SBJ/September 26-October 2, 2011/Opinion

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  • How can sports compete for the hearts, minds of youth?

    Forty-five years ago there were 70 teams playing in the big four professional sports leagues (NFL/AFL, MLB, NBA, NHL). Today, with expansion and with the advent of MLS, that number has doubled. Add the myriad high-profile minor league, college and junior clubs, and the potential for clutter in the marketplace becomes much more obvious.

    Take it a step further: Where once the average consumer experienced 2,000 messages per day via advertising and other communications like store signs, billboards or the sides of buses, today the average American sees or receives as many as 30,000 per day, even more for the hyper-engaged online. So we’ve doubled the number of teams and gone up by a factor of 15 on the number of communications, advertisements and audio-visual interruptions. Some simple math means we’re at a 30x increment in possible distraction. And, don’t forget the increasing number of mediums — online, offline, mobile, etc.  

    To that end, we’ve been wondering how the average child (if there is such a beast) actually becomes a fan of a sport, adopts a favorite club and develops team-aligned avidity … not to mention getting out and playing that sport. For us, prolonged avidity is the lifeblood of pro sports, and this is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. When a fan is truly dedicated, game tickets and team merchandise are bought, sponsors buy signage at the stadium, advertisers buy spots on game broadcasts, and great athletes are drawn to play the game because the money is there.

    But check this out: In addition to the cluttered environment, we’re also dealing with a less active one. Do you think having played a sport creates some impact on fan avidity? We believe so, and other researchers have supported the notion that children are becoming less active. Recent stats showed that a mere 50 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds in North America actually participate in sports, a marked drop from a generation ago. The health implications notwithstanding, this is also a challenge for professional clubs.

    But how are leagues and their member clubs accelerating that adoption process? How do they get kids more involved and interested and playing? As former hockey players, we’re familiar with the NHL’s efforts years ago to invest resources in street and roller hockey. That was a period when the NHL’s marketing team (led then by Octagon’s Rick Dudley) believed if they could place a stick in a young person’s hands, they stood a chance of developing a new fan.

    We’re even familiar with a distant friend of ours who has been trying to shop a TV cartoon concept to the NHL called “Asphalt Avengers” in which various characters animatedly solve superhero problems in association with the NHL. We’re not sure the NHL will option this concept, but it brings forth the question of whether any of the big leagues, in the midst of a staggering economy, lockouts, saturated airwaves, Facebook and various player misbehavior, can afford to spend much time thinking about 5- to 8-year-olds or newly arrived immigrant children. At the very least, we know the big leagues — via their actions — have realized they need to communicate with youth in their language and via their chosen media … social, text and mobile. They get this, they’re in this space, and more is undoubtedly coming.

    We also know that parents play a huge role in what sport a child may adopt to play and/or follow and that sports greatly facilitates the concept of new-country assimilation. But in an age of single-parent families and significant brand clutter, it is worth wondering whether the biggest sports properties are fully investigating the consumer behavior pathways of their next generation of fans. We recommend they commit to that research now.  

    But it’s not easy in an age of short-term profitability obligations to think about distribution channels, information overload and meaning transfer. Other industries interested in youth brand adoption have been doing it for decades, but the sports industry often shuns the specific market research long embraced by “traditional” consumer brands.  

    Let’s not for a minute doubt that baby boomers are aging and will become less avid fans over time. We also know Generations X, Y and Z (the Net Generation) are smaller in aggregate and perhaps more fragmented due to media proliferation and increased consumption options. And, now we’ve got this aforementioned Internet Generation coming through … the kids of a small generation who are hyper-busy, multitasking online and often physically lazy. Screens are everywhere, the content options are sexy and attractive (not to mention non-sports-related), and those digital tablets are portable.  

    What’s a sports marketer to do? Don’t make the mistake of writing off clutter. There’s no question the human brain is super-computer enough to disregard non-important brands and images. But what if your brand is increasingly lumped into that “delete” category? That’s not good for your owners.  

    It’s probably better to be proactive. If you are in charge of your brand’s image or sustainability, you may want to make sure you understand modern children and early childhood cognition patterns. You may even want to conduct some research with children in your stadium (if you can find any) or at a sports facility where a future fan might already play your sport.

