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The four big stick-and-ball leagues are leaving a total of more than $370 million on the table annually by not selling jersey advertising, according to new research from Horizon Media. The NFL, with its unrivaled ratings and concomitantly higher ad rates, topped the list for jersey valuations at nearly $231 million, or 62 percent of all potential big four jersey ad sales. However, the nature of football — with players more crowded together and with less static time facing the camera — means that the NFL offers the least of what the study terms "detections" among the four leagues, with 28,560 calculated over the course of a season. Baseball, meanwhile, with its typical center-field and behind-the-catcher camera angles, scored more than 314 ...
AEG picked a sweet spot last July to launch its naming-rights pitch to Farmers Insurance for an NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles.
The Ritz-Carlton Residences at L.A. Live, a shiny new condo-hotel property, sits across the street from Staples Center and overlooks the Los Angeles Convention Center’s West Hall, the site where AEG wants to build $1 billion Farmers Field.
Inside, AEG dressed up a luxury condominium on the 42nd floor with photographs of football games, soccer matches and concerts, all the events the new stadium could attract. It set up a “sizzle video” as part of the presentation, the same piece shown during the Feb. 1 news conference to announce Farmers’ 30-year deal, an agreement that with escalator clauses stops just short of $700 million. The hallway leading to the condo was lined with graphics depicting a concrete tunnel, as if Farmers officials were inside the stadium, walking from the locker room to the field.
AEG sold the new stadium as the next step in the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles.
Leiweke, AEG’s president and CEO, pointed toward the West Hall and talked about the vision for building a stadium next door, an idea first hatched by Casey Wasserman, chairman and CEO of Wasserman Media Group. Farmers Field would be the next step in revitalizing downtown Los Angeles, a process that began 12 years ago when Staples Center opened its doors, and moved forward when the first piece of the L.A. Live development opened in October 2007. Leiweke told Farmers officials to look past the absence of an NFL tenant, the key obstacle to building the stadium.
Farmers bought in early on the project, said Kelso, the company’s chief marketing officer.
The Los Angeles-based companies had done business together before: Farmers was title sponsor for international soccer matches at Home Depot Center, the MLS facility owned by AEG. Farmers also had done deals with the MLS Galaxy and NHL Kings, two teams AEG owns. As a result of that relationship, AEG Global Partnerships, AEG’s sports marketing division, knew Farmers had interest in doing something in the NFL, said Mirhashemi, AEG Global’s chief operating officer.
When the time came to start the search for a stadium naming-rights partner, AEG went straight to Farmers.
“Amazingly, although we had other people approach us, we had one conversation,” Leiweke said. “We happened to find a company that stayed with the conversation from the first pitch until the press conference.”
As the discussions progressed, Kelso brought in Farmers CEO Bob Woudstra. In September, entering a three-month stage that Mirhashemi described as “heavy negotiations,” Farmers hired Greg Luckman, CEO of GroupM ESP, to advise on the deal. Luckman, who consulted on the $400 million naming-rights deal for the Mets’ Citi Field, studied the Farmers-AEG proposal that could ultimately trump that figure and gave it a big thumbs-up.
“When we conducted our valuation analysis for Farmers, it exceeded every criteria, scoring off the charts because of the unprecedented nature of the opportunity,” Luckman said. “This is an unparalleled platform for Farmers … increasing its ROI across the board.”
Tied into that valuation, and most important for Farmers, was the trust it had developed with AEG through previous deals, Kelso said.
“I was really excited about the prospects of this project right from the beginning and, frankly, so were Paul [Patsis, Farmers president of market management] and Bob,” he said. “It’s obviously such a huge story to have the NFL come back to L.A., and so being able to be involved in that in and of itself is big. For us, one of the critical things was [AEG] has a great track record with fantastic venues all over the world. We see their handiwork in L.A., and we saw potential for this project to really anchor and revitalize downtown in a way that really is going to transform Los Angeles, basically forever.”
The negotiations intensified during the fall, and both sides set a deadline for the end of 2010 to get a deal done.
The name Farmers Field, Kelso’s idea, was easy to come up with, both sides said. One challenging piece to navigate through was developing the intellectual property tied to branding the collateral involved with naming rights and how those marks could change over the next 30 to 35 years. Normally that is not the case, but with a “longer runway” for a project targeted to open in 2015, it was something officials had to carefully evaluate, said Mirhashemi, an attorney by trade.
“Because this deal is not about a structure that is now operating or will open up in a month or a year, we had to sit there and think … there may be different things that happen between now and the opening,” he said.
In addition, AEG Global Partnerships had never done a naming-rights deal for an NFL stadium, so the two groups had to “think through NFL assets and how the league controls those assets compared with the team and how it’s different than other leagues,” Mirhashemi said. “There was some forward thinking on behalf of all of us.”
The deal, a key piece of stadium financing, hinges on whether an NFL team moves to Los Angeles. Both AEG and Farmers officials remain confident it will happen. Farmers received further assurance after having conversations with league officials about the situation early on during its talks with AEG, Kelso said. Should a team migrate to Los Angeles, Farmers would start making payments in 2013, two years before the facility opens, said sources familiar with the negotiations. No money would change hands until that time.
The value of the deal could climb to $1 billion should a second NFL tenant materialize, sources said.
Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.
When the green flag drops at the Daytona 500, American Ethanol will be there, literally, and it will be just about everywhere else fans look, as well.
The customized red-white-and-blue, lower-cased “e” logo of NASCAR’s newest partner will adorn not only the green flag at the start-finish line but also more than 120,000 green flags distributed to fans before the race. The flags will be one of the most visible components of American Ethanol’s yearlong plan to raise awareness and support for the ethanol industry among NASCAR fans.
Ethanol will make its NASCAR debut with cars running Sunoco Green E15 fuel at Daytona during the next two weeks. Most of American Ethanol’s promotion will be on conveying the values of E15 fuel, which it believes contributes to cleaner air, more jobs for farmers and more energy independence for the nation.
NASCAR’s decision to use E15 and American Ethanol’s promotion of it comes at a critical time for the ethanol industry. The Environmental Protection Agency recently approved a blend of E15 fuel for cars built since 2001, but the ethanol industry would like to see the EPA mandate it for all vehicles.
“Having a 15 percent blend of ethanol with Sunoco Green E15 is a great way to validate to tens of millions of Americans that E15 is a safe, good fuel for your car,” said Greg Breukelman, a board member of Growth Energy.
As part of its deal with NASCAR, American Ethanol’s logo will be featured on the green flag at every race and will encircle the fuel port of each car. American Ethanol is the first partner to be featured in both locations, and NASCAR amended its annual driver-owner agreement in order to pass the space around car fuel ports to American Ethanol. It did so because of American Ethanol’s support of the contingency program recognizing the driver with the fastest average speed on all restarts.
American Ethanol is supporting those components of the deal by signing former driver and TV analyst Rusty Wallace as a program spokesman. It also is in negotiations with a Sprint Cup driver who will promote its cause, and may support those efforts by partnering with a driver or team for a one-race primary sponsorship, Breukelman said.
