Breeders’ Cup signs Aston Martin DTI Management gets $75M funding Shared goals: EA Sports, MLS renew deal Sponsored backdrops by league Van Wagner adds WCC, three schools NBPA spending on employees up 40 percent Sutton Impact: Sleepless nights USOC works to ramp up college connection The Sit-Down: Ashley Merryman From The Executive Editor: Faith & sport
SBJ/Nov. 8-14, 2010/This Week's IssuePrint All
ANC Sports Enterprises has struck a deal with Georgia-based software firm ScorePAD Inc. to integrate ScorePAD’s STADIUMnet scoring interface into ANC’s scoreboard software systems at MLB facilities.
The inclusion of STADIUMnet technology will enhance ANC’s existing VisionSOFT system, enabling a greater variety of real-time and situational statistics as well as scorecard graphics that can be displayed on video boards, fascia boards and other digital signs.
“What we’re trying to create is a much better environment for scoring on displays, and instead of having multiple data feeds that need to be pieced all together, this will all be operated through one control system and will make for much better information retrieval,” said Mark Stross, ANC executive vice president of technology. “This is going to result in more dynamic scoreboards.”
Among the specific creative elements now in development are displays for home run tracking and distance measurement, runners left in scoring position and pitches per inning.
The deal specifically involves ANC purchasing the ScorePAD source code for exclusive use in MLB ballparks. Financial terms were not disclosed.
ANC signage equipment is installed in 15 MLB ballparks, including AT&T Park, Fenway Park, Turner Field and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The alliance between ANC and ScorePAD also will enhance an existing partnership between ANC and scoreboard manufacturer Mitsubishi Electric. In fact, Mitsubishi, which had worked independently with ScorePAD, helped arrange the first meeting between the two entities.
“It made a lot of sense to all of us to take this relationship to another level,” said Phil Civins, ScorePAD senior vice president. “Having us jointly aligned in one alliance is going to make for a stronger position in the marketplace.”
The ATP World Tour is reversing course and placing its two highest-profile American tournaments back on ESPN2, as well as ABC, starting next year.
The three-year deal for the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami and the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., calls for the two March tournaments to pay for the air time. That marks a shift from previous contracts for the events and reflects the challenges in visibility that tennis has on American TV.
The U.S. Open Tennis Championships is currently engaged in difficult contract renewal talks with CBS Sports, which wants to reduce its rights fee.
“Tennis doesn’t necessarily have to buy its way onto TV, but you have to buy to get the best TV time for our product,” said Adam Barrett, tournament director of the Sony Ericsson Open, which ranks by both attendance and prize money with the BNP Paribas Open as the two largest non-Grand Slam events in the world.
The deal was still being worked on late last week. The tour and network also are planning an increase in tennis’ online coverage, with roughly the top two dozen men’s tennis stops being streamed on ESPN3.com.
The addition of the two U.S. events will give ESPN2 the four Slams plus the top ATP and WTA Tour stops. The Miami and Indian Wells events include WTA play, but the ATP has the rights to sell the domestic TV coverage for those stops.
Two years ago, the ATP moved the events from ESPN2 to Fox Sports Net, a shift that drew protest from within the tennis world, including at the U.S. Tennis Association, because of Fox Sports Net’s regional nature. Matches in many markets were bumped for local sports, but Fox Sports Net offered more hours of total coverage than ESPN2.
That fact does not change with the current deal. ESPN2 will televise the men’s and women’s semifinals of the Indian Wells stop, with the finals then airing on ABC. In Miami, ESPN2 will carry the quarterfinals and semifinals, but CBS has rights to the finals. Tennis Channel will broadcast the remainder of the events, though all of the matches will also be available on ESPN3.com.
ESPN2 will begin promoting its coverage of the two events in January. ESPN2 also televises many of the summer U.S. Open Series events that lead into the U.S. Open.
Steve Plasto, the head of ATP Media, declined to comment.
Jason Bernstein, ESPN’s senior director, programming and acquisitions, said ESPN is always looking to grow its sports properties but declined to specifically comment on talks with the ATP.
Just two years after joining CAA, Chris Bevilacqua is planning to leave the agency and launch his own independent media consulting business.
Bevilacqua, who helped launch CSTV and served as CEO of CAA Sports Media Venture, is looking for office space in New York and has been trying to raise capital for a new firm, according to several sources.
Bevilacqua didn’t return calls seeking comment. CAA declined to comment.
Bevilacqua Media Co., as the new company will be known, will exist as separate and apart from CAA. People who have been approached about it said the new business will focus less on advisory work around media rights and more on creating new assets like linear sports channels or acquiring existing sports media assets that are undervalued.
Bevilacqua will continue to work with CAA’s Evolution Media Capital on existing consulting contracts such as the Pac 10 that began during his time at the firm. He is expected to become completely independent after seeing those relationships to term.
Former USTA executive Alan Gold will lead Evolution Media’s sports media practice once Bevilacqua leaves.
The new venture will mark Bevilacqua’s third job in four years. Shortly after CSTV was sold to CBS for $325 million in 2005, he joined Dave Checketts’ sports venture, SCP Worldwide. He left SCP two years later to join CAA.
Bevilacqua formed a new venture initially known as CAA Sports Media Venture with CAA and Evolution Media Capital, CAA’s media investment and consulting partner. During his tenure, CAA and Evolution Media Capital began consulting for the International Olympic Committee, the Pac 10, the San Diego Padres and the NHL.
Bevilacqua initially controlled two seats on the new venture’s board, with CAA also controlling two and Evolution one. He will no longer have a board seat.
With the move, Bevilacqua becomes one in a series of media experts to launch a new, independent consultancy. Former IMG and NHL executive Doug Perlman and longtime ESPN programming executive Len DeLuca recently have launched separate, independent consultancies and signed on to work with top properties such as the USTA and the New York Racing Association, respectively.
Staff writer Michael Smith contributed to this report.
The Chicago Cubs intend in about the next six months to name an architect and contractor for their forthcoming Wrigleyville West spring training complex in Mesa, Ariz., after a surprisingly strong Election Day result favoring the project.
Local voters last week, by a 63 percent to 37 percent majority, approved a measure calling for the city to provide up to $99 million in public funds to keep the Cubs in Mesa, where they have trained continuously for 32 years and 46 years overall. The planned new ballpark will anchor a large, mixed-use development aimed in part at re-creating the lively game-day atmosphere around Wrigley Field.
The nearly 2-to-1 vote in favor of the effort far surpassed many other votes for sports facilities supported by public funds, both large and small. The Cubs, with the support of Mesa city officials and political strategy outfit HighGround Inc., conducted an aggressive campaign that blended traditional tactics with social media efforts, along with frequent in-person visits from team owner Tom Ricketts and his family.
“We are obviously just so grateful and gratified with this result, and 63 percent went beyond even some of our expectations,” said Mike Lufrano, Cubs senior vice president of community affairs and general counsel, and a key figure in the campaign efforts. “This really underscores the value of the Cubs to this area and the value of the investment we’re looking to make. Mesa really stepped up, no question.”
The Cubs, a consistently strong Cactus League attendance draw, are estimated to provide more than $130 million in annual economic impact to Mesa and the surrounding communities.
The Mesa victory ends an extended period of uncertainty in which the Cubs had discussed a potential spring training move to Naples, Fla. A separate, state-driven plan for the club to stay in Arizona based in part on taxing tickets for other Cactus League games died in the face of widespread opposition, including from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
Mesa will spend up to $84 million on the new stadium, and the team will pay facility costs beyond that. Infrastructure improvements such as parking lots, roadwork and utility lines, also to be publicly funded, will cost an additional $15 million.
The public funds are coming from an increase in Mesa hotel taxes and an authorization for the city to use municipal economic development funds on the ballpark. The additional Wrigleyville West development components will be privately funded by the club.
With the Election Day success, work is already under way to prepare for formal design work and a beginning to construction. Requests for proposal will likely go out in the next two months for architects and contractors, with a selection on both likely by around Opening Day. From there, a groundbreaking later in 2011 is planned, and an opening sometime in 2013.
“We’re clearly now going to put a much greater amount of detail into the plan,” Lufrano said. “There’s a lot of work and planning that needs to happen yet, but this is obviously what we were looking for. It’s a big day for us and a big day for Mesa.”
The Portland Trail Blazers are launching an online digital network that will combine live game streaming with other live and taped video content.
The team this week will roll out its “Trailblazerstv” online network, which will be free and accessible through Trailblazers.com.
Other NBA teams have video packages streaming on their websites, but Blazers officials said they are the first NBA team to combine live streaming of games with other live programming and on-demand video.
“It’s a box within a box and what makes this unique is that we will have live streaming content every day,” said Sarah Mensah, chief operating officer for the Blazers.
The Blazers last year were the first NBA team to stream live games in a pay-per-view model. The Chicago Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers followed suit, but this season the Blazers are the only team to stream live games — offering 15 games on Trailblazers.com available within a 150-mile radius of Portland. Now, the team is expanding its digital efforts by adding five additional live shows hosted by the team’s TV and radio hosts, along with pregame, halftime and postgame shows. The on-demand content will include game highlights and other team related video
All shows will be produced in-house via the team’s production studios. The team did not disclose the production costs.
The team is planning to sell ads and sponsorships around “Trailblazerstv,” and hopes to land a title sponsor.
The team has streamed one game live so far this season, attracting 13,000 unique views throughout the course of the game with traffic peaking at 1,200 simultaneous views, team officials said.
“We want to beef up the time people are viewing,” said Dan Harbison, the team’s director of interactive marketing. “It is about how long we will have fans engaged with us and then being able to turn that around for potential partners.”
Sports movie maker Bombo Sports & Entertainment has secured the global home video rights to Manchester United, marking the company’s second major deal of the year.
The NBA in April named the 15-person company as its exclusive home video provider.
“We will do four or five films a year and distribute all over the world,” said Bombo CEO Bob Potter.
Manchester United previously divided up home video rights along domestic and international lines, but it bundled those rights for this exclusive, five-year deal. James White, Manchester United’s media commercial manager, declined to comment on financial terms of the contract but did confirm in an e-mail that Bombo could be expected to make four titles a year.
Bombo has made more than 40 sports titles since its inception a decade ago, including one on Manchester United.
Potter said most of the on-site filmmaking for the new Manchester United deal would be handled by freelancers, with the editing handled in Bombo’s New York offices.— Daniel Kaplan
As improbable as it was for Tony Hawk to land a 900 at the X Games in 2000, his greatest feat may be converting such unprecedented athletic achievement into sustainable business success. He walked away from his professional skateboarding career at 31 and created Tony Hawk Inc., a multimillion-dollar international company that earned him $12 million in 2008. The linchpin of that success has been his successful video game series, which continues with the recently released “Tony Hawk: Shred.” He chronicles his entrepreneurial success in a new book, “How Did I Get Here? The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO.”