    Kids say the darndest things, but they also hold the key to a lot of future revenue. We suggest you take them seriously. 

    Rick Burton (rhburton@syr.edu) is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University. Norm O’Reilly (norman.oreilly@uottawa.ca) is an associate professor of sport business at the University of Ottawa.

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  • Cartoon: Navigating realignment

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  • PGA Tour deals an ace

    One recent story that did not receive enough examination was the PGA Tour’s nine-year media rights renewals maintaining its partnerships with CBS and NBC. It came as a surprise because few saw the deals being completed as early as they were. The tour’s rights weren’t up until the end of 2012, and the talks could have stretched well into next year. And with only two broadcasters bidding on the packages, it appeared the tour had little leverage.

    So it shocked many when the extensions were announced on the Thursday before Labor Day. Not ideal PR timing, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that the PGA Tour nailed one here. Commissioner Tim Finchem is adroit at working behind the scenes, using all he learned from working in Washington for President Carter to reach diplomatic consensus in deal making. The fact that he was able to secure these extensions so that all the tour’s TV deals, along with Golf Channel, expire together in 2021 is a testament to his negotiating skill — and golf’s value to its network partners.

    While specific numbers were not revealed, the deals represent a slight increase in the tour’s rights fees. Sports rights fees have been increasing across the board, but any increase for the PGA Tour is a good sign given that the global economic market is rattled, golf’s endemic advertising base is unsettled, tour ratings are leveling off, and there are no signs Tiger Woods will ever be the player or attraction he once was. Despite those significant factors, Finchem and company secured financial footing that will benefit the tour and professional golf.

    Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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  • Formula for perfect promotion: Simple, creative, dominating

    The following is an excerpt from “Winning the Customer: Turn Consumers into Fans and Get Them to Spend More,” by Lou
    Imbriano and Elizabeth King, in bookstores now from
    McGraw-Hill. Imbriano (lou@trinity1.com) is CEO and president of TrinityOne Inc.

    Loyalty programs are only one mechanism to increase frequency and spending. Creative promotions are also effective in driving consumers to buy more product more often. This is not a revelation, but knowing that you have to create promotions to drive traffic and actually developing a creative, effective promotion are two very different things.

    We are not here to tell you what will work best for your consumers, but we are here to show you the proper ingredients for creating a successful promotion. When you’re drawing up the ultimate promotion aimed at turning your consumers into fans, driving traffic and generating revenue, your promotion must pass the SCD test. When I was in radio at the very beginning of my marketing career, my boss at the time, John Maguire, would ask me three questions every time I was about to introduce a new promotional concept. Almost 20 years later, I still use those questions to test the quality of my ideas every time I create something new.

    • Is the promotion Simple?

    • Is the promotion Creative?

    • Is the promotion Dominating?

    In “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell talks about making something memorable and, specifically, “stickiness.” When you create promotions, you’re specifically developing them to have that stickiness, so that people understand what the promotion offers and it grabs their attention. Think about all the products that you see being promoted every day of the week. The best “this”! The most amazing “that”! Buy “this,” get “that,” and we’ll even throw in this brand-new Cadillac. We are constantly inundated with information: in the street by billboards and radio and at home by television, the Internet, and smartphones. We are bombarded with information, and it’s all businesses hoping to get consumers to pay attention. “Here I am! Here I am!” They’re all screaming and yelling, and it’s getting louder and louder.

    It’s become so loud that you can’t hear anything.

    When you create a mechanism that allows you to push through the clutter and stand out in the crowd, that’s powerful. It makes a huge difference, no matter what product or brand you are marketing. Think about those promotions you’ve seen that have stuck in your mind — really caught your attention. Living in Boston, I’m exposed to many local promotions, and normally “local” means it’s not as sophisticated or as effective as “national,” but back in 2004, a local furniture store, Jordan’s Furniture, hit one out of the park. Jordan’s partnered with the Boston Red Sox, a historic franchise known at the time for not having won a World Series since 1918. The premise of the promotion was that everyone who bought furniture during a specific time frame at the beginning of the baseball season would win the furniture they purchased if the Red Sox won the World Series.

