SBJ/April 30-May 6, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

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  • NASCAR makes initial hires as it prepares to bring digital in-house

    NASCAR has begun filling out the executive team that will oversee its website and digital operations after it takes control of those operations next year from Turner Sports.

    Marc Jenkins, NASCAR’s vice president of digital media, plans to have as many as six direct reports overseeing the sanctioning body’s digital business. NASCAR executive John Martin, who has managed the Turner relationship, will oversee group operations, and Jenkins recently hired longtime Raycom executive Colin Smith to manage the digital platform.

    In addition to those positions, Jenkins wants to hire as many as four more executives. He is looking for a director of advertising services, who will work with Turner Sports and NASCAR’s New York sales office to develop sales inventory and content areas available for sponsorship. He’s also looking for a director of digital services, who will work with constituents such as teams and tracks to incorporate them into NASCAR’s digital efforts, and he may hire a director of content rights, who will negotiate syndication deals with TV affiliates and digital media platforms such as YouTube.

    Jenkins said he will look to those directors to determine how many employees they need in order to carry out their respective jobs, so he won’t have a clear idea of how large NASCAR’s digital staff will be until later. The jobs will be based in NASCAR’s offices in Charlotte; Daytona Beach, Fla.; and New York.

    “We’re trying to remain lean and entrepreneurial,” Jenkins said. “If we get a résumé in from someone who has the right experience and they’ve done distribution deals and have great ad experience, then we wouldn’t need to hire two [people] for those jobs. We might be able to hire one and then hire support staff.”

    As managing director of digital operations, Martin will manage the technology that distributes live video, photos and print on Web, mobile and tablet platforms. Martin was a key member of the executive team that developed NASCAR Media Group’s production and office facility in Charlotte. He joined NASCAR five years ago after being at Turner Sports.

    Smith joins NASCAR after a 17-year career at Raycom Sports, which sublicenses ACC broadcasting and digital rights from ESPN. He has served as the company’s vice president of new media and distribution since 2006, and he played a central role in its development of a mobile and tablet app that provide live streaming of ACC games.

    “The thing that we found really exciting about Colin was that he’s been a leader in the digital space with a brand in the ACC that’s really rich with content,” Jenkins said.

    As NASCAR’s managing director of digital platform, Smith will determine everything from what e-commerce platform NASCAR.com uses to what its mobile apps look like. He’ll also manage the site’s content. The role puts him a position where he will likely need to hire a director of mobile, a director of subscriptions and e-commerce and an executive editor, Jenkins said.

    Smith sees a lot of similarities between Raycom’s role developing digital offerings for the ACC and NASCAR’s role in developing a digital platform for the entire industry.

    “You have a lot of stakeholders, a lot of moving parts and a lot of vested interests in the sport,” Smith said. “You have a very avid and loyal fan base. Both have a product made specifically for digital.”

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  • NBA expands to Pinterest, Tumblr platforms

    The NBA is launching new league pages on the Pinterest and Tumblr social media platforms, extending its fan engagement efforts as the 2012 playoffs begin.

    The league will debut its first official extensions into Pinterest, a fast-growing site devoted to content sharing around the concept of digital “pinboards,” and Tumblr, a more established platform based around microblogging and photo sharing.

    The NBA will upload rarely seen playoff photos to its new home on Tumblr.
    Photo by: NBA
    The efforts are aimed at boosting fan interest in the postseason, and will include steady tune-in messages to drive TV viewership of games. With Tumblr in particular, the league plans to upload rarely seen professional-quality photos from the past 20 years of playoff history that can shared on social media platforms and purchased.

    Both the Pinterest and Tumblr destinations for the NBA will also include an e-commerce component in which merchandise such as hats and jerseys will be featured, with links to the league’s online store. Similar to the NBA’s own history and that of other leagues, the new initiatives for the playoffs also serve as a test run toward likely larger rollouts for the following season.

    The NBA’s destinations on Pinterest and Tumblr will supplement the league’s social media efforts on Twitter and Facebook, as well as on NBA.com.

    “Photo sharing in general is very interesting to us, and we think there’s another opportunity there to use our rich library of content and help drive further engagement,” said Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, NBA vice president of marketing.