Staff writer Tripp Mickle spoke to him last week about his evolution as a CEO.
Tony Hawk Inc. employs about 25 people now. How involved are you day-to-day in the operation, and what do you typically do?
HAWK: I’m mostly thinking up projects and ideas and skating.
How does skating factor into the job?
HAWK: Being out there and walking the walk and still understanding what’s happening and being in the mix is important. If I remove myself from that element, I feel like I would be out of touch with so much of the other aspects. For me, it’s my creative outlet, so I have to get out there and do it.
Other skateboarders have launched their own businesses on the side, but not everyone has enjoyed the longevity you have. What differentiated you in the business realm from others?
HAWK: I was able to branch out into different areas that others didn’t consider or didn’t want to branch out to. I always thought that there was more to skateboarding than the general public saw and I wanted to promote that as best I could. A lot of people didn’t want that attention drawn to skating.
What’s an example of that?
HAWK: When I first got on the radar with something mainstream, I did a tour with ESPN where we went to various skateparks and did exhibitions and we filmed it for a TV show. A lot of people thought that was way too mainstream for skateboarding, but I was really happy to bring the crowds out, do a live show and present it to a television audience. I thought it showcased skateboarding well.
How would you describe the state of action sports today?
HAWK: It’s bigger than ever. It’s much more understood by the general public. It has a lot of potential for global growth. It’s definitely something that parents are encouraging their kids to get into, and that’s not something that was happening when I was a kid.
Has it reached a plateau in the U.S.?
HAWK: Possibly, but I hate to say that because I feel like that there are a lot of places that don’t have facilities. That’s a big reason I do my foundation (which builds public skateparks nationwide). There are a lot of places that don’t have the proper place for the kids in their area to go (skate) and kids are discouraged from doing it.
Where do brands go wrong when they try to market to an action sports audience?
HAWK: They try to use clichéd buzz words and graphics and layouts without consulting people who really skate. That mistake is made less now because people are more savvy, but eight to 10 years ago, big-name advertising agencies would throw whatever they thought skating was about on big billboards.
What brands do an effective job of marketing to youth today?
HAWK: Apple is always really good. I like what the Axe campaign has done in using action sports guys on a big skill. It’s funny. I think the whole Old Spice thing is hilarious.
In writing this book, I imagine you spent time reflecting on your business. When you look back at it, what was the best business decision you made?
HAWK: Not accepting a buyout and advance royalty in my video game. Right when the game was being released, it had a lot of buzz and Activision offered me a buyout against future royalties. It was more money than I’d ever seen, but I’d just come to a place where I was finally out of the red and I had a mortgage. I was finally comfortable and decided I wanted to see it out. I took that risk. (Activision went on to sell more than $1 billion of Tony Hawk-branded games.)
When people ask you for business advice, what do you tell them?
HAWK: I tell them to follow their passion and learn everything they can about every single aspect of what they want to do, and to approach challenges as learning opportunities as opposed to stumbling blocks.
What do you feel like you’ve had to learn that wasn’t part of your skill set when you started your businesses?
HAWK: I learned that to grow a business takes more money. It’s not like if you have a successful product, you just rake in the money. If you want to have a successful business, you have to put up more risk and invest more capital. That was something I never paid attention to before.
Xerox has signed a five-year sponsorship deal with the U.S. Tennis Association, making it the U.S. Open's official office equipment and document technology provider.
The low-seven-figure-per-year agreement gives Xerox broad exclusivity across office equipment, including fax machines, copiers, printers and scanners.
Under the deal, Xerox gets courtside signage at the U.S. Open, and will advertise on rights holders CBS, ESPN and the Tennis Channel, and on the USOpen.org website. Xerox had been a U.S. Open hospitality client for many years.
As it has done with its other key sports properties, like its relationship with Notre Dame through NBC, and the New York Mets, Xerox will use the U.S. Open as hospitality for its business-to-business customer base and to showcase its document processing capabilities on site and in creative.
"We like the global nature of the U.S. Open as a branding device. Our integration gives us real business and our [ad] campaign validates it with a real story," said Jon Levine, vice president of global experiential marketing at Xerox.
MEC Access, a GroupM company, negotiated the deal for Xerox.
Xerox, which becomes one of the largest USTA sponsors, displaces Canon, the longest-standing sponsor, with tenure of 33 years.
"We don't take lightly moving away from a partnership of that many years," said USTA Chief Business and Marketing Officer Harlan Stone, "but this will be a quantum step forward both financially and in terms of activation."
Stone said USTA renewals were all looking positive, while new categories being targeted include wireless and insurance.
Ever since news broke that marketing agent Mike Ornstein had pleaded guilty to two felonies, admitting he and others conspired to scalp Super Bowl tickets, NFL insiders have been wondering whether Ornstein will name names to federal law enforcement authorities.
But that is just one of the mysteries surrounding the case. Although Ornstein’s admissions regarding Super Bowl tickets grabbed the most headlines, he also admitted that he sold an untold number of NFL jerseys that were falsely advertised as worn by NFL players in NFL games.
Inside the world of sports memorabilia collectors, the burning question is, What happened to those jerseys?
Ornstein is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 17 in a federal courtroom in Cleveland, where he faces a maximum of 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy. Ornstein originally pleaded guilty in June, although the news of his pleas was not reported until October. He had been scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 24, but his attorney asked that sentencing be moved up to this month, although it is not clear why and his attorney did not return phone calls.
According to the government’s bill of information in the case, during the years 2000 through 2003 Ornstein ordered NFL jerseys multiple times from Ripon Athletic, a subcontractor of Reebok, which has the apparel license from the NFL, and then sold them at a profit of more than $100,000. The jerseys, the exact number of which is unclear, were dispersed to a number of outlets, including to an unnamed sports memorabilia dealer and to be sold under consignment by an unnamed Internet site.Additionally some of the jerseys were sold to unnamed “others” and other jerseys were cut up and “affixed to trading cards, which trading cards were then sold purporting to contain pieces of NFL game-worn jerseys,” according to the bill of information. It did not identify the outlets that sold the jerseys.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Cleveland, which is prosecuting the case, said that both the Super Bowl tickets and NFL jerseys investigations continue, but he has been mum on the details of those probes.
It is not clear exactly how many jerseys Ornstein sold in the years 2000 through 2003 and whether those jerseys are in hobbyists’ collections or still circulating on the sports memorabilia market, the size of which has been estimated at $1 billion in the U.S.
Rich Mueller, editor of industry publication Sports Collectors Daily, wrote a story on this subject Oct. 6, days after news broke that Ornstein had pleaded guilty in the case.
“People are waiting to hear a little bit more about what happened to those jerseys,” Mueller told SportsBusiness Journal, adding “I am surprised that is not part of the court documents.”
Sports collecting has been hit with its share of scandals in the last several years. As reported by the New York Daily News in August, at least one FBI agent was at the National Sports Collectors Convention for the third year in a row. It’s not clear whether the Ornstein investigation is part of that federal probe or a different one.
Mueller said that what people in the hobby want to know is how many jerseys were sold through auction houses and how many were cut into pieces and sold on trading cards.
“The trading card industry is driven now by the memorabilia cards and autographed cards and relic cards,” Mueller said. Cards with pieces of game-worn jerseys “are the prizes in the packs people are looking for. Those are what drive the industry. They drive today’s card collector,” he said.
In the years 2000 through 2003, a number of companies big and small sold trading cards containing pieces of NFL jerseys. SportsBusiness Journal contacted the three largest sports trading card companies, Topps, Upper Deck, and Panini, asking whether they bought jerseys from Ornstein and for any other information the companies knew about the case.
Warren Friss, a vice president at Topps, declined comment.
Jason Howarth, vice president of marketing at trading card company Panini, formerly known as Donruss, said in an e-mail, “Neither Panini nor any of its predecessors have purchased jerseys from Michael Ornstein.”
Michael Bernstein, general counsel for Upper Deck, said the company never bought jerseys from Ornstein. Even so, he added, the company is concerned about the case and its potential impact on the sports collecting industry.
“The memorabilia and trading card industry is an industry that is built on delivering authentic autographs and memorabilia to the collecting public,” Bernstein said in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, incidents like this serve to undermine the principals the industry is founded on.”
Denver attorney Marshall Fogel, whose sports memorabilia collection is reported to be worth millions and who is trying to start a trade association to establish standards for authenticating sports memorabilia, agrees. Fogel said he hopes authorities recover and disclose the falsely advertised jerseys to whoever may have purchased them.
“It is important to do the best job possible to recover fraudulent items so they don’t get resold by innocent parties to other innocent parties,” Fogel said.
“And secondly … it’s important because we want to protect the reputation of the industry.”
None of the sports collector experts interviewed for this article were aware of the federal authorities notifying anyone that they were in receipt of falsely advertised jerseys. But one sports collector thinks he may know how about 20 NFL jerseys were sold more than seven years ago.
Guy Hankel, a well-known collector of Green Bay Packers game-used jerseys who writes a blog on sports memorabilia, read about Ornstein’s case in Sports Collectors Daily. Specifically, he was interested in a line in that story that said Ornstein had sold 20 NFL jerseys for more than $30,000.
That made Hankel recall an auction from years back, which had stuck in his mind for a couple of reasons. For one thing, a Brett Favre Packers jersey went for the top price, $3,699.93. Also, the jerseys were given certificates of authenticity by NFL Properties, a division of the NFL.
“I personally have never seen a group of jerseys sold by an auction house with NFL Properties COAs previously or since then,” Hankel said.
Hankel dug out the auction book, which dated back to a 2003 auction by Las Vegas-based American Memorabilia, an auction house that caters to high-end collectors. Hankel, a serious collector who keeps detailed records, had also printed out the prices realized in that auction — as published on American Memorabilia’s website — and added them up. The total came to $30,942.23.
That’s almost the exact amount that the U.S. attorney’s office said the 20 jerseys in the Ornstein case brought in. Ornstein and others “sold approximately 20 of the falsely-advertised game-worn jerseys for approximately $30,942.25,” according to the bill of information.
The jerseys were sold between Feb. 1 and June 5, 2003, according to the bill of information in the case. The American Memorabilia auction concluded March 6, 2003.
SportsBusiness Journal attempted numerous times to contact American Memorabilia, which was not implicated in the Ornstein case. A woman who identified herself only as “Kieta” and said she was the CEO of the Las Vegas auction house took down information and questions but did not call back. Later phone calls and e-mails were not returned. On its website, the company lists Kieta as vice president/CEO and Victor Moreno as founder, president and CEO. Ornstein, asked about the American Memorabilia auction, cut an interview short. “I don’t want to talk to you anymore,” he said.
