SBJ/October 8-14, 2012/Franchises

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  • Bobcats campaign touts Hump Day-heavy schedule

    The Charlotte Bobcats are coming off a year in which they posted the league’s worst-ever winning percentage. Their schedule for the season ahead has them playing a franchise-record 13 of their 41 home games on Wednesday nights.

    Call it the makings of a new marketing campaign.

    The Bobcats this week plan to announce a program dubbed “Wednesday Night Basketball.” The branded effort calls for in-arena programming, ticket and concessions discounts, and other giveaways designed to boost interest and attendance at Time Warner Cable Arena for those games.

    The team is working to land a sponsor for the “Wednesday” program, but no deal had been signed as of last week. Details on the discounts were being completed last week, as well.

    “For us, the opponent is the primary driver [of ticket demand], but the day of the week is a close second,” said Pete Guelli, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for the Bobcats. “Wednesday nights are lower-performing nights for us, and we needed something during the week to build critical mass. We’ve never had a double-digit number of Wednesday-night home games.”

    The branded effort will be aided by the Bobcats’ having Miami, New York and the Los Angeles Clippers come through Charlotte on Wednesday nights.

    During last year’s lockout-shortened 33-game home schedule, the Bobcats played five Wednesday-night games, drawing an average of 13,745 fans. That compared with a non-Wednesday home average of 14,938 in a dismal season that saw the club finish 7-59, an all-time-low winning percentage of .106.

    For the season, the Bobcats averaged 14,757 fans, down 7 percent from the previous year and far below the leaguewide average of 17,274.

    In 2010-11, which featured teams’ typical 41-game home schedules, the Bobcats had eight Wednesday-night home games and averaged 14,786 fans on those nights. That compared with an average of 16,103 fans for their 33 other home games.

    “You always hope you are not bombarded [with midweek home games], but … we want to try to make it into a positive by building a theme and marketing it,” said Bobcats President Fred Whitfield.

    Guelli and Whitfield said the Bobcats are the only team aiming to roll out a seasonlong branding campaign built around a specific night this year — but it’s a strategy other teams will be watching.

    “Our teams follow what works, and everyone will be anxiously awaiting the ticket sales numbers,” said Chris Granger, executive vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA.

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  • Hey, Mikey! Fire wants you to vote for Berry

    The Chicago Fire has turned to its Quaker Oats partnership to tout defender Austin Berry for the MLS Rookie of the Year award.

    It’s the latest example of a team-sponsor relationship that’s been highly visible throughout the year, and it stands as a unique activation on a league level.

    Life cereal boxes make a case for Austin Berry to be MLS Rookie of the Year.
    The Fire recently distributed more than 125 cereal boxes for Quaker’s Life brand featuring Berry to local and national reporters to encourage them to vote for the Fire defender as Rookie of the Year. The boxes, not available at retail, were filled with Quaker products, including oatmeal and snack bars. But on the outside, the boxes show the statistics of defenders who previously have won the Rookie of the Year award, along with highlighting the Fire’s two previous winners of the award, Carlos Bocanegra and Damani Ralph.

    Teams pitching their players for year-end awards is not uncommon during the closing weeks of the regular season. By going beyond the typical email touts, though, Chicago’s effort is making an impression.

    “It’s better than any campaign I’ve ever seen in MLS in 14 years of covering the league,” said Ives Galarcep, who has a vote for Rookie of the Year as a writer for Fox Soccer and managing editor of the website Soccer By Ives. “The detail on the box is impressive. I thought it was really well done.”

    The Fire-Quaker relationship dates to January, when the company signed a multiyear deal as the club’s jersey sponsor. When the team’s new jersey was created, the Fire sent it out to media members in Quaker Oats canisters, in an effort perhaps foreshadowing the Berry pitch.

    Quaker’s deal extends to sponsorship of the Fire’s junior soccer programs, which have more than 10,000 players participating across seven states. Said Quaker Oats Chief Marketing Officer Justin Lambeth, those programs “connect us to a younger generation of moms who recognize and trust the Quaker brand.”

    There are retail activations throughout the Chicago area with joint Fire- and Quaker-branded in-store displays. And the Quaker Corner area of Toyota Park, the Fire’s stadium in Bridgeview, Ill., consists of three sections of fan seating branded with Quaker product images.