    The league’s interest in photo sharing will take on a fan-driven component for the playoffs. The NBA is launching a parallel social media campaign titled “Hoops Around the World” in which fans will be invited to send in images of their basketball nets or where they play basketball. Photos will be aggregated on Twitter using the hashtag #hoops, and then displayed on online platforms including NBA.com, Twitter and Facebook.

    The NBA says it is now up to 260 million total social media followers and fans, counting all league, team and individual player destinations, as well as those on Chinese social platforms. The aggregate total represents one of the largest social media communities in the world.

    NBA.com and its related mobile assets, meanwhile, also will refresh themselves for the playoffs, based in part on a “hub” concept in which content will be organized primarily within areas devoted to each of the series. Despite the abbreviated regular season, NBA Digital recorded mid- to high-double-digit percentage increases compared with last season in each of its key digital metrics, including video views, unique visitors, and mobile app downloads.

    “It was certainly better across the board than what we expected initially, but you have to remember, this all happened for a reason,” said Christina Miller, senior vice president of strategy, marketing and programming for Turner Sports and general manager of NBA Digital. “We had great players and great story lines all season.”

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  • NBA proves to be solid rebounder

    Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    While 20 percent of the NBA season and $400 million in league revenue was lost to the two-month lockout, there were enough story lines for the NBA this season to nearly match last year’s average attendance and to deliver record television audiences on TNT, ABC and NBA TV.

    “The NBA did a remarkable job coming out of their labor issues,” said David Abrutyn, global managing director and senior vice president of IMG Consulting, which counts NBA sponsor Kia as a client. “Part of what helped was the intensity created by a compressed schedule, which produced more meaningful games, so the core fan had to love that. If the playoffs are as compelling as last year and you have the right teams making deep runs, they could get most of their recent business issues out of the rearview mirror as much as possible.”

    NBA TV Audience:
    2011-12 Averages

    ABC: 5.4 million viewers, +6% from last year
    TNT: 2.6 million viewers, +8% from last year
    ESPN: 1.9 million viewers, flat from last year
    NBA TV: 337,000 viewers, +31% from last year


    Note: Viewership is compared to-date for this season and last, with the 2011-12 season tipping off on Christmas Day.

    Sources: Networks, SportsBusiness Daily

    But total expected league revenue this year is $3.9 billion, down from a record $4.3 billion last season. The decrease is tied mostly to a drop in gate revenue, considering that each team played eight fewer home games this season due to the work stoppage.

    The biggest hit in the league’s ticket-selling business was in group sales, which fell 10 percent this year.

    “We lost the entire group selling season [due to the lockout], which is during late summer and early fall,” said Chris Granger, executive vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA. “The group business was the hardest to rebound.”

    Granger said that despite the loss of 20 percent of team sponsorship inventory due to the missed games — each club played a 66-game schedule — there was a single-digit decrease in total team sponsorship sales, though specific figures were not disclosed.

    Through April 25, the NBA’s average attendance was 17,271 fans per game compared with an average of 17,323 last year over a full, 82-game 2010-11 season.

    Chicago led the league at the gate for the third consecutive season, drawing an average of 22,149 fans per game and selling out every game at the United Center.

    “Group sales were not as strong, but that had nothing to do with a shortened NBA season,” said Steve Schanwald, executive vice president of business operations for the Bulls. “It was a direct reflection of our strong season-ticket sales reducing the number of tickets that were available to sell to groups.”

    The New Jersey Nets, playing their final season in the Prudential Center in Newark before moving to Brooklyn next season, ranked last in average attendance, drawing 13,961 fans per game.

    The biggest improvement at the gate came in Philadelphia, where the Sixers, under its new ownership group led by Joshua Harris, saw their average attendance jump 18.6 percent to 17,503 fans per game at the Wells Fargo Center.

    “I am surprised by the resilience [of the NBA attendance],” said Adam Kanner, a former NBA executive and chief executive officer of ScoreBig, an online ticket seller that counts NBA teams as clients. “The data we have seen shows that things are pretty much as usual, and I think things could have been worse.”

    Through April 23, NBA ratings on TNT were up 6 percent to a 1.7 U.S. rating (2.6 million viewers) over the network’s lockout-shortened 41-game broadcast schedule. From Christmas Day 2010 through the end of last season, TNT aired 32 games and generated a 1.6 U.S. rating (2.4 million viewers).