SportsBusiness Journal e-mailed a list of six questions to the NFL about the jerseys, asking, among other things, whether NFL Properties had ever issued COAs; whether the jerseys in the 2003 American Memorabilia auction were the jerseys referred to in the Ornstein case; and whether there was any NFL investigation or subsequent action linked to the issuance of COAs.
NFL senior vice president Greg Aiello wrote back, “These matters were investigated and resolved many years ago.”
Two sources said that the NFL did investigate a matter involving COAs and that at least one person was punished. Asked to confirm or deny this, Aiello declined to comment.
Mike Tobin, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Cleveland, would not comment on whether the jerseys sold in the March 2003 auction were the same as the ones listed in the court documents. He also would not say whether buyers of NFL jerseys that court documents said were falsely advertised as game-worn had been told the items they bought were fakes.
“While federal guidelines call for victims to be notified if and when they are identifiable, we don’t comment on the status of that to the public,” Tobin said in an e-mail.
It is not clear if or when the U.S. attorney will notify people who bought the falsely advertised jerseys referred to in the Ornstein case, but Hankel is among the collectors who think they should do so.
“Even if collectors discover fraudulent or misrepresented items that sold at auction years ago, it is still very much worth it to publicize these findings, since most collectors want to know if a piece they have is a fake,” Hankel said. “We need to stop ‘bad’ jerseys from continuously circulating through the hobby, being bought and sold over and over.”
The NFL and ESPN are in the middle of an exclusive negotiating window that could change important parts of the network’s record-setting $1.1 billion annual rights deal with the league.
The window was triggered around Labor Day and remains open up to Thanksgiving. As part of ESPN’s deal, signed in 2005, the two sides were allowed to reopen the contract to negotiate different terms.
It’s not known which side initiated the trigger, but both groups have interest in renegotiating aspects of the deal. ESPN is looking for enhanced mobile rights, while the league wants the ability to offer a full-season’s worth of NFL games to its own network or, potentially, additional cable partners.
Both ESPN and the NFL declined comment on the talks.
ESPN has a deal to carry “Monday Night Football” games through 2013, and that is not expected to change. But the company is talking to the league about acquiring more mobile rights, according to sources familiar with the talks.
ESPN wants the mobile rights to stream “Monday Night Football” games as part of the cable industry’s “TV Everywhere” concept, which allows authenticated cable subscribers to watch full channels via broadband and mobile. Currently, ESPN only has such a deal in place with Time Warner Cable, which last month started streaming the entire ESPN channel to its broadband customers.
Plans to expand the service to mobile customers are still to come.
The problem is, though, that ESPN doesn’t have the rights to stream its “MNF” schedule — or any live NFL games, for that matter — to mobile devices. That means ESPN’s “MNF” games would be blacked out to Time Warner Cable subscribers who want to watch on mobile devices when the operator starts streaming ESPN to mobile devices.
At issue is the NFL’s four-year, $720 million deal that grants Verizon exclusive mobile rights. The NFL wants to protect that deal, which is the league’s most valuable sponsorship agreement.
Another issue preventing the league from granting these rights to ESPN is the NFL’s relationship with Time Warner Cable. So far, TWC is the only cable operator that has the right to stream ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU to its broadband and mobile subscribers. But lingering bitterness exists between the NFL and the cable operator, which still has not cut a deal for NFL Network or NFL RedZone. Because of that, sources say, the NFL is not going out of its way to release rights that would benefit Time Warner Cable.
ESPN is not the only one that would benefit from re-opening the deal, however. The NFL is looking to relax a “cable exclusivity” clause that ESPN put in the original contract. The clause says that no other cable network can carry a full-season’s schedule of NFL games.
NFL Network has carried an eight-game schedule since 2006.
As the NFL looks to expand to an 18-game schedule as early as 2012, the league wants the flexibility to shop additional packages to cable networks, such as, potentially, Turner Sports, Versus and FX.
It is not clear how a renegotiated deal would affect ESPN’s rights fee, which remains the highest of all the league’s television partners, but it’s likely any additional rights would come with an increased fee.
Earlier this year, ESPN successfully negotiated a bundle of broadband, mobile and international rights. It was not allowed to stream “Monday Night Football” to a wireless carrier, however (see SportsBusiness Journal, March 29-April 4).
Veterans Day is Thursday, and to recognize the many military veterans working in sports, SportsBusiness Journal’s Don Muret spoke with eight of them, from longtime executive and Air Force veteran HARVEY SCHILLER to NFL EVP and Navy vet ERIC GRUBMAN. They talked about ties between their years in the armed forces and their sports jobs, as well as some of their military experiences. Special thanks to facility operations consultant Bill Squires, a retired Navy commander and former manager of old Yankee Stadium, Giants Stadium and Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Harvey Schiller has a plaque on his office wall as a reminder he survived 700 combat flight hours during his 1966-67 tour of Vietnam.
The sign mentions the particular day 30-caliber bullets hit his plane, a Fairchild C-123 Provider. “When you got shot at, you got a certificate because you were then a ‘Punctured Provider,’” Schiller said. “I got shot up quite a bit, but no injuries. Luckily, they hit behind the cockpit, not in front.”
Schiller spent 24 years as an Air Force pilot and retired as a brigadier general in 1986. He graduated in 1960 from The Citadel and attended graduate school at the University of Michigan before entering the Air Force as a second lieutenant.
Every day in Vietnam was a different mission in the air, whether it was dropping troop supplies or providing special forces support, Schiller said. He earned a trunk full of medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and Legion of Merit.
After returning from Vietnam, Schiller went back to school, earning a doctorate in chemistry from Michigan, and in 1980 he was named a permanent professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy by the president of the United States.
His civilian career is just as impressive, with stops as president of Turner Sports, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, CEO of YankeeNets and commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.
Schiller points to his job as executive director of the USOC from 1990 to 1994 as the one position with the strongest ties to his military service.
“In both cases, you’re putting forward the interests of your country,” he said. “Lots of military people have been involved in the Olympic movement and it’s been supported strongly by the armed forces throughout its history.”
He still remembers the rattlesnake let loose during a survival training exercise in an Air Force Academy building that later became part of the USOC’s headquarters.“I hope he’s dead by now,” Schiller joked.When the SEC had individual schools hit with NCAA infractions, conference and university officials turned to Schiller and his deep military background to right the course in 1986.
“The presidents were clearly looking for someone to return integrity to the conference as well as [push] the advancements in minority recruiting and a bunch of other things at the time,” Schiller said. “I think the commitment married up very well with someone who came out of the military.”
Mike Hill sees a daily connection between his Air Force tenure and his ESPN duties.
“The timeliness of what we have to do, it’s one of the principles I apply every day,” he said. “The camaraderie and teamwork it takes to put a show together, I got all that from the military. As an anchor, I’m one of the leaders and you have to take charge in certain situations when things go wrong.”
Hill was searching for a way out of Bessemer, Ala., when he decided to join the Air Force, following the same steps as some family members.
Seeing what they did, making a successful transition from high school to the military and a secondary education, made sense to Hill, especially growing up in what he described as a downtrodden community best known for producing Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson.
“I saw so many people leave my neighborhood and come back after a year of college and ended up working in a factory or local business and that’s just not the route I wanted to take,” Hill said.
“I wasn’t ready for college, to be quite honest, and needed that discipline in my life.”
His Air Force experience from 1988 to 1995 took him to the Philippines and Hawaii. Until that period in his life, Hill had never been anywhere beyond the East Coast. It was in Hawaii that Hill became a radio communications analyst during Desert Storm.
Hill never set foot in Iraq but he did provide radio support for American spy planes flying missions over the Mideast. Over the years, Hill moved from airman to airman first class and buck sergeant before leaving the military to pursue a career in sports television.
During his final year in the Air Force, Hill landed a television internship in Baltimore and was fortunate enough to participate in a new broadcasting program launched by the National Security Agency. Hill became an anchor on a new show with a format similar to the 6 p.m. national news.
“What the agency wanted to do instead of having those boring briefings was to make it a ‘World News Tonight’ format, all confidential and secure, of course,” Hill said.
The same day Hill received his discharge papers, Feb. 5, 1995, he also got his first real broadcasting job as a weekend sportscaster in Hagerstown, Md.
“Market 196,” he said, referring to Hagerstown’s rank as a designated market area. “I had already auditioned and interviewed for the job. “
Later came sports anchor stops in Fresno, Nashville, New York and Dallas before Hill reached the Worldwide Leader, getting a job with ESPN 6 1/2 years ago.
“Even though I did not go to Iraq I served during wartime and it was a very tense situation, so if I was able to handle all those situations, it prepared me for life in the corporate world as well,” Hill said. “Without my military experience, I would not be where I am right now.”
Ron Johnson was set to ease into a second career with global security and technology firm Lockheed Martin until the NBA came calling in 2008 to help restore integrity to its game.
About a year after former NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to charges linked to allegations he supplied gamblers with inside information, league officials created a new position and hired Johnson to supervise all referees.
NBA Commissioner David Stern turned to Johnson to fill that critical role two years after first meeting the major general before he addressed the rookie class of 2006. Johnson was the guy the Army picked after Stern put in a request to the Army chief of staff for a speaker.
“I spoke to the rookies about values, responsibility and being a role model,” Johnson said “I spent the day with them, had lunch with them. I left and thought that was surely a lot of fun and never thought about it again.”
But then the Donaghy scandal broke in July 2007. The following summer, Stern asked Johnson whether he would be interested in becoming the NBA’s new senior vice president of referee operations.
Stern put his trust in a military veteran who played a key role in the second Gulf War, serving as America’s commanding general responsible for managing the reconstruction of Iraq from December 2003 through July 2004.
“I’m the guy they sent over with the $18.4 billion supplemental budget,” he said. “I wasn’t drawing a weapon or anything, but it was not a friendly environment over there, with multiple attacks on soldiers and civilians as you’re trying to move around and do your job.”
Johnson got shot at a few times in Iraq but was never hit by gunfire, and he wasn’t in a vehicle that hit an improvised explosive device and killed his security guard.
After 32 years in the military, Johnson was set to retire July 1, 2008, and go to work as Lockheed Martin’s vice president of performance excellence. “That job would have fit me fine based upon the skills I brought to the table,” Johnson said.
The timing of the Donaghy situation and Johnson’s pending retirement from the Army prompted Stern to make the job offer, Johnson said.“The first thing I knew that was No. 1 in importance from talking to Commissioner Stern was the integrity of our game and men and young women that possessed and demonstrated a high level of excellence,” he said. “That appealed to me because I had been doing that all my life.