    You couldn’t go into a bar or hang out by the watercooler anywhere in Massachusetts and not hear people talking about the possibility of the Red Sox winning the World Series and finally breaking “the curse,” so Jordan’s capitalizing on that at the commencement of a new season was not only timely but also pertinent. If you happened to be buying furniture during that time period, it provided just cause for you to shop at Jordan’s Furniture rather than another retailer — and the concept did drive business to Jordan’s. The advertising and marketing initiative surrounding the promotion was focused and well executed, which caused the promotion to be a huge success. But it doesn’t stop there: the Red Sox actually did win the World Series that year, and through it all, Jordan’s message was that it wanted the Sox to win and it wanted to give away all that furniture because the people at Jordan’s were fans too. Brilliant. The store built a simple, creative, and dominating promotion that had the ultimate payoff.

    Simple

    As you create promotions, you want to mimic what Jordan’s Furniture accomplished. To do so, you need to ask yourself certain questions about the quality of the promotion you’re developing. The Simple, Creative, Dominating test helps you determine if you have created an exceptional vehicle to move your consumer. Is the promotion simple? Is it easy to understand? Is it easy to participate in? If you get too complicated in a promotion, you’re going to lose people — and you don’t want to lose a lot of potential customers. For the most part, people are basically lazy, right? They’re lazy, and they’re not going to want to participate in a promotion that makes them jump through hoops. The Jordan’s Furniture promotion was exactly that: buy stuff during this time frame and get it free if the Red Sox win the World Series. Pretty easy — even if you’re lazy.

    The Jordan’s Furniture Red Sox promotion was also easy to execute for both the consumer and the contest administrator. When the Red Sox won the World Series, the insurance company paid off the claims on Jordan’s behalf. (Jordan’s had hedged its expenses by working with an insurance company in case the Red Sox did win and it had to reimburse its customers.) All Jordan’s did was cut checks to reimburse customers who had bought furniture during the specified time frame. It was a detail-oriented process, but overall it was very manageable, and it was easy for Jordan’s to keep its part of the bargain and keep customers happy. In fact, it went so well that Jordan’s ran the promotion again.

    Creative

    The second part of the promotional equation is creativity. Does your promotion stand out in the crowd? Does it overcome the clutter? There’s all this crap being thrown at consumers every single day; does your idea separate your brand from the barrage? Is it memorable? For a promotion to qualify as truly creative, you need an unequivocal “yes” in response to all these questions. The Jordan’s promotion was very creative, because it capitalized on a ubiquitous conversation in the Boston area: “When will the Red Sox finally break the curse and win the World Series?” The feeling was that the new Sox ownership was doing the right thing, filling the roster with players that would get us there. The optimism about the Red Sox was growing, and the timing was perfect to associate with the Sox brand and winning it all. Jordan’s and its agency also did great creative messaging to support the concept.

    Dominating

    The final piece of the test is its power to dominate the customer’s attention. Is the promotion so compelling that it gets consumers to take action? Next, does it go beyond compelling — is it everywhere? That’s where you find that “wow” factor: not only in the number of ads and vehicles promoting it, but also in the overall feel and perception of the promotion. Jordan’s Furniture had that “wow” factor and was dominating not only because of the media support it put behind the promotion, but because it offered a real prize for something that every person in Massachusetts had been yearning for: the Red Sox winning the World Series. The power was that everyone was in this together, rooting for victory, and everyone who participated would win alongside the team. Jordan’s was brilliant to tap into that emotion and provide another layer to the excitement.

    The promotion was so simple, creative and dominating that it made it hard not to pay attention to it, especially if you were in the market to buy new furniture. Think about it: If you had to buy furniture anyway, and there was a convenient Jordan’s Furniture near you, why wouldn’t you shop there? In fact, I would guess that the promotion probably motivated customers to drive a little further. Jordan’s is a reputable company, it carries high-quality products, and its prices are reasonable. Furniture shoppers had nothing to lose if they were planning to buy furniture anyway.

    When you hit all three and create a simple, creative, and dominating promotion, even your staunchest critics will stand up and take notice.

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