SBJ/November 19-25, 2012/Opinion

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  • Cartoon: Name change

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  • In marathon drama, how sponsors stepped up, stumbled

    As a result of Hurricane Sandy, the mood in New York the past two weeks has been subdued and sad with hints of resiliency and a theme of “We will band together.” It is unreal to hear the stories that bring the pictures to life. It is just incredible how huge the footprint on this storm was from New Jersey to the east end of Long Island.

    Often among sadness is the backdrop of sport, and often there is the undercurrent of business. This was the case with the cancellation of the ING New York City Marathon. The decision was made too late, with little or no communication to participants. Remarkably, the runners were officially notified of the marathon cancellation Saturday morning by email, 17 hours after the announcement. Numerous sponsors and exhibitors told me they learned of the cancellation from runners at the expo, via Twitter and via Facebook.

    It is unclear whether the New York Road Runners, the race’s leadership, will weather the storm, literally and metaphorically. But where do the marathon’s sponsors land in this mix?

    NYRR faces questions about sponsor agreements for the NYC Marathon that was never run.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The sponsors should have been ready for the scenario. The storm had been predicted five days earlier, and an emergency plan should have been prepared.

    How did sponsors do in response to the cancellation?

    They got it right

    Poland Spring: They do a terrific job supporting major marathons, including New York, Boston, and the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series. For them, the cancellation was a gift. Imagine handing out water while the people of Staten Island were dealing with toxic water. Or, imagine the runners throwing away cups of water from the runner aid stations when first aid stations lacked water a few miles away. Poland Spring was prepared. It announced via Facebook a donation of the 200,000 marathon bottles to relief agencies. Poland Spring also provided 3.7 million bottles of water to the New York metro area.

    PowerBar: Used Facebook to announce that it was diverting product earmarked for the marathon to affected areas. Moreover, its Facebook page covered the efforts of the runners and volunteers.

    Runner’s World: The magazine was the destination for news, a stream of tweets and up-to-date posts, relevant and accurate content for those starving for information.

    The Rudin family: The longtime sponsor pledged $1.1 million to the cause.

    They fell short

    ING: ING is the title sponsor of the marathon and its logo is incorporated into the trademark that must be used. It is also the sponsor that has gotten off the easiest but deserves the most grief. To its part, ING has pledged $500,000 to the relief efforts and matched company employees’ donations. But where were representatives when the marathon was canceled? A one-line statement was issued.

    A number of major marathons are titled by financial services companies. For example, if a similar disaster had occurred at the Chicago Marathon, I am confident Bank of America and Chicago Event Management would be at the podium together. Similarly, the leadership of John Hancock would be visible with the Boston Athletic Association at press conferences for that marathon.

    Questions from participants and spectators were posted on the ING Facebook page, but there was no response from ING. As title sponsor, ING had a role in this drama, and the company should have been arm-in-arm in communication.

    Asics footwear and apparel: Asics was one of the main sponsors of the marathon. It perhaps had the most to lose, with an estimated $4 million in merchandise that is dated “New York City 2012.” One would think that Asics, a Japanese company, would be most sensitive to the plight with recent disasters back home, but Asics was slow afoot. Its website read “Good Luck Runners” through the Monday after the scheduled race.

    Asics posted on Facebook that it was donating 100 percent of the proceeds from Saturday sales at the expo to the relief efforts, but more than a week after the event, we still had not heard the amount of the donation. Asics would have been better off making a cash donation or contributing the apparel to those in need versus making a donation tied to sales.
     
    Moving forward

    As the NYRR decides whether to refund runners’ money, there is also the issue of sponsor agreements. This is more difficult, as many benefits were realized prior to the race. But, race-day media, impressions and consumer engagement during the event were key items that were not delivered. So what path does the NYRR take?

    My strategy would be to hold next year’s ING NYC Marathon over two days: run the 2012 race on Saturday and the 2013 race on Sunday. Make it a one-time event so that it does not affect fall marathons such as those events in Chicago, the Netherlands and Philadelphia. The considerable revenue generated for a November Sunday would pale in comparison to a two-day race for 100,000 runners. For the sponsors, it would deliver incredible product sales, awareness and trial to active consumers from all over the globe. A year after the Olympics, and a year before the FIFA World Cup, this would be the perfect world stage to celebrate running.

    A gesture that would go a long way? Donate all entry fees for the Saturday race to recovery efforts in New Jersey and Long Island.

    It has been a long few weeks for the NYRR, and it will take months for it to work out related issues. But while business is often the backdrop, all of these decisions are not the top priority. That belongs to aiding the plight of the people affected by this horrible storm.n

    Dan Schorr (Dan@Start2FinishMarketing.com) is the CEO of Start2Finish Marketing, a Boston-based consulting and experiential marketing shop that connects brands to active lifestyle consumers through endurance sports.

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  • Name that concept: We can do better than ‘authentication’!

