SBJ/April 29-May 5, 2013/Opinion

McLoughlin aims high; Wang vents at politicians

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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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