SBJ/March 25-31, 2013/Opinion

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  • IOC sacrifices wrestling for relevancy

    Much has been written recently about the International Olympic Committee’s proposal to drop wrestling from its group of core sports. In making this decision, the IOC concluded that in order to remain “relevant,” it needs to shed fringe activities like grappling, despite the sport’s 2,700-year history with the Games.

    Apparently, response to this bold move has been met with attitudes ranging from incredulity to outright suspicion. Much of this results from the fact that modern pentathlon, a sport with a somewhat less robust 100-year Olympic history, survived the cut. How, the argument goes, can modern pentathlon, a sport that was created to simulate the experience of a 19th century cavalry officer trapped behind enemy lines, be more relevant than wrestling, with its ancient ties and surging popularity due to the growth of mixed martial arts. Surely logic suggests that the opposite should hold.

    Quite the contrary. The IOC should be applauded for its ability to look beyond logic and stick to its typical adherence to opaque decision-making and willful ignorance of common sense.

    The IOC understands where culture is headed. The viewing public clearly isn’t interested in wrestling. It’s a sport that literally anyone can play: All you need is a slightly embarrassing piece of underwear that looks like the unnatural offspring of a one-piece bathing suit and a slingshot.

    The IOC, like most reality TV producers, knows that people are drawn to things that reek of aristocracy and oligarch-esque sensibilities. From “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” to “The Real Housewives of …” (where are they now, Topeka?), people want a window into the lives of our modern-day gentry.

    And what sport does this better than modern pentathlon? I mean, once you get past the rather mundane running and swimming competitions, it’s ideal. The pistol portion evokes a certain 18th century “dueling-at-dawn” sensibility. Fencing gives off an aura of elite, Ivy League competition where participants retire to a drawing room post match to discuss technique over brandies. And don’t even get me started about the riding! While the dressage competition may hold a slight edge in terms of pomp and circumstance, the modern pentathlon can’t be touched for skill: The riders DON’T EVEN KNOW THE HORSES! I know, right?

    Despite all this, most people believed that modern pentathlon would be dropped. The reason given is one that’s all too common in this modern age: data. Apparently, wrestling outperforms cavalry officer simulations in several Olympic benchmarks, including countries with wrestling organizations, individual participants, tickets sold, total TV viewership, average TV ratings and Rulon Gardner sightings.

    Fortunately, the IOC was able to see through all those circumspect numbers and focus on the one data point that really means something: number of people who are vice presidents of the sport’s organizing body and sit on the IOC board and are the son of former IOC presidents. Here, modern pentathlon beats wrestling 1-0.

    So with a clear understanding of our modern tastes and an uncanny ability to ignore facts and go with their gut, the IOC made its bold choice.

    Other leisure activities have taken note of the decision and begun offering additional recommendations regarding keeping the Games relevant. Other possibilities include pairs croquet in place of weight lifting, polo rather than distance running, and (my personal favorite) celebrity private jet racing supplanting the shot put.

    Wrestling, of course, still has a chance to get back in the IOC’s good graces. To do so, FILA, wrestling’s governing body, would be wise to consider modern pentathlon’s precedent. Perhaps Philippe Rogge might be interested in a board position?

    David Almy (dalmy@adcpartners.com) is a principal of ADC Partners and teaches sponsorship marketing at the University of San Francisco’s Sports Management Program.


    Print | Tags: IOC, International, MMA, NTRA, TES, Ping, Fila, DC
  • How college brands can lose their way amid March Madness

    “What does March Madness exposure do to our school’s brand?”

    Long before Selection Sunday, how often has this question come up in conversations between a college president, the athletic director and the basketball coaches? How does the present and future value of the college’s brand enter into the discussion when there are influences (networks, uniform suppliers, recruiting, alumni, etc.) providing a path to significant and welcome nontuition revenue?

