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SBJ/February 13-19, 2012/OpinionPrint All
A question asked over dinner was, “Does Roger Goodell have the easiest job of any major league commissioner?”
Despite the NFL having labor peace and long-term media rights deals locked in for the next decade, I can’t say that any league commissioner job is “easy,” but I got the gist of the question. Goodell has set a foundation for stability in the league and can turn the focus to the game on the field and to revenue growth.
But clearly he and the league left Indy on a high — just read some of the post-mortems. “The NFL has a beat, and millions of us move to it,” said the Charlotte Observer, while the Washington Times noted “[it’s] scary how gigantic the NFL has gotten.”
But while it seems like easy street at the league, it isn’t. The persistent challenge for Goodell will be his political navigation skills and maintaining balance among an agenda-driven ownership group. He, of course, must focus on the product on the field, something I believe he does; he is obviously a fan first. There are still valuable content packages, such as mobile, that the league can further monetize. There is a possible new TV package but that seems reliant on an 18-game schedule, which remains an area of contention with the players. Goodell also must be mindful of the league’s relationship with its former players and the constant threat of concussions.
There is also what to do in Los Angeles, as well as what the league’s international growth strategy is. It seems that until international revenue becomes a major part of the league’s financials, it will be treated as a “nice to have,” not a “must have,” part of the agenda. Finally, the in-venue experience and effectively selling tickets to an “event” and not just a “game” will be a priority.
Goodell works tirelessly. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson once said Goodell’s exhausting schedule could be the greatest threat to his leadership. It’s certainly not an “easy” job, but a path has been established where Goodell can focus on the game and its growth.
■ ■ ■Last year, it was easy to criticize Super Bowl planning and operations — and we did. So, it’s with great pleasure that we can credit the leaders of the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, the league and the locales that made this year’s experience special. Operationally, organizationally and functionally — and with a welcoming spirit through it all — Super Bowl XLVI excelled.
Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at email@example.com.
One item in the report that got our attention was the team whose worth increased proportionally the most over the previous year: the reborn Winnipeg Jets. Why are the Jets worth more in Winnipeg than playing as the Thrashers in Atlanta?
Our take? When talking about ticket buyers, fan avidity is sometimes more important than quantity. The return of the Jets to Manitoba’s capital is particularly notable when you recall that 16 years ago (in 1996) the club left town ownerless and virtually unable to compete in the NHL. Then, before last season, True North Sports and Entertainment purchased the Thrashers for $110 million and paid a $60 million relocation fee to the league. Now the club is worth $164 million, a 21 percent increase from Forbes’ estimate the previous year.
The Jets followed up their move with a well designed ticket-pricing model, a smart rebrand, the construction of a shrewd management team and the presentation of a sound business model. Now, this all may sound like a good case study for students, but one thing is important to question: How could a club increase in value by 21 percent in moving from Atlanta to Winnipeg?
Some numbers to ponder: Atlanta represents the 10th largest metropolis in North America (5.3 million people), is one of the nation’s top media markets, and is home to numerous other professional sports teams. Winnipeg features a population of less than 700,000, is one of the smallest cities for a professional sports team in Canada (or the U.S.) and offers limited media presence.
But maybe something is afoot in pro sports. Green Bay dominated the recent NFL regular season, Oklahoma City is an emerging NBA power, and Milwaukee and St. Louis played for MLB’s National League championship last October.
Is it possible that small markets can survive and thrive in big-time sports? The answer is no, or best case, it’s highly unlikely. Any MBA student will tell you that economies of scale (and the presence of Fortune 500 sponsors) dictate most commercial outcomes. Still, it wouldn’t surprise us to see an NHL team move to Quebec City (whose population equals Winnipeg’s) or for the NFL to want teams in Buffalo and New Orleans despite needing a quality team in Los Angeles.
The reason? Small-market teams, with their grassroots marketing and sense of community ownership, often feature more avidity than their city-mouse cousins. Plus, most mega markets have multiple teams fighting for fan attention.
