SBJ/June 11-17, 2012/Opinion

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  • Sponsors follow when competitors make ‘motocrossover’

    There’s a saying in action sports: “With age comes the cage.” When professional two-wheel competitors get older, they have a tendency to seek the protection of a four-wheel vehicle with a roll cage. I prefer to call it “motocrossover.”

    Take, for example, Brian Deegan, co-founder of the Metal Mulisha. Deegan is the most decorated freestyle motocross competitor in the world. He’s also an X Games RallyCross gold medalist and a multiclass champion in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. At 32, Deegan’s days of freestyle competitions are behind him, but his future with rally and short-course off-road racing will continue for many years.

    This benefits not only the Metal Mulisha but other sponsors who are transitioning with Deegan from action sports to motorsports. Rockstar Energy Drink and Ford are also investing in this motocrossover. For the entire 2012 season of the Lucas Oil series, Deegan will drive the Raptor-influenced Rockstar Pro 2 Ford.

    Monster Energy is also jumping into short-course off-road racing by sponsoring Stronghold Motorsports. Stronghold has several action sports icons on the team, including Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg, supercross legend Jeremy McGrath and X Games announcer Cameron Steele. As Deegan, Stenberg, McGrath and Steele all cross over from motorcycles to trucks — and from action sports to motorsports — their lifestyle sponsors are following.

    As action sports stars migrate to motorsports, they bring awareness for sponsors and brands.
    Photo by: VINCENT KNAKAL / MAD MEDIA
    This year, several endemic skate brands, including DVS, Etnies, Osiris Shoes and DC Shoes, are aboard trucks in the Lucas Oil Off Road series, which is scheduled to receive 230 hours of airtime on CBS, CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network, MavTV and Speed. As this mainstream network exposure converges with action sports and motorsports programming, we can expect to see more celebrity crossover athletes — and their sponsors — joining the race.

    Ken Block, the skateboarder and co-founder of DC Shoes, was one of the first athletes to cross over to motorsports. After selling DC to Quiksilver for $87 million, Block had time to pursue his true passion: driving fast. He created the Gymkhana video series, started rally racing and thereby bridged the gap between action sports and motorsports. Not coincidentally, Block is sponsored by Monster Energy and Ford.

    Ford, which recognized early on the value of action sports, has created “Octane Academy,” a reality series on Fuel TV with Block, Deegan, Tanner Foust and Vaughn Gittin Jr. These four youth icons have become the company’s brand ambassadors within action sports. According to Jamie Allison, Ford’s director of North American motorsports, “Every generation consumes motorsports differently, and today’s youth culture, the millennials, resonate with the excitement of action sports, which is becoming the foundational pillar of new forms of motorsports that we are supporting at Ford, like drifting, RallyCross, Gymkhana and short-course off-road truck racing.”

    Block explains the consumer mentality. “Not every skateboarder is only a skateboarder,” he said. “There are lots of kids … that are into skateboarding, snowboarding — and they like to watch motocross.”

    What makes these new motorsports so exciting to fans, and attractive to sponsors, is that they’re not just about the racing. They’re about lifestyle.

    “There’s this cultural shift,” says C.J. Olivares, who founded Fuel TV and is now with GrindMedia, “where kids see it all as one. They see it as fun.” And that helps to attract sponsors who want to do more than slap a logo on a billboard, a graphic on a hood or a banner on a track. These new crossover companies know how to position their brands using the personalities of their brand ambassadors. Monster Energy, Rockstar and Red Bull aren’t just seeking increased logo impressions; they’re defining their culture and activating through the lifestyle of their brand ambassadors.

    According to Jason May, marketing director of Rockstar Energy Drink, “I think the thing that sets action sports apart from traditional team sports is that there is a heightened level of creativity inherent to the individuals who are attracted to [action sports].”

    One such person is Carey Hart, a former motocross competitor and founder of Team Hart and Huntington in the Lucas Oil Off Road series. Hart and Huntington Tattoo also was featured in the A&E series “Inked.”