“I didn’t know for certain what I was getting into,” Johnson said. “I had no credentials to be doing any of this other than my analytical skills. There is a lot of data analysis involved in this job, a lot of moving pieces that require you to figure out ‘why is that?’ That was also very appealing to me.”
Johnson also discovered an appreciation for the physical fitness tied to NBA officiating, the fact that referees have to be in great shape to run up and down the court several times a week. Johnson was an athlete himself, competing in gymnastics at Lane Tech high school in Chicago.
At the U.S. Military Academy, he ran the quarter mile in track, and played intramural basketball, soccer and handball, swam and boxed. Johnson graduated from West Point in 1976 and began leading groups of up to 131 soldiers at the platoon and company level during his Army career.
It’s those people skills that Johnson honed during his three decades in the Army that he sees as most applicable to his work in the NBA.
“If you treat people right, they will accomplish anything you ask them to do,” he said. “For me as a leader it has always meant giving people what they need, which is not always necessarily what they want. Sometimes you have to establish pretty tough goals and standards that require guys to want to reach for that goal. The more you do that, the more people reach and the better they get. It is no different in the Army than it is with these NBA referees. They really stretch themselves to do the very best.”
Skip Kruger had wanted to be a Marine since the age of 12. It was a decision he made early in life after his father, Earl G. Kruger, told him how much he regretted never serving his country.
“He was on the bus to go to World War II in 1942 and they had changed the age for enlistment,” Kruger said. “My parents had just adopted me and the recruiter jumped on the bus and said if you were [such an age], you don’t have to go, so he didn’t go.
“He always felt bad about that and told me if it was my will, he would love for me to go in the service. I always felt that sounded like a good thing when I was too little to really know what it was all about.”
Skip, whose birth name is Earl, didn’t change his mind as he got older. He graduated from Indiana University in 1966, went directly to officers candidate school and did two tours of Vietnam in 1967-68 and 1972-73. He fought plenty of battles, was wounded twice in ’67 and sent home to Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Chicago.
Kruger served his second stint in Vietnam as an adviser to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps.
“If you were a psycho, it was a great time,” Kruger joked. “I think I had been there two days when the Easter Offensive of ’72 hit and I never stopped running until ’73. It was crazy … you were just another Vietnamese private unless you had air and naval gunfire” support.
Kruger retired in 1987 after 21 years as a Marine and jumped right into advertising sales. He got a taste for the profession serving as the liaison between the Marine Corps advertising department and J. Walter Thompson, its civilian agency.
“I retired on a Friday and went to work for an advertising agency here in the Washington area on a Monday,” Kruger said. “I did that for 10 years and then joined D.C. United in February 1997. Been here ever since, 14 seasons roughly.”
Kruger sees dedication and hard work — “grit, grind, what the Marine Corps is all about” — as the chief correlation between the military and sales.
“It’s a lot of hours,” Kruger said. “Back in those days we were selling the Marine Corps, and right now I’m selling D.C. United. It’s not always fun and nobody likes to cold call. Recruiting in those days [stunk] but you’re not going to talk to anybody if you can’t find them on the phone.
“My job here forced me to do that again and I still hate it. When you finally ink somebody, it’s great, but there’s a lot of stuff that goes into that. Kind of like the Marine Corps, so much ground work and preparation before you get any kind of a payoff whatsoever.”
Kruger’s crusty demeanor and no-nonsense approach working with his much-younger MLS colleagues can be a generational clash, but it reflects the core values he learned as a Marine. “You can’t go through 21 years of the Marine Corps and not have a whole bunch of idiosyncrasies,” he said.
“People think I’m nuts but that’s fine. I’m kind of a dyed-in-the-wool ‘this has to be done right now, there’s no excuses’ kind of guy. I may be a little too rigid at times. People here know me now, that you either do it or take a left when I take a right, if you will.”
Daryl Niles’ expertise at spotting suspicious activities during his Army days is a natural tie-in for his duties at Qwest Field, and he says he leads by example. The old foot soldier doesn’t camp out inside the stadium’s command center; he’s walking the beat to find that potential bad guy.
“I was not the type of leader who sat back, observed and barked orders,” he said. “I have got to get in the foxhole with the soldiers because that is where you learn the best. They fight better for you and learn from you, and that’s the same principle I use here.
“I am out in the trenches, looking at gate security, walking around the stadium inside and out with the part-time staff. I think they appreciate that when they see somebody from management side getting down there and doing the same thing they are doing.”
Niles, like many soldiers, joined the Army fresh out of high school to see the world. He was 17.
Twenty-four years later, he retired from the service and put his military skills to good use protecting patrons at Seahawks and Sounders games.
Niles was an Army Ranger in Special Operations and rose through the ranks to become a command sergeant major, the highest rank for an enlisted solder. At the time he retired in 2001, Niles was in charge of a 550-person infantry battalion.
He was part of Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s, carrying a 100-pound backpack in 120-degree weather in the blistering sands of the Mideast.
“I went with the 101st Airborne Division from start to finish,” Niles said. “Living conditions were obviously horrific. You pretty much sleep under the ground during the day, literally underneath the sand. In the nighttime, that’s when you maneuver around because it’s a lot cooler.”
In the first Iraq conflict, Niles was part of a 10-man operation that would split up into three teams several miles apart and report enemy activity back to the front lines. “We were shot at a few times,” he said. “I never got injured, thank God. Came back the same way I went over.”
After retirement, Niles became a police officer in Kent, Wash., a Seattle suburb, and eventually transitioned to sports security, working part time at the Tacoma Dome and Safeco Field for StaffPro, a crowd management firm.
Two days before Qwest Field opened in 2002, stadium operator First and Goal, the firm owned by Seahawks and Sounders owner Paul Allen, hired Niles as assistant guest services manager. He switched over to security manager and was recently promoted to his present position.
“The 70,000 fans that come here for NFL games — it was the same thing with my job in the Army, protecting U.S. interests stateside and overseas, ” Niles said.
Tony Odierno said it was no slam dunk he would follow his father’s lead to West Point and a military career.
The junior Odierno, son of Gen. Ray Odierno, grew up an Army brat. He lived in 13 different places and attended four high schools. It was not until early in his senior year in high school that Tony made the decision to go down the same path as Dad and applied to the U.S. Military Academy.
“Part of that was seeing how much my dad enjoyed being in the military and the sense of pride he had from that,” Odierno said.
He graduated from West Point in 2001 with a civil engineering degree and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry. His first post was at Fort Hood, Texas, as a scout platoon leader in charge of 30 enlisted men, training that squad to go to Iraq.
In early 2004, Odierno was sent to Iraq, where he conducted more than 100 combat missions in the form of raids, searches and checkpoints. Halfway through his time there, Odierno was transferred to a different platoon where he was responsible for 50 soldiers.
“I was in charge of logistics for a squadron of about 800 people, [coordinating] ammunition and fuel for all the tanks, Bradley vehicles and Kiowa Warrior helicopters,” Odierno said.
He was also in charge of a sniper section ambushed in the streets of southwest Baghdad in August 2004. Odierno was in the passenger seat of a Humvee when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the vehicle, killing his driver and badly injuring Odierno’s left arm.
Odierno was evacuated to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington and spent the next three months undergoing 15 surgeries. Purple Heart in hand, he spent the rest of 2004 undergoing occupational and physical therapy learning how to use his new prosthesis.
After that, he spent the next 18 months as an aide to Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before earning an MBA at NYU’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business.
It was during a dinner in New York in 2008 when Yankees Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost offered Odierno a paid internship. Odierno, still at NYU, was there to present a community service award to Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon, himself the son of an Army staff sergeant. The award was given on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit formed to help injured soldiers. Odierno sits on its board of directors.
As an intern, Odierno helped the Yankees organize activities tied to the 2008 MLB All-Star Game at old Yankee Stadium. He was later hired full time to book special events at the new park, non-baseball dates that have included boxing, a concert, the Army-Notre Dame football game Nov. 20 and the New Era Pinstripe Bowl Dec. 30.
Odierno sees a parallel between his Iraq missions and large-scale events he has to coordinate now. Both require a tremendous amount of communication and teamwork among several departments.
“Just like in the military, there is a lot of planning for those events and the execution of those events,” he said. “In the Army, it’s between the different units you’re working. Here, it’s with the football teams, conferences, Live Nation and Top Rank.
“It’s obviously attention to detail and leadership. I believe all those skills that I received in the military have transferred over to what I’m doing now.”
Jaime Rojas had his military bubble burst early by an Army recruiter.
Born in Chicago and raised in Miami, Rojas had two cousins who joined the military, and he decided to do the same because his parents did not have the money to pay for his college education. Joining the military and taking advantage of the G.I. Bill to pay for school offered a nice solution.
“I went to see a recruiter and initially thought I was going to be an Army Ranger; I was all gung-ho,” he said. “Thankfully, he let me realize there is more to the military than [being a Ranger] and asked me to consider something I would enjoy doing.”
Rojas had studied architecture in high school and thought about being a draftsman specialist in the Army. Then the recruiter showed him a video of a soldier jumping out of a plane with a parachute, holding a piece of wood with paper taped to it, drawing a bridge while looking down at a ravine.
“I was like, no, no, no, office, nice desk and all that,” Rojas said. Not in the Army, the recruiter said.
Rojas eventually found his niche as a helicopter mechanic repairing and maintaining Hueys and Chinooks, and in August 1990, he was shipped to Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield and saw action during Desert Storm in Iraq.
When the war started, his helicopter unit was responsible for transferring equipment for infantry and artillery divisions in addition to flying Rangers in closer to Baghdad.
“We were shot at one time, a little gun battle that lasted two to three minutes but felt like an hour,” Rojas said. “It was over pretty quick. The Iraqis would come out of their bunkers like ants out of an anthill. They gave up as soon as they realized we were going to completely destroy them.”
In May 2001, after his four-year term ended, Rojas left the Army and went to school, first at Florida and then Florida International University in Miami, where he got an athletic trainer internship with the Florida Marlins. His job interest had veered down another path during his time in Iraq.
“I wanted to be an architect initially, but after I joined the Army I knew I couldn’t do an office job after that,” he said. “I enjoyed being outside and loved sports. One of the guys in my unit was an exercise physiologist and had weights brought over from the States. I wanted to go into that.”
Rojas earned a degree in sports medicine from FIU, and through his ties with the Marlins he landed the job as trainer for Major League Soccer’s old Miami Fusion. Rojas worked there for four years before the league eliminated the Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2001.
He moved back to Chicago and worked for a physical therapy clinic for seven years until getting back into MLS in 2009 as the Rapids’ trainer.