The brand hasn’t signed any track deals, but it plans to activate at tracks in the Midwest with a mobile marketing effort focused on ethanol and the American farmer.
“It will be done in a way that will be very visible and impactful,” said David Grant, principal at Velocity Sports & Entertainment, which is handling American Ethanol’s sports marketing. “It will bring to life what not just American Ethanol is about but what the American farmer is about.”
American Ethanol also will be the presenting sponsor at the first of NASCAR’s Fuel for Business business-to-business meetings in 2011 and also the presenting sponsor of NASCAR’s first Green Summit, which hasn’t been scheduled yet.
American Ethanol doesn’t plan to buy any media time, but it will receive media exposure and promotion in an environmental campaign being developed by NASCAR. The sanctioning body plans to use some of its commercial inventory this year with networks to promote NASCAR Green — a new initiative built around what NASCAR calls the pillars of conservation, job creation and American energy security.
The spots will feature American farmers and NASCAR’s use of Sunoco Green E15 fuel.
“We’re going to show imagery of how the country comes together to have American ethanol in the fuel cell of a race car,” said Mike Lynch, NASCAR’s managing director, green innovation. “That’s an American communal effort to make that happen that creates jobs and helps conserve the environment.”
NASCAR’s push around ethanol comes at a time when viewpoints on the benefits of corn-based ethanol are shifting. Former Vice President Al Gore, a leading environmentalist, in November said that he made a mistake in supporting corn-based ethanol subsidies and said the energy-conversion ratios of corn-based ethanol was small at best.
The corn-based ethanol industry also has faced criticism for contributing to food scarcities — ethanol production last year reportedly consumed 41 percent of the U.S. corn crop — and contributing to the national debt — federal ethanol subsidies topped $7.7 billion in 2009.
Lynch said NASCAR was aware of those issues when it struck its long-term partnership with American Ethanol and felt the data supported the partnership, especially as the refinement process for corn-based ethanol evolves. He said that it was important to think that “commentary through.”
“We look to the EPA and the fact that corn ethanol has been classified as a renewable fuel,” Lynch said. “That’s based on tremendous research done over years, and we get that.”
Comcast may be the one taking over NBC, but in the sports division of the newly forming company, it appears that NBC is king.
Just days after Comcast’s acquisition of NBC became official, longtime NBC executive Dick Ebersol began reshaping Comcast’s cable sports properties, sweeping out many of Comcast’s programming and production executives and installing longtime NBC executives in their stead. Executives who have worked with Ebersol for decades at the broadcast network now will be charged with creating a cable sports power that will compete with ESPN, Fox and Turner for sports rights.
Dick Ebersol (right) named Jon Miller (left) to oversee programming at Versus and NBC Sports.
Later this month, NBC’s telecast of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship will carry an on-screen logo describing NBC’s golf coverage as “Golf Channel on NBC,” Ebersol said. Initially, the channels will not share on-air talent that much; eventually, they will. The executive who will play a big part in making that crossover happen is NBC’s longtime marketing chief John Miller, whom Ebersol last month installed to oversee marketing and promotions at the new group.
Last week, Ebersol set his focus on programming and production. He installed NBC Sports veterans Jon Miller (no relation) and Sam Flood to oversee programming and production, respectively, across both Versus and NBC Sports. Both executives will report to Mark Lazarus, who is president of NBC Sports Cable Group and an executive with years of cable programming experience, stemming from his time running Turner Sports. Jon Litner will oversee both Versus and Comcast SportsNet as president of both groups.
The moves end the 2 1/2-year reign of Jamie Davis as president of Versus. Davis, who joined the channel in September 2008 after a stint as ESPN Star Sports managing director, oversaw growth, including Versus posting a record $60 million in revenue last year. An official release said he will continue to work with Lazarus on strategy and planning for the NBC Sports Cable Group while he looks for other work.
The moves also put an end to the Versus careers of two longtime channel executives. The network’s coordinating producer for NHL games, Mike Baker, and senior vice president/executive producer Leon Schweir were told that they will not be in those roles going forward. It is not known if they will assume other roles within Comcast. On the digital side, Neal Scarbrough, Versus vice president, digital media, also was told that he will not be returning with the network.
PAUL DRINKWATER / NBC
Mike McCarley becomes president of Golf Channel.
In other moves, Ken Schanzer will continue as NBC Sports president. He will become the lead negotiator for all NBC Sports Group partnership agreements. Gary Zenkel will remain NBC Olympics president and executive vice president of strategic partnerships for NBC Sports.
Sales of instant lottery tickets that bear a Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, Boston Celtics or Boston Bruins logo account for more than half of $763 million that has been spent on 51 licensed team-based lottery games now in retail stores across the country.
These games, in turn, have brought new, incremental revenue to each of the participating teams. Since the debut of their respective games, the Red Sox have brought in $10.4 million in related revenue. The Celtics have added $1.1 million and the Bruins $900,000.
The Massachusetts teams benefit from being in a state that shows strength for lottery sales even beyond team-specific games. Nationwide, however, especially since the NFL in 2009 gave its clubs the go-ahead to work with state lotteries to produce instant-game tickets, teams have been able to scratch extra revenue by capitalizing on fans' passion.
NFL teams account for 32 of the 51 active team-based sports tickets.
"The NFL was the big kahuna," said Steve Saferin, president of MDI Entertainment, the exclusive lottery ticket licensee for the NBA, NHL and MLB.
Saferin had been meeting on and off with the NFL for several years before the league signed on for participation in 2009. Although the league decided against selling the rights to use the NFL shield, it did tell its clubs that MDI should be their vendor of choice when trying to negotiate with state lotteries.
Twelve states launched NFL team games in fall 2009, with 17 games in all. Nearly all the games sold well, and state lottery officials in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts said the NFL games were the most successful instant-game launches in their respective commission histories.
Most team deals are based on flat fees, paid by MDI, the lottery or both. A few NFL teams receive bonuses based on ticket sales. In addition to the Patriots, teams that added at least $1 million in revenue from their most recent scratch-off efforts include Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
"It's a double bonus for us," said Mike Napolitano, MLB's licensing director, noting the dual royalty and merchandise revenue streams. "And the teams benefit from incremental advertising and sponsorship dollars from the lottery games."
Teams and leagues acknowledge that while the financial risk to them of launching a lottery game is relatively low, there are several challenges. Among those hurdles is the fact that team-based lottery tickets have a "fad" factor. That's in part why the NFL, with 32 teams, has the most active games of the 51 team-based games available nationwide, while the three other big leagues, which debuted games earlier, now have fewer teams with games in play.
The NBA was the first pro sports league to authorize its imagery to be associated with government lottery tickets, starting in 2002. Since then, 20 NBA clubs have fielded a lottery ticket, but only four teams have games this season: Boston, Portland, Orlando and Miami.
A dozen NHL clubs have had a game since NHL games debuted in 2003, with half of them leaving the space after one campaign. The Bruins, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago are the only teams with a ticket this season.
MLB clubs first began games in 2006, and more than half of the league's teams have fielded a game since then, but only the Red Sox, Cardinals and Yankees had singular games last season. The Yankees, Mets and Phillies also shared a game in New Jersey.
