SBJ/April 18-24, 2011/OpinionPrint All
The simpler, more frightening theme: Was it safe to attend a baseball game? While top sports executives talk about improving the fan experience, there is one experience that should never be taken for granted — the ability to attend a sports event without concern of physical harm.
Steps can be taken: Far tougher alcohol restrictions should include better cooperation with alcohol sponsors for responsibility actions, better coordination with concessionaires with a focus on real vigilance and tougher steps by security for zero tolerance. The fan experience may be fine in the premium seats; the upper decks and parking lots tell a different story. Teams want to focus on the fan experience? Start with safety and security. That’s what should keep today’s decision-makers up at night.
Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to SportsBusiness Journal, industry revenues grew from $213 billion in 1998 to more than $234 billion today. It’s safe to assume that industry jobs have increased dramatically during this time as well, but then again, so has competition for those jobs.
In the late 1980s, when sports marketing was just taking shape, there was no virtual networking capability. Job opportunities emerged through recruiters and an occasional print ad, but mostly through WOM.
Fast-forward to the recent Great Recession, when many corporations downsized their recruiting. Hiring managers now shoulder more of the recruiting burden, and rely on social media sites such as LinkedIn. So how should today’s job hunters leverage their respective communication skills and embrace the new age of networking in the 21st century?
The younger generation has adopted digital communication as the new personal communication. (Boomers still prefer F2F meetings, phone and/or EMSG, and regard LinkedIn as a Rolodex on steroids.) Many millennials find F2F situations awkward, especially when dealing with difficult subjects, preferring TXT or EMSG as their contact modes (deftly parodied in the recent Sprint TV spot in which two colleagues conduct a face-to-face meeting via TXT).
Digital meetings can create intrigue, but genuine F2F meetings sell. Decision-makers make final choices from personal contact.
A true benefit to digital networking is the relevance and value it brings to your personal brand when meshed with old-school selling. Here are a few thoughts on how to sharpen your personal selling efforts:
• Learn to be comfortable in social settings; seek out networking events and industry conferences.
• Invest in your speaking ability; join Toastmasters International, hire an acting coach, volunteer for community speaking roles, etc.
• Be an outstanding listener; successful salesmen understand buyers’ needs by asking informed questions and listening before responding.
• Develop a dynamic phone persona; record a trial VMSG message to a prospective employer and gauge how energetic, confident and concise you sound.
• Be consistent with your message; you’re selling your brand every day.
“A voice on the other end brings life to a conversation and a greater likelihood of opportunity.”Glenn Adamo, NFL vice president of media operations
Social media should not merely be a tactic but a personal marketing strategy. By sharing experiences, thoughts and knowledge, you stay relevant, no matter what your employment status. Use social media for introductions, information and brand messaging. Here are some applications that can enhance your marketability:
• LinkedIn is the preferred business networking site, with more than 100 million users. Your LinkedIn profile often pops up as the first reference point in searches. Remember, there’s only one version of your profile, so keep it current and public.
LinkedIn (top) is a business networking site with more than 100M users. Facebook’s BranchOut has about 250,000 registered users.
• Though Facebook has 650 million users, it has 250,000 registered for BranchOut, its version of LinkedIn. Most people associate any Facebook product as an access point to their social world. Recruiters canvass Facebook as a window of personal judgment.
• Check out Quora, a relatively new social resource for job search and career insights.
Social media enhancers
• Twitter is the ultimate in instantaneous individual marketing, with more than 50 million active users. This is a dynamic opportunity to augment professional and/or personal relevance. Reciprocity is the key to maximizing the benefits. It’s the giving and taking of ideas (e.g. articles, POVs, group discussions, etc.) that makes one relevant in this social media world.
• Explore Twellow (directory of public accounts) and TweetDeck (app to stay in touch with your social media contacts).
• Hashable is an app that interacts with people you meet every day and allows you to send contact info and build your network in a easy manner.
“Twitter is a huge cocktail party. You need to search around to find conversations relevant to your interests.”Stan Phelps, Synergy Events chief solutions officer
Integrated career management strategy
Think about how you can merge digital and traditional networking into a powerful, integrated career management strategy.
Like anything else good in life, balance and moderation are guideposts to sustained success. Seek the best of both worlds to optimize your professional marketability. Here are some proven best practices:
For networking in general
• Be honest and forthcoming in your request for a connection; provide a frame of reference (such as a mutual colleague) and purpose.
• Consider your audience and the formality (use of acronyms or shorthand) of any communication before sending.
• Don’t let your personal brand be commoditized; differentiate yourself; have a unique value proposition.
• Email your connection both before and after a F2F meeting; after the meeting, you may even want to consider (OMG!) a hand-written note.
