SBJ/September 17-23, 2012/Opinion

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  • Cartoon: Star players

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  • PR not an NHL priority; broadcaster’s sanctimony annoying

    Following up on the issue of public opinion when it comes to the NHL/NHLPA labor talks (Aug. 27-Sept. 2 issue), a number of people involved in previous negotiations reached out to tell me the PR battle is not top of mind at this time in negotiations. Said one executive of multiple labor disputes, “The leagues don’t care about winning the PR war, especially early in the process. The only goal is to get the deal.”

    Hearing that, I reached out to another sports business insider, a person who has consulted on many strategic communication issues in sports. Anonymously, he agreed that PR shouldn’t be a concern so soon in the collective-bargaining process. “The only audience that matters to the league at this point is the players union, and for the union, it’s all about reaching its own members and the board of governors. At this point in the process, public opinion is a necessary casualty. The fact is, no one can focus on what the fans think until a deal gets done.” I asked him if there was nothing to be gleaned or taken from what fans are saying or how the negotiations are being portrayed. “There is value in talking about what the fans may be interpreting from the labor dispute and how they are feeling about it, and even what the media is saying,” he said, “but from a business standpoint, it doesn’t matter yet.” While both sides in a labor dispute often bring in seasoned communications consultants to see them through the difficult times, they aren’t the ones that matter. “CBA negotiations are not driven by public relations professionals,” this insider stressed. “They are driven by the commissioners and their owners, the players and their union, and the lawyers for both sides.”

    One element that has changed the landscape in collective bargaining is social media. “It has amplified everyone’s voice,” he said. “The players have a louder voice and a more direct voice to one another and to the fans. And the league has more of a direct voice to everyone.” If negotiations continue to sputter along, this could be an area to watch, as one wonders if a misstep on either side could affect any progress or the process overall. “Social media increases how much rhetoric there is and how loud it rings. Public communications are fraught with greater risk than ever before. Mistakes and misstatements never go unnoticed,” he warned.

    In the end, he was frank. “Everyone knows how these stories end,” he said. “The league always wins. It always gets settled, and the fans always come back. The only thing that can change is the amount of damage along the way and the time it takes to get a deal done. Without sounding cavalier, there is always time to make things better with the fans.”



    CBS announcer’s scolding of Andy Murray was unnecessary.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    I couldn’t help but be engrossed by last Monday’s U.S. Open men’s final: the intensity of the play, the power and flow of the points, the energy in the crowd, and the emotions of the players. And that’s exactly why I got angry with CBS’s Mary Carillo. Here’s the scene: Fourth set, Andy Murray leading two sets to one, but Novak Djokovic is up 3-2 in the fourth and stealing momentum. Murray hit a forehand into the net and could be heard dropping an F-bomb. I loved the intensity and the feeling of pressure that was clearly affecting the player. As someone who has dumped a ton of easy forehands into the net during weekend play, I could relate to the frustration. But Carillo, instead of simply apologizing to the viewer for it being picked up by CBS’s microphones, went so far as to actually reprimand Murray like the school librarian, saying, “Sorry if you heard Murray’s potty mouth. He does that a lot. Too much.” Oh please, come on! Are broadcasters that fearful of viewer backlash or the FCC? Say sorry and move on, but don’t criticize him. He’s in the fourth set of one of the most pivotal matches in his life. He makes a mistake and yells at himself. Not at a line-judge, not at a fan — at himself … for his screw-up. Save the sanctimony. I’ll remember this the next time talent in the booth is saying tennis needs stars with “personalities” who show “emotion.”



    Do you know any mentors or longtime sports business executives who would be a fit in our Class of Champions for 2013? Over the last three years, SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily have targeted six veteran executives annually for their contributions to the sports business. We have recognized a number of dignified leaders and thinkers in sports business, people who have devoted their careers to the industry, demonstrated innovation and achievement, and become mentors to many. These people have had a distinct and sustainable effect on sports, earning admiration and respect across the industry. Those previous honorees have included Jerry Colangelo, Marvin Miller, Val Ackerman and Don Ohlmeyer, among others. Who stands out to you? Anyone come to mind? If so, let me know.

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

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  • Know what sponsorship success looks like before committing

    A client asked recently how to avoid the pitfalls surrounding marketing campaigns that are built to support sports, entertainment and event properties. As sponsorships come under greater scrutiny, this is an important question, particularly with companies seeking growth and value from existing and potential partnerships and more benefits given the current economic environment.