"It's not unlike the apparel or footwear marketplace," said Rob Millman, senior vice president, international licensing and business development, at the NBA. "Consumers are always looking for the next new thing."
Once a game fails to meet a certain threshold for percentage of printed tickets sold — typically 70 percent — the game is replaced in a state's lottery lineup.
In Massachusetts, the state's lottery, for years, has been considered by nearly every measure significant to the industry to be the most successful of the country's 43 state lotteries.
Residents in 2009 spent an average of $671 a person on lottery tickets, according to the 2010 LaFleur's World Lottery Almanac, and 73 percent of the $4.4 billion in ticket sales generated by the state's commission was redistributed in the form of prizes. Both figures far exceed the national average.
The commission in 2006 capitalized on local fans' passion for sports consumption by launching a Red Sox game. The $5 scratch-off was a sellout and generated $188 million. A total of 10 tickets have been issued since then, generating $1.1 billion in revenue for the state and $14.5 million in fees for Boston's most recognized pro teams. The Red Sox's five Massachusetts games have generated nearly $800 million of those sales and brought $10 million to the team. Similar Red Sox games in other New England states have generated $19 million in sales.
The Celtics have sold more than $137 million in tickets throughout New England, and the current Massachusetts game Celtics Cash 2010 has already sold more than 60 percent of its 15 million available tickets.
The Celtics have had a total of four games through the years. No other NBA club has had more than two.
"We're blessed not only to be in a sports-crazed market, but also in the state with the biggest lottery in the country," said Ted Dalton, Celtics vice president of corporate partnerships and business development.
Massachusetts launched its first Bruins game in the fall of 2009, printing 25.2 million tickets priced at $2 each. For a new game introduced last year, the price was increased to $5, the printing order was cut by two-thirds, and the grand prize increased from $25,000 to $250,000. With the NHL season a little less than half done, more than half of this year's tickets have been sold, matching last year's pace.
"What we like about it is that we have a goal that is a real number," said Amy Latimer, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Bruins. "Both sides know that we need to sell a fixed amount of tickets. We get updates from the lottery every week … so the excitement and the challenge is that the success of these deals is measured ticket by ticket."
Team-based lottery games*
State Team Game launched No. of tickets printed Ticket
Retail sales of tickets Total cash prizes available
Revenue to team^ California Oakland Raiders Aug. 31, 2010 4,800,000 $3 $13,467,869 $8,036,000 $6,627,752 $20,000 (8) $609,679 California San Francisco 49ers Aug. 31, 2010 3,600,000 $3 $9,738,871 $6,027,000 $4,888,598 $20,000 (6) $572,389 California San Diego Chargers Aug. 31, 2010 3,000,000 $3 $7,787,118 $5,022,500 $3,818,102 $20,000 (5) $552,871 Colorado Denver Broncos Aug. 9, 2010 2,040,000 $5 $6,630,000 $6,989,000 $6,400,000 $100,000 (3) $475,000 Connecticut New York Giants Aug. 31, 2010 1,400,000 $5 $6,820,000 $5,058,900 $1,757,495 $50,000 (4) NA Connecticut New England Patriots Aug. 31, 2010 1,400,000 $5 $6,550,000 $4,854,650 $1,707,080 $50,000 (4) NA Connecticut Boston Red Sox 27-Mar-09 1,400,000 $5 $6,300,000 $4,676,710 $3,457,050 $50,000 (6) NA Connecticut New York Yankees 27-Mar-09 1,400,000 $5 $6,300,000 $4,674,700 $3,355,290 $50,000 (6) NA Florida Miami Dolphins 26-Jul-10 3,960,000 $5 $17,898,933 $13,970,000 $12,000,000 $100,000 (6) $656,174 Florida Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-Jul-10 3,240,000 $5 $15,038,460 $5,540,000 $4,800,000 $100,000 (5) $525,580 Florida Jacksonville Jaguars 26-Jul-10 1,560,000 $5 $6,949,353 $11,350,000 $10,100,000 $100,000 (3) $300,150 Florida Orlando Magic Jan. 11, 2011 2,160,000 $5 $730,321 $7,180,000 $479,000 $100,000 (3) NA Florida Miami Heat Jan. 11, 2011 2,640,000 $5 $683,417 $8,950,000 $524,000 $100,000 (3) NA Georgia Atlanta Falcons 20-Jul-10 6,480,000 $5 $23,500,000 $23,950,000 $16,000,000 $500,000 (4) $318,000 Illinois Chicago Blackhawks Dec. 1, 2010 3,000,000 $5 NA $10,076,750 $384,000 $100,000 (3) NA Indiana Indianapolis Colts Aug. 4, 2010 4,080,000 $5 $11,400,000 $5,306,990 $2,822,560 $100,000 (7) NA Kansas Kansas City Chiefs 21-Jul-10 300,000 $10 $2,200,000 $2,076,875 $1,424,985 $75,000 (3) $30,000 Louisiana New Orleans Saints Aug. 2, 2010 1,472,550 $5 $6,615,000 $4,258,035 $3,800,695 $100,000 (5) $275,000 Maine New England Patriots 30-Jul-10 1,200,000 $5 $3,014,000 $3,845,950 $1,700,580 $50,000 (4) $400,000 Maine Boston Red Sox 1-Apr-10 600,000 $5 $3,000,000 $2,059,090 $1,977,675 $100,000 (2) $120,000 Maryland Baltimore Ravens Aug. 9, 2010 3,417,000 $5 $17,085,000 $13,316,729 $12,231,033 $1,000,000 (3) $1,264,750 Massachusetts New England Patriots Aug. 11, 2009 30,240,000 $5 $100,300,000 $116,906,250 $87,679,688 $1,000,000 (10) $2,500,000 Massachusetts Boston Red Sox 30-Mar-09 30,240,000 $5 $81,200,000 $109,364,000 $98,427,600 $1,000,000 (10) $1,800,000 Massachusetts Boston Red Sox 30-Mar-10 12,096,000 $10 $69,900,000 $95,765,200 $71,823,900 $3,000,000 (3) $1,500,000 Massachusetts Boston Bruins Oct. 19, 2009 25,200,000 $2 $47,100,000 $32,380,000 $29,142,000 $25,000 (25) $450,000 Massachusetts Boston Bruins Sept. 21, 2010 8,064,000 $5 $17,500,000 $26,836,400 $17,980,388 $250,000 (5) $475,000 Massachusetts Boston Celtics Oct. 4, 2008 10,080,000 $5 $45,700,000 $34,822,000 $31,339,800 $200,000 (10) $400,000 Massachusetts Boston Celtics Sept. 24, 2010 15,120,000 $2 $19,000,000 $18,903,000 $12,665,010 $25,000 (15) $400,000 Minnesota Minnesota Vikings 20-Jul-10 2,160,000 $10 $11,800,000 $14,913,800 $8,150,000 $200,000 (6) $357,000 Missouri St. Louis Cardinals 27-Mar-10 2,207,100 $5 $10,483,845 $7,512,158 $6,882,496 $70,000 (3) NA Missouri Kansas City Chiefs Aug. 28, 2010 1,251,900 $5 $5,988,015 $4,178,370 $3,705,250 $70,000 (2) NA Missouri St. Louis Rams Aug. 28, 2010 1,256,160 $5 $5,652,720 $4,189,240 $3,053,675 $70,000 (2) NA Nebraska Kansas City Chiefs 29-Jun-10 376,000 $5 $1,692,000 $1,193,500 $942,225 $30,000 (3) $100,000 