“The biggest thing I learned in the military that I do now is time management and multitasking,” Rojas said. “In the Army, it was working on my helicopter, making sure that everything was ready for its mission. Now I work on athletes making sure they’re ready for the game.
“Instead of working on a mechanical instrument I’m working on the human body,” he said. “I use a lot of analogies with our players, when I’m trying to think of what’s wrong with an athlete, why they have this injury and mechanically, what’s going on. I sort of blend the two toget
Fenway Sports Group plans to take an active role with sponsorship sales for its new sister operation, Liverpool FC.
While New England Sports Ventures, parent company for both entities as well as the Boston Red Sox and New England Sports Network, is still assimilating the English Premier League club into the corporate portfolio, FSG sees a big sales opportunity with the soccer team.
“There’s definitely going to be a tremendous amount of two-way leverage coming out of this,” said Sam Kennedy, FSG president and one of several executives on the deal team for NESV’s $480 million acquisition of the club last month.
Kennedy drew comparisons for the potential with Liverpool to FSG’s work with the PGA Tour Deutsche Bank Championship. FSG represents the event in a sales and marketing capacity.
“We gained additional sponsors for the Red Sox, such as State Street Corp. and EMC, out of that relationship, and they each now have title sponsorship rights to areas within Fenway Park,” Kennedy said. “It’s definitely gone the other way around, too, where we’ve brought Red Sox sponsors to the Championship. That’s the type of collaboration we try to foster, and we see that happening certainly with Liverpool as well, and now on an even more global scale. … Having Liverpool is unquestionably a big, powerful and important asset to have as we talk to blue-chip companies.”
A high-profile jersey deal, however, will not be needed. The club this past summer began a four-year deal with London-based bank Standard Chartered worth more than $30 million annually.
Despite FSG’s intent to become involved with Liverpool’s corporate sales efforts, club operations will remain under its England-based management, including commercial director Ian Ayre. Similarly, FSG and NESV have not added or assigned any American personnel to work solely on Liverpool matters.
Kennedy, FSG managing director Billy Hogan and NESV executive Joe Januszewski will take the lead on the FSG side in working to support Ayre’s efforts.
“Ian has done a tremendous job in his short time there of revamping the commercial operations,” Kennedy said. “He and his team have dramatically increased revenues since his arrival just three years ago.”
Kennedy, echoing earlier comments from NESV’s John Henry and Tom Werner, said no decision has been made whether to pursue a rehabilitation of Liverpool’s aged home stadium, Anfield, or pursue a new facility.
“This now is very reminiscent, very analogous, to 2002 and the early days of our looking at Fenway,” Kennedy said, referencing what ultimately became a nearly decade-long, $285 million renovation effort. “Part of our immediate job with Liverpool is to examine all of our options, and it’s going to take some time to do that homework. It’s definitely way too early to say whether we’ll renovate or build.”
The San Francisco Giants, newly minted with their first World Series title since moving from New York after the 1957 season, will obviously see broad-based increases in ticket and merchandise sales, local TV ratings, and the other metrics that winning a championship historically improves.
But the club is after something even bigger: a total redefinition of the Giants’ brand that sheds more than five decades of on-field near-misses and underachievement.
“This isn’t a brand elevation we’re talking about. This is a total transformation of the brand. It’s way more than a refresh,” said Larry Baer, Giants president and chief operating officer, last week. “What the Giants are from a brand standpoint is going to be very different going forward.”
In short, Baer and his Giants colleagues see the club becoming a true league economic force along the lines of the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. With a season-ticket base already standing at 21,000 full-season equivalents and set to grow now into at least the high 20,000s; a roster set to return nearly fully intact in 2011; merchandise sales booming; and a strong TV presence on CSN Bay Area, the club is targeting big days ahead.
“We’ve been fortunate to accelerate our trajectory and we’re going to continue to build on what has been achieved,” said managing general partner Bill Neukom, speaking right after the Giants’ clinching win in Game 5.
The team on a fiscal basis essentially broke even for the 2010 season, with the playoff run providing an eight-figure lift. Strong profits are now expected in 2011 and beyond.
Those lofty aspirations, however, will need to mesh with a continued desire for the growth to come on a measured basis. Baer said last week he anticipates only single-digit percentage increases in both ticket prices and payroll beyond the 2010 Opening Day number of $98.6 million.
“We’re trying to grow this methodically,” Baer said. “I don’t see us going crazy.”
Amazingly, the Giants achieved their on-field success despite three of their five highest-paid players — pitcher Barry Zito, outfielder Aaron Rowand and infielder Mark DeRosa — combining to represent 40 percent of club payroll yet not playing meaningful roles in October due to injury or ineffectiveness.
“This all really shows that [this] is an art and not a science,” Baer said.
One area in which the club stands to see particularly strong benefits is dynamic ticket pricing. With MLB controlling ticket policies for the World Series, the Giants’ program of allowing single-game prices to float based on market forces was not in place for the Fall Classic. But with a second full regular season with the system set to occur in 2011, the club is poised to capture sizable chunks of ticket revenue that otherwise would have gone to the secondary market.
The Giants do not, however, plan to add seats to AT&T Park, believing the current park capacity of 41,915 remains an optimal figure for the San Francisco market.
Merchandise boom: Merchandise sales were bullish at both AT&T Park and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington during this year’s series. Customer wait times just to get into team shops often extended more than an hour.
“Before the series started, I thought this matchup might have generated maybe 65 percent of [Philadelphia-New York] last year. Now, it’s probably 85 to 90 percent and growing,” said Howard Smith, MLB senior vice president of licensing. The 2009 Yankees hot market was among the best in MLB history. “What we’re seeing in both of these markets this year,” Smith said, “particularly at the ballparks, has been extraordinary. Pent-up demand is always a good thing.”
More specifically, the Rangers and MLB as of early last week had sold more than 360,000 “Claw and Antler” T-shirts depicting the celebratory gestures embraced by the team. In San Francisco, the Giants sold more than $600,000 worth of merchandise at their team store in just the first 36 hours after winning the National League pennant, with the vigorous sales rates intensifying during the World Series and even more so after the title was clinched.
To help meet demand, the club signed a temporary lease at a Borders bookstore near AT&T Park that had closed in order to set up additional merchandising space.
Customization, already an emerging push for MLB and its licensees, was a big component of this year’s merchandise returns. MLB for the first time produced locally specific covers for the official World Series program, with fans responding strongly in both Texas and San Francisco.
Looking forward, Smith believes the Rangers and Giants will both jump into more national prominence with regard to merchandising, joining stalwarts such as the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.
“We’re already seeing greater interest in these two clubs from our national chains,” Smith said. “This unquestionably opens up broader opportunities.”
Rush to history: For the second consecutive year, MLB Productions will be conducting a rapid turnaround for the official World Series DVD, with a final master film due for reproduction on Thursday, just 10 days after the conclusion of the series. The timing is designed to have a retail release in time for the full holiday shopping season. This year’s DVD will be in stores on Nov. 23.
“It’s always a challenge getting something like this together, but more so with the World Series DVD than probably any other production we do because there’s more riding on it,” said David Gavant, MLB Productions vice president and executive producer. “We are creating a key historical document of the event.”
More than 100 hours of raw footage was shot in San Francisco and Texas to be distilled down into the planned one-hour documentary. Like prior World Series films, this year’s installment will seek to place a premium on exclusive access and vantage points that MLB Productions is afforded, such as accompanying Giants outfielder Cody Ross as he walked from his downtown San Francisco hotel to AT&T Park for the games there, mobbed by fans the whole way.
“We anticipate a great deal of enthusiasm for this film. This is a new team winning the title, and the passion of the fans in San Francisco that we all saw will be an integral part of the film itself,” Gavant said.
This year’s World Series offering is also the first to be produced and edited fully in high-definition.
Early finish to early start?: The final average rating of 8.4 for this year’s World Series tied the 2008 Philadelphia-Tampa Bay rating for being the worst such mark in World Series history. This year’s rating also likely assured that MLB and Fox will not pursue a repeat of an early start for Game 3.
The shift this year to a 6:57 p.m. ET start time for Game 3, played on a Saturday, was designed as an olive branch of sorts to fans who had long complained of playoff baseball games running too late into the evening. The move was made despite years of industry research showing a trend of TV audiences getting larger the later a game goes, regardless of age.
The early start was tied into a series of youth-oriented marketing promotions, including a World Series of Costumes Halloween contest conducted with the aid of MLB.com. That online promotion performed reasonably well, generating a six-figure number of votes for the best costume. But the 6.7 rating for Game 3, ranking as the second-lowest individual World Series game ever, by itself was enough to pull the 2010 series mark down into the dubious tie with 2008, with quarter-hour ratings standing in lockstep with industry norms.
Had the game started at 7:57 p.m. ET, more consistent with the series’ other games, expectations were that it would have rated better by at least 0.4 ratings points.
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and other executives were noncommittal on repeating the Game 3 move, but the disappointment clearly extended to both the league and Fox.
“We’re in the ratings business, and the ratings just weren’t there,” said an executive close to the league of Game 3. “The other parts [of the promotion] were great, but the numbers were what the numbers were.”
Trying to grab a piece of the crowded morning talk-show circuit, Golf Channel is launching a live, two-hour morning show in January.
“Morning Drive” will debut Jan. 3 from Golf Channel’s Orlando studios and run 7-9 a.m. weekdays, a time slot that now runs replays of the prior night’s “Golf Central” show.
Tom Stathakes, senior vice president of programming and production, described “Morning Drive” as a mix of golf and lifestyle, modeled on shows like MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and ESPN’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning.”
“We will be golf centered, so we won’t forget our core audience, but we will get into things like lifestyle and travel, business and news, and we will show highlights from all sports — not just golf,” Stathakes said.
Talent for the show has not been finalized, but should be by month’s end.
Ron Furman, Comcast senior vice president of sports sales, said “Morning Drive” will offer many in-studio branding opportunities for sponsors, “be a little edgier than a straight news program” and, it’s hoped, attract an audience beyond hard-core golfers.
“We do more golf than anyone, and this show is a way to keep golf in the conversation in a way that could be a centerpiece for us,” he said.
Golf Channel, in about 83 million households, will use its own inventory and buy print and TV media to support the launch.
“Morning Drive” will be part of a “Game On” marketing platform the network is launching to drive home the point that the PGA Tour season starts immediately after the holidays with the SBS Championship from Jan. 6 to 9 — a fact lost on many who aren’t the most ardent golf fans. That kind of season-opening approach has been used by most big sports properties.
The “Game On” initiative is being supported by advertisers including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sprint. “We need to remind people that golf doesn’t start in April when they start playing again,” Stathakes said.
Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.
A little more than a year after dropping its NASCAR sponsorship, Holiday Inn is jumping back into motorsports with the NHRA.