    The keys to success lie in bringing a marketer’s sponsorship to life in real and meaningful ways. A vital element of the sponsorship decision is determining what success looks like at the outset of a campaign. One of the biggest reasons that sponsorships fail is that key constituencies have a different view of desired results and don’t have a clear understanding of what success looks like before committing money and resources needed to support a sponsorship investment.

    Also critical to success is applying creative resources necessary to ensure that a company can use the sponsorship as a marketing and communications platform on which to build.

    Perhaps nobody does this better than Nike. No matter what sport, event or athlete the company is promoting, it’s very clear that the brand is first and foremost about performance, and everything else emanates from there.

    Plan for success; avoid failure

    Even with the sophistication of today’s metrics and measurement tools, there are no guaranteed formulas to ensure success. It’s important for each sponsor to create its own methods and criteria in placing a value on its sponsorship investment and determining the ultimate success or failure of a given campaign.

    With its “Thank You, Mom” campaign, Procter & Gamble created and implemented a program worthy of Olympic gold. Not only did the commercials tug at our heartstrings and connect the company’s products to its target customers, but P&G also activated its sponsorship by helping to offset travel costs to London for more than 800 mothers of Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Through this effort, the company is expecting to generate $500 million in additional sales.

    Pepsi’s presence at Super Bowl XLVI was felt far beyond its ads during the game broadcast.
    Photo by: NFL
    First, establish a potential revenue base that would come from the sale of products and services to existing and prospective customers. Set specific, measurable goals and objectives that will automatically define the category or area that is most beneficial to your needs and, therefore, the approximate cost. Then, commit to promotional spending that is at least equivalent to the cost of the sponsorship, taking into consideration that the most successful programs are based on ratios that are two or three times as much as the sponsorship fee itself.

    One of the most common problems I see is spending the majority of marketing dollars on the sponsorship with little or nothing left to advertise, promote and publicize a company’s involvement.

    In some cases, keeping the competition out of a particular field of interest, whether it’s a league, team, sport or event, may be the deciding factor in choosing a particular opportunity.

    Finally, in putting a value on a sponsorship, a company should consider the cost savings of not being a sponsor. The rise of ambush marketing, cluttered sponsorship fields, lack of exclusivity and confusion as to which companies are official sponsors are the most common reasons to just say no. A recent example is GM deciding it couldn’t justify the cost to advertise on the 2013 Super Bowl. Reports are that CBS is charging a record $3.7 million to $3.8 million for 30-second slots.

    Activate, integrate or die trying

    In developing strategic and creative sponsorship campaigns, consider all elements in the marketing tool box. More often than not, public relations, product seeding and social media set the stage for advertising, sales, events, promotions and hospitality that drive the sponsorship message home.

    I’m not sure there’s a better example of this than Coca-Cola, which basically wrote the book on sponsorship activation. Whether it’s the Olympics, World Cup, NASCAR or “American Idol,” Coca-Cola makes sure that integrated marketing is an essential part of planning, executing and measuring the success of its supporting campaigns.

    Strategic corporate and media partnerships with like-minded companies can broaden reach and frequency. Marketing, both online and off, generates leads and reaches consumers in unconventional ways. For consumer goods companies, product seeding, publicity and integration are vital to ensure that products “show up” in the right places in the right way. Many sponsors provide consumers with unique moments through experiential marketing, events and promotions. And, of course, media outreach is essential in securing positive news coverage, testimonials and third-party credibility.

    I appeared earlier this year on a local TV morning show to critique the best and worst of Super Bowl ads. Creativity aside, the one thing that struck me was how some companies activated around the Super Bowl and others did not. Pepsi Max, Ritz Crackers and Pizza Hut all succeeded from an engagement perspective while other advertisers missed the mark completely by focusing solely on the ad itself. If you’re spending $3 million for a 30-second spot, it’s essential to view it as you would any other kind of sponsorship investment and activate around it.

    Today, the relationship between sports and entertainment is inseparable and interchangeable. Sports still make sense as a way to enhance corporate image and increase product visibility despite the inherent risks. It also provides any number of customer entertainment and hospitality opportunities and brand marketing extensions. If done well, sports and entertainment provides companies with advertising, sales and marketing, promotion, public relations, interactive and internal communications value all in one package.