New Hampshire Boston Red Sox 29-Mar-10 1,046,800 $5 $4,480,015 $3,172,000 $2,831,140 $50,000 (3) $100,000 New Hampshire Boston Red Sox 16-Mar-09 1,048,400 $5 $4,016,935 $3,171,600 $2,532,875 $50,000 (3) $100,000 New Jersey N.Y. Mets/N.Y. Yankees/Philadelphia Phillies (a) 10-May-10 3,960,000 $5 $14,850,000 $11,000,000 $6,600,000 $100,000 (3) NA New Jersey New York Giants Aug. 16, 2010 2,160,000 $5 $4,730,000 $6,500,000 $2,560,000 $100,000 (3) NA New Jersey New York Jets Aug. 16, 2010 2,160,000 $5 $4,170,000 $6,500,000 $2,390,000 $100,000 (3) NA New Jersey Philadelphia Eagles Aug. 16, 2010 2,160,000 $5 $3,170,000 $6,500,000 $1,970,000 $100,000 (3) NA Oregon Portland Trail Blazers Jan. 5, 2010 1,018,771 $2 $982,466 $1,490,850 $674,662 $10,000 (3) $61,000 Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Steelers 20-Jul-10 5,400,000 $5 $20,700,000 $19,225,000 $14,800,000 $100,000 (5) $1,000,000 Pennsylvania Philadelphia Eagles 20-Jul-10 5,400,000 $5 $15,300,000 $19,225,000 $11,100,000 $100,000 (5) $1,000,000 Pennsylvania Philadelphia Flyers/Pittsburgh Penguins (b) Dec. 24, 2009 6,000,000 $2 $10,900,000 $7,320,000 $6,600,000 $20,000 (10) $360,000 Rhode Island New England Patriots Sept. 22, 2009 20,333,240 $5 NA $6,906,550 $3,417,285 $100,000 (2) NA Tennessee Tennessee Titans Aug. 3, 2010 NA $5 NA $5,000,000 NA $100,000 (1) NA Texas Dallas Cowboys Aug. 2, 2010 6,178,700 $10 $46,340,250 $39,389,410 $24,670,355 $250,000 (12) $1,150,000 Texas Houston Texans Aug. 2, 2010 5,682,000 $5 $21,307,500 $17,952,790 $15,901,305 $75,000 (14) $1,150,000 Vermont Boston Red Sox 16-Apr-10 300,000 $5 $1,350,000 $990,795 $971,760 $20,000 (5) $60,500 Virginia Washington Redskins Sept. 12, 2010 3,840,000 $5 $17,800,000 $27,009,650 $16,152,700 $1,000,000 (3) NA (c) Washington Seattle Seahawks 20-Jul-10 1,605,500 $5 $5,119,775 $5,452,150 $2,901,065 $50,000 (4) $321,100 Wisconsin Green Bay Packers 26-Jul-10 NA $10 NA NA NA NA NA NA: Not available* Ongoing games, as of mid-January. These games include contests for which retail sales have ended but instant prizes can still be redeemed and/or second-chance prizes are still being awarded.^ Revenue from licensing fees, sale incentives and sponsorship. Teams receive additional revenue from the sale of items to be used as second-chance prizes. That revenue is not included in the totals listed here.(a) One ticket with all three team logos.(b) One licensing contract covered two different game scenes, each with one team logo.(c) Lottery commission did not pay a licensing fee, but paid the club an undisclosed amount for advertising, marketing and prizes.Compiled by David Broughton Source: State lottery commissions
The largest World Series ring on earth has a secret.
Conceived by owner Jeffrey Loria in the afterglow of the Florida Marlins’ unlikely World Series victory in 2003, with a baseball-shaped top fronted by a leaping fish, the ring sparkles from the cut of 228 white diamonds, one rare teal diamond, 13 rubies and two shades of gold. It weighs in at 110 grams, or about equal to a small apple, putting it in a dead heat with the 2004 ring honoring the New England Patriots and the 2008 ring made for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Sunday’s Super Bowl winner may well demand something larger.
The Saints ring, designed by Tiffany, features an etching of the Superdome.
The latest Los Angeles Lakers championship rings were designed and produced by a Beverly Hills jeweler whose client list reads like the seating chart from the Grammys or the Golden Globes. Each player’s ring includes a bust of his face, done in three-dimensional relief, along with a piece cut from the ball used in Game 7 of the Finals. Custom-made display boxes feature a rotating platform and LED lights.
“The one we landed on the last time [with the Detroit Pistons] was less a ring and more a bracelet,” said Tom Wilson, who as CEO of Palace Sports won nine championship rings, including three with the Pistons. The last of them, claimed in 2004, featured more than 100 diamonds, including a half-carat oval balanced on the edge of the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“It was so big that it is virtually unwearable,” Wilson said. “But the guys don’t wear them anymore, so let’s make it a trophy. It’s going to stay on the shelf of a cabinet anyway. There’s bling and then there’s these things.”
In the coming months, Sunday’s winning team will consider designs, negotiate costs, decide who should get a ring and how, ever mindful that the recipients will weigh them — perhaps literally — in comparison to those that have come before.
Still, no matter the breadth, weight or stone count of the rings that adorn the fingers of Sunday’s winners, they are unlikely to match Loria’s Marlins ring in at least one facet. Grandiose as the standard issue rings are, he and a handful of Marlins senior executives have a version that trumps them, as it has all others made before or since.
Here and there, people around sports have heard whispers of the ring’s secret. But none say they know for sure.
“I can’t talk about it,” Marlins President David Samson said two weeks ago when told of a rumor that has made the rounds in the ring business. “I will neither confirm nor deny that, and please don’t read anything into what I’m saying. We just don’t talk about it.”
After a bit of prodding, Samson offered to phone Loria to see if he’d clear him to speak about it. He said he’d be surprised if he would.
“I spoke with Jeffrey,” Samson said a few minutes later. “It’s true. You should call him at his office.
“He’s very proud of this ring.”
After 22 years in sales and marketing with the Chicago Cubs, who had not played in a World Series since 1945, Jay Blunk moved across town in 2008 to the Blackhawks, who had not won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.
The Blackhawks share their arena with the NBA’s Bulls, who collected six NBA championships in the 1990s, so Blackhawks staffers and Bulls staffers frequently cross paths. It wasn’t long before Blunk noticed that his Bulls counterparts not only wore their rings, but would switch models from day to day or week to week. Some days they’d wear the ’92 ring, others the ’98, then maybe the ’96. Blunk often asked for a closer look.
“How did that work?” Blunk would ask, wondering about the process. “Did Michael Jordan pick them? Do you have designers?”