    “We’ve aligned with Carey’s brand more so than just with him,” May said. “Carey has transcended from being just an athlete to being an action sports icon.”

    Short-course off-road racing appeals to action sports personalities because it’s like combining supercross, NHRA, the Baja 1000 and mixed martial arts all together in a stadium-like environment. Unlike the Baja 1000, which extends for a thousand miles from start to finish and is hard to attend and film, spectators of short-course racing sit in grandstands and watch the entire race from their seats.

    The racing appeals to active youth because it’s like a fistfight on wheels. It’s a high-speed, full-contact sport. Drivers battle it out in 900-horsepower trucks around a track that looks like it’s made for motocross with jumps, whoops and high-banking berms. Sometimes the trucks get so banged up that there aren’t any body panels left over after a race.

    As this new generation of celebrity drivers crosses over from action sports to motorsports, they’re bringing awareness to sponsors and brands that traditionally haven’t been involved with racing. “When I ask what’s going to make off-road racing bigger, it’s people like Brian Deegan, who others follow,” said Hezy Shaked, founder of action sports retailer Tilly’s. “More people like him and Carey Hart are getting into this racing.”

    Perhaps that’s why Metal Mulisha and Hart and Huntington are two of the fastest growing brands in the retailer’s 141 stores.n

    Alex Striler (AlexStriler@LucasOil.com) is the director of sales and marketing for Lucas Oil Off Road.

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  • Cartoon: Cellphone wrangling

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  • Brands find new ways to tell their stories

    Going through my notebook from the inaugural SBJ/SBD Intersport Activation Summit:

    We’re all publishers and storytellers — not just individuals, but brands, teams, events, properties, any entity. We can all play the role as mini-media companies. It’s not a new trend, but it was a dominant and prevalent theme coming out of the inaugural SBJ/SBD Intersport Activation Summit in Chicago earlier this month. I was struck at the relentless focus and emphasis to generate content, in any shape, size or form, and the opportunities for distribution and growing mind-share. Tony Weisman, president of the Chicago-Boston-Detroit region for Digitas, laid it out in stark terms. “Whatever organization you are in — whether you’re a brand, company, [or a holder of] rights — think like a newsroom,” he said. “Track all these screens in real time and figure out what piece of content to push to a consumer at what time and in real time. As long as you can embrace the idea of real time, then I think these opportunities open up to you.”

    Blaise D’Sylva, vice president of media, sports and entertainment marketing for Anheuser-Busch, agreed and stressed that one of the key themes he sees in today’s activation for the beer brand is “social broadcasting,” where brands generate various pieces of content and “broadcast out [that] content to their consumers.”

    One avenue for distribution of content is, of course, YouTube. But few sports properties have utilized it effectively. Frank Golding, YouTube’s director of pro, college, high school sports and channels, said the issue for sports is that there is a vast quantity of content uploaded by users, yet only a small percentage of that is consumed. “We have roughly 800 million uniques every month on YouTube,” Golding said. “A lot of the content that gets uploaded is sports related, but the quantity of content that gets consumed which is sports related is very low. I would say it’s less than 2 percent. So either we have found the only 800 million people who don’t like sports, or you guys are staring at a gold mine.”

    In his job for only six months, D’Sylva made a forceful impression on the sports business attendees. The former ESPN executive was very frank in saying that A-B increasingly is looking for more ideas and flexibility from the properties and leagues it sponsors. He wants thought leaders, not order takers. “We need our properties to be less administrators and more idea generators,” D’Sylva said during a one-on-one interview. “What works today may not work three years from now.”

    I’ve always found Greg Via, Gillette’s global director of sports marketing, to be one of the best brand-side executives in the business. He brings an experienced global view, working with athletes and properties worldwide, and is a good negotiator who is not afraid to ask about things he doesn’t know. In explaining how the company activates its naming-rights deal in New England, Via explained that Gillette signed the deal for the Patriots’ stadium in 2002 when it was a stand-alone company. After Procter & Gamble’s acquisition in 2005, he said, “The dynamics changed, the sales forces changed. We can’t activate properties locally so we have to activate nationally. … So it was a little more complexed operation.”

