SBJ/April 11-17, 2011/Opinion

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  • Cartoon: NCAA values


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  • Fiesta Bowl’s scandal touches so many groups

    Rarely am I stunned by a local news headline. I’m jaded, I guess, after 30 years in the news business here. I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff and nutty people come and go over that time.

    But news of the Fiesta Bowl’s investigation and subsequent firing of president and CEO John Junker hit me like a cold slap in the face.

    The Fiesta Bowl is an Arizona institution. It’s been around since 1971, long before the Cardinals, Coyotes or Diamondbacks arrived. With the Suns and the Cactus League, the bowl put Arizona on the sports map. Images of sunny Arizona in January shown to TV viewers worldwide filled the tourism pipeline. It is a powerful economic engine, accounting for billions of dollars in economic impact over the years.

    For the better part of its existence, it was run by Junker, who had developed a sound reputation as a good business leader and community supporter. He earned the respect of his peers here and across the country. He took the bowl from a dusty startup to a BCS powerhouse.

    Four decades of progress was shattered in an instant, after a scathing report released by the bowl shows apparent violations of campaign financing laws and abusive and outlandish spending on personal items that defy imagination.

    This story is just at the beginning, and who knows where it ends. No matter how you cut it, it’s a sad story.

    • Sad for the volunteers. Thousands of people over the years have given up lots of their time to make the bowl work. The bowl could not exist without them. Now they’ve been betrayed. You have to wonder: Will they stick around through all this mess?

    • Sad for the board — especially those members who are criticizing Junker now. If not sad, perhaps mad. A nonprofit board’s primary function is to provide the organization with proper governance and financial oversight. If Junker’s abuses are true, you have to wonder where the board members were during that time. They have a role in this mess, too.

    • Sad for the business community. If you look at the Fiesta Bowl Committee and the board over the years, it’s a who’s who of business heavyweights. They’ve all invested in making the bowl successful. How will this affect their willingness to give time and money in the future?

    • Sad for Glendale. They’re in a fight to the finish to keep the Coyotes. Now they may lose the economic impact that goes with the Fiesta Bowl’s BCS status. It could slip to an also-ran bowl and never host a national championship game again — and that’s assuming it even exists in the future.

    • Sad for Arizona’s reputation. As if we haven’t given people across the country enough already to scratch their heads and wonder about, this comes roaring out of the blue, making headlines from coast to coast.

    No winners in this Fiesta Bowl story. We can only hope it’s not the final chapter.

    Don Henninger (dhenninger@bizjournals.com) is publisher of the Phoenix Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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  • Repetition of ads helps NCAA networks

    The new option for viewers to choose from four March Madness games they wanted to watch on four different channels simultaneously excited and empowered fans watching on television. But what did it do for the advertisers running expensive, six-figure priced spots during the exact moments when viewers, armed with their remote controls, were most likely to switch channels to another game?

    I asked that question while I sat in my living room during Marquette University’s spring break with remote at the ready, switching among the four channels in high definition at a dizzying rate. So dizzying a pace, in fact, that I chased most of the rest of the household out of the room, even the dog. The ability to view all 67 games during the three-week tournament was too attractive to watch television the way I normally do. Nor, I suspected, did others watch in the normal fashion.

    When we returned from spring break and after teams had been whittled down to the Sweet 16, I asked one of my classes of about 75 students how they watched the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. This group was particularly relevant, since two of their classmates were on the Marquette team that won two games during the first weekend and were one of the Sweet 16 teams. Although about 20 of them could not contribute to the discussion because they watched little or none of the games, at least 50 did. These college-aged viewers watched an average of 12.3 hours of games during the first weekend (out of a possible 48 hours). About 60 percent of them had control of the remote, so their exposure and recall of ads during the viewing was particularly insightful.

    When asked, without hints or aids, what ads they could recall seeing specifically while watching March Madness, between two and three ads, on average, could be recalled. Realizing that we were now about 48 hours removed from the last exposure to games when these questions were posed, results compare favorably to industry findings of one in five people recalling a single commercial within 24 hours of viewing. Testing their recall with the aid of a list of seven possible advertisers during the games, the average number of advertisers remembered accurately increased by one.

    So my concerns for advertisers who have paid healthy sums to advertise during the games may be misguided. Given the need for the networks involved, CBS and Turner, to start recouping the almost $1 billion annual rights to air the games this way, it behooves them to understand how viewing changed this year. Some students reported that they watched the games on multiple TVs in their homes or at restaurants/bars. This approach guaranteed advertising exposure since there was no need for channel surfing. A few other students reported watching on mobile devices or laptops, where commercials either didn’t exist or were repeated ad nauseam (no pun intended).
     