Jostens has crafted 28 of 44 Super Bowl rings going into Sunday’s game. The ring that it created two years ago for the Steelers features 63 brilliant-cut diamonds that total 3.61 carats.
So when the Blackhawks finally broke their drought last year and won the Stanley Cup, Blunk found that he still had those same questions about the rings. Only now, he was managing the process, serving on a committee of six that would help design the ring, choose a manufacturer, decide who would receive rings, and determine how much the team would spend. There also would be other matters he had never considered, like whether to create lower-cost tiers of rings for front office staff, whether to make jewelry available for friends and family, and what lines of commemorative pieces to create for fans.
“You don’t know a thing about it one day, and the next day you’rein the middle of it,” said Blunk, who last year was promoted to executive vice president of the franchise. “There’s a lot to learnand you have to get itright.”
Blunk remembers gawking at Andy Pafko’s ring from 1945 when he came to Wrigley Field, and that was for a humble NL pennant. It looked like a class ring. But every time he’d see Pafko, he’d ask to put it on. He’d flash it at his boss, John McDonough, who would later leave to run the Blackhawks and bring Blunk with him. They’d both smile.
“We always dreamed of that day when we’d get one,” Blunk said. “Wouldn’t that be something? The day you get your ring is really the ultimate moment in your professional sports career. So the process is surreal, talking about diamonds and logos and phrases to put on the side of these rings.
“There was a part of me that thought we may never get one. You don’t want to mess it up.”
Because competition is so fierce, ring-maker margins are tight. The NFL says it limits teams to spending about $5,000 per ring, adjusted for increases in gold and diamond prices, with teams that have won multiple Super Bowls in the last 10 years allowed to spend slightly more on stones. One jeweler that has designed NFL rings said that, because of gold prices, this year’s winner likely will be cleared to spend closer to $7,000 per ring.
And it still might not cover the cost.
The ring makers chase the business because it offers a high-profile marketing tool, and because they can generate far larger profits on the ancillary lines that they sell to family, friends and fans.
“Championship sports are a nice business to get into, but our margins definitely aren’t there,” said Bryan Smith, sports and special markets manager for Masters of Design, which made rings for the Philadelphia Phillies and San Antonio Spurs in recent years and last year was purchased by Herff Jones. “Our moneymakers are the class rings. To go into a local high school or college right after you did the Phillies rings, that carries some weight. So, absolutely, when somebody wins a championship we’ll be in there making our calls.”
The process begins similarly for all teams. Soon after winning a championship, likely after the champagne has dried on their clothes but before they’ve returned from the cleaners, the calls, letters and e-mails offering congratulations will pour in. As many as a dozen will come from jewelers offering to design and/or manufacture their championship ring.
The manner in which teams proceed from there varies. Most form a committee, typically made up of the principal owner, a senior executive or two from the business side, the general manager and, sometimes, a player or two. But committees come in many sizes.
When the Red Sox won in 2004, principal owner John Henry and partners Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino chose longtime ring manufacturer Jostens because of its reputation and prior work, Lucchino said. From there, they invited a chorus of voices into the design process. General manager Theo Epstein joined the committee, as did players Tim Wakefield, Johnny Damon and Kevin Youkilis. David “Big Papi” Ortiz, known to be fond of bangles and baubles, was brought in near the end.
“David Ortiz was in charge of ensuring there was enough bling because I was trying to minimize that,” Henry wrote in an e-mail response to questions about the ring. “I wanted something wearable every day. When I was a Yankee partner the four rings I received there kept getting bigger and bigger. I said to George [Steinbrenner], ‘If you go any bigger, we’ll have to design a glove!’
“It’s all about winning rings in American sports. So you should be able to wear them.”
When the Bulls went on their two championship runs, decisions on rings were made by a committee of one: owner Jerry Reinsdorf. He chose Jostens as the manufacturer, but entrusted most of the design decisions for five of the six rings to his wife, Martyl. The exception was the ’96 ring, which was designed by Steve Schanwald, who then held the title of vice president of marketing. Schanwald put four NBA trophies on the head of the ring, then encircled it with 72 diamonds, one for each win, the most ever in a season.
“Our rings were all subject to Jerry Reinsdorf’s approval, and he didn’t really ask for anybody’s opinion,” said Schanwald, now the team’s executive vice president of business operations. “In every case it was a ring that he liked, and I think the players liked them too. … If the players had been involved [the rings] would have been substantially bigger, but we wouldn’t have worn them.”
Schanwald said he still wears the rings on occasion, one at a time, gravitating toward the second one, from 1992, because it’s smaller, he likes the look, and it’s easiest on his hands.
“They’ve gotten so obnoxious, to the point where people can’t wear them comfortably,” Schanwald said. “So everybody wants the ring, but nobody wears it. They put them away in a case. They just keep getting gaudier and gaudier. Each new one is a ‘can you top this?’”
That was the greatest concern of Cardinals management when the team won the World Series in 2006. Owner Bill DeWitt remembered the rings his grandfather received as treasurer of the “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals of the 1930s. The last thing he wanted was to top, or even approach, the Marlins ring.
“My dad is a traditionalist,” said Bill DeWitt III, the Cardinals’ president, who directed the design with the help of ring maker Intergold, the same company that worked with Loria. “To see the modern ring reach its full level of absurdity with the Marlins a couple of years earlier; that wasn’t going to happen with us. We wanted to go back to something more wearable and predictable.”
On the trip to the White House with the team, DeWitt III brought along a few samples to show the players. They volleyed by pulling out the rings that reliever Braden Looper won with the Marlins and World Series MVP David Eckstein collected with the Angels. Both were considerably larger than his samples. When DeWitt told them the Marlins ring was a “nonstarter,” a few veterans suggested they shoot for something like Eckstein’s.
“I went back to my father and told him the guys were kind of looking for something bigger than what we had,” DeWitt III said. “So he agreed to go with the larger size. I know it’s not what he wanted. But he could live with it. It’s kind of become the standard now in baseball.
“The last thing you want is for the players to say they don’t like the ring.”
When it came time to plan the Lakers’ ring in the summer of 2009, owner Jerry Buss asked management to consider a Beverly Hills jeweler who was a friend of his sons.
Jason Arasheben, proprietor of Jason of Beverly Hills, had never designed a championship ring. But his résumé includes custom pieces for a litany of stars, as well as more than 300 professional athletes, including 18 of last year’s 24 NBA All-Stars.
“I have a knack for understanding what players like and want more so than even the team does,” Arasheben said, “because I work for them on a daily basis on their personal jewelry.”
Up until the last two decades, the production of rings for league champions was dominated by a handful of companies that specialize in class rings, most notably Jostens, Balfour and Herff Jones. Championship rings looked similar to college class rings, so the production was easy. And they made splendid marketing tools. If Jostens rings were up to snuff for the Green Bay Packers and Balfour was the choice of the New York Yankees, certainly they would suffice for Harmony Valley High — which needed not only class rings, but yearbooks and caps and gowns, and the many other items those companies produced.
Jostens and Balfour had the market to themselves, for the most part, until the ’90s, when a handful of jewelers who saw similar branding potential joined the fray. To compete, they offered something that dazzled more than a typical class ring.