    With that view in mind, he said, the naming-rights deal was renegotiated a few years ago, adding years and thinking ahead. “[W]e also went back and tried to add the elements we had missed. Getting the practice jerseys, adding the interview signage, getting opportunities to really think ahead a little bit — as far as we could — in the digital space and what that was going to look like,” he said. “We’re a global company. How could we use this to benefit us not only in the U.S. and even in Boston, but how could we benefit our entire company on a global platform?”

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

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  • Protecting IP must pair with any sports organization’s branding

    In an age when an image can translate into higher ticket sales, more merchandising revenue and ultimately attracting better athletes, what do teams do when that image isn’t associated with championships and Heisman trophy winners? They rebrand. Some college teams, like the University of Oregon, have found great success with their striking new uniforms and logos, and others are following suit.

    Even sports leagues have adjusted their branding strategy in hopes of attracting a broader audience base. The UFC is a prime example. With the seven-year deal it signed with Fox, UFC programming is finally reaching beyond the pay-per-view and cable network viewers. With this expansion into the general populace comes the hope for greater ticket sales, higher pay-per-view subscriptions and ultimately increased merchandising revenue. The UFC sells everything from toy Brock Lesnar action figures, to the Octagon line of performance apparel, to trading cards. But beyond methodically expanding its revenue stream, the leader in all things MMA is also focused on the fact that its primary asset is its intellectual property.

    We mustn’t leave out the athletes themselves. With Top Rank taking at least some of the reins when it comes to the marketing and ultimately the branding of world-renowned boxer and politico Manny Pacquiao, even athletes are a brand unto themselves.

    With great success in branding and rebranding an image comes the inevitable question: Now what? While most recognize that their brand name and image are valuable, some may not realize that it can be one of their most valuable assets. And, like with any other asset, teams need to document, secure and protect that asset.

    Generally speaking, under copyright law, whoever creates a team’s new uniform or helmet design is the owner of the work. So, when a team works with manufacturers like Nike and Adidas, they first need to ask themselves, who owns these new designs? Out of the genius mind of Tinker Hatfield, is that work of art
    UFC is one example of a sports league expanding into apparel, equipment and licensed goods to attract a broader audience.
    created on behalf of Nike, or the team? If the answer is the team, then a signed, written agreement must reflect that. Let me repeat, it’s important to document who’s going to pay what when, but teams need to know who at the end of the day owns what. Same goes for trademarks (e.g., logos, and even a college name, mascot or initials can be a trademark. Just ask the University of South Carolina, whose attempt to rebrand to “SC” was successfully blocked by USC).

    Now that a team has everything neatly documented and organized, how does it go about securing it? The first basic step in securing a brand is to register it. Seems simple enough, and in most cases, it is. But particularly with a rebranding of an image, that process needs to be planned out and implemented based on a well-thought-out strategy. Some questions to consider:

    • Can a team file trademark and copyright applications before the first game where the uniforms and helmets are debuted?

    • Where should it register — in the state where they’re located, federally, worldwide?

    • Aside from uniforms and helmets, will the new logo be on foam fingers, flags and cups? If so, should the logo be registered for these other products as well?

    • What’s the benefit in that — if a team owns the logo, doesn’t the team own it for everything?

    This is where a seasoned intellectual property attorney comes in handy. Because isn’t “intellectual property” just another fancy word for a brand name? Yes, but “brand name” is a much broader concept and more valuable asset than most realize, making its protection critical.

    Once a team has documented who owns what, it’s begun the process of securing and registering the brand, how does it go about protecting that brand? The team and its IP attorney need to map out an anti-counterfeiting program. This can range from a simple approach of subscribing to watch reports — wherein a vendor watches for domain names and trademarks that are being registered that are similar, as well as monitoring common e-commerce sites — to recording registrations with U.S. Customs to prevent the importation of counterfeit products or “gray market goods.” These are goods that are legitimately bought by an authorized overseas manufacturer, but imported and sold domestically without the IP owners’ permission, undercutting U.S. distributors. How simple or complex the approach in protecting one’s IP depends on the temperament of the brand owner. But without the last step of protecting a brand, a team’s efforts to document and secure may all be for naught. Because as counterfeiters and sellers of gray market products eat away at the good will and recognition the team has developed in the brand, the more difficult it is ultimately to control and monetize its IP.

