SBJ/April 29-May 5, 2013/Opinion

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  • Cartoon: Stopping the realignment ride

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  • McLoughlin aims high; Wang vents at politicians

    Vulcan Sports & Entertainment CEO Peter McLoughlin brings a unique brand-side perspective to team sports, given his longtime tenure of working for Tony Ponturo at Anheuser-Busch. That sensibility clearly came through as he told the audience at our recent Sports Facilities & Franchises conference that teams must be more proactive in getting a premium for their intellectual property, and he expressed his interest in making the Seattle Seahawks a national brand play. He outlined his plan to get in front of the large agencies in New York in order to stress the power of the team’s mark in hopes of expanding reach. “I really believe that the Seahawks mark — all of our team marks — are probably our most valuable asset,” he said, alluding to Vulcan’s ownership of the NBA Trail Blazers and interest in the MLS Sounders. “We all think about what signage gets television exposure, and that’s a premium piece of inventory. But, boy, that mark, when the marketer utilizes it properly — on packaging or point-of-sale materials, or on advertising — that’s a rare commodity. I don’t believe in giving that away, and I don’t believe in selling that cheaply. I think we are undervaluing it. I see metrics comparing our revenues to other teams in the NFL, and while we’re in very good shape, we’re not where I’d like to be.”
     
    Every team encourages sponsors to activate using logos and other marks, particularly in high-profile media and consumer channels. Those activities provide teams with quality exposure in front of a wider audience than their typical ticket-buying database. And it’s free marketing provided by sponsors. Also, when sponsors use team marks at retail and in promotions, the results are typically quantifiable: increased sales, qualified leads, more display space or stronger relationships with retail partners. What I’ll be watching is to see if Peter can make the Seahawks resonate beyond the Pacific Northwest; that will be a true gauge of how strong the team’s fan base is beyond the region. Only a well-defined brand with a national following leads to high-value marks and strong interest in usage by sponsors.
     
    Peter knows the value of strong national marks from his days at A-B. He is putting resources behind his plan, investing in his team by hiring a chief commercial sales officer, Eric Mastalir, to lead this effort. In the no-brainer category, the team also needs to win. But when you think about the successful trajectory of the Seahawks team and affinity around the brand, you can see why Peter is feeling the time is right to strike: The value proposition is increasing.

    > GET THE FULL DOWNLOAD ON SALES CULTURE: One of the more popular sessions at our event was our annual look at developing a successful sales culture within your organization, led by our contributing columnist Bill Sutton. The panel always provides smart insights from experienced people who are on the front lines. Sports Sales Consulting’s Charlie Chislaghi outlined the attributes he sees in the best sales executives: “Competitiveness. They are very aggressive. They are well-prepared to deal with the monotony of making a hundred calls a day, because they understand it gets them to the critical mass of the prospects with whom they have to speak to. … No. 2, they are engaging. They can engage in a conversation in which they share about themselves. Not just talk to you about them, but engage in a conversation that’s two ways. So not only engage in a two-way conversation; they can understand what it means to initiate.”
     
    If you’re interested in reading the full transcript of this event, visit our newsroom blog, On The Ground. The full session will be posted in sections throughout this week. It’s a helpful, educational “print and share” with your sales team.

    > WANG SWINGS AT POLITICOS: He’s certainly not alone in his sentiment, but there was not a lot of love given to elected officials by New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, who also spoke at our conference. He engaged the audience with homespun stories and had an affable, breezy way about him. Much of his discussion focused on his failure to keep his team on Long Island, and he became most pointed when he was asked by staff writer Christopher Botta about whether he likes being a team owner. It was here where his frustration with Nassau County’s elected officials clearly came through. “I love the hockey part of it,” he said. “I love the Islanders. I don’t like all the other bullshit that went with it.” He turned to the audience to add, “We should hold all our officials more accountable. We really should. They come in, they don’t do anything and they get re-elected. And we all nod our heads, because we know it’s true. It’s such a shame. I’m telling you, it’s what we’re going to leave our kids. We are going to leave them with the wrong message, because the values are wrong. We have got to hold them accountable. We hold our business people accountable. We hold our athletes accountable. We trade [players all the time]. I wish we could trade politicians. I don’t know what we’d get for them.”
     