    Repetition of ads across the four networks was a good strategy to minimize the clutter of a lot of different messages competing in a tight viewing space. Since ad time was sold by a consolidated sales force of the two networks, this repetition across platforms also was logical. And it seemed to work, since I could easily recall six to seven ads and their executions, particularly the red ball of tape that’s avoided with Southwest Airlines’ frequent flyer program, the NAPA “know how” dude singing about auto parts, and the dogs hosting a Bud Light house party.

    Viewers seemed to enjoy the experience as well. On a five-point scale of satisfaction, the 50 students rated the experience a 4.34, or highly satisfied.

    It was enjoyable, that is, if you had control of the remote. Otherwise, those around you are likely trying to recover from the dizzying experience. Where’s my dog?

    Jim Pokrywczynski (james.pokro@marquette.edu) has researched sports marketing impact and teaches advertising courses in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University.

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  • CIOs earn ‘seat’ by bringing value, solutions to the table

    There’s a lot of talk these days in the industry about chief information officers wanting a “seat at the table.” They feel, understandably so, that information technology can be a key differentiator in driving business value and that therefore the voice of the CIO should be heard in board and strategy discussions. To me the real question is, How is IT viewed within the organization and what does the CIO bring to the table at which he or she wants the proverbial seat?

    I like to play a game I call, “Can you spot the CIO?” If I walked into your board room during a meeting would I be able to quickly pick out the CIO? Many times he/she is the uncomfortable person who feels and looks out of place. He hasn’t taken the time or effort to develop relationships with the other people in the room so he feels like an outsider. A more damning variable is what happens when she opens her mouth? You see, many IT executives don’t speak English. They speak a language I call “geek speak.” Their presentations are filled with TLAs (three-letter acronyms) like VPNs and SLAs, and all this other alphabet soup that means absolutely nothing to their executive management or board members. Many times you feel like you need a translator to decipher what the heck they are talking about. Their focus is often on the “utility” aspect of IT. They are all about accomplishing key metrics of 99.9 percent systems availability or network uptime or some other “critical metric” that is only meaningful to those of us who are IT practitioners.

    You see, the real issue is whether the CIO is perceived as a technologist or a business leader, and whether IT is viewed as a utility service or a business enabler.

    We have worked very hard to ensure that the investment our organization has made in technology has paid meaningful business dividends. We have developed relationships at a senior level with the key stakeholders in our business. We know, and invest our limited human and financial resources on, what truly matters to our partners in our business units. Our focus is on driving projects that have a tangible business return on investment. This may mean either helping to drive top-line revenue, lowering bottom-line costs, driving operational efficiencies, or engaging our consumers to enhance their tennis experience. Let me give a few examples.

    As most of you know, our biggest revenue engine is the U.S. Open. It is an amazing event that brings together the best in sports and entertainment. Over the past few years we have invested in technology to help drive real top-line revenue at the tournament. For example, we implemented an access control solution that allows us to ensure appropriate security of who is allowed on campus during the event. A wonderful side benefit of this functionality is that we now know real time how many
    GETTY IMAGES
    Innovative use of technology is on display inside and outside on the grounds at the U.S. Open.
    people are on campus at any given time. This has allowed us the flexibility of increasing the number of grounds passes we can sell to our fans, resulting in a significant increase in ticket revenue. A few years ago we blanketed the campus with wireless network connectivity. In addition to improving the experience for our players and media partners, this also allowed us to connect the stand-alone concessions kiosks on the outskirts of the campus. In the past, these kiosks could only take cash tender. Now they can conduct credit and debit card transactions. These one-time capital investments have turned into an eightfold ongoing revenue stream each and every year. That ROI is a metric your board can understand and appreciate.

    We also realize that one of the best ways to engage with the people who play in our leagues and tournaments is to provide them a positive online experience. We have invested in a suite of tennis applications that allow our players to manage their tennis experience online. This year we have actually rolled out the first of what will be several mobile applications allowing our players to manage their tennis experience from their iPhones while relaxing over dinner. We are creating a personalized view of a player’s tennis experience so that when he or she logs on to one of our sites they can see all of their latest results, their updated rating, schedule of play, find directions to their next match, and learn about tennis opportunities in their locale. We are leveraging technology to help parents find out everything they need to know to get their kids engaged in playing age-appropriate tennis and giving providers the opportunity to register their programs online so that parents can easily find play opportunities for their kids.

    We are leveraging our digital video assets to help our creative team drive more compelling commercials and marketing campaigns while leveraging these assets to drive new revenue through clip licensing. We have revolutionized the media and broadcast experience at the U.S. Open through a solution we call Openvision, which provides our media and broadcast partners real-time access to live streaming of all courts, real-time statistics, live and archived interviews, historical statistics, in short everything they need to support the event from their tablet computer.

    The real key to being able to have a strategic dialogue with your key stakeholders is having something to talk about that your leadership values.

    Larry Bonfante (bonfante@usta.com) is the chief information officer at the U.S. Tennis Association and author of the soon to be released book “Lessons in IT Transformation: Technology Expert to Business Leader,” published by John Wiley & Sons.