    “We look at Quaker as an extension of our brand in everything we do,” said Dave Beck, the Fire’s vice president of corporate partnerships. “Quaker has been an incredibly active and creative partner for us.”

    For the Rookie of the Year promotion, the Fire reached out to Quaker because the team wanted to make an impact statement in support of Berry — a highly effective defender but not a goal scorer. “Austin is a defender in a game where the goal scorers get most of the glory,” said Fire communications director Brendan Hannan. “We needed something compelling to help us make the argument that he deserves to be Rookie of the Year. Thanks to Quaker, we were able to put Austin’s face on the front of an iconic cereal box.”

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  • Liverpool case grinding along

    It was two years ago this month that the controversial sale of Liverpool FC occurred, but the litigation surrounding the purchase is just now getting into full swing.

    Lender Royal Bank of Scotland was recently served with discovery requests related to every aspect of the process. Mill Financial, a spurned buyer and lender to one of the former owners, is suing RBS, arguing it organized a sweetheart deal for the current ownership group. That group — New England Sports Ventures at the time, now known as Fenway Sports Group — is not a defendant in the litigation.

    “Plaintiffs only recently served their first discovery requests on the defendants, including RBS,” the Scottish bank’s lawyer wrote in a letter dated Sept. 27 to the presiding judge, New York Supreme Court Justice Eileen Bransten. “The requests directed at RBS are wide-ranging, overly broad, and seek the production of documents, which are mostly located abroad and pertain to business matters of a professional sports franchise under intense public scrutiny.”

    Mill was a lender to former Liverpool co-owner George Gillett. Mill assumed his security interest in the team after a default, and Mill ultimately signed a triparty lender agreement with RBS and Wachovia (now Wells Fargo), lenders to the embattled club.

    Mill contends it was willing to buy the club for far more than New England Sports Ventures’ offer in order to protect its loan but that RBS orchestrated a sale secretly and did not inform the Virginia lender, as the triparty agreement required. As a result, Mill says it lost the entire value of the loan.

    Bransten previously ruled that because the agreement prohibited the lenders from suing one another, Mill could not bring a lawsuit under that contract. However, she allowed the lender to bring claims for unfair dealing and breach of implied covenant, a ruling RBS is urging her to now reverse. A hearing on RBS’s motion is scheduled for Nov. 21.

    In addition to RBS, Mill’s lawsuit names Gillett and related family assets as defendants. The lawyer for Mill, Paul O’Connor of Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman, did not respond to requests for comment.

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  • Lockout won’t stop Devils’ new Web program

    The NHL lockout is not stopping the New Jersey Devils from producing video content for their fans. The team this month is debuting a Web program called “It’s the Devils Hockey Show” whether regular-season games are played or not.

    “The show is our version of ‘Saturday Night Live,’” said John Bochiaro, executive producer of the program, which will run on the club’s website and will be promoted through the Devils’ year-old social media hub, Mission Control. “It’s going to be fun, hopefully funny, and informative. We’ll cover everything we can in an entertaining way.”

    Devils players, at least initially, are on the “cannot cover” list. With the NHL and NHL Players’ Association last week still in a stalemate in collective bargaining, interviews with players and even the use of their likenesses are off limits during the lockout.

    The Devils say that’s all the more reason to produce the show.

    “We still need to engage our fans,” said Rich Krezwick, president of Devils Arena Entertainment, which owns the Devils and controls operational aspects of the 5-year-old Prudential Center. “The show is going to be focused on what happens behind the scenes in the organization” and at the arena.

    The first episode includes a look at tryouts for the Devils’ dance team and an interview with radio play-by-play broadcaster Matt Loughlin. Bochiaro, a former staffer at NFL Films and now the director of event production at Prudential Center, said his staff of seven Web producers and writers will pitch ideas to him, and two or three segments ultimately will be selected. Fans will have the opportunity to post questions for the show and give feedback on Twitter and Facebook.

    The final product will be edited in the $5 million production studio in the rafters of the arena. Eight biweekly episodes are scheduled, with each expected to be 10 to 15 minutes in length. The Devils will re-evaluate their plans for “It’s the Devils Hockey Show” should the lockout end.

    Krezwick said the business plan is content first, commerce later. “Let’s get a good show going at the outset,” he said. “Let’s deliver to our fans something we’re proud of. Once it gets rolling and we create some buzz, then we’ll take it to market.”

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