The last few years, the boutiques have gotten the better of the big boys. Of the dozen championship rings produced from 2007 to 2009 in the four big pro leagues, Jostens did three, Herff Jones did two and Balfour did none. Intergold, a boutique company based in Calgary, made four. Masters of Design, a small New England firm created by those left behind when Jostens and Balfour closed plants in that region, also made two. Jason of Beverly Hills made one.
Jostens bought Intergold last year for $5.9 million, naming its founder, Miran Armutlu, as its master jeweler. Herff Jones bought Masters of Design.
Last year, Balfour did the Yankees, Jason of Beverly Hills did the Lakers, Jostens (with Intergold) did the Blackhawks, and Tiffany — which intensified its push for championship ring clients in the past year — did the Saints.
Tiffany designers go over plans for last year’s Saints ring, which features about 60 diamonds, a fleur-de-lis and the opening notes from “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
But in recent years, as Tiffany built out a premium award business that started with the NFL’s Lombardi Trophy, the company began thinking more seriously about making championship rings.
Now, it is in with both feet, ramping up its design and manufacturing capacity and expanding to offer not only player rings but also commemorative merchandise for fans.
Almost 90 percent of Tiffany’s transactions trace back to a celebration or recognition of an accomplishment, said TomO’Rourke, vice president of business sales for Tiffany. And while much of the jewelry from the store is worn by women, it is purchased by men.
“I wouldn’t call it a loss leader, but there’s little to no margin on a Super Bowl ring,” O’Rourke said. “Our hope is to break even on the cost of the ring. If we really drilled down into overhead and the expense of the pitch, we probably end up losing a little money. But you come back to the value of winning that opportunity and the media exposure related to being able to say we made the ring for the Giants or the Saints.”
This year, with the old-guard Steelers and Packers matched in the Super Bowl, most in the ring business expect the NFL pendulum to swing back to Jostens. Jostens made the first Super Bowl ring for the Packers at the request of Vince Lombardi. Since then, heading into Sunday’s big game, it has made 28 of 44 Super Bowl rings, including five of six for the Steelers and all three for the Packers.
“We’ve seen the change in the business,” said Chris Poitras, who joined Jostens as director of sports marketing and development 18 months ago after stints in the front offices of the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Wild, Sacramento Kings and Boston Bruins. “But we like to think we are the only fully integrated company, from A to Z. We can handle all the programs, from manufacturing the most elegant piece of fine jewelry to taking care of every single fan.”
Initially, Lakers management worried whether Arasheben, of Jason of Beverly Hills, could design and produce the quantity of custom pieces they would need in time to meet their deadlines and within budget. But before long, he convinced them he could. The design ideas he brought, such as a slightly pitched face that paid homage to the angled roof of the Staples Center and the idea to etch each player’s face into the shank of his ring, set him apart from all others.
“Dr. Buss got him in the room, but Jason impressed us beyond anything else we saw,” said Tim Harris, Lakers senior vice president of business operations. “Everybody wants to do your ring. He did such a great job on the first one that it wasn’t a hard decision on the second.”
No manufacturer had done either before. The latter was more difficult than even Arasheben anticipated. Typically, a feature like that requires a digital scan of a player’s face, allowing for much of the production work to be done by machine. But, because the Lakers were scattered not only across the country, but across the globe, Arasheben had to work from photos and game video and hire artisans to sculpt and engrave each piece by hand, using needle points under a microscope.
“I went after it because I consider the Laker family to be part of my family, and because I’m a huge fan,” Arasheben said. “But now, yeah, I’d like to do more. For most of the other ring manufacturers, this is their business. Our business is selling to the entertainment business. This builds prestige and adds something to our company résumé. But because it’s not an important source of income for us, we’re able to offer prices no other ring manufacturer can offer and do things in ways that haven’t been done.”
Armutlu, the founder of Intergold, built his reputation among sports franchises by delivering innovations, but found the business realities made it tough to hang in against a company like Jostens, or a suddenly motivated giant like Tiffany.
“We could not afford to give things away,” Armutlu said. “And we did not have the distribution network to piggyback on the sale. So it was a tough situation in the sense that other people could write it off as a marketing game when we couldn’t. That’s part of the reason that joining forces with the No. 1 company [Jostens] made sense.”
On the last ring Intergold did on its own, the Penguins’ Stanley Cup ring in 2009, the up-front investment in gold alone was almost $650,000, Armutlu said.
“Forget about diamonds and everything else; that’s just to buy gold,” Armutlu said. “It just didn’t work anymore. It’s a very competitive business. It has its rewards on the back end with the marketing of your other products. But it is a very expensive game.”
When the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship in 2004, management awarded more than 300 rings, dividing them into four grades. Players, coaches and ranking executives received the top-level ring, which cost about $8,000. Most employees got rings that cost about $6,000, $4,000 or $1,000, depending on their level and seniority.
Regardless of which ring they were getting, Wilson made sure to create a memorable moment for employees. While players received their rings during a typical pregame ceremony, Wilson doled out employee rings in the Pistons’ offices. He set up shop in a conference room, with boxes stacked along the wall, then invited recipients in, one by one. He reminded each of them of what they had done to contribute, then presented them with their ring.
They entered through one door and exited through another, allowing Wilson to sneak peeks down a hallway to watch their reactions.
“That was the special time, seeing that. You couldn’t put a price on it. Whatever that ring cost, that is someone who is going to be forever a part of that organization, and I’m glad we acknowledged that. I’ll treasure that memory forever.”
The design of a ring is only one item on the agenda. Distribution is equally important and sometimes as daunting. There is no standard practice for determining how many rings to pass out or to whom to give them. But, of late, most teams err on the side of inclusion.
NFL policy calls for the league to pay for the first 150. Teams that award more than that foot the cost themselves. NBA and NHL teams receive no ring allowance from their leagues. MLB clubs get a stipend so small, those asked about it weren’t even sure of the specifics.
In 2004, the Red Sox gave rings to all players, the entire front office staff and even some former players who spent years with the club but never won big.
“We ended up being as inclusive as possible given that 2004 was the first time the Red Sox had won in 86 years,” Lucchino said. “We were inclusive and we did not want to have an ersatz version. We had a large ring or a jumbo ring, but they were of equal quality. We left it entirely as an individual choice.”
After the Marlins won the 2003 World Series, Loria charged Samson and general manager Larry Beinfest with determining who would receive each of three grades of ring. The C-level was a match for most of the Marlins’ predecessors. The B-level was larger. The A ring was a coffee table.
“The Rules of the Ring, we called it,” Samson said. “It took Larry and I a month, because you had to think of everything. We considered everyone, from Pudge Rodriguez to the assistant to the traveling secretary; from Pudge to Costanza. We wanted to be consistent. No exceptions. Every single person in the organization fell into a category.”
The guidelines ran eight pages long. And even with that, the Marlins still ran into a beef with a player who filed a grievance through the MLB Players Association because he received a B-ring when he thought he deserved an A. The team prevailed, Samson said, because it was able to produce a document that outlined who qualified for what and why.