For digital networking
• Don’t let your social and professional spheres collide in cyberspace.
• Be judicious with connection and endorsement requests; seek quality over quantity.
• Don’t attach your résumé to a connection request; introduce yourself first and then seek permission.
• Be careful about underexposure to external recruiters as well as overexposure to internal sources such as your own human resources; provide just enough information for keyword searches.
• Be wise to social media “creepers,” those only interested in aggregating digital contacts as their badge of relevance.
“Digital and social media is written in pen, not pencil; be careful before you hit send.”Chris Erb, EA Sports vice president of brand marketing
@TEOTD, don’t let the ease of digital technology take over as your primary communication vehicle. Continue to refine your communication skills and make meaningful F2F meetings and relationship building the goal of your digital networking efforts. G2G. TY.
Glenn Horine (email@example.com) is the executive director of Iona College’s Center for Sports and Entertainment Studies, business development consultant and industry career counselor/lecturer.
Fans, players and constituents are discussing the lockout via social media channels. So, how does the NFL rank socially?
The NFL showed up late to the party. As a result, its reach and engagement levels are weak compared with other sports entities. We’re talking about a brand that has dominated traditional media for years. The NFL owns television. Historically, it has used TV to communicate to its fans in a one-way dialogue. Its success with this medium has been impressive, as its ratings and revenue show. The league has built its brand through the TV platform. However, there’s been a lot of talking and very limited listening to fans.
Combined, Facebook and Twitter have nearly 1 billion users who spend a great deal of time every day consuming information in these communication channels. The media landscape has changed; the largest international distribution networks that exist today are all online. All types of content are exchanged, from live video to photos and archived video.
Why is the NFL underperforming in the social media arena? The NFL didn’t focus on building its social influence until it was needed, similar to how LeBron James and Charlie Sheen turned to social media when they needed or wanted something. The innocence and genuine desire to connect with fans wasn’t there. It’s like trying to join a secret club without paying the dues. Fans understand intent. Facebook and Twitter were not invented for marketers, so it’s imperative to blend into the conversation versus shouting the messages in an old-school fashion, similar to what marketers have done for years on television.
If we take a look at other sports entities as a comparison, it’s easy to find the ones that have been successful with social media. The NBA and UFC are two of these organizations. Ninety-five percent of UFC athletes are on Twitter, and the organization provides ongoing social media training for its athletes. UFC President Dana White and co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta have personally embraced social media, as well. White has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter and has maintained ongoing dialogue with his audience for the past two years.
The NBA also got in early and it has built major equity within social channels. More than two years ago, I worked for the Phoenix Suns as the director of digital media. I recall walking into one of our standing weekly revenue meetings with the team’s president, general manager and senior vice presidents and
UFC President Dana White has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter, where he has engaged fans in dialogue for more than two years. The NBA also is an early adopter of the social media strategy.
When the live sporting event ends, brands must have a way to communicate with their fan bases on their fans’ turf. Unlike traditional media, social channels provide a communication bridge that doesn’t have a shelf life. The fan dialogue never turns off.
There’s been a “land grab” situation that has been taking place over the past few years. The brands that built their influence within the world of social media are now seeing the return on their investment. When you combine a brand’s social reach, Facebook fans and Twitter followers with fan sentiment and engagement levels, you can identify how much influence that brand has within these new mediums.
Certain brands adopted the space and worked at building relationships every day. The NFL likely felt it didn’t need it. The path to monetization wasn’t exactly clear, but intuitively, brands like Starbucks, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and The New York Times knew it was worth their investment.
Social media is extremely valuable from a research standpoint. Through features like Facebook Questions, polls can be conducted that allow brands to garner high-volume and instant feedback on fan sentiment. Research methods have changed. One of the fastest ways a brand can get an understanding about where its audience stands is through social media.
The athletes who have invested time in building their relationships with fans via these channels have an advantage. Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s use of social media has allowed him to stay relevant with both fans and endorsement brands when he’s not on the field playing. Players who have neglected the space don’t have the advantage of connecting and communicating with fans during this critical time. Having a direct bridge to them when the game is over was never an option, until now. “Social media gives me a chance to really engage with my fans and share the things I’m passionate about outside of football,” he said.
Humans connect with humans, not logos. The humans behind the logos matter, and fans expect to hear from them. There’s a difference between transparency and truthfulness.
Sports business executives, especially those with personalities like Mark Cuban or UFC’s White, can demonstrate their commitment to communicate with their audience in a truthful manner. It’s not a popularity contest; it’s a communications channel. People may not always like what they have to say, but they’ve built a layer of credibility by personally getting involved and listening, not just talking. Clearly, social media has become fundamental in their business.