    Who will be the creative mind that comes up with new names for the two most cumbersome and impenetrable concepts in sports media: “TV Everywhere” and “authentication”?

    Whenever someone blurts out TV Everywhere in our editorial meetings, my mind instantly wanders to a sun-brimmed beach, taking me to somewhere else I’d so rather be than that current state. It’s even worse for authentication: I feel like we’re telling readers about a military movement led by a dictatorial regime.

    So it was nice to learn recently that I’m not alone in my agonizing frustration with two of the ugliest terms that have seeped into our industry jargon in some time. Then again, what should I expect: The terms are from the cable industry, the same creative forces that brought us such user-friendly and fun acronyms as MSOs, VoIP, MVPD and ITV — good Lord, someone stop them!

    At our Sports Media & Technology Conference in New York earlier this month, there was finally consensus that we need to junk “authentication” and start over. The term flat out scares people. It’s not welcoming nor inclusive and does not offer a vibe of user-friendly. Authentication? More like repudiation. Panelist after panelist chimed in, with Turner Sports President David Levy shaking his head at the term, and Comcast Cable’s Matt Strauss saying the cable industry hasn’t helped itself by calling the process authentication. Strauss: “It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.” Thank you! So now that we all agree we hate the term, let’s all think of better names as we move forward.

    BUT IT’S MORE THAN A NAME: Outside of a simpler name for having consumers approved for access (see how I didn’t even use the evil word!), there was a constant refrain at the conference for better marketing of the process as well as for TV Everywhere. It reminded me of the days when league executives criticized the cable industry for the poor marketing of sports tiers, which is what they believed was the reason for their lack of adoption. Comcast’s Strauss acknowledged that the effort around TV Everywhere will require heavy marketing so that consumers know what it is and what content they can access. “We can’t assume people are going to understand this,” he said. “It will require meaningful marketing. When customers understand the value, it will be consumed.” NBC’s Gary Zenkel said the process of signing up also has to improve. “You’re going to lose people every time you require them to put in some personal information,” he said. “When the industry gets to a point where that information is not necessary or minimized, people are going to blow through the gates.”

    STANDING UP FOR THE VALUE OF CABLE: Another theme that emerged over the two days in New York is that sports media executives are tired of the talk that sports rights are driving up the cost of pay TV, and they are fighting back. Panelists throughout the event defended the value proposition of the monthly pay-TV bill. Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business, called on everyone in attendance to “stop apologizing” for the cost of “the cable bill.” Instead, he told a story comparing an upcoming Saturday night, when he’d be looking to catch a new movie, to spending a recent evening at home instead. “This weekend, I’ll go out to the movies, and if I take my four kids, maybe we’ll get out of there for around $100,” he said. “That’s on a Saturday night for around three hours. And everyone complains about the cable bill, and we apologize for it, but I think that we should stop apologizing for it. Last Saturday, I was able to sit on my couch and watch three hours of college football on various networks, flipping back and forth. Unbelievably good entertainment and it kept me on the couch — and that was one day out of 30 that I pay a bill for.” Turner’s Levy also sounded off, saying, “The industry has done a poor job in saying what the value has been for the cable business. It’s good value for $80. And, by the way, TV Everywhere will make it even more valuable.”

    ESPN’s Skipper said the NBA’s strong position today supports its decision to move to cable 10 years ago.
    Photo by: MARC BRYAN-BROWN
    ALWAYS FEAR THE NO-NOS: Cord cutting was viewed as an issue on the fringe, one to watch, but not having a business impact yet. Levy summed it up well by saying, “What we’re more concerned about what we call the ‘nevers’ — those that are never going to get on cable. And we do believe that’s going to start happening with the younger generations. I’m not worried about the cord cutting; I’m worried about the ‘nevers.’”

    ANTICIPATE WHAT’S NEXT: There was a lot of discussion about being able to anticipate the future when it comes to the media business — a skill easier said than done. Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue touched on it in talking about how properties can build a successful media strategy and maximize rights fees in the future by fostering competition and investing in technology. “You can’t just focus on what your rights fee is going to be or what your audience is going to be,” he said. “You’ve got to, as a rights holder, invest in technology, directly or indirectly, and invest in competition. … As long as you keep investing in innovation, technology and competition, you’ll be OK if you have a product that drives that.” In talking about the differences between being on cable and being on broadcast TV, NBA Commissioner David Stern recalled how the league was hammered by media when it increased its presence on cable 10 years ago, including for its All-Star Game — that critics claimed the product would be marginalized and out of the mainstream. The always perceptive John Skipper, president of ESPN, offered one of my favorite lines of the conference, saying, “The notion that the NBA gave up anything to come to ESPN and TNT is laughable. Look at the position of the league now. You’re not giving up audience by moving into what’s happening next. You actually lose audience by trying to hold onto what happened before.”
     
    Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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