improved. It is time for the sports industry to step up and put the effort into understanding our fans. Once we understand what our fans want and need, we can sell more impactful sponsorships, create long-lasting experiences for fans and better ride out the weeks when it was the other team’s turn to win.
Elizabeth Cunningham (email@example.com) is the associate director of marketing in the Northwestern University Athletic Department and was trained in behavioral research at the Kellogg School of Management.