    Jeremy Lin’s emergence with the Knicks was one story that helped drive NBA ratings in the shortened season.
    Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
    This year is the highest-rated and most-viewed NBA season on TNT in 28 years of broadcasting the NBA.

    “There were more intense matchups on more nights,” said Christina Miller, senior vice president of strategy, marketing and programming for Turner Sports and general manager of NBA Digital. “Every time you think you know the narrative, it changes. First it was the lockout, then it was the Chris Paul trade, then you had Jeremy Lin. That helped us build momentum.”

    Turner-run NBA TV also had a record audience this season, with viewership up 31 percent for an average of 337,000 viewers over 96 games. The network was helped by the compressed schedule bringing more marquee matchups on a nearly nightly basis.

    The NBA on ABC this year was the highest-rated and most-viewed season since the network acquired NBA rights starting with the 2002-03 season. ABC generated a 3.3 U.S. rating (5.4 million viewers) over 15 games, up 10 percent from last year’s 3.0 U.S. rating (5.1 million viewers) for the same number of games.

    “Lockouts can be pretty damaging to these leagues, but the viewers for the most part put the lockout behind them,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media. “There is a lot of star power scattered throughout the league, and the NBA has to feel fortunate they got in a 66-game season. Maybe they should start the league on Christmas Day every year.”

    On ESPN, ratings were up slightly to an average 1.3 U.S. rating (1.9 million viewers) over 71 games through April 23 compared with a 1.2 U.S. rating (1.9 million viewers ) over 47 games over the same period last year, which was the most-watched NBA season on ESPN.

    “Last season was the [NBA’s] highest-rated on ESPN, and we ended up doing a number of games this year on other nights that we haven’t had in the past,” said Leah LaPlaca, vice president of programming and acquisitions for ESPN. “That may account for some of the results. Overall, we are pleased.”

    The NBA also built on its Web traffic from last year. From Christmas Day through April 21, global page views on NBA.com were 5.1 billion, up 24 percent from 4.1 billion over the same period last year.

    Merchandise sales at NBAStore.com increased 24 percent versus last year, with Chicago ranking at the top of team merchandise sales. Derrick Rose of the Bulls ranked as the top jersey seller.

    On the corporate partner front, the biggest addition this season was Sprint, which was added as a full marketing partner and activated heavily despite the shortened season.

    Staff writer Terry Lefton contributed to this report.


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  • USA Track & Field brings aboard former Dale Earnhardt Inc. president Siegel as new CEO

    USA Track & Field last week named Max Siegel, former president of global operations for Dale Earnhardt Inc., its CEO, ending a 19-month search for a new leader.

    The organization had been without a CEO since Doug Logan was fired in September 2010.

    Siegel
    Siegel, 47, will earn a base salary of $500,000 with an option for bonuses. By hiring Siegel, the USATF board becomes the second major Olympic organization to name one of its former board members to its top job. The U.S. Olympic Committee board did the same in 2009, when it named board member Stephanie Streeter interim CEO. She faced tremendous pressure from Olympic constituent groups, which raised questions about her qualifications for the job.

    Siegel was on the board of USATF from 2009 until late last year, when he stepped down so that his sports marketing agency, Max Siegel Inc., could be hired by USATF to manage the organization’s marketing and sales efforts.

    USATF Chairwoman Stephanie Hightower pointed to examples of other organizations elevating board members to CEO as proof that doing so is a common practice.

    “The real issue here is that Max was not on the board when he was selected for this position,” Hightower said. “I don’t understand why anyone would be cringing, because he was not a board member when we started this process.”

    USATF board member Steve Miller said that Siegel’s knowledge of the organization and his knowledge of sports made him the best candidate for the job. Since USATF hired him in October, Siegel has focused on improving the group’s relationships with existing sponsors, strengthening its marketing materials and evaluating its assets. His agency hasn’t sold any major sponsorships, but has signed an affinity deal with Nationwide and done some work with USOC-sponsor Citi.

    Siegel was named following the USATF’s second search for a CEO. It failed to agree to terms with a CEO in its first search, which concluded last spring and included as finalists New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg and University of Oregon track coach Vin Lananna. At the time, the organization struggled to find someone who was willing to move to Indianapolis to take the job. That was not an issue for Siegel, who is an Indianapolis resident.

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