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  • Chance for teams, sponsors, vendors to reward fans? Just do it

    As we contemplate the various labor situations and possible work stoppages in our American professional sports leagues, I am repeatedly asked whose side I am on. My answer is always the same: the fans. Fans buying tickets, watching on television, purchasing merchandise, visiting websites and patronizing corporate partners drive the multibillion-dollar sports industry in the U.S. and Canada.

    As someone whose consulting practice is about reaching the fans and offering them a variety of products and services to make their experience affordable, enjoyable and hopefully repeatable (as well as being a fan myself), I am concerned about fan anger evolving into fan apathy and distraction if games are missed. Will fans find other alternatives for their time, resources and passion?

    NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
    Fans of sports teams invest time, money and emotions. But with labor uncertainty threatening the coming seasons, that bond between fan and team could begin to fray.
    On the business side, what happens to the sponsors that have created business plans and allocated resources to implementing those plans if there are no games to attend or broadcasts to view?

    I was glad to find out I am not the only person concerned about what happens to the fans. I received an email from Marc Kolin, an old NBA team marketing and business operations colleague, who wanted to discuss his vision for an official National Fan Day, slated for April 30. Labor stoppage or not, Kolin wants to recognize and reward fans for their support and loyalty to their respective teams. He plans to use his company, My Fan Rewards, to provide fans with special deals, discounts and offers from a variety of national retailers such as Home Depot, Champs Sports, Foot Locker, Exxon and others. According to Kolin, “This approach can help put a little money back in the pockets of the fans so they can continue to afford making their own lasting memories at ballparks, stadiums and arenas throughout the country.”

    Teams could integrate local corporate partners to provide them with an opportunity to reach their fans on this special day. Kolin pointed out that a number of teams, including the Bills, Lions, Raiders, Vikings and 49ers in the NFL; the Devils in the NHL; and the Cavaliers and Timberwolves in the NBA, have expressed support for the concept. Mark Shearer, director of business development for the Raiders, said that “the idea of a National Fan Day has some real validity. We are always working hard to recognize fans and reward their support but it’s not always that easy. In addition to local fans, we have fans across the globe that support us, and anything that would help reach out to them in a meaningful way would be a welcome addition.”

    Bill Veeck pioneered the concept of audience-targeted days that culminated in a Fan Appreciation Day, and a number of baseball teams still offer this promotion during the last baseball homestand of the season. However, the concept of a National Fan Day goes further, as it is not limited to the stadium but takes place in the markets all across the nation. In theory, it could encompass anyone identifying themselves as a fan of a particular team if the national corporate partners and the respective team would share their databases.

    But let’s take the concept even further. National Fan Day should also provide an opportunity for the vendors and providers who benefit directly from the activities and actions associated with fans to show their appreciation as well. Thus concessionaires, cable and satellite television providers, licensed merchandise manufacturers and retailers, sports publications and other related beneficiaries could also participate in Fan Appreciation Day. I am sure that a half-price beer, a free month of sports subscriptions from DirecTV or a trial subscription to ESPN The Magazine would be well-received by the fans.

    I suspect that if the offers and gestures of appreciation are genuine and have appeal and value that the ROI from such a display of recognition and appreciation might be surprisingly profitable in both the short and long term.

    Why is National Fan Day important? The interest and support of the fans is critical to the success of spectator sports at any level. When a fan invests with a team, it is a multidimensional investment. It is an investment of their time, often allocated at the expense of spending it in other ways that may be more productive or beneficial. It is an investment of their money, and in some cases they are choosing to spend on the team rather than a vacation or other leisure-time pursuits. Finally, it is an investment of their emotions and feelings, which include a high level of trust that their team will do the right things on and off the playing field. The emotional investment often becomes multigenerational, as the child chooses to support the team of his or her parents. Traditions and activities are woven from this multidimensional investment, creating a strong bond between the fan and the team. But this bond looks to become stretched and frayed in the coming months.

    As I write this, the NFL and NFLPA are without a labor agreement and their future could be decided in the courts. These parties are involved in some drama over the involvement of college players in the NFL draft. These actions might affect the hoped-for experiences of these players on an important day. The NBA could follow suit in July, and MLB and the NHL have labor agreements due to expire later this year and next, respectively.

    Each side has its issues and interpretations of the problems at hand. Fans merely want the games to remain affordable, accessible and delivered in a regular fashion. They don’t have the information to understand the entire argument, and their opinions are often shaped by what they hear from ESPN, their local media and the rumor mill.
    But most fans are like an Eric Clapton band: They believe and hope with blind faith.

    So isn’t a meaningful thank you from those that profit from the hearts of these poor souls the least we can do? Marc Kolin, I wish you well in this endeavor.

    Bill Sutton (wsutton@bus.ucf.edu) is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.

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