    So, before a team conjures images of itself basking in the glow of a successful branding or rebranding project, it must ask: Have we done what’s necessary to document, secure and protect that new image?

    Jennifer Ko Craft (jcraft@gordonsilver.com) is a shareholder and chairman of both the intellectual property and entertainment and sports law practice groups at Gordon Silver.


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  • Collaborations produce results for partners

    As leaders of sports business organizations during trying economic times, we are all searching for new and effective ways to do more with less. The need to truly leverage resources and exploit the expertise of our partners has never been as important as it is today. In order to get all that we can from our assets and relationships, a collaborative mentality must prevail.

    A famous researcher once defined a leader as one “who creates a unified purpose of the team regardless of individual aspirations.” This is what we must do for our organizations to make a difference in our communities. We must set aside singular goals for the greater good, all the time, every day.

    The sports tourism world has grown in leaps and bounds over the past decade. Fifteen years ago there were a few more than 100 members of the National Association of Sports Commissions; today there are more than 620. As the sports tourism landscape has become more competitive, and resources have become harder to come by, many sports commissions are leading new and creative partnerships.

    In 2008, the San Diego Sports Commission merged with the San Diego Hall of Champions in an effort to better align community resources. This merger has led to a unified sales effort with their area convention bureau where all sports sales efforts are now being led by the sports commission. The sports commission there also serves as the contracted sales agent for many of the facilities in the area to promote their use and to enhance tourism through sport.

    Additionally, the commission collaborates with the San Diego Padres to produce many of the Padres’ youth programs. This allows the sports commission to enhance its brand by aligning with the Padres, and gives the Padres more time to leverage the sports commission’s community reach. Each of these examples in San Diego reiterates the need for collaboration to increase community value with fewer redundancies while saving and extending limited resources.

    In 2009, our organization, the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission, was instrumental in unifying the sales efforts of the various sports tourism partners in Arizona. The result was the Arizona Sports Alliance, a coordinated sales partnership between five convention bureaus, the sports commission, area hotels and sporting venues. The Alliance has allowed the partners to share leads for a maximum sales effort and has led to cost savings on outreach programs such as trade show booth fees, sales trips to key clients, and on inbound familiarization tours.

    In 2010, amid budget cuts that would shut down several of our major youth sports complexes, we gathered key stakeholders for those facilities to develop a new funding mechanism. The result was a $210,000 plan that covered five revenue streams from four user groups to keep the venues online and able to host national tournaments.

    Last year, we embarked on a new championships program within the high school event space. This program involves creating national caliber events in partnership with our area high school teams. This collaboration has allowed us to fulfill our economic development mission and provide our local teams a platform to play top level competition in Arizona (rather than forcing them to travel). This program has strengthened our relationships with area high school coaches and administrators, and thusly enhanced our community brand.

    While the examples outlined are specific to the sports tourism landscape, applications to other industries can be easily made. Corporations can streamline operations through collaborative department partnerships. Government agencies can partner with vendors to deliver scope of work services more efficiently. Nonprofits can outsource key professional activities without taking on incremental staffing costs. There are opportunities for any organization to build through partnership.

    James MacGregor Burns said that we must not treat leadership as a thing, but view it as a series of relationships. Relationships are critical for future success. More specifically, our fortunes will be enhanced through collaborations that decrease redundancies, allow us to stretch the dollar, and grow our businesses. This will, in turn, enhance the quality of life in our communities. The question we must ask ourselves as leaders is this: When these opportunities arise, will we have the relationships necessary to lead?

    Jon Schmieder (Jon@phoenix-sports.org) is president of the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission and a 16-year veteran of the sports tourism and events industry.

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