The brand, which is a division of the InterContinental Hotel Group, will be an associate partner of Kalitta Motorsports courtesy of a multiyear deal valued in the mid to high six figures. It also is finalizing a multiyear partnership with the NHRA that will see it replace longtime partner Motel 6 as the first new hotel sponsor the series has had in eight years.
Holiday Inn wanted to stay in NASCAR but left the sport in 2009 for financial reasons, IHG Manager of Leisure Doug Dixon said. He added that the relationship with Kalitta and the NHRA allows the brand to continue to engage the motorsports audience at a lower price point.
The Kalitta Motorsports deal makes Holiday Inn the primary sponsor of David Grubnic’s Top Fuel dragster for four races. It also includes hospitality rights and branding on three cars, crew uniforms and driver suits.
The deal with Kalitta was driven by the business-to-business opportunity of working with Kalitta Air, the freight delivery business owned by Kalitta Motorsports owner Connie Kalitta. Kalitta Air operates throughout the world, and its pilots and mechanics will stay in InterContinental Group Hotels in the future.
“We have to get a pretty solid return on our investment,” Dixon said. “We saw huge potential from a revenue standpoint (because of Kalitta Air).”
Dixon said Holiday Inn is still developing plans for how to activate and market its existing partnership with Kalitta and potential partnership with the NHRA. He anticipates that the brand will buy media during NHRA races. He expects it to develop a marketing plan later this year.
IMG, which works with the NHRA, introduced Holiday Inn to Kalitta Motorsports.
IMG and USA Volleyball are attempting to save top-level pro beach volleyball in the U.S. and are close to an agreement that would see them invest in and jointly own a new, yet-unnamed, nationwide pro beach series. The sports marketing and media company and the governing body hope to launch the series next May with four to six events through September and attract many of the sport’s top players.
Pro beach volleyball was fractured in August when the Association of Volleyball Professionals suspended its season because of financial woes. The AVP filed for bankruptcy protection Oct. 29 (see related story) and various groups have been sniffing around the AVP trademarks, listed in the filing as “value TBD.” But the IMG/USAV venture will not seek to use the AVP moniker, and officials said that while there may be some assets they’d be interested in, the name wasn’t one of them.
“We have a lot of interest in their video and photography library,” said Dave Williams, a former AVP employee who is managing director of beach programs for USA Volleyball.
Sites for the series are undetermined, but it seems certain the first event would be in one of the beach towns where the sport grew in the U.S., like Hermosa or Manhattan Beach, Calif. While no TV agreement has been finalized, officials from both are confident a deal will get done.
The move marks the first investment by USA Volleyball at the pro beach level. “We have always depended upon others in pro beach,” said David Schreff, chairman of the organization’s board of directors. “But this doesn’t exclude any other series that could develop. However, the U.S. dominates beach volleyball, in terms of FIVB events and Olympics, and to maintain that performance we have to keep growing the sport.”
Beach volleyball’s Olympic Trials for the 2012 Games will be in the U.S. for the first time since 1996, and having an elite pro league is likely a prerequisite for keeping those events in the U.S. Operating the tour doesn’t guarantee that IMG will operate the trials, but it won’t hurt its chances.
“Our intent is to stabilize the sport and maintain a glide path to the Olympics,” said James Leitz, who heads action and beach sport for IMG, which stages such events as the U.S. Open of Surfing. “The vision we have is six years long and ends with the Olympics in Brazil, where beach volleyball will be bigger than ever.”
The Leverage Agency, New York, which sold many of the AVP’s biggest deals recently, including Nivea’s title sponsorship, and was listed as being owed $260,314 in the bankruptcy filing, will sell sponsorships for the new circuit. “The USAV support shows this isn’t something that is going away, so our job is to show the marketing community that pro beach volleyball has now stabilized,” said Leverage President Ben Sturner.
“IMG is a great operations parent and USAV has a lot of key assets with their membership base,” said Ryan Morgan, agent for some of the AVP’s top athletes, including Olympians Kerri Walsh, Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers. “These are two important pieces. Unfortunately, the sport has a history of low-level operators. Hopefully, this is the beginning of that changing.”
Morgan said neither he, nor his players, had made any formal commitments to the nascent beach league as of yet.
Power Force, a brand of ion-infused wristbands, has struck sponsorship and advertising deals with more than 100 colleges that will give the company exposure through radio broadcasts, in-stadium signage and on-campus displays.
The seven-figure deals were each negotiated through the two leading multimedia rights agencies in the college space, IMG College and Learfield Sports, which will give Power Force marketing and media rights at most of the nation’s top colleges.
On each of the campuses where Power Force made a deal, it will be recognized as the official supplier or preferred supplier of ion-infused products.
Earlier this year, Power Force agreed to a licensing deal with IMG College’s Collegiate Licensing Co. that enabled the company to begin making wristbands with the marks of more than 100 colleges.
Power Force is in the process of supplying the licensed wristbands to the schools’ bookstores and other retail outlets around campus. The company also has begun to set up retail centers under tents on college football game days where it has rights near the stadium.
Tip-off is one hour away for the first regular-season game at Amway Center, new home of the Orlando Magic, and Jernigan’s fine-dining restaurant is humming with activity. Same goes for the Budweiser Baseline Bar as fans jockey for position to get a view of the court in the lower bowl’s south end.
If it were another NBA market, destinations this nice in locations this good might be restricted to premium-seat holders. Add to that list Gentleman Jack Terrace, the outdoor bar where others grab a drink and mingle on an unusually warm central Florida day in late October.
In Orlando, those three locations are open to anybody, whether they’re holding a $5 ticket at the top of the upper deck or paying $295,000 a year for one of the biggest suites in the building.
Seven of the facility’s 10 areas tied to food and drink destinations are what team executives describe as “inclusive, not exclusive.” It’s a design principle the Magic and the city of Orlando, the arena’s owner and operator, carried throughout the project.
“It was never a [city] mandate,” Magic President Alex Martins said of the $480 million arena, two-thirds of which was financed with public money. “During the approval process many citizens stated that they thought these new buildings were elitist, and we wanted to dispel that misperception in a significant way.”
In doing so, project officials went one step further and improved the design of some of those premium-style spaces, making them more inviting by providing a view of the floor and keeping the fan’s connection to the game. Jernigan’s 250 tiered seats, for example, all face the floor.
Providing a gourmet meal experience to anyone making a reservation for Jernigan’s “has pushed our per caps up tremendously,” Martins said. “We have had fans reserve a table, buy dinner and watch a good portion of the game up there.”
Levy Restaurants operates the eatery.
Amway Center’s upgrades extend to the terrazzo floors on both lower and upper concourses and a portion of the event level outside the Mercedes-Benz Star Lounge and the Magic’s locker room.
Project officials took advantage of favorable market prices for buying terrazzo and saved 30 percent compared with non-recessionary conditions, said Robert Rayborn, construction executive with Turner Construction, the arena’s program manager.
“In some buildings, you can always tell when they start running out of money,” said Allen Johnson, Amway Center’s executive director, who toured more than 20 NBA arenas himself. “The higher up you go, the less amenities you get with concrete floors and plastic seats in the upper bowl.
“We didn’t do that, and it’s one thing I’m really proud of.”
Up top in Orlando, the Ozone Bar in the south end gives upper-deck ticket holders room to stretch their legs, grab a cold beer and take in a bird’s-eye view of the arena’s unique center-hung scoreboard.
The board’s 18 video panels, all 6-millimeter technology, enable the Magic to project one consistent image from top to bottom on the 42-foot-high structure, the NBA’s tallest video board.
The image delivers quite a punch visually when the Magic’s game presentation crew keys in video of the team’s superstar center, Dwight Howard, coming straight at you and throwing down a thunderous dunk. The team held off on activating that feature until the first regular-season game to provide an extra wow factor, Martins said.
The arena’s digital menu boards are another piece of new technology that stands out. Harris Corp., a company best known for its high-tech military work, delivered an Internet protocol television system with eye-catching video that makes it easy for fans to make selections at the concession stand.
The Magic designed the menu screens in-house and the displays of specific brands have a cleaner look than traditional menu boards.
“Research will tell you when people have the opportunity to see the brand as opposed to [reading the word] ‘beer,’ they are more inclined to spend,” Martins said. “Our signs also show a domestic aluminum bottle. A lot of people like those bottles as opposed to tap beer. It’s a huge marketing tool.”
The yellow and red packets arrived each month, crammed to the bursting point with letters, contracts, memos and proposals, a compilation deemed so sensitive that the recipients were told to shred their copies before tossing them out.
In London, in Paris, in Hong Kong — wherever the three grown children of IMG founder Mark McCormack might reside, no matter how temporarily, they knew the “chrons” would find them.
“Chrons” was short for chronological, which was the way McCormack had his longtime assistant, Laurie Roggenburk, arrange his papers. He also had her copy and sort them by client or prospect or company, and again under the name of the person he had written or spoken to. The “chrons” put a bow on what he’d been working on each month.
As the first three of his four children grew to adulthood in the 1980s, McCormack had Roggenburk send them chrons. By the time they joined the firm, as all three eventually did, they understood how he worked and thought. When he married tennis client Betsy Nagelsen in 1986, he started sending her chrons, too.
“My father didn’t teach by sitting you down and saying here’s how we’re going to do it,” said first-born son Breck McCormack, 52, who joined IMG after law school in 1984 and worked there until shortly after the family sold the firm in 2004. “He let things speak for themselves. … (The writings) gave us a chance to learn how he was thinking, what his goals were, what his priorities were, how he thought about the world and this business. It was quite an education for us reading those.”
Soon, students and scholars across the world will have access to that same education.
The Mark McCormack collection, a vast accumulation of documents, letters, photographs and memorabilia occupying 35,000 to 45,000 boxes in a warehouse in Cleveland, found a new home last week, as the family transferred ownership of the historic papers to the sports management program at the University of Massachusetts.
Renamed the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management at Isenberg, the program will house the collection on the 24th floor of the main campus library. The documents, expected to fill about 10,000 boxes after the elimination of duplicates, will be digitized to allow for broader and easier access, but also preserved and stored. The McCormack family also made a $1.5 million gift to endow an executive-in-residence program and an international travel and exchange program.
UMass plans to make many of the papers available for study online, as well as to use them as an integral part of the curriculum, building case studies that will dig deep into McCormack and IMG.
The full transfer is expected to take three years, said program head Lisa Pike Masteralexis, but the school expects to be ready to unveil the first parts of it in about three months.
During an emotional Wednesday afternoon that at different points brought tears to the eyes of each of the attending family members — McCormack’s wife, Betsy Nagelsen McCormack, sons Breck and Todd and daughter Leslie McCormack Gathy — Todd McCormack shared a photograph of an item that now will hang outside the offices of the sports management department: The famed display board of hotel room keys that his father collected over the years.