“We were as meticulous about the rules as we were the design of the ring,” Samson said, “because it’s something that really matters.”
The Bulls’ Schanwald earned rings commemorating each of the team’s six championships, and he cherishes all of them. But the ring that puts a slight quiver in his voice is a far smaller, relatively plain one: The World Series ring he received as director of promotions for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979.
“The first one, I could’ve cried when I opened up the box and saw a championship ring with my name on it,” Schanwald said. “It’s every little boy’s dream. I was 24 years old. My first job in pro sports; first year in pro sports. It’s sad in a way because you think it never will get better than this.
“It ended up getting better. But that one … it was extra special.”
Lucchino and Charles Steinberg, two old friends who were linked at the hip in jobs with the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox, tell similar stories. Lucchino won a World Series ring with the Orioles and a Super Bowl ring with the Redskins, when he worked with both teams on behalf of owner Edward Bennett Williams. Then he won two more World Series rings with the Sox. Steinberg won one with the Orioles and two with the Sox.
Both say they treasure the rings they earned with the Red Sox, Lucchino as president and Steinberg as executive vice president of public affairs. But there’s nothing like your first.
“It was an overwhelming honor,” said Steinberg, now a senior adviser to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in Milwaukee, who earned his first ring when the Orioles won the AL championship in ’79. “I was an hourly college student doing the statistics for Earl Weaver. So to receive that memento, it’s overwhelming. It really is. And for all that we have enjoyed with various franchises, no ring means more to me than that first one.”
When the Marlins visited Fenway Park a few years ago, a fan pressed against the front row yelled to Loria, asking if he could see the ring. From behind, another fan, who happened to work for a ring maker, leaned over with a tip.
“Ask him what time it is,” suggested Smith, the sports manager from nearby Masters of Design.
“You know?” she asked.
“I’m in the business,” he said.
“I’ve never seen it,” Smith said. “But if he’s really got a watch in there, that’s something else.”
The story begins during spring training in 2003, when Loria addressed the team, as is his wont. Most pundits were picking the Marlins to finish near the bottom of the standings. Loria wanted to say something to convince his players he expected far more.
“Guys, this team is good enough to win it all this year,” Loria told them. “But you have to believe in yourselves. Do that, and you will win. And when you do, I’ll get you what I know every player wants: The greatest ring ever made.”
GETTY IMAGES; OTHER RING IMAGES: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES (4); AP IMAGES (3); GETTY IMAGES (1); ICON SPORTS (1)
The Marlins’ ring has 228 white diamonds, 13 rubies, one teal diamond and a secret.
It ended up white, covered in diamonds, accented by rubies that formed the seams of a baseball. There was a leaping gold marlin with a teal diamond for an eye.
“When you spend 40 years of your life dealing with paintings and sculpture, you get ideas,” said Loria, who amassed his fortune dealing art. “It brought together my two worlds. I wanted it done well.”
The “piece,” as Loria sometimes calls it, came together over about two months, with Armutlu, the founder of Intergold, flying from Calgary to New York each week to show Loria a tweaked prototype. About three quarters of the way in, Loria raised a new possibility.
He and several of his ranking executives liked exotic watches. He asked Armutlu if he could design a few of the rings similarly to pocket watches, with a head that popped open to reveal a small timepiece when you pressed one of the diamonds on the head.
“Jeffrey, even if I can make the watch fit, how am I going to make it work?” Armutlu asked, stunned by the suggestion.
The typical pocket-watch lid weighs about 7 grams. The head of the Marlins’ ring was 40 grams. Armutlu agreed to try. He worked on it for months, but every spring mechanism he tried popped after a few tries. He couldn’t get Loria what he wanted in time for the ring presentation. They went ahead and issued the jaw-dropping rings, sans watch.
Then, about six months later, Armutlu phoned Loria with good news. He had constructed a spring that would work.
One night late in 2004, Loria surprised Samson and five other executives with the new rings over dinner. He pulled one from his pocket, pressed the proper diamond, and the head opened to reveal a gold face with a Marlins logo, etched with the tiny words “World Champions.”
“All the time, people ask, ‘Why so big?” Loria said. “It’s big because the players wanted it big. It’s a watch because some of my guys like watches. I did it to celebrate their success.
“I wanted it to play ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’ but we couldn’t figure it out. Maybe next time.”
Leagues have a message for teams: Make fans believe they get their money's worth.
With the economy crimping ticket sales and fans having improved viewing options at home, teams realize they must boost the in-game experience and show value.
Cleveland Cavaliers fans get into the act as their movement powers a video game created by CrowdWave.
Whether it's shooting T-shirts into the crowd or laser beams throughout the arena, entertaining with a mascot or informing with a smartphone app, the approaches run the gamut.
And while some added options provide the opportunity to generate additional revenue, team executives need to know when to dial it down and keep the focus on the game.
Just ask Chicago Bulls executive Jeff Wohlschlaeger, who has spent 15 years directing in-game entertainment at the perennially sold-out United Center. Each season demands new ways to enhance the fan experience, from up in the rafters to down at courtside.
"Fans are smart," Wohlschlaeger said. "We can't create fake energy and fans aren't going to cheer for no reason."
For teams, improving the in-game experience not only demonstrates value to fans, but it also provides opportunities to increase revenue. The trick is knowing when enough is enough.
"You can wallpaper the game presentation with sponsors' specific reads, but you can go over the edge," said Tom O'Grady, president of Gameplan Creative and in-game executive producer and consultant for the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Blackhawks.
"You want to sell everything you can but you want something that hooks the fans in," O'Grady said. "Teams are doing more of that than before, and off the shelf is not good enough anymore. It's about creating ideas that will stick."
So intertwined is the in-game fan experience and revenue that the Tampa Bay Rays now make it a policy to include game presentation staff on corporate sales calls, creating a seamless strategy between in-game presentation and sponsorship inventory.
Yet, at the same time, the Rays refuse to roll out a sponsored promotion during the middle of the eighth inning in order to preserve the feeling that the game belongs to the fans.
"Our fan experience department generates ideas that are put into sales pitches so they will be integrated from the beginning, but we are not going to do something that sacrifices the experience at the ballpark," said Brian Auld, senior vice president of business operations for the Rays. "We made the decision to protect that moment of the game that is exciting."
Even NFL teams, most of which sell out all eight of their regular-season home games, are paying more attention to the in-game experience. The Chicago Bears have sold out every game at Soldier Field for the past 27 years but this year gave suite holders and other premium customers FanVision handheld devices to enhance their in-game experience.
"We pay particular attention to the balance between entertainment and revenue generation in the game presentation," said Chris Hibbs, senior director of sales and marketing for the Bears. "If we can integrate sponsors into our game presentation that is related to the team, those are more valuable than overt advertising. My challenge is how to find more platforms inside the stadium. We can entertain fans and drive necessary revenue as opposed to running 30-second commercials on our video board."
In the NBA, which has long pushed its in-game approach to new entertainment heights, some teams are moving away from an overly scripted strategy to ward off any in-game sponsorship overload.