There are times when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell disappears from Twitter for weeks and months. Is he listening on a daily basis? Is it really him behind that avatar? Brands can no longer hide behind their logo avatars.
At the end of the day, we’re all in business, but fans vote every day whether we stay in business.
Amy Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org), founder of Digital Royalty, develops social media strategies for sports teams, leagues, athletes and corporate brands, including Dana White and UFC, to increase their online influence.
Seems like an interesting proposition, given the recent stories detailing spats and demands between corporate partners and properties. Here are three situations that have caught my eye in particular:
• Air Canada, a longtime and heavy-spending corporate partner of NHL teams, recently threatened to pull its sponsorships if the NHL did not immediately address the frequency of headshots and resulting injuries.
• Capital One, an NCAA Corporate Champion sponsor, launched the Capital One Cup, given to the university that best demonstrates overall athletic excellence. Organizers opted to weight football and basketball heavier in their algorithm for determining the award winner. Many athletic directors and influencers have verbalized their displeasure with the award’s formula.
• Standard Chartered, the official bank of Liverpool FC of the English Premier League, is leaning on the team to sign high-profile Asian players to allow for increased exposure in the Asian market, which is of great commercial interest to the bank.
The slope in all of these situations is somewhat slippery. While sponsorship money buys brands the ability to advertise and activate in the context of a property’s turf, does the deal buy the brand influence over that same domain? Properties will surely argue no, as Gary Bettman did rather publicly in response to Air Canada’s ultimatum. If Air Canada were to take its planes and go home, there would likely be another airline waiting in line for the vacancy — but at what cost to the NHL, both monetary and in public opinion?
Of great interest to me (and other parties involved, I should hope) is the fans’ reaction to the turmoil. I am pleased to share results of research Turnkey Intelligence conducted on these topics. All data and results shown in this column were collected March 28-31, via the Toluna/Greenfield Omnibus study. Sample size is based on 875 completed, usable surveys, representative of the U.S. population, and all respondents are either avid or casual fans of at least one major U.S. sports league (pro or college). Data will not always sum to 100 percent due to “no opinion” options.
Open mouth … Insert feet
If corporate partners are the backup bands, then properties are the lead singers. (Think of the brand as the Pips and the league as Gladys Knight.) Air Canada probably wishes its concerns had remained behind the scenes. When asked if a “sponsor/advertiser in sports has the right to request changes to rules and policies of the sport,” 87 percent of respondents said “absolutely not.” When asked “what would be your reaction if a sponsor/advertiser threatened to discontinue its relationship in an attempt to change the rules or policies of a sport that you follow,” 75 percent responded with “I would disapprove of the practice whether or not I agree with the proposed rule changes.” To pile on, 59 percent of sports fans disagree that “because sponsors/advertisers pay so much to sponsor sports, they deserve to have a say in how sports are run.” (A mere 20 percent agree.)
On a related note, the NHL didn’t win over many fans with Bettman’s strong overtones and equally public response. Forty-six percent of survey respondents agreed that “employees of professional or college sports programs should never speak negatively in public about their sponsors/advertisers.” (23 percent disagree.) This data point also has implications regarding the Capital One/NCAA partnership. Fans have no stomach for college officials publicly griping about a brand that contributes in excess of $50 million annually.
But the NHL/Air Canada and NCAA/Capital One squabbles seem like toddlers fighting over a shovel in a sandbox compared with the Standard Chartered request. Too bad news of this story came out after our study fielded. If fans want corporate partners muzzled when it comes to rules/policies, does anyone think fans would be cool with brands trying to influence who takes the field? Perhaps Standard Chartered is better served sponsoring an Asian sports team or venue.
Regarding its NCAA partnership, Capital One has a different PR issue to be conscious of: the status of college sports as amateur. Thirty-seven percent of sports fans surveyed feel that sponsors of college sports should have less influence than sponsors of pro sports, while only 24 percent feel they should have more. So while fans overall want corporate partners to keep on the down-low, they are even more sensitive at the NCAA level.
The purpose of this column and research is not to identify who is right or wrong. Public perception suggests brands be wary of the fine line between partner and lobbyist. Similarly, sports should not bite the hands that feed them. It is my personal opinion that none of the parties involved in these scenarios will suffer long-term PR consequences. With so many dominant sports headlines, these stories might even count as old news. But as Abe Lincoln once mused, “’Tis better to be silent and thought a fool, then to speak and remove all doubt.”
My advice to all involved: Keep enjoying the fool’s gold. Quietly.
Steve Seiferheld (email@example.com) heads the custom research division of Turnkey Intelligence. Find him on Twitter @steveseiferheld.