“His life’s work is now here for you and future generations,” McCormack told students and faculty during the ceremony, his voice cracking. “Enjoy finding the right key that unlocks how this collection can be part of your ongoing research, education and career.”
Though the collection includes revealing personal possessions dating back to childhood — including letters to his mother and first wife Nancy Breckenridge McCormack, as well as an oddly specific charter for a game he created with his friends — the core comes from his fabled files, which were at the center of a personal touch that was the trademark of McCormack’s IMG.
Before a meeting or a call, he could review boxes of files on an issue, a company or a person at a company, culling details that he then could use in his conversations and negotiations.
When the family sold the company to private equity firm Forstmann Little in 2004, 18 months after their father’s death, the agreement granted the family rights to all McCormack’s papers and related items, as well as any documents deemed essential in chronicling the history of IMG. Forstmann Little agreed to store the items for 10 years, but the family knew that, at some point, they would have to find a permanent home.
Three years ago, they began the search. Early in 2008, they invited six of the nation’s top sports education programs to a meeting in New York to discuss what they had. The mass of the collection was simply too much for most schools to handle. Several told the McCormacks that, because they already housed the papers of former presidents and Supreme Court justices and founding fathers, they couldn’t find room for something of its size. Several wanted it, but only if they could digitize it and then destroy it.
UMass offered to take and preserve much of it, to build it into curriculum that already included the study of McCormack and IMG, and to welcome the family’s input on programs that might be built around it.
“Your father is our founding father and Supreme Court justice,” Masteralexis told them.
In June, Todd McCormack, the only one of the three offspring still working at IMG, phoned to tell Masteralexis they had selected UMass and to finalize the complex details.
“I’m certainly honored to have the collection,” Masteralexis said after the ceremony last week. “But I was even more interested in the legacy that we can create. I want to find all that we can learn from their father’s legacy and then teach things from it. We have these files. Now what can we learn from them?”
That McCormack insisted that his affairs be dutifully chronicled offers a window into his persona. He often crafted thoughtful, detailed letters to clients and prospects. And he insisted on keeping them all. When a wealthy friend suggested that he should keep documents only for the seven years required by law, McCormack dismissed the advice.
“That’s not how my father looked at the world,” Breck McCormack said. “He knew there was historical importance for this stuff, but he also just collected things. He’d have 15 different shades of green pants hanging in his closet for golf. They’re not coming back into fashion, but he’d save them.”
McCormack Gathy worked for IMG in Europe from 1988 to 2004. Her earliest memories of her father’s frequent and lengthy business trips center on his returns. He’d say his hellos and then ask if she would like to help him unpack. She would follow him into a bedroom closet that was the longest room in the house, stretching the length of a hallway. In it hung his army uniform, letter sweaters from his alma mater, William & Mary, gear from Yale, where he studied law. Atop a chest of drawers he displayed statues and other trinkets that his grandparents gave him as a boy.
“I’d make my way from where his suitcase was at the end of the closet, with all his dirty laundry in my arms, walking past these shoes and trousers and jackets and shirts,” McCormack Gathy said. “And I’m going, ‘He has a lot of stuff.’”
Until the late ’80s, McCormack relied almost entirely on the written word to chronicle his life and business. The photographs included in his files were taken by professionals or colleagues. He didn’t own a camera. But then, in 1986, he and Nagelsen married. A self-described “picture freak,” she convinced McCormack that a camera could help them preserve memories. He became hooked.
“From ’87 on we pretty much have at least one picture for every day in our life,” Nagelsen McCormack said. “Nobody takes a picture every day. But Mark did, every single day. He made a chronicle. He’d say, ‘Remember that dinner?’ And then he’d find a picture, and there it was.”
Todd McCormack said the collection is filled with examples of ways his father made the volumes of IMG history pay off.
For a long stretch, McCormack was working to structure a deal with Augusta National golf club, which showed little interest in sponsorship or licensing opportunities. Because he kept a file with every letter he had sent to the club and notes from every meeting or conversation, he was able to tap into the groundwork he had laid. Most of his letters to the club begin similarly: “As you remember when I wrote to you in 1974 …”
The message was clear. He had pursued Augusta National for a long time and merited its attention.
In that letter and others like it, the McCormacks believe UMass students and researchers will find lessons.
“Certainly the fullness of a man can never be put in a box,” Nagelsen McCormack told UMass students and faculty. “But with Mark, you have in these boxes the details of a life well lived. And of a man that loved every single minute of it.”
The NBA is getting into the hospitality business with QuintEvents in a deal that makes the company the official hospitality provider for the league’s 2011 All-Star Weekend, Feb. 18-20 in Los Angeles.
It is the first time the league is partnering with a company to sell all-star hospitality packages to the general public. Previously, the NBA made packages available only to its league partners.
The deal with Charlotte-based Quint-Events includes packages ranging in price from $1,599 to $8,299. The packages, which are available in blocks to allow for group purchases, include tickets for all three NBA All-Star events at Staples Center and pregame and postgame hospitality at the All-Star Game on Feb. 20. Hotel accommodations also are included in some of the packages.
“It is in response to demand from fans who want to attend All-Star, as was demonstrated last year in Dallas,” said Ski Austin, executive vice president of events and attractions for the NBA. “It gives us a way to open up the full [All-Star] experience to what we do.”
The league last season set an All-Star Game attendance record by drawing 108,713 fans to the game held inside Cowboys Stadium. This season’s game will be held at 18,997-seat Staples Center with very limited public ticket inventory.
Austin would not disclose the ticket allotment included in the league’s hospitality deal, but QuintEvents CEO Brian Learst said his company will receive at least a few hundred tickets spread throughout all areas of Staples Center.
“It is not a huge number, but it is enough where groups can sit together,” Learst said. “This is the first time we’ve done anything with the NBA, and they wanted a full-service program as opposed to just selling tickets.”
QuintEvents has similar hospitality deals with the NFL as part of its NFL On Location program, which includes the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl and the draft. The company also has a hospitality deal with Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.
Mets slash ticket prices
The New York Mets released a sweeping set of ticket price reductions for the 2011 season, with an average cut of 14 percent. The price breaks are in place for 62 percent of seats at the ballpark. Season-ticket holders will receive an additional 10 percent reduction.
Houston RSN in works
The Houston Astros and Rockets have reached an agreement with Comcast to launch a Houston regional sports network that will air Rockets games beginning in the fall of 2012 and Astros games beginning in 2013. The teams will own just under 80 percent of the network.
NYRA gets media help
The New York Racing Association has hired television and media strategy firm Len DeLuca & Associates to help it sell its television and media rights to the races it owns, including the Belmont Stakes.
Names in the news
Chivas USA announced that President and CEO Shawn Hunter is stepping down from his post after three years, though he will continue to advise the MLS club. … Tom Veit will step down as president of the MLS Philadelphia Union effective Dec. 31. … The LPGA has hired Brian Carroll for the newly created position of vice president of television and emerging media. Carroll had been the director of broadcasting and programming at the PGA Tour.
NFL Network is about to embark on its fifth season of live games with its strongest advertising sales to date.
The network’s game inventory is virtually sold out, and rates for a 30-second spot are up in the high single-digit percentages from last year. NFL Network officials would not specify how much the spots are selling for.
The ad sales market has been so busy that NFL Network only has a few spots available in its last game of the season: a Christmas night game between Dallas and Arizona.
“We tried to front-load our units this year,” said David Pattillo, the NFL’s vice president of media sales who sells the league’s media properties and has been with the league for seven years. “This is the best market since I’ve been here.”
NFL Network credits a strong overall marketplace that helped each of the league’s broadcast networks enter the season with its inventory virtually sold out. Fox started the season with only a handful of Super Bowl spots available.
NFL Network’s strong sales also come as the network still hasn’t been able to work out deals with some of the country’s biggest cable operators, including Time Warner, Charter and Cablevision. The network is in 57 million homes.
Pattillo said the network’s ad sales have been helped by three particularly strong games to lead off its schedule: Baltimore-Atlanta (Thursday), Chicago-Miami (Nov. 18) and Cincinnati-N.Y. Jets (Thanksgiving night, Nov. 25).
NFL Network signed most of its deals during the upfront selling season in June and July. Those deals packaged ads during live games with a buy elsewhere along NFL media, such as NFL.com or on other NFL Network shows, such as “Total Access” or “GameDay.”
In September and October, NFL Network started selling individual game spots in the scatter market.
Auto has been the strongest category for sales. NFL Network signed Lexus as the presenting sponsor for its pre-kick segment, from 8 to 8:29 p.m. ET, which is different from the network’s pregame show. The pre-kick segment is carried by the local broadcasters that pick up the rights to NFL Network games that involve their local-market teams.
NFL Network also sold presenting sponsorships to Sears (pregame, from 6 to 8 p.m.), Sprint (halftime) and Kay Jewelers (postgame). All three are returning sponsors.
Pattillo said he’s fielded a lot of interest about potential sponsorships on NFL RedZone, as well. The network is not selling the channel this season but hopes to sell one seasonlong sponsorship to an NFL partner next season. The sponsorship would be worth at least $1 million, Pattillo said.
“We’re getting a ton of buyer interest for that,” Pattillo said. “We’ve left it unsponsored this year to check demand. It’s one of the biggest pieces of real estate that we have.”
The NHL has signed No. 4 credit card brand Discover as its latest corporate sponsor in a one-year deal that includes rights in the U.S. The agreement continues Discover’s recent ramp-up in sports marketing and makes it the league’s official credit card, as well as presenting sponsor of this season’s All-Star Game in Raleigh.
The sponsorship marks the NHL’s first credit card brand sponsorship in the U.S. since MasterCard left in 2007, after a 12-year run with the league. It also represents an upgrade in Discover’s prior position with the NHL, which saw it title-sponsor between-period shows during postseason games on Versus and NBC.
“We got good feedback internally and externally from our presence on NBC and Versus, so we wanted to expand that, and we just think that the NHL is a great communications vehicle that also adds value to cardholders in the form of rewards that match their interests,” said Jennifer Murillo, Discover’s director of advertising.
Murillo said there are no current plans for NHL team deals. She would not say whether Discover will do NHL-themed advertising in support of the sponsorship. However, several agency sources said Discover has already been making preliminary inquiries about the availability of some of the league’s top players for use in ads. Discover will not do co-branded NHL cards; Bank of America has those rights. Visa continues with Canadian NHL rights through this season, leaving the chance for a unified deal when that expires. Discover will continue with ad buys on Versus, NBC and NHL Network. Digital inventory on NHL.com is also included.