"The in-game experience has gone from being overproduced to finding a balance between the basketball and entertainment," said Shelly Driggers, director of event presentation for the Orlando Magic. "We have scaled back on the number of fan prompts, while the number of replays shown on the scoreboard has gone far beyond what we have done in the past. We let the game be the game."
Still, the Magic this year has nine entertainment teams to keep in-arena entertainment fresh during the club's 41 regular-season home games. The team's dancers greet fans in the atrium of the new Amway Center while jugglers, face painters and balloon artists combine to create a carnival-like environment.
NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
Stuff the Magic Dragon continues to be the Magic's most popular entertainment draw.
"We want to create amenities for every ticket buyer, not just for premium buyers," Driggers said. "We want to get the fans energized early, but once the game starts, we try to focus on the basketball."
To live up to the "driveway to driveway" entertainment goal for fans attending games, NBA teams can spend anywhere from $150,000 to $400,000 per season on their in-game experience budgets.
Halftime entertainment is still a major draw, as teams such as the Magic and Bulls pay between $1,500 and $4,000 for acts that make the NBA circuit. Yet, a new trend is for teams to use a revenue-producing component as part of their entertainment by bringing in local groups to perform, allowing teams to sell group tickets to the friends and families of those community-based acts.
Turnkey Sports Poll
The following are results of the Turnkey Sports Poll taken in January. The survey covered more than 1,100 senior-level sports industry executives spanning professional and college sports.
» Which of the following areas of pro sports do you think is in the greatest need of innovation?
At-event experience 25% Ticketing 22% Sponsorship 14% Marketing 10% Merchandising 6% Content distribution 5% Facilities 5% 360° media coverage 4% Live broadcast 3% Not sure / No response 6% » Compared to 10 years ago, has the at-event experience at sporting events …? Improved 67% Stayed the same 25% Deteriorated 8% Not sure / No response 0% » Is the development of at-event entertainment at sporting events driven more by sponsorship commitments or the desire to raise the quality of the at-event experience? Sponsorship commitments 56% Desire to raise quality of at-event experience 39% Not sure / No response 5%
Source: Turnkey Sports & Entertainment in conjunction with SportsBusiness Journal. Turnkey Intelligence specializes in research, measurement and lead generation for brands and properties. Visit www.turnkeyse.com.
NBA Entertainment logs every timeout of every NBA game and makes a video reel available for all teams. If a promotion or new entertainment element plays well in Portland, for example, teams in other markets will quickly adopt it.
In addition, the NBA assigns a game presentation manager to each of its 30 teams to assist and evaluate their in-game efforts through regular customer surveys. Every summer, the NBA holds a workshop for all in-game managers where new and best practices are discussed.
Currently, NBA teams are following a league mandate to increase player interaction inside arenas.
"Player imaging has been one of the focus points," Wohlschlaeger said. "We try to be creative in using players in our in-game and have them visible."
The Bulls, for example, spend about an hour with each player before the season, taping clips to be shown on the United Center video board throughout the year. Some are humorous spots, others are general question-and-answer clips to increase the fans' connection to the players.
"More than any other league, the NBA is in tune with the fan experience," said Dennis Mannion, the former president of the Los Angeles Dodgers who has also worked for NBA, NHL and NFL teams.
Baseball, Mannion said, is moving toward more sophisticated fan engagement between innings. He said baseball teams spend anywhere from $600,000 to $2 million on in-game operations for each 81-game home season.
"It has evolved from the old-school operator to where teams are so much more cutting edge with full production staffs, and those are the teams that will grow their fan base and create energy for sponsors," Mannion said.
Traditional or technical?
Teams are installing more high-definition and LED ribbon boards and scoreboards as the technology allows for a more unified arena messaging effort, which also makes in-game advertising more attractive to sponsors.
"The technology has gotten so much better. It allows fans to get close to the game," said Danny Meiseles, executive vice president and executive producer for NBA Entertainment. "Teams are using so many more replays and statistics while using their video boards as a bigger point of communication."
But not all clubs share the "newer is better" opinion when it comes to in-game entertainment. Advances in technology bring a bigger price tag and more sponsorship revenue opportunities, but ill-timed execution can have a dampening effect on the fan experience.
Tim Beach, vice president of game operations and events for the New York Islanders, said the club previously launched a Zamboni race video game that was powered by text messages. Beach said the game was slow and complicated, and few fans actually engaged with it.
"During a TV timeout, you have 90 seconds to capture the fans, and if you spend the first 30 seconds explaining how a game is going to work, they are gone," Beach said.
Beach said more expensive, high-tech activities run the risk of distracting the fans. "At the end of the day, fans are buying a ticket that says 'hockey game' on it. It doesn't say 'video board' or 'three-ring circus," he said.
Between periods, the Islanders' Ice Girls ride atop a Zamboni, blasting T-shirts into the stands with a pneumatic cannon. The club spent $25,000 constructing a FanZam miniature Zamboni as another attraction. The Islanders also are the only NHL team to regularly play the "Chuck the Puck" game, where fans purchase $5 packages of soft foam pucks, then throw them on the ice at a large target for a chance to win an automobile.
Kiss cams and laser beams
Other hockey teams have taken the simpler-is-better approach but added a twist.
Before each season, the Atlanta Thrashers make videos of local actors engaging in humorous kiss-cam-style situations in the stands, and then splice the funny scenes in during the live kiss-cam segments. In one situation, an elderly woman removes her dentures and places them in her beer before kissing her husband. In another, a group of actors dressed as Darth Vader and Star Wars stormtroopers dance to "YMCA."
"[The humor] reinforces the brand. The Thrashers are the fourth child in Atlanta so we have to have a little bit of a chip on our shoulders to get attention," said Peter Sorckoff, senior director of game operations and creative services for the Thrashers. "We've never done a shoot for more than a few thousand bucks, to bring in some pizza for the actors and staffing costs."
The NHL does not have a league-level policy for how teams run in-game entertainment, although the league does have personnel to assist clubs in choosing and refining entertainment.
The Los Angeles Kings entertain fans with a pregame laser show.
According to Chris McGowan, chief operating officer for the Kings, both the laser system and projectors represent significant six-figure purchases for the club.
"Los Angeles is the creative capital of the world. We need to have a game presentation that is above the rest," McGowan said. "It is a significant expense, but people are paying good money to come to the arena, and we feel it is what people expect nowadays."
Like the Islanders, the Kings sell presenting sponsorships for the entertainment infrastructure, and the light projector regularly beams trailers for upcoming Hollywood movies onto the ice.
Still, the Kings find time to use more traditional elements during period breaks, calling on elements such as sumo wrestling, musical chairs and midget hockey games.
"For about $5,000 a season, you can get all the props you need," McGowan said. "Then it's just a question of staffing."
Traditional forms of in-game entertainment may be cheaper, but according to Beach, they do have drawbacks. In 2003, the Islanders welcomed hundreds of fans clad as Santa Claus onto the ice during the first intermission for a parade. When a pair of fans threw off their costumes to reveal New York Rangers jerseys, a fight broke out.
"It took a while to break up and we were pretty late getting the Zamboni on the ice," Beach said, laughing. "Santas were wrestling on the ice. It was mayhem."