    Strong words that the audience enjoyed.

    There are always two sides to a negotiation. Wang has owned the Islanders for more than 13 years and never wanted the franchise to leave Nassau County, where he lives and where the Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups in the 1980s. His big idea, the Lighthouse Project, was never advanced because of political red tape. His more recent efforts to obtain just an arena for the Islanders in Nassau failed when a public referendum was voted down. Wang is clearly excited about the promise of Brooklyn, but his frustration with the political process is still apparent.

    > BOOKER’S WAY: Speaking of politicos, one of the more engaging speakers I’ve seen recently was Newark (N.J.) Mayor Cory Booker at the Ad Age Digital Conference earlier this month in New York City. Like many in the public spotlight, Booker was energetic, exactly what you want from your 9 a.m. keynote speaker on a Tuesday. He also understood his digital audience, as he is active on Twitter, where he has more than 1.3 million followers, and talked about his role as co-founder of WayWire. The site, which launched last summer and now is in beta phase, allows users to create video playlists from various feeds. He promoted the site as a way to “elevate the voices that have conviction and create social arteries where video becomes live.” He also touted the ability of users as editors, to distribute news they deem important. “I’m tired of the oligarchy of today’s media telling me what’s important,” he said.

    > KEEP AN EYE ON … : While at the Ad Age conference, I sat in on an interesting presentation by RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney, who outlined his top 10 Internet trends for 2013. Some of the key takeaways may not surprise, such as mobile materially becoming a major part of big companies’ business, and Facebook ubiquity — brands can’t ignore 600 million users a day. But there were others of note: The online video ramp-up and the migration of TV ad budgets — Mahaney stressed that the biggest source of funds to Internet ad spending will be from TV ad budgets — and the same-day delivery surge. The Internet coming to a doorstep near you with same-day delivery service will dramatically change consumer habits and behavior, narrowing the decision-making process and making buying more immediate and less planned out.

    > THE MINOR FALL, THE MAJOR LIFT: In 1994, I worked for Dr. Charles Steinberg at the Baltimore Orioles, just for that strike-shortened season, before helping launch SportsBusiness Daily. I immediately saw him as a nontraditional sports executive, and over the years he has shown an eye for production like few in the sports entertainment space. If you haven’t seen it, look at the work he did in the Red Sox’s tribute to the resilience of Boston and its people. The video montage ran during the team’s pregame ceremony on Saturday, April 20, at its first game back after the marathon bombings. While it was David Ortiz’s defiant call that garnered the most attention, Steinberg’s chronological look at the week that was, set to Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah,” is an incredibly powerful piece of storytelling. If you haven’t checked it out, you can watch it on the Red Sox’s website video section and by searching “Boston Strong.”

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

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  • How future NBA rookies are making themselves marketable

    Editor's note: This story has been revised from the print edition.

    Spring is an exciting time for basketball. March Madness is behind us, the NBA playoffs are in full swing, and sports analysts are tweaking their draft prospect lists as they predict who will go in the top 10. Scouts, coaches, team owners, sponsors and players are all looking for the same thing: Who can make me the most money? Be it ticket sales, product sales or contract value, each of the above has one eye on the game and the other on their bottom line.

    Some players are focusing on getting draft ready to give their draft stock one last bump. They want the best rookie deal they can land with a team that will not only allow, but will help, them to shine. The really smart and ambitious players are focusing on their total profile, hoping to make as much off the court as on.

    Of course, a player’s stats are the major factor in deciding who gets the big endorsement deals. But with the number of scandals that have rocked the sports world and damaged the brands the athletes promote, marketers are looking for players with the stats and a concern for their own personal brand. Look at Charles Barkley. He used his gregarious on-court personality to land his next career as a basketball analyst, setting himself up for several non-sport-related endorsements with T-Mobile, Weight Watchers and Capital One.

    So why does endorsement potential matter? It has been documented that some NBA players struggle financially within five years of retiring from the game. Let’s be real: Retirement is likely the furthest thing from anyone’s mind at age 20 or 21, so it’s easy to see why a player entering the draft today isn’t concerned about what will happen to them later in their 30s or 40s. Those with a good head on their shoulders or those receiving strong parenting and coaching are positioning themselves now.