“This is a good match for both of our consumers, with value on both sides,” said NHL Group Vice President Dave Lehanski. “We’ve been able to customize well for them and they are really going to promote us aggressively against a large group of cardholders.”
As recession-related credit card delinquencies have stabilized, Discover has been increasing its marketing spend. Barclays Capital estimates that Discover will spend $461 million in marketing by the end of 2010 and will spend $502 million in 2011, up from $406 million in 2009. Discover’s deal with the NHL comes just a few months after the 25-year-old credit card brand, once owned by Sears, finalized a deal to be title sponsor of the Orange Bowl for the next four years.
Payment card brands, like market leader Visa, along with MasterCard and American Express, have long been among the largest sponsors of sports properties domestically and worldwide. But Discover’s more recent sponsorship platforms represent another degree of investment from its recent sponsorships with second-tier properties like the Arena Football League and WNBA.
“Owning the Orange Bowl is a very large statement for Discover, and so is the NHL, in terms of gaining more national presence, and they are both marketable ownership positions,” said Bryce Townsend, executive vice president and general manager of MediaCom ESP, a GroupM company, which handled the negotiations for Discover.
As “the card that pays you back,” rewards have always been integral to Discover’s positioning. Now it is integrating the Orange Bowl and NHL sponsorships with access-based rewards, including tickets, hospitality and unique experiences in and around the games, like spending a night in the NHL’s “War Room” in Toronto, where disputed goals are judged each night, or getting behind-the-scenes access at events like the NHL Awards or NHL Skills competition, or a single opportunity for a card member to spend a day with the Stanley Cup, a right until now reserved for a member or employee of the team that wins the Cup. This particular benefit may also be the focus of advertising.
As part of the sponsorship, the 50 million-plus Discover Card holders will get a 10 percent discount at the NHL Store in New York City, as well as when purchasing goods from NHL.com and from NHL “GameCenter Live.”
Discover is a brand in need of visibility, as the Nilson Report ranked Discover a distant fourth in consumer credit card spending in 2009, with a 5 percent share. Visa was the leader with 58 percent, MasterCard had 28 percent and American Express had 10 percent.
One week after passing the 1 million follower mark on Facebook, the NHL is launching its first interactive application for members of the social network. The application, called the BlackBerry All-Access Pregame, allows users to watch video segments from NHL.com’s popular All-Access broadband show and also lets fans rank NHL teams based on performance.
The application is sponsored by BlackBerry as part of a cross-channel digital deal with the league, which declined to list a value for the partnership.
“NHL.com has been living particularly well on Facebook. Our followers are our über-fans; they really break the mold,” said Perry Cooper, senior vice president of the NHL’s digital and direct marketing. “We knew that we have to have an [application] that was video-centric and that allowed our fans to voice their opinions through polling.”
The new application comes after six months of rapid growth on Facebook for the league, which launched its Facebook page in July 2009. Early traffic on the league’s Facebook page was slow, and by November 2009 the NHL had gained only 194,000 followers. But continuous promotion of the page — combined with the April 21 launch of a “Like” button on NHL.com — contributed to an explosion of followers through the spring and summer. According to the league, Facebook is now the No. 1 referral website for NHL.com, other than search engine websites such as Yahoo! and Google. And according to metrics released by the NHL, Facebook users who linked to NHL.com consumed content in a greater capacity than other visitors. When compared to direct NHL.com visitors in monthly user metrics, Facebook users scored higher in average visits (7 to 3), video starts (12.1 to 5.8), articles read (4.8 to 1.5) and total minutes per visit (41.4 to 12.5).
Cooper said Facebook users helped increase NHL.com’s unique-visitor count for the month of October by 30 percent over last year’s number for the opening month of the season.
Justin Osofsky, director of media partnerships at Facebook, said the NHL’s new application is the tip of the iceberg for the league’s potential with the social network. The NBA leads the major leagues in social networking through Facebook, with more than 5 million followers. The NFL recently broke the 2 million mark.
“Sports leagues have used the connection to give special promotions to their followers and to bring the conversation about sports closer,” Osofsky said. “I live in San Francisco, and the experience I had [through Facebook for the World Series, with the MLB Giants] is close to being in the ballpark.”
Typical NHL Facebook posts ask fans to agree or disagree with statements about team or player performance, or to comment on predictions for the outcome of a game. The network broadcasts these posts to friends of each person who posts a comment.
Cooper said the league has experimented with direct promotions through the website, giving merchandise discounts through
NHL.com’s store. For now, Cooper said the league will continue to use its Facebook site predominantly to generate traffic on
NHL.com and for creating future partnerships for applications. Sources close to the league said the NHL is negotiating high-five-figure amounts for partnerships for future Facebook applications.
“We’ve done a lot in a short time. We weren’t organized well enough to realize the opportunity with Facebook before now,” Cooper said. “We had elements of this connectivity before, but we knew we had to seize upon this opportunity now.”
Powerade is taking the sales momentum it’s achieved with a bounce-back 2010 to the sidelines of the Final Four.
With sales volume up 25 percent this year after two years of decreases, Powerade will replace Vitaminwater as the sports drink on the sidelines of all 88 NCAA championships, most notably the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The reshuffling includes all NCAA divisions for Powerade.
Those sideline rights are through Coca-Cola’s 11-year corporate champion sponsorship with the NCAA.
Powerade’s red and white marks will be seen on cups, coolers, towels and drink carriers across the sidelines and bench areas at all NCAA-sanctioned events. Powerade will make its first appearance at the Division III volleyball championships this month.
“With the success and growth Powerade has enjoyed this year, we’ve definitely had our sights set on this,” said Bob Cramer, vice president of sports marketing at Powerade.
Coca-Cola’s NCAA sponsorship has produced three sideline brands in the last four years — Dasani, Vitaminwater and now Powerade — but Cramer said the intent is to keep Powerade in that position for several years to come. Glaceau’s Vitaminwater took over the NCAA sidelines in 2008 and spent two years there as Coke has shuffled through its brand portfolio to find the right fit.
Coca-Cola will continue to activate its Coke and Coke Zero brands during the NCAA championships as well.
John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest, said the sports drink category as a whole is up nearly 12 percent this year, with Powerade leading the way at a 25 percent sales volume increase over last year. Gatorade, the category leader, is up 15 percent.
The latest market numbers show that Gatorade retains a massive share of the sports drink category at 71.4 percent, compared to Powerade’s 27.3 percent, Sicher said, but Powerade’s share has grown by nearly three points this year.
“The category has come back very nicely after some rough years,” Sicher said. “A hot summer and an improving economy has helped.”
Powerade’s ION4 drink will be featured on the NCAA sidelines and through all of the brand’s creative. Powerade has not settled on its creative approach yet, but Cramer said the brand will launch an extensive campaign before March Madness with a full complement of media, digital and retail activation.
The NCAA joins a Powerade portfolio that includes athlete relationships with NBA stars Chris Paul and Derrick Rose, MLB’s Ryan Howard and the NFL’s Chris Johnson. Powerade also had a strong presence at the World Cup as a FIFA sponsor.
On the team side, Powerade sponsors more than 200 colleges, a dozen MLB squads and a handful of NBA teams.
The Association of Volleyball Professionals’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy filed recently in Los Angeles lists $4,974,130.33 in liabilities and $183,957.38 in assets for the beach volleyball circuit, which pulled the plug on its 2010 season in mid-August.
The top unsecured creditor listed was Beiersdorf at $1,059,333.34. Beiersdorf is the parent company of Nivea, which signed a five-year, $20 million AVP title sponsorship deal in March. Omnicom’s U.S. Marketing & Promotions is the second-largest creditor at $570,946.68, while marketing agency Leverage, which sold a number of AVP sponsorships, including the title deal, is listed as being owed $260,314.
Most of the remaining top 20 creditors were former AVP sponsors, including Gatorade ($300,000), EJ Gallo for its Barefoot Wine brand ($260,417) and Johnsonville Sausages ($229,166.67). Other top unsecured creditors include ESPN Ad Sales at $300,000.
Former AVP CEO Jason Hodell is listed as being owed $130,000 in severance. RJSM Partners, which took a controlling interest in the AVP last year, is owed $220,000 for “business expense reimbursement,” according to the filing.
The document details declining revenue in recent years for the AVP. Gross income is shown as $22,876,331.00 in 2008, $17,601,080.00 in 2009 and $6,544,203.02 through Oct. 24, 2010.
A list of AVP shareholders makes for interesting reading, since it includes some big sports media companies in NBC, FSN and MLBAM. Among the individuals listed as holding AVP shares are Nets Sports & Entertainment CEO Brett Yormark, former NFL marketing and sales executive Phil Guarascio, Padres CEO Jeff Moorad, USA Network founder Kay Koplovitz, TBWA Global Director of Media Arts Lee Clow, NFL agent Leigh Steinberg, Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff, Boston Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal and music producer Quincy Jones.
A startup U.S. squash league is suing the sport’s international circuit for banning its players from competing on the new tour.
Pro Squash Tour started last year with four events, created by Boston native Joe McManus. This year there are 12 events, but the lawsuit alleges the global Professional Squash Association (PSA), based in England, last month prohibited anyone competing in its tournaments from playing in the new U.S. league.
“It’s an attempt to strangle the baby in the crib,” said Mark Smith, an attorney with Smith Valliere, who is representing Pro Squash Tour.
Squash is a blip on the U.S. sports scene. PSA has roughly 250 tournaments across the globe, only 21 of which are in the United States. Many of the events have purses as small as $500. In total, PSA awards roughly $3.45 million in prize money, according to the complaint.
PSA’s largest U.S. event is the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions in New York’s Grand Central Station, which awarded $97,500 this year. The promoter of that event, Event Engine, is also named in the complaint.
John Nimick, founder of Event Engine, referred questions to PSA board member Richard Bramall.
“When served it will be the intention of the PSA to vigorously contest the Court Proceedings,” Bramall wrote in an e-mail. “The Pro Squash Tour started life as a series of exhibitions in North America. … The format of the events were unique and we were happy for them to have the benefit of PSA members playing them. The Tour then re-branded themselves as the Pro Squash Tour and developed a ranking/points system that was clearly designed as a rival to the PSA Tour in North America and [possibly] in other regions. This will hopefully explain why the PSA took the action they did to protect their members’ Tour.”
In the complaint, the new tour says it does not have a ranking system, but it does have a point system designed to measure how purses should be divided. The lawsuit is filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York and is named American Pro Squash v. Professional Squash Association, John G. Nimick and Event Engine. The complaint asks for damages to be determined later.
Most squash events are played at country clubs, with the players competing on courts encased by glass so spectators can watch.
McManus said the tour is backed by venture capital but is designed to be profitable this season.