Further, the presence of Davids fighting Goliaths gives off a different perception to the media and fans when the word “parity” is thrown around by league commissioners. Indeed, collective-bargaining agreements now routinely attempt to provide environments in which smaller-market teams can compete financially.
On another continent, Manchester, England, should not be the seat of power in English football … but it is. That’s why it’s vital for North American leagues to value their tiny markets and protect them from the very challenges their smaller populations create. If every team is London, New York or Toronto, it’s much harder to sell an underdog.
That’s why when Buffalo goes to four straight Super Bowls or Milwaukee makes the NL Championship Series, the health of a pro sport (both in asset appreciation for owners and appreciation by fans) goes up broadly.
In politics, they say New York and Los Angeles (or Toronto and Vancouver) select the candidates, but everyone knows it’s the smaller markets in between that elect the president (or prime minister). Perhaps a parallel exists in sports.
The next phase in the development of the feedback loop was the idea of trial testing and getting feedback prior to the introduction or the offering of the product or service. This was designed to be a proactive approach to identifying issues and problems that might arise as well as to gauge the temperature of the intended target market with regard to the product or service being offered. Phase one and phase two feedback was most commonly based in product trial and observation, focus groups, surveys and, of course, sales results.
Southwest Airlines makes listening to customer feedback a priority.
Unfortunately, in my experience with sports organizations, feedback usually doesn’t happen, and if it does, it is most often related to a specific incident that has been publicized and brought to the attention of management. The approach is lacking in terms of strategy, consistency and ultimately effectiveness in sports, yet is an important component for most businesses that provide products or services through both brick-and-mortar stores and online sites.
Want to test this out? Go to your Twitter account (hopefully you all have one) and mention the name of a business or even a personality in your tweet. If the organization has an effective strategy like the one I have been describing, you should receive a notification back in 24 hours or less that the subject or the mention in your tweet is now following you. In the past, I mentioned Orbitz and my dissatisfaction with their customer service in a tweet. Within two hours, I was being “followed” by Orbitz. Within four hours, a vice president of customer service from Orbitz contacted me, and my problem was addressed and resolved to my satisfaction.
The other day, I mentioned a Brad Paisley song in a tweet. Within two hours, I was being “followed” by Brad Paisley. (I am honored.)
Unfortunately, several months ago, I made some very strong comments about Delta Airlines and stated that I would never fly that airline again, and I have yet to be followed or get a response. Meanwhile, competitor Southwest Airlines has capitalized upon the customer feedback regarding baggage fees and launched an entire campaign promoting the fact that they listened to their customers and refused to follow that industry trend. Is it any wonder why Southwest continues to grow and flourish while other airlines struggle?
In March 2010, I wrote a column detailing the success of a Crispin Porter & Bogusky ad campaign for Domino’s (SportsBusiness Journal, March 8-14, 2010, issue). That campaign dramatically changed the financial fortunes of the company because it demonstrated its willingness to change and showed the actual changes that resulted from customer feedback. Domino’s showed that not only was it aware of the feedback, but it also was responsive, caring and effectively able to change.
What should sports organizations do? There are several effective ways to gather the data and information that can be used independently or in conjunction with one another to gather the information we have discussed.
■ Hire a social media tracking service that gathers and collates and provides an evaluative feedback regarding what is being discussed on the Internet regarding your products, services, personnel, policies or whatever. Socialmedia.biz offers a list and analysis of 20 such vendors and their capabilities.
■ Employ a social media coordinator or intern who not only monitors but also proactively disseminates positive information or responses that have been approved by the digital strategy director (SportsBusiness Journal, Aug. 15-21, 2011, issue). The organization can purchase social media tracking software to monitor Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blog posts and articles.
There is an axiom dating from the 16th century stating that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. To have warning or knowledge about something is an advantage. In 2012, I would update this to state that to be forewarned is to be four-armed, and those four arms are social media, traditional media, community relations and public relations working together to provide the best defense as well as the best offense with regard to the best use of feedback.