    David Nobs (dnobs@lavidge.com) is head of sports marketing for The Lavidge Co., a Phoenix-based advertising, marketing and public relations agency.

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  • Armstrong’s legacy as cancer patient advocate never in doubt

    Standing along a small climb rising from the famous Monte Carlo harbor in Monaco, my wife and I watched Lance Armstrong and 198 other professional cyclists rip by us with a grace that belied the sheer power and effort being applied during the prologue of the 2009 Tour de France. We were there to witness the greatest cyclist in history along the roads of France, something I regret having missed during Armstrong’s seven Tour victories from 1999-2005. It was surreal, majestic and inspiring.

    Now those Tour victories — victories that fueled the biggest surge in U.S. cycling we’ve ever seen — are in jeopardy by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and Armstrong’s recent decision to stop fighting what he and others call a “witch hunt” likely cements the pro- and anti-Armstrong camps in place forever.

    USADA, led by CEO Travis Tygart, says it is only doing what the organization is charged to do: fight doping and weed out the cheats. Clearly, that is what drug-testing programs are designed to do, and examples of this are sports section headlines on a routine basis. This summer, San Francisco Giants All-Star MVP Melky Cabrera and Oakland Athletics pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon were each banned 50 games for testing positive for high levels of testosterone. NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger was indefinitely suspended from the sport for testing positive for amphetamines.

    The Armstrong case is a more difficult one because it is largely based on testimony and circumstantial evidence, not actual test results. Parry and deflection are woven throughout the Armstrong case, and there appears to be more evidence that may surface over the coming months and years.

    But at this point, with Armstrong’s last Tour de France victory more than seven years ago, does it really matter?

    To the hardliners, Armstrong haters and certain media outlets, it is a triumph more than a decade in the making that sends a chilling message to the professional peloton that, “We will get you, no matter how long it takes.”

    To the Livestrong stalwarts and those who have been
    Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles may be wiped away, but nothing could take away the hope he and his foundation have given to cancer survivors everywhere.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (2)
    inspired by Armstrong to ride a bike, fight harder or find hope when hope wasn’t to be found, it is just noise. Noise that doesn’t take away the real feelings of joy and excitement they had watching him come back from cancer to win again and again. It doesn’t take away the hope that filled them lying in a hospital bed, reading Armstrong’s book “It’s Not About the Bike,” with a chemo drip in their arm. Or the love of cycling they didn’t have until they followed him on TV in July. Dismayed, perhaps. But the hope was real. Hope can’t be cheated.

    That’s not to say that USADA and other anti-doping agencies shouldn’t be working harder than ever to fulfill their mission. Indeed, they must develop more testing that USADA insists the public wants and deserves to ensure clean sport. But the public also wants to see something epic, something amazing, something legendary. Ask Tiger Woods or Usain Bolt. Professional athletes are in the business of chasing greatness. Some may even say it is worth it, that despite the risk of being banned for 50 games or two years or indefinitely, the fame and fortune — the greatness — can overshadow the risks.

    Take a recent example from the business world. Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker with 2011 revenue of $145 billion and 2012 second-quarter revenue of $17.98 billion from its mobile division alone, recently lost a patent infringement case brought by Apple. Samsung was caught pushing the limits of the rules in order to achieve its goals and massive financial success. Certainly, the Apple win is a setback for Samsung, but its “rules be damned” activities likely left it in a better position in the market. Samsung’s customers probably don’t really care about the verdict; they just like the product. And shareholders will be happy if Samsung keeps making money like it has been.

    One could easily draw a parallel to sports and the Armstrong case in particular. Armstrong’s worth is estimated to be $125 million, his foundation has raised $500 million in the fight against cancer, and he is the most recognizable cyclist in history. Armstrong has changed the conversations about cancer and cycling in ways that will affect generations to come. Perhaps the public doesn’t really care about the USADA charges and whether Armstrong is listed as a Tour winner or not. And shareholders in the fight against cancer, from the 100 employees at the Lance Armstrong Foundation to the 28 million cancer survivors, will be happy if he continues his work leading the fight they care so deeply about.

    Perhaps Armstrong broke the rules of his sport. Perhaps not. I am certain of this: His legacy is secure as one of the most tireless and effective cancer advocates in the world. And probably the world’s greatest cyclist, still.

    Spencer Lueders (spencer@competitioncounsel.com) is an intellectual property and sports law attorney in Charlotte. Follow him on Twitter @spencerlueders.

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