    Overall, the business of colleges is under attack. Higher operating costs, increased employee benefits and pressure to lower the cost of a college education are everyday realities on the quad. And the competition among schools for tuition dollars gets fiercer. Given that, brand management is more important than ever, and shaping and sharpening brand messages that differentiate and drive enrollment are getting plenty of scrutiny these days.

    At the same time, college athletics is also under attack: Athletes, athletics programs and conference geography seem to make headlines on a daily basis for all the wrong reasons. So participation in this annual rite of spring would appear to be a welcome opportunity for colleges to present themselves (aka their brands) in a strategic and thoughtful manner. Coaches, student athletes, mascots, cheerleaders, bands and fans are all brand representatives and provide the chance to put the best brand forward to a large and engaged audience. You’re on the Big Dance hardwood, so get it right.

    But looking at how some of these schools are dressed, you wonder how many colleges are paying attention to their brands during this significant, made-for-TV event that, in 2012 according to Nielsen, was seen by more than 57 million viewers. And that’s not counting the collateral media, social media and bracket buzz that surround this national event. A scan of the colleges and their brand “dress” at the Big Dance provides three categories of brand management that are most prevalent.

    The Notre Dame-Louisville Big East game was great for Adidas but did little for the schools’ brands.
    Photo: GETTY IMAGES
    The big three uniform suppliers lock up the rights to the nation’s elite basketball programs by providing product and, for a select few schools, cash. The suppliers use tournament time and its media exposure to show off new looks and fabric technologies, sometimes at the cost of hijacking or diluting a school’s core brand attributes and presenting a confusing or inconsistent message about the school itself.

    For example, this year, Adidas developed a short-sleeved jersey that recently made its NBA debut with Golden State, and put a handful of its schools in the new technology threads for postseason play. But it seems that just the short sleeves weren’t enough to distinguish the improved performance aspects of the uniform, so late-1980s/early-’90s inspired shorts were added to the look. During the recent Big East tournament, Notre Dame ended up wearing something that looks like it came out of Gumby’s closet and played Louisville in the all-Adidas, all-camo, all-ugly semifinal. This matchup was great for the supplier but did little to benefit the schools’ presentations.

    Other schools take to wearing the latest and greatest fads such as “blackout” uniforms that have no place in the brand dress of the athletics style guide and tend to create brand confusion and more sloppy brand management. Never mind that black is not a brand color for about 70 percent of the teams participating in the NCAA tournament. Is a short-term fashion fad in exchange for a quick return worth compromising the school’s long-term brand? Does the cost-benefit analysis pay out for the school or the uniform supplier? If a school or supplier wants to add an alternate look, it should at least give some consideration to doing a TV test so that names and numbers are legible to the game’s much larger television audience.

    Many schools have established a balance between athletics success, academic excellence and overall reputation in the strategic vision of the institution. “It’s always interesting to see how these trends play out, but there’s not a right or a wrong when it comes to uniform looks,” said Steve Malchow, Iowa State’s senior associate athletic director for communications. “From our point of view, it’s most important that our brand’s presentation be applied in a consistent manner.”

    Classic brands such as Indiana have opted out of the Adidas short-sleeved, technocamo-inspired program. In fact, except for the length of the shorts, it does not appear that much has changed in the Hoosiers’ on-court look since Bob Knight was coaching them to NCAA titles in the ’70s and ’80s.

    Others manage their brand in a similar fashion. “We are always looking to evolve, adapt and change with our students, fans, athletes and stakeholders, but within the context of the Sooners brand,” said Charlie Taylor, Oklahoma’s assistant athletics director for marketing. “March Madness provides extended brand relevance for our teams as well as a great platform for recruiting.”

    Beyond recruiting, it’s well-documented that schools appearing in the Big Dance see an increase in overall applications and test scores, which provides the opportunity to fulfill strategic and national admissions goals. All the more reason to pay attention to how each aspect of the school’s message is presented, including what you’re wearing. March Madness remains a vital and important part of the college experience and the college brand at many schools, so it’s critical that administrators, athletic directors and coaches “be true to the school” and manage its image and messaging in a consistent, sustainable and visionary manner at this time.

    When it comes to leveraging this asset, college presidents, senior administrators and athletic directors should ask, “How do we want our greatest earned media exposure to best represent our institution?”

    David Haney (David@JoeBosack.com) is managing director at Joe Bosack & Co., a brand consulting and design agency. Follow him on Twitter @DFHaney and @JBosack.

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  • March Madness fans give ESPN, Shaheen thumbs up

    Our newsroom is filled with March Madness junkies, so I asked them to rate former NCAA executive Greg Shaheen’s guest turn during ESPN’s coverage of tournament selection weekend. The appearance came about after Shaheen was contacted by Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports programming, who thought the longtime NCAA executive could provide insight into the selection committee process. Magnus’ instincts proved correct among our followers.

    Assistant Managing Editor (and Kansas Jayhawk) Tom Stinson said: “He was insightful, and it was a good call by the network to use him quite a bit over the weekend. It was nice to have someone making intelligent points on ESPN without yelling at somebody else.” SBJ Assistant Managing Editor and fellow Jayhawk Rob Knapp added: “He might not have the smoothest TV delivery I’ve ever seen, but I thought it was a coup for ESPN. Few guys can give that level of inside-the-selection-room insight.”

    Media writer/Maryland Terp John Ourand said, “I liked that he was able to add a different perspective from the coterie of talking-head ex-coaches and ex-players. I liked that he did not seem overly comfortable on set. His posture, in particular, was poor. To me, that gave him more of a sense of a real person rather than someone who has been over-coached.” But Ourand added, “One negative: The NCAA has allowed so many reporters behind the curtain over the past five years — which was largely Shaheen’s idea — that his thoughts weren’t particularly revolutionary. But maybe that view is colored by the fact that the committee hosed the Terps this year.”

    At SBD, Managing Editor (and UNC Tar Heel) Rick Ellington said, “I thought he was a good fit and a nice deviation from the usual bubble talk. He was relaxed and was able to get his points across without being too technical. He also was willing to disagree with some of the other on-air talent when it came to what was important in the selection process.”

    Magnus said he saw a “unique opportunity” with Shaheen. “There is quite literally no one who has the reservoir of knowledge that he has on the selection, seeding and bracketing process,” he said. “So in an attempt to have fresh, new voices, he was a natural fit.”

    And he felt Shaheen hit the right notes. “His perspective was so perfect and so new,” Magnus added. “The general public has never before heard such direct insight into what was going on in the committee room in real time and that is what we hoped he would provide. … He was great.”

    Asked to “seed” his own performance, Shaheen had some fun in telling ESPN, “I’d like to think I would be considered for a First Four appearance. At the same time, I had a young team but thought we improved through the weekend.”

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

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  • How to make your organization ready for that seven-figure deal

    We have spent the past 20 years selling, servicing, managing, leading, and consulting with more than 60 major and minor league sports organizations. We are as excited as ever about the substantial growth potential that exists in the sports sponsorship business. Regardless of the size of your market, the power of your brand or the on-field, on-court or on-ice success or lack thereof, we offer the following road map as a guide to your next seven-figure deal.

    The opportunity is real. The time is now. The opportunity to realize that potential is at hand. It is time for your deep dive. If you cannot answer some of these questions, go searching in your organization. Be reflective. Be honest. Be a critic. Fill the holes you find, and the million-dollar deals will follow.

    1. Can you articulate and deliver on a three-year strategy for double-digit growth in sponsorship revenue?

    The planning process is critical to sustained growth and should include an analysis of the four P’s: people, processes (categories, inventory), partners and platforms. This should incorporate thoughts from your entire team and include thoughts from the marketing team, which will likely provide the most insightful feedback.

    2. Can the number of salespeople you currently have properly prospect and pitch the top 500 prospects?

    Progress and penetration per category and account should be tracked and “scored” in order to be effectively used as a management tool to forecast. This will clearly show whether an organization is properly staffed for growth.

    3. Is the quality and talent level of the sales people on your staff good enough that presenting in front of your boss, owner or board brings you more peace than lost sleep?

    Deals of consequence and substance are done at the senior-most levels of an organization, most typically at the president or CMO level. Your boss or board should provide a good barometer of the amount of confidence you have in members of your team who are representing your brand in the market.

    4. Are more than half of your deals anchored with marketing-driven and solution-focused platforms that solve a problem for the client rather than inventory-driven deals that are anchored by a big sign?

    An asset- or inventory-driven sales approach is predominant in the market today. Not only is this approach limiting for a partner, but it is also crippling to any organization employing it. By employing a solution-selling approach, the marketing department will be an integral part of the development of proposals and presentations for the good of the partner and the team.

    5. Is the deal that comes in first the one that rules the day? Is the race about speed?

    Photo: GETTY IMAGES
    Competition is the best way to drive deal value. The first offer sheet or deal to the finish line is rarely the most valuable one. A collaborative approach of category management, increased communication and a complete rethinking of current compensation systems are in order for your team if speed is ruling the race.

    6. Does each of your top 10 deals include at least one initiative to support another part of the organization and its marketing goals?

    Your biggest spending partners provide an extraordinary opportunity for your organization to increase its database, drive digital initiatives, raise the profile of talent, help sell tickets, etc. The good news is the best partners expect and will benefit from further integration into your organization. The most effective way to incorporate this approach now is to move to a structure with a marketing partnership group that acts as an internal agency — managing accounts, driving marketing initiatives, and upselling and cross-selling. This structure has been in effect at league offices for years and is effective in allowing hunters to hunt and farmers to farm.

    7. Do you have training sessions for sellers, covering prospecting, proposal development, needs analysis, and role-playing of phone and in-person meetings?

    There is not nearly enough training or development of staff in the sponsorship business, period. Make it a priority starting now.

    8. Has the team CEO, president or owner participated in three presentations in the past year?

    The biggest deals often happen principal to principal. There is an opportunity to make a measurable impact quickly in this regard.

    9. Have you turned down at least one deal in the past 12 months?

    Oftentimes in sponsorship departments, every sale is heralded as a victory worthy of a parade. Discipline drives incremental revenue, and often the best deal is the one not done, especially if a deal blocks a category or is undervalued compared to your benchmarks.

    10. Have you hired a third-party company or an agency to build ROI metrics that can be incorporated into presentations to prospective and current partners?

    Excellent options exist in this space and are a cost of doing business today, both in the presentation stage and for renewal.

    As we are all well aware, deals, big or small, do not just happen. We have yet to see the million-dollar deal come through on the receiving end of the phone. A combination of people, process, structure, and discipline drives real and meaningful revenue increases. However, the sponsorship business has not progressed at the rate of the rest of the sports business world. It is time for a full audit and analysis of your core business and yourself. The time for change is now.

    Scott O’Neil (scottmichaeloneil@gmail.com), former president of Madison Square Garden Sports, and Chris Heck (chris.heck0@gmail.com), former president of business operations with the New York Red Bulls, are co-creators of 5 Star Sponsorship Academy (5starsponsorshipacademy.com).

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  • Booth team deserves mention

    An entertaining special section on the 75 years of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament [March 11-17, 2013].

    But wow … I can’t find a mention anywhere of [Dick] Enberg, [Billy] Packer and [Al] McGuire, the announce team that I would argue did as much, or more, to popularize the sport as any of the marketing, programming or NCAA executives you credit.

    I know you distribute to those executives, but still, a mention of one of the best announce teams in our industry’s history would have been nice.

    Don McGuire
    Dallas

    McGuire (no relation) is a former senior vice president of Golf Channel and at Turner Sports. He was producer at NBC Sports during the Enberg-Packer-McGuire years.

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