SBJ/April 11-17, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

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  • IndyCar moves into Facebook's 'Car Town'

    The IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway have struck a licensing agreement with California-based Cie Games that will see their cars and drivers featured in the Facebook game “Car Town.”

    The licensing deal gives IndyCar its first gaming partner in at least three years and gives Cie Games its second major motorsports partner. It partnered with NASCAR teams and International Speedway Corp. in February.

    “Car Town” is played by more than 8 million people on Facebook. The game pays tribute to car collecting hobbyists, giving players the chance to earn or buy points and then use those points to buy cars.

    Players can buy motorsports cars ranging from a McLaren F1 to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet Impala to Danica Patrick’s No. 7 Go Daddy-sponsored IndyCar.

    Cie Games and IndyCar will share revenue generated from people who buy or earn enough points to buy an IndyCar featured on the game. Cie Games also will promote IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the game, encouraging players to collect those cars and play a pit-stop challenge game at a virtual speedway location known as the Indy 500.

    “This gives us a whole slew of new content,” said Justin Choi, president and CEO of Cie Games.

    “We can put all these recognizable new [IndyCar] cars into the game and it immediately becomes a new thing that people can collect.”

    Facebook last year eclipsed Google in time spent online, and social games like “Car Town” are credited in part with making that happen. Facebook games are projected to generate $1.2 billion in revenue this year.

    “No one knows where social gaming is going, but it’s cost effective and has a built-in fan base,” said Casey Kohler, IndyCar’s director of marketing. “We’re really happy to have the chance to tap into that. ‘Car Town’ is not the end of our push into gaming or the end of our social gaming.”

    Partnering with “Car Town” also gives the IndyCar Series a way to expand beyond providing news and information on Facebook and offer another way for fans to interact with the sport. For example, the Daytona 500 virtual speedway on the game has had 4.2 million visits and provided 118 million impressions.

    “We’ll have millions of players spending minutes and hours engaging in Indy content,” Choi said. “It not only helps them reach new consumers, but engages them.”

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  • WTA, ATP take aim at online gambling sites

    The WTA and ATP World Tour want to crack down on online gaming sites that use live scoring of their matches, women’s tennis Chief Executive Stacey Allaster said.

    The two governing bodies have jointly hired London law firm Couchmans to represent them and advise on how best to sell the data. Couchmans estimates, Allaster said, that tennis online gambling is a $22 billion annual business, or 8 percent of global online gaming, so the tours want to capitalize on the importance of live scoring by charging outlets that use it.

    In the United States, Stats Inc. is the go-to licensee for live scoring. Many leagues sign some type of omnibus licensing deal with Stats — the company essentially owns the market, but there are others — and Stats deals with individual media entities, fantasy hubs, legal gambling outfits, and so forth, to resell the data. Stats and the league share the revenue.

    Overseas, the business is a country-by-country affair, with the answer varying to the legal question of whether live scores are proprietary content. The online gaming sites send “spotters” to the tennis matches to report back the live scores, Allaster said, and currently, the tournaments handle the issue independently. Over the next few years, Allaster expects the tours to adopt a uniform policy and to earn money selling the scores.

    BUILDING A RESERVE: Speaking of the WTA, the body has sold naming rights to its season-ending championships event, which later this year starts a three-year run in Istanbul, Turkey. The identity of the company that acquired the rights could not be determined — an announcement is expected soon — but the money expected from the deal will push the tour’s reserves to $13.5 million by year end, up from $12.5 million at the end of 2010. The WTA reached bottom in 2003, when it had a deficit, but under Allaster and previous CEO Larry Scott, the tour has steadily built a reserve. Allaster hopes to get the reserve, which is funded by WTA surplus, to $18 million.

    The group at its board meetings held here during the tournament committed that half of all surpluses go into reserve, a quarter be reinvested in areas like marketing, and the remaining quarter be split between the players and tournaments.

    Fans walk through the entrance to the grounds at Crandon Park Tennis Center.
    OPEN FOR DEBATE: Talk among the media at this year’s event is that this tournament, owned by IMG, is losing ground to the BNP Paribas Open. The two events are the two biggest non-Slam events in the world and are staged back-to-back, so they are inevitably compared. In the 1990s and earlier 2000s, the Miami event was touted as “the fifth Slam” while the tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., struggled with debt incurred from building a new stadium. Now, under new owner Larry Ellison, one of the 10 wealthiest men in the world, Indian Wells has gone on a spending spree. It has outfitted each of its courts with replay technology, something the Slams do not even have. Ellison also bought a nearby golf course, allowing the players to use it after they complained about not getting tee times.

    A Sony Ericsson rep was even asked by a reporter during a media briefing whether the company is concerned its sponsored Miami event is falling behind, to which the company replied no.

    The Sony Ericsson Open is far more constrained in terms of space than BNP, so the equipment necessary to install instant replay may not be possible on all courts here, but Adam Barrett, the tourney director, said it is silly to compare the two tournaments because they are so different. The Sony Ericsson Open prides itself on its Latin American party atmosphere, and BNP, set in the desert, is more of a serene and sedate affair.

    In addition, while the BNP Paribas Open several years ago surpassed this one in attendance, they both still draw well over 300,000.

    EARLY CALL: It was somewhat strange that there were no phones for sale at the Sony Ericsson Open. The naming-rights sponsor used the event to promote its Xperia line, a set of new mobile devices that the company touts as being the first phone and game console, but the offering was not ready to be released in time for the event. (As an aside, the games offered do not include tennis). In the past, the company, which has a minimal handset presence in the United States, has used the event for branding. Tournament execs hope that next year Sony Ericsson will sell phones on site.

    Roger Federer turned to Facebook for help with his ad for Mercedes-Benz.
    The company is committed to expanding its U.S. presence.

    FEDERER TURNS TO FANS: Roger Federer used his Facebook page to poll his fans on what slogan he should use in his latest Mercedes-Benz ad. He narrowed the choice down to three and gave the fans the final say. The winner: “The Roger Federer of automobiles meets the Mercedes-Benz of tennis.”

    DROP SHOTS: Congratulations are in order for Fernando Soler, head of IMG Tennis, who is a first-time papa. He has a baby daughter, Rosa. … Nike is looking for a new head of tennis, with Nicolas Barthes moving to another area of the company. … Sony Ericsson has a new head of communications and public relations: Cathy Davies, who replaces Aldo Liguori. … The WTA plans to go slow in replacing David Shoemaker, the outgoing president who is leaving to run NBA China. The tour could tap an internal candidate.

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