    Noel’s style reads as fun, and his community service is admirable.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    This year’s draft class has a number of players who are doing just that. March Madness is always a time when we get to see all of the athletes in rapid succession. There are pregame and postgame interviews to determine who seems comfortable with the media. I took notes through the tournament, then pulled old interviews for comparison and reviewed Twitter feeds for a number of players all the way back through November to see who’s really marketing themselves, their school and their teammates.

    Nerlens Noel is doing it the best so far. On the court for Kentucky he led the SEC in rebounds and blocks. Off the court, he brought back the Kid ’n Play high-top to show his own fun flair. In interviews, he is quick to mention that he tries to bring a great attitude and work ethic to his game. If you visit his Twitter page you’ll see him tweeting about school visits and trips to nursing homes to cheer people up. That’s marketing material right there. A full physical recovery from knee surgery will get him ready to bring big numbers on the court. Noel’s biggestspokesman challenge is to eliminate
    verbal fillers (um, like, you know) from his speech pattern while keeping hisvolume up when he speaks.

    McLemore’s humble personality will help him connect.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    If you visit the Kansas player page for top draft hopeful Ben McLemore, or watch his March 23 Rising Up interview, you’ll hear his personal story of rising above negative neighborhood influences to make it to a top-flight school and see that he’s humble and likable. So his Twitter handle @Humb1e_Hungry23 is spot on for promoting his personality. He’ll have some other ground to make up, however, because his Twitter pictures are a little less wholesome than those of Noel’s. Strong brands that market to families will probably want to see some of his social media usage toned down a bit to guard against scandal. Finishing his words when he speaks will make him more easily understood along with cutting back on his use of slang in interviews and social media. Time, practice and maturity will help eliminate his conversation fillers, particularly, “stuff like that.”

    Otto Porter of Georgetown is taking to social media to bond with fans, share stories and show his personality. He just needs to settle down his nervous body energy on camera and show a little more of his personality. His pregame interview before facing Marquette in March didn’t exude his true level of confidence. There, he appears too cool. Not rude, just subdued. He’s leaning back and fidgeting a lot, and speaks with almost a whisper. He can work the “cool” for the right product, as long as his on-court game does all of the talking.

    Other prospects with endorsement potential include UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, who proved he’s not too macho to show emotion during his draft announcement on April 1. He showed respect for his teammates and coaches as he passed compliments around liberally. Kelly Olynyk from Gonzaga may not go in the top 10, but he has that “aw shucks” charm that warms a crowd. It’s most recently seen in his April 19 draft/birthday announcement. He continues to shape his public image through Twitter, boasting pictures of his experience coaching Special Olympics.

    Finally, keep an eye on C.J. McCollum. The Lehigh senior may go later than the others, but as a journalism major, he may already be preparing for his off-court opportunities to supplement his contract and extend his career.

    Players, and those helping them along, should pay attention to their off-court potential while they fine-tune their on-court performance. Why have one career in sports when a little preparation and practice can help you have two? Some spokesperson training before and during a career can only expand a player’s life possibilities and lessen the risk of becoming a negative statistic after it’s over.

    Karlyn Lothery (Karlyn@lothery.com) is a strategic communication consultant, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant and founder of Lothery & Associates. Her practice focuses on preparing spokespeople for media interviews, public appearances, speeches and social media strategy. Follow her on Twitter @Prepare2Speak.


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  • Changing the focus: Foundation failures carry heavy toll

    A thlete foundations and their rampant mismanagement are in the news again. The Boston Globe did a major story a few Sundays ago, and ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” devoted a recent show to the topic. The names may change, but the story, it seems, is always the same.

    Athlete A starts a foundation with the best of intentions. Through inexperience and mismanagement, the foundation ends up squandering its resources on often inappropriate expenses with very little if anything going to its charitable purpose.

    These stories seem to run in cycles. Every six months or so, it becomes a hot topic and gets picked up in major media, then hibernates again until the next cycle. In the field of athlete philanthropy, almost nothing ever really changes. Sometimes the athlete closes his foundation; sometimes he or his representatives talk about internal restructuring and keep the foundation open. As Kyle Petty cautioned in the ESPN story, sponsors can decide to drop out from the bad media, but that’s about it in terms of consequences. It’s not nearly enough to bring about change in the community.

    Perhaps the only way things will change is if we, the advisers to professional athletes, begin to refocus the discussions away from the legal and financial obligations, the IRS and the media, and begin to talk about the lost opportunity to make a positive impact. For every misspent charitable dollar, eight families that could have been fed go hungry, according to Feeding America’s website. Thirty-five charitable dollars would buy roof shingles for a new home built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers for a homeless family. And the average loan of $404 on microloan website Kiva.org would help a low-income man or woman build a sustainable business that will lift them and their families out of poverty.

    Those are the human casualties of charitable mismanagement. That is what is most important, and yet that is what gets lost in the shuffle of all these “gotcha” stories.

    Media reports highlight mismanagement of athlete foundations but not the lost impact to charities and those in need.
    The 2010 Fidelity Charitable Advice and Giving Survey revealed that 31 percent of advisers don’t feel knowledgeable enough about charity to discuss the topic with their clients. But you don’t have to be a charity expert to understand the alleviation of hunger, homelessness and intergenerational poverty.

    It’s really that simple. And that challenging.

    Many advisers feel it is presumptuous to bring up charitable giving with a client — 44 percent of advisers do not proactively offer charitable planning advice because they see philanthropy as a client’s personal decision, according to the Fidelity survey — so they wait to see if the client will address it first. That doesn’t work so well for athletes. By the time an athlete brings up the topic of charity, he has probably been to a dozen celebrity golf tournaments, half a dozen bowling fundraisers, and observed what he doesn’t realize is the mismanagement of his teammates’ foundations in action. The prototype has been set. As any teacher or coach will tell you, undoing learned behavior is much harder than learning it right the first time. But here’s some good news for advisers who are concerned that discussing long-term charitable giving plans will hurt their relationships with their clients. According to a study released by Fidelity Investments in 2012, 72 percent of financial advisers working with clients averaging at least $1 million in investable assets reported that discussing charitable giving strengthened their relationship with their clients, and 37 percent said it helped to build multigenerational relationships with their clients.

    Athletes have several points of contact that could and should address charitable giving; it’s not only their financial advisers. Agents and managers have an important role in guiding the athlete toward responsible decision-making. With online hourlong seminars held on virtually every charitable topic by some of the leading philanthropic organizations, lack of opportunity to learn is no longer an excuse for ignorance.

    Initial discussions can start proactively as a way to manage the inevitable influx of charitable requests a new professional athlete will receive. Walk through a checklist of these types of requests, such as for personal appearances, use of likeness and image, and charitable donations. Briefly review the risks and rewards of each. Allow the athlete’s responses to guide how much detail you provide during the first conversation. But don’t interpret silence as lack of interest and don’t stop at one conversation. It may be that the athlete is overwhelmed or uncomfortable with his lack of experience. It doesn’t mean he isn’t interested.

    Ask open-ended questions about his experience giving or receiving charity to help him feel more comfortable. One of our favorites is, “If you had a million dollars that you were required to give to charity, where would you give it and why?” Use the answer as a launching pad for other questions about the type of impact the athlete wants to have, exploring what type of charity work inspires him.

    If the athlete isn’t getting animated when he speaks about a charitable cause, you probably haven’t found his charitable passion or potential yet. Keep the dialogue flowing. Consider recommending small steps to prepare him for larger commitments. If he expresses an interest in holding a fundraiser, suggest that he first speak with some volunteers on the planning committee of a local charity’s event so that he gains an appreciation for the time and money required to plan and execute a successful fundraiser.

    NBA legend Charles Barkley was once famously quoted as saying he did not want to be a role model for young people. We’d venture to say that was not really his choice to make. You can’t undo the influence you have simply by saying you don’t want it.

    Athletes’ advisers have a powerful influence over the young men and women they’ve been hired to advise. To paraphrase the great philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, choosing not to discuss charity with an athlete is still a choice, with its own repercussions. Sometimes those repercussions might even be the life or death of someone in need.

    Marc Pollick (mpollick@givingback.org) is president and founder of The Giving Back Fund. Stephanie Sandler (ssandler@givingback.org) is senior vice president of